Dialog: The Gospel, Social Injustice, and War

From my brother Rod Garvin over at Soul.  He has enaged a black Reformed brother on the relationship between the gospel, social injustice, and the role of the church in the midst of these realities.  Great discussion taking place.  Here’s an excerpt from the post:

I have been having a very stimulating and enlightening conversation with Thabiti Anyabwile, one of my Reformed Christian brothers, over at Pure Church. His post entitled, “‘This Day and Age’ and the Church” served as a starting point for the dialog. I welcome you to read the original entry, as well as the comments below and weigh in on the very important questions that we both have raised during the course of the dialog.

I believe this to be an important discussion for black Christians (any Christians actually…for this seems to be a discussion taking place everywhere…it seems) of whatever tradition to have.  The black Church’s tradition of prophetic witness and social justice is waning, in my opinion, and is becoming overtaken by more insidious forces such as American Individualism and Consumerism.  I look forward to seeing these brothers (maybe some sisters can chime in as well) dialogue.  I have joined the fray as well.

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…and this too

  1. We believe that the triune God is the origin and the ultimate goal of all things; and that, through Jesus Christ, we are called to give our allegiance to God and to make the Church our true dwelling place. We believe that the claims of Christ have priority over those of the state, the market, race, class, gender, and other functional idolatries. “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). 
  2. We believe that communal worship is the heart of the Christian life. We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring our everyday practices into greater conformity with our worship, such that our entire lives may be lived to glorify God. Similarly, we pledge to give and receive counsel about how we might better embody the Gospel in its individual and communal expressions. “Praise the Lord; praise the name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord” (Psalm 135: 1). 
  3. We believe that the church undercuts its own vocation when it compromises with the institutions, allegiances and assumptions that undergird the “culture of death” in our world. We remind all Christians that, in rejecting the sword and other lethal means to advance His goals, Jesus set an example for all of us who seek to follow Him. While accepting rather than imposing death may still be foolish and scandalous in the eyes of non-Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23), it remains central to what it means to follow a crucified and risen Messiah. We believe that the process of renewing the church in our day requires Christians to rethink all those values and practices that presume a smooth fit between killing and discipleship no matter how disturbing or divisive this reappraisal may be (cf. Matt. 10:34-8). Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). 
  4. We do not accept the ultimacy of divisions imposed on the Body of Christ — whether they be national borders, denominational divides, cultural and social stereotypes, or class divisions. We seek to restore the bonds of ecclesial unity and solidarity that are always under threat from the powers and principalities of the present age. “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). 

From Ekklesia Project 

Say what?

Cruising through the blogsophere I happened upon this post from Thabiti Anyabwile from the Reformed side of things.  He blogs at Pure Church.  I find the growing number of blacks in the Reformed tradition intriguing.  While I disagree with much of his description of Kingian leadership and message I do believe that it is important to have these kinds of discussions.  This gives further credence that black Christians are not a monolith.  A good thing to be sure. 

Dr. King Is Not the Right Model for Black Preachers

excerpt:

The African-American church needs leaders that are not as concerned with political wars and public policy as much as they are concerned with a faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mid-term elections pale in comparison to the serious assaults committed by the enemy of our souls against the church and African Americans. While the church has given its brightest and best in the cause of social justice, she has suffered a significant drain on her leadership resources and her primary mission of making disciples. Consequently, today’s Black church may in many ways be weaker than the church in 1830!

An Emergent “Statement of Faith”…not to be

I was recently asked in a conversation with a friend about the beliefs of those in the emerging church conversation/movement.  He wanted to know what exactly emerging church type folks believed.  A difficult question given that many in this conversation hail from different Christian traditions.  If there was a statement of faith, I told him, it would have to be one that is 'catholic' and 'creedal'.  Meaning that it looks to the creeds, traditions, and practices of the catholic body of Christ over the past 2,000 years.  A statement of faith would be as long and as diverse as the various Christian bodies represented in this movement. 

On the Emergent-US blog a 'statement of faith' has been side-stepped in order to keep the conversation going.  I believe this to be a good move.  As I told a friend I don't want people of different Christian stripes to stop being faithful to their particular tradition.  If you come to this conversation as an Anabaptist or as a Pentecostal you should feel compelled to stay true to your ecclesial home. 

LeRon Shults offers his thoughts as to why a 'statement of faith' would be an unwise move.  

There is also a great conversation surrounding this issue taking place at Generous Orthodoxy ThinkTank.  Especially comments by James K. A. Smith.

From Exodus to Exile

From the Soul of Rod Garvin:

Do I have to assimilate to the ways of Babylon to fit into the gathering of the faithful? In much of the black church we have historical amnesia and forget from whence we have come, making us complicit with the larger American society’s desire to forget the past and ignore how it continues to impact the present. This brings us to a situation where our religious distinctions are more cosmetic (i.e. the color of the congregation and style of the music and preaching) than substantive (prophetic theology and counter-cultural liturgy). In the white church, I may have to be willing to foresake my ethnic identity and cultural sensibilities to become a part of that community. In the more multi-ethnic churches, which are making a serious attempt to “practice pentecost,” the theology may be caught up in the rapture and disconnected from the concrete socio-economic realities that give context to our salvation. I realize I am making very sweeping statements, but I just want to highlight the major stumbling blocks that make me a “homeless” seminarian at present.

More…

Racial Constantinianism and why Andre is post-Emergent (Part I)

My friend Andre Daley has blogged about why he is post-Emergent.  Here are his basic five points:

  1. The conversation still looks to much like the old conversation, white, male and academic. The dominant culture still dominates.
  2. The values behind the conversation aren’t readily expressed in actions. No generous orthopraxis to go with the generous orthodoxy. (see my previous post)
  3. The lexicon of the white European theological framework which still dominates. There is very little inclusion of black theologians and the theological framework of people of color. People of color seem to be included in the conversation only if they are willing to use this language and framework. It seems we all need to read NT Wright in order to have any credibility.
  4. Talk, talk and more talk. My experience is we love to talk about this stuff but other than retro worship stuff we don’t get around to acting on it. Even so talk about diversity has never come to the fore. I want to be the church and act like the church not just talk like the church.
  5. Ultimately its about relationships and I have made some good ones which go beyond the whole emergent (non movement) thing. So I’ll go about the spiritual practice of reconciliation through relationships with my brothers and sisters and leave emergent tag to others.

I have been slow to respond to this because I wanted to give some thought on this particular issue.  When I went to the Emergent Theological Conversation with Miroslav Volf at Yale Divinity School last month I was not suprised by the dominance of white faces in the crowd.  This is pretty typical of these kinds of conversations, in my experience at least.  During the conference I was blessed to talk with a brother from Atlanta named Tony Bronsink.  Tony just recently attended a conference where Darrell Guder of Our Gospel and Culture Network was giving his thoughts on the emerging church.  In his recounting of Guder’s thoughts he mentioned that there is a danger in the emerging church in not  thoroughly discerning its sharing in the American experience.  This has been one of the valid criticisms, I believe, of the emerging church conversation.  That somehow we have moved on from modernity and have found (and still finding) a faithful way to follow Jesus in postmodernity.  I believe this to be a dangerous temptation.  The temptation being that we have faithfully (possibly completely) named our capitulation to the bad habits of modernity.  The emerging church, in many ways, has the resources to ‘name’ these bad habits.  But one bad habit has gone typically unscathed in the broader conversation: the racial Constantinianism of North American Christianity.

I believe this is at least one reason why Andre is post-Emergent.  Andre, like he says, sees that “the dominant culture still dominates”.  Why call this racial Constantinianism?  Because I hope to get the attention of those in the conversation I believe have the resources to counter-act this bad habit before Emergent and the emerging church conversation create more conjeeled structures and communities that reflect the politics (eccelsial bodies) of Constantinian Christianity…albeit a more posh version of it.

I must confess.  I am part-way a member of the Hauerwasian mafia.  I am coming out of the closet.  My imagination has been captured by theologians Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder in how they have named American Christianity’s theo-sociopolitical captivity to what they describe as Constantinianism.  What these two theologians have taught us is that the church has been profoundly shaped in its theological and ecclesial habits by the sociopolitical order of the Western political order:

“The decline of the old, Constantinian synthesis between the church and the world means that we American Christians are at last free to be faithful in a way that makes being a Christian today an exciting adventure.”- p. 16 Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Theologian Michael Cartwright expounds on Hauerwas’ project:

Hauerwas’s theological project also involves questioning the institutions, practices, dispositions, and habits that have been formed under the conditions of Christendom, which imaged the unity of church and world under the (official or unofficial) sponsorship of so-called Christian governments from Constantine to so-called Christian America.  The name of the first Christian emperior has come to be associated with the complex of institutional changes and alliances that led Christians in the West to see churches and nation-states to be aligned within a God-given order within which Christians would exercise leadership.  The vestiges of this ‘Constantinian synthesis,’ while obviously weakened and unstable, continue to tempt contemporary Christians to believe that they don’t have to take responsibility for the church’s own discourse and practices because the powers that be (whether the Emperor Constantine or the latest incumbent of the White House) are “Christian” and Christianity is on the side of Western “progress”.- p. 629, The Hauerwas Reader

Cartwright then quotes Hauerwas:

“Constantinianism is a hard habit to break.  It is particularly hard when it seems that we can do so much good by remaining ‘in power.’  It is hard to break because all our categories have been set by the church’s establishment as a necessary part of Western civilization”- Hauerwas, After Christendom

The synthesis that I see that goes largely unscathed in these kinds of conversations is the way much of the discourse named emergent, emerging church or missional is tied to a racial order that we have inherited from Christendom’s capitulation to the principality and power of ‘race’.  Or more specifically what I like to the call the dominance of the symbolic universe of whiteness.  It is racial Constantinianism.  A form of Constantinianism that created a racial order whereby whites were at the top and blacks at the bottom. 

We see vestiges of this racial Constantinianism when Christians engage in theological conversation and praxis that exclude non-white voices.  This exclusionary practice is difficult to name because of our captivity to individualism…the the reducing of racial Constantinianism to purely personal prejudice (“I don’t hate non-whites…or have ill-feelings toward them”).  Such thoughts reflect the politics of America.  More later… 

 

 

 

 

 

Happenings…

My brother Maurice Broaddus has been writing some soulful indigenous theology out of Indianapolis.  I look forward to dialoging with him.  I hope others in the conversation will engage him as well.

A Theology of Slavery Part I and Part II 

From part I:

A lesson we have to keep re-learning is that words mean things. So, when pastors speak of God’s ownership of us, it’s going to resonate differently with black folks. When we speak of God buying us at a price, images of auction blocks swim through our collective unconscious. When we speak of Adam laying dominion over creation by naming things, we can’t help but be reminded of slave owners giving us new names. The “elect”–the chosen–means “called out” and implies that there are those excluded. Though people forget that the elect are called out for a purpose, the poor identify with the excluded. When they talk of sin being black and the need for people to be washed whiter than snow, well, you get the picture of the mental conditioning.

 

Ontological Blackness

My brother Maurice Broaddus has been plugging away with some great thoughts on ontological ‘blackness’ and nigrescence.  Something I have been thinking about myself…especially in light of my involvement in the emerging church.  There have been times in this journey with the emerging church my ‘blackness’ has been suspect by some (I ought to post some of the emails I have gotten…I probably need to post a picture of myself as exhibit A).  It is a strange feeling to have one’s ‘blackness’ challenged….especially when it has never been ‘challenged’ or ‘questioned’ your whole life.  I guess calling myself ‘postmodern negro’ doesn’t help.  Maurice has penned some great thoughts on this subject.  Thanks brother.

Parts 1 and 2.

Back in the Saddle: The Christian calendar, God’s invasion, and the kenosis of Christ

I have been inspired by both the Advent and Christmas seasons to be more committed to blogging with greater consistency and frequency.  I am looking forward to celebrating Epiphany that will be coming up the first week of January. 

Lately, I have been reading up on the Christian calendar.  I became a Christian in a Christian tradition that either ignored or cared little about the Christian year.  I am becoming more appreciative of the rhythms of following a time that is attempting to walking out the gospel narrative in the everyday.

During Advent and the beginning of the Christmas season the Incarnation of God in Christ has captured my imagination.  Especially the kenosis or self-emptying of God to become the Word- or Logos-made-flesh.  The Divine solidaritization of God (Note: I previously had ‘condenscenion’ but a friend of mine reminded me that God becoming incarnate was more about God coming into solidarity with humans) speaks profoundly to me as I reflect upon how racialized our imaginations are in our North American context.  Paul says (in Philippians 2), regarding the kenosis or self-emptying of Christ, that:

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 6Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very natureof a servant,
      being made in human likeness.

The incarnation of Christ is the kenosis of God.  It is the shedding of privilege. And coming to a place of soldarity with His creatures.  And Paul says that we are to have the same attitude or mind of Christ in this regard.  What would this mean for Christians who have been enslaved by the ‘principality’ of white privilege and for Christians who have been enslaved by the ‘principality’ of self-hatred. 

Enslavements that are a product of un-righteous or un-just social-political-ecclesial relations. Such enslavements have a long history in the American Church.

What would it mean for Christians during both Advent and the Christmas season to practice kenosis (a radical solidaritization) in our racialized world? 
 

 

 

  

 

 

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