Giving up the ghost, Part II: Christ

February 22nd, 2016

Last May, I began laying out the process we could take to create a new theology of White allyship. Can we learn to construct this theology that takes communal, soteriological salvation seriously in a way that neither diminishes Blackness nor fetishizes it? Can we construct this theology, and implicitly an identity of Whiteness, that is not built on a bedrock of oppression, of othering all else?

I offered last spring that we need to begin by examining our praxis of discipleship. If we can allow our prayer life to inform our life of action in the name of justice, and then how that action again informs our prayer life, then we will learn to practice the Way, not just claim it. Inherent in this self-examination, I offered, should be a deep and somber look at our missiology, at how we approach systemic oppression with short-term mission trips. This approach is problematic, and I would suggest that we put on hold what we do in the name of Christ so that we may more closely consider why we do it.

In August, I asked that we look for God the creator by beginning at the margins, where God is always bringing forth new life. As Westerners, however, we must retrain our eyes to see what is truly present. If God the creator is generating new life at the margins, then Christ the redeemer is always at work saving and reconciling this life to our God. We cannot, however, do this work of reconciliation on our own. Salvation, from a Wesleyan perspective, happens in community. There is no place for navel-gazing in the work of the Cross. If Whiteness has been characterized by solidifying itself as normative, then the work of Western Christian Whiteness has been to assimilate the Christ, the very symbol of the marginalized and powerless, into normativity. Can we, as those who purport to be White allies, even imagine worshipping a Black Christ? And yet, what an innovative step we could make toward creating a new Christology!

(Imagine how many times you’ve come across a framed Anglo-Jesus keeping watch over a fellowship hall, over a youth group couch, or over a chapel space. This is a more significant than harmless historical inaccuracy. It is precisely how Whiteness softens the prophetic edges of our Christ and allows white supremacy to occupy our churches.)

If the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ matter to us, then Black lives must matter, for they are lives that continue to hold less value in our culture where everything must be commodified to have worth.

So, first, we claim that Black lives matter. Next, we claim that Black deaths matter. We push back against the seemingly neverending deaths of our Black citizens at the hands of state violence and we say their names. Mike Brown. Tamir Rice. VonDerrit Myers. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Gynnya McMillen. Their deaths matter because their lives mattered, and still matter. Their deaths should matter even more poignantly for us as people of the Way because our rabbi was also killed at the hands of a state that saw violence as a legitimate option for enforcing the law. Because he, too, was left in the streets to die as the state watched.

If Black lives matter, and Black deaths matter, then Black resurrection must matter also. I have lost count of how many White people have been radicalized, myself included, by the new awakening of justice in our country over the past year and a half. This is the life that Mike Brown’s death contained within it. Our Christ looks into the streets of Ferguson, mourns with us, and says, “Today, salvation has come.” We do not disgrace Mike Brown’s memory by claiming awkwardly that he had to die, or that any of us have to die, in order that resurrection take place. We claim that we can die while still alive, and that our new life is now our neighbor’s and God’s. We do, however, claim that our Black siblings live on in us, that violence cannot kill the souls of our citizens, even as they cut down our bodies.

Finally, we live in the tension of Christ’s humanity and divinity, and the mystery therein. We have examined Christ’s connection to us as people, and made parallels between his story and ours. Now, we remind ourselves what kind of Christ we believe in. If Sunday morning is still famously the most divided time of the week in our country, then we must reconfigure who we encounter most. To be more specific, if we are White people spending time in White communities, sending our children to White schools, and worshipping in White churches, then we are bowing down before a God made in our image, a White God. The variety of ways in which God can express God’s self expands our vision of Christ’s divinity by providing a richer sense of the real people in whom we experience God. In this way, our understanding of Christ’s divinity informs our understanding of his humanity, and therefore of our neighbors and ourselves.

Our new Christology of White allyship must save and redeem us from our own complicity in othering our neighbors; this is how our current Whiteness remains simply incompatible with Christ. If we continue to define the center by our own standards, Christ remains at the margins, continually inviting us out.

The next post in this series will examine the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, and how she sustains us through the long and difficult work of liberation.

comments powered by Disqus