Giving up the ghost, Part I: God

August 17th, 2015

In May, I called for a new theology of white allyship to accompany our new civil rights movement in the United States, inspired by the rallying cry that #BlackLivesMatter. This slogan will be the basis of our construction especially as we create our theological anthropology. #BlackLivesMatter should permeate any notion of White allyship, and will be woven throughout this process of discussing God the Creator, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church and humanity.

White people of faith in this country must reconsider their practical theology if we are to act in the Wesleyan tradition of doing good, doing no harm and attending upon all the ordinances of God. A practical theology (the practices that follow a study of God) must directly inform how we act in solidarity not only with our Black neighbors, but also within social and theological spaces that are predominantly White.

Many others before me have sought to explain and defend the phrasing of #BlackLivesMatter in ways both theological and otherwise, and it is not the intention of this post to tread for a long while over already-trodden paths. For an examination of this, I recommend Derek Flood’s post at Sojourners or this short description by a contributor at Reddit.

One helpful way to begin to think about #BlackLivesMatter theologically is as a parallel to Jesus’ claims in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn,” “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc. Countering Jesus’ claims by saying, “All are blessed” or “All are poor,” much as #BlackLivesMatter detractors counter with #AllLivesMatter, shifts the focus away from the marginalized and towards those in power. More often than not, #AllLivesMatter is used as a counter-measure, a diluting and diminishment of the sa’aq (see Brueggemann) that #BlackLivesMatter. If #BlackLivesMatter is an affirmation in the face of oppression, #AllLivesMatter is an attempt to wrest back power from those in the protest movement who continually place their very bodies in the fray in order to state the terms of their Black humanity. It is a reply wrought with White sin directed at a Black cry of redemption and salvation.

This significant verbal pivot away from Black pain and death unmasks our essential beliefs of who God is and what God is up to in our midst (more on that as we consider the Holy Spirit). If we believe that God is a God of justice, and that God has a unique desire to show us the Kin(g)dom by directing our attention to the margins, then we must begin to describe our God by describing the margins. The stories of God’s people, particularly the stories of the Exodus and of Jesus’ ministry, have always been centralized around finding God where God is least expected. In scripture, God appears to provide prime examples of leadership, to bestow favor for survival and to begin the work of redemption by asking that we take our cues from the powerless rather than from those in power. If we cannot recognize that we are the Pharisees, then we have more work to do and have arrived at a nonstarter. Therefore, simple recognition of the existence of White privilege is paramount.

White privilege shows itself most apparently in our current manifestations of our embedded Western missiology, which still owes a great debt to colonialism. We would do well to rethink our love affair with short-term mission trips and their effectiveness at making disciples, healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. If it is we who are always bringing God (or Bible studies or medical supplies or letters from our White children) to poor communities of color, then what is our implicit correlative belief about God and God’s Kin(g)dom? Too often, that belief means we are in control of how a unidirectional process unfolds.

Again, we must shift our focus away from ourselves and toward others, especially those whom we “other” the most. So, if our new theology of White allyship is to be robust enough to guide us into the future of a new United States free of racism, our missiology must consider the presence of the living God already and always at work everywhere. Practical examples of how to think about this new missiology abound in the fields of social work and sociology, where hopeful, positive methods like asset mapping are done in conjunction with communities and individuals to pinpoint the good work, skills, and progress already being made. Black communities and Black people must decide the terms of their own liberation.

Unfortunately, we always find what we are looking for. If we are looking for hopelessness in need of a savior, we will find it, and we will frequently cast that savior in our own image. If we are looking for a God of hope in desire of a collaborator, we will find that, too. We must, therefore, decide which God we are looking for.

Once we train ourselves to find that God, the question then becomes how we act in collaboration (laboring in tandem) with that God. Love of God cannot be divorced from love of neighbor, though in the West we frequently separate the two. Again, the Wesleyan directive to combine personal and social holiness is helpful here. Our love of God compels us to act. As was stated in my introductory post, we cannot pray our way to a day when Black lives matter. Action bears witness to our prayers, which are informed by our actions, and so forth. Praying for Black lives to matter without working for justice is a sinful dynamic we have adopted from mainline Protestant practices of White privilege.

We are enamored with our prayer circles, but where are our anti-racism circles? You do not have to be a protestor on the front line to work for justice, but you do have to take action. Discerning your role in this journey toward Jubilee can be exceedingly difficult, but we all have gifts that are unique to us and given by God. Prayer and the support of a loving community can help with this discernment.

The next post will continue by considering a new Christology by looking at the second person of the Trinitarian God who lives in eternal relationship and demonstrates to us how to be in community.

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