The empire known as the United States of America currently has a Commander and Chief who invites a Tuskegee Airman and honors Rush Limbaugh simultaneously at the State of the Union with no sensitivity to how polarizing that is, particularly in Black History Month. The occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. should discern the optics, which clearly commodify Black bodies while simultaneously extolling the system of white supremacy that continues to marginalize and disinherit those bodies. This divisive and demoralizing behavior is made possible because a support base of religious folk are trafficking in a theo-logic that they look to enshrine in public policy to secure supremacy for themselves and their children for generations to come. There is a religiously based movement afoot with an impulse that is contrary to human flourishing rooted in an apocalyptic eschatology. To understand the religious history of a people is to know a lot about their politics, their social habits, their hopes and aspirations, their fears, their failures, and their understandings of who they are (Frazier 1974). The underbelly of this movement is tied to themes of climate denial, white supremacy, anti-intellectualism, theocratic control of embodiment, and populism which verges on fascism (Delay 2019). We cannot understand the danger of this moment if we separate the religious history.
What we need in this Black History month is calling forth of prophetic praxis. This praxis must provide a theo-logic that rejects oppression of all forms. This theo-logic must then be married to policies that explicitly recognize the relationships between the interlocking and intersecting identities of class, gender, age, sexual orientation, the able-bodiedness spectrum, race, and ethnicity, among others (Henderson 2005). The celebration of the historic significance of Black people in this nation is of little affect if we do not as religious practitioners offer a way seeing the world that is at odds with the status quo- that is, at odds with the way the wealthy and the powerful would like us to see the world (Prevot 2017). If we fail to see the interconnectedness of all marginalized people we run the risk of falling prey to the organized practices of divide and conquer used by people of power and privilege, to maintain power and privilege. Do nothing climate policy is a racist policy since the predominantly non-white global south is being victimized by climate change more than the whiter global north, even as the whiter global north is contributing more to its acceleration (Kendi 2019). The false dichotomy of us and them has made many of us believe a lie that single identity advocacy can save us, but this could not be further from the truth.
The distinguishing features of radical suffering are that it is destructive of the human spirit and it cannot be understood as something that is deserved (Farley 1990). The present administration and the religious supporters of this administration have worked tirelessly to manage the perception that people are only suffering what they deserve for being “illegal aliens”, from S-hole countries, who are dangerous criminals, bent on destroying our culture and taking our jobs. There is in the current political climate a perverse reverse revenge fantasy. White evangelicalism imagines itself as an underdog while holding all the power, therefore it fantasizes about cruelty in such a way that justifies any and all expressions of marginalization and dehumanization (Delay 2019). Those who love truth and justice see clearly that we have leadership willing to enact radical suffering and repackage it in the name of law and order, all in an effort to maintain power and privilege. The historical danger of this blatant violation of all civility and human dignity is that ultimately it leads to the devastation of crusades, witch trials, McCarthyism, and holocausts. These are examples of the collective sins that result from slow responses to radical suffering. Sin is a complex phenomenon: it is communal as well as individual; it is bondage as well as guilt; it is the source of injustice and the lack of response to injustice (Farley 1990). The unchecked misuse of power will always unfold into collective sin.
People and particularly leaders engaged in the pursuit of human flourishing through our understanding of the Divine must acknowledge and maximize the opportunity of this moment. At the intersection of marginalization and religion lies the opportunity of prophetic resistance discourse and action. There is an opportunity to raise a principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice, that invites us to live into the pain and promise of what it means to be fully human in a broken world. Let this Black History Month serve to stir in us a spirituality that converts our entire individual and collective existence. We must resist because to not resist is to be complicit in radical evil and to abandon any moral authority left in religion at all.
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry| Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Delay, Tad. 2019. Against: What Does the White Evangelical Want. Eugene: wipfandstock.
Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Frazier, E. Franklin. 1974. The Negro Church in America. New York: Schocken Books.
Henderson, E. Patrick Johnson, and Mae G, ed. 2005. Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology. Durham: Duke University Press.
Kendi, Ibram X. 2019. How To Be An Antiracist. New York: One World.
Prevot, Vincent W. Lloyd, and Andrew, ed. 2017. Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.