Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I want to respond to a question that was posed: where we go from here when far too many Black people are in the theological and Christological grip of white right wing Christians. Chip Berlet, author and political, analyst calls this group the theocrats. He tells us, “Theocrats support a form of government where the actions of leaders are seen as sanctioned by God-where the leaders claim that they are carrying out God’s will.” This is a very dangerous claim that gives divine meaning and sanction to their actions no matter how racist, sexist, militaristic or homophobic. Moreover, this brand of Christofacism is designed to shut down critique by creating one legitimate Christian voice. Without a doubt for theocrats, the legitimate Christian voice is white, and more than likely a heterosexual male.
Berlet goes on to tell us that theocrats promote a brand of Christianity that proclaims, “People are basically sinful and must be restrained by harsh punitive laws. Social problems are caused by satanic conspiracies aided and abetted by liberals, homosexuals, feminists and secular humanists. These forces must be exposed and neutralized. “They see themselves in a holy war against the forces of evil and conspirators who are determined to destroy the divine destiny of the white American Empire. However, they do not see all white men as standard bearers for the Empire. Nor do they mean people of color when they use the term American Empire.
As we move forward in this reflection, it is critical that we make a distinction between Empire Christianity and Liberation Christianity. Empire Christianity beats in the veins and hearts of theocrats and their Reconstructionist allies. It is essential to realize that conservatism stands in direct opposition to the mission of Jesus which is a radical call to “turn the society upside down” and create a just society.
Liberation Christianity begins with the assertion that God is on the side of the oppressed rather than the side of the Empire. This is the good news of the radical Jew Jesus who challenged the Roman Empire. Jesus made clear the radical nature of his mission: (1) to bring sight to the blind, i.e. to bring a new consciousness that freed his community and others from the false consciousness of identifying with the goals of the Roman Empire; (2) to feed the hungry, i.e. a systemic redistribution of resources that is not charity, but systemic economic justice; and (3) to set the prisoners free, i.e., a recognition that the Empire uses law and order as tools of oppression and domination.
This message of liberation galvanized the Southern Freedom Movement in the United States, South African liberation movement, and liberation movements around the world. It is a dynamic message that changes the status quo and rearranges our relationship with God and others. It is a justice message of non violence. It is a message that reminds us that we are not entrapped by history. We have the collective power to free ourselves from the bonds of a tyrannical state. It reminds us that we have the power to make a new history and a new world. The view of our collective power challenges the notion that history begins and ends with the Empire.
For the Tea Party members and their allies God is the keeper of the status quo. Theirs is a cynical status quo view of God that allows them to be “on the wrong side of history and issues” without taking moral responsibility for their actions. Their God talk also obscures the nature of their radical wrongs by hiding behind liberation and freedom sounding language that they stole from the Southern Freedom Movement and other popular struggles for justice.
The Empire religion espoused by the Tea Party and their white Christian conservative allies and their misled colored allies is headed by a white supremacist patriarchal upper class God who stood on the side of enslavement and the genocide of native peoples throughout the globe, including North and South America. Their God issued a direct order to destroy the Iraqi people and their culture. In their eyes, Iraq is a pagan Babylonian culture that worships a false God. They root their religion in an over and against paradigm that tears down the world and relationships, gobble up resources and relationship. Although they claim to stand for law and order, they operate from a theology of chaos where God summons them that to tears down the world rather than build it up.
Like their forefathers, right wing and conservative militaristic, white supremacist, and homophobic Christians believe that God is on their side and gives them the theological authority to build an oppressive white supremacist patriarchal world. They misuse scripture to justify this, and they hide their intentions behind self-centered and pious God talk that under girds and propels exclusion and domination whether it is about the inferiority of women, black people or lesbians and gays.
Nor is their Jesus the Jesus who wept over the oppression and suffering of his people. Nor is there Jesus the Jesus who came from a colonized community where the Roman Empire used violent measures to stifle unrest and resistance. Or the Jesus who was executed by the Roman Empire for proclaiming that God and not the Empire owns the world or the people in it. This Jesus who acted in history for those people whom the Empire minimized moved generations of enslaved Black people to assert, in the face of an Empire that said they were property without any civil or spiritual rights, “I have a right to the tree of life.”
What Black Christian conservatives must understand is that the God of the Empire can never be our God. Nor can their Jesus be our Jesus. Nor can their Empire Theology or Christology be ours. The Empire Jesus is their emissary and the messenger of war and oppression. For them, Jesus is not as the Black old folk understood, a poor little shepherd boy, outcast and belonging to a people whose backs were “up against the wall.”
The next step is to unveil the lies of White Christian Conservatives so that Black folk understand that these lesbian and gay hating folk come out the same tradition of the people who broke and battered Emmett Till’s fourteen-year-old body and threw it into the Tallahatchie River. Their teachings birthed and fermented the hatred that poisoned the minds and spirits of the killers of Samuel Younge and Jonathan Daniels. Their God can never be our God. Nor can their theology or Christology be ours. They are inheritors of a Biblical tradition that believed that Black oppression was ordained by God because of a curse where God proclaims, “Canaan shall be the lowest of slaves to his brothers.”
We must unveil their hypocrisy and slight of theological hands by remembering that these right wing conservatives barred Martin Luther King, Jr. and other southern freedom workers from the doors of white churches even as they proclaimed their connection with God. They stand today in the doorways of Christian academies and universities like Bob Jones University. In these spaces Christian conservatives still see Blacks as inferior and the bearers of a theological taint that places us on the lowest rung of humanity.
Our job is to have these conversations that help Black Christian conservatives remember so that we as a community do not fall prey to demagoguery. For those of us who remember, we are called upon to stir within Black Christian conservatives the reminder we serve a God that brought us out of the tyranny of enslavement and southern apartheid. This same God enabled Black southern sharecroppers and their allies during the Southern Freedom Movement to bring down southern apartheid, one of the most powerful governments in history, without firing a shot.
There is a great spiritual and social danger of not remembering this God and what God has been with us and for us. When we forget we allow other people to reconstruct God in their own image and to make us believe that their God of hate and injustice is our God. When we bow down to their God, we bow down at the altar of the Empire and men who believe that they are God and the overseers of creation.
Finally, it is important to remember that our ancestors, these magnificent and ordinary people had a vision of God that broke with the enslavers’ view of God. Their view of God moved them to a theology of agape that enabled them to say in the midst of enslavement: “I love everybody, I love everybody, and you can’t make me hate you in my heart; you can’t make me hate you in my heart.”
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