For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about this statement I read by D. Stephen Long in his book “The Goodness of God”. It has been hard to shake for some reason. It speaks to me in ‘how’ we do and understand church in our North American context. Specifically, in the American South where I live.
In regards “goodness” Long says, “No account of goodness can be present in our everyday lives without some social formation being the condition that allows us to make sense of it. Ethics does not happen in a vaccum; it always takes place within social and political formations.”(p.17-18)
The social and political formation called America in which I practice Christianity along with many other Christians has been described by many as a kind of Empire. There is alot of debate as to what constitutes empire, but many would find it difficult not to describe America in such a way. I don’t know if such a designation is necessarily a bad thing all the way around. I do know that it has alot to do with the political, economic, military power that one carries when they walk the globe.
As a continuation with imagineering a post-modern black church (or a church where a negro can feel at home) I want to discuss the many ways in which church-as-usual-comfortably-situated-in-the-belly-of-empire.
One of the ways church is comfortable with empire and severly lacks dis-ease is the current discussion on epistemology. You would think that our situaded-ness here in America would be characteristic of a group of people that worship and follow a God-become-peasant-killed-by-colonizers. Given the nature of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection one would think that it would create a group of people that find it very difficult to be comfortable while living in the most powerful empire on the planet. Why is the current buzz about epistemology a sign of being comfortable in empire?
Largely because there is little discussion about the socio-political formations that gave rise to particualr epistemologies. Hats off to theologians and pastors of the Radical Orthodoxy and post-liberal/conservative perspective who have kindly extended the discussion of epistemology to socio-political formations. As I quoted D. Stephen Long in the beginning: moral norms presuppose a particular socio-political formation. I would suggest that epistemic norms presuppose a particular socio-political formation as well. However well intentioned these discussion are I cannot help but see these kinds of debate arising out of a particular socio-political formation called empire. I think we have only begun half of the debate as it relates to epistemology.
I recently sat through a membership class in a local church here in Charlotte. The pastor appeared to be very keen on the current discourse relating to being missional, postmodern, emerging, etc.. But what I noticed about his talk on postmodernism is his understanding that this whole cultural shift boils down to epistemology. I think that’s half the battle.
As a church situated in empire (or locus imperii) we have to investigate what kind of socio-political formation is presupposed in our theologizing and ecclesial practices. We just might have to re-think and expand our understanding of conversion, repentance, baptism, Eucharist, and the many other practices and beliefs we name Christian.
I think Brian McLaren’s recent discussion on cultivating a post-colonial theology and praxis is a step in the right direction. Because we have had these discussions on epistemology in-the-air we are not cognizant of how we are colonized in our theological minds…or possibly the theological colonizers ourselves. More later.