In years and decades to come, we’ll remember the last two weeks. The Emanuel A.M.E. massacre, the sudden shift away from the Confederate flag, the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of the Affordable Care Act and its extension of same-sex marriage to every state. Last Friday there was an awesome funeral service for Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel and one of the victims in the shooting. And all of it while once again black churches have been burning, some under suspicious circumstances.
For all of America’s secularization, actual and expected, each event was resonant with religious significations—and each prompted a wave of public theology.
I often worship and preach in a sanctuary without windows. Renaissance Presbyterian Church is an African-American congregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They built the structure, brick upon brick, so that it might withstand bombs, shooting, or burning. Stained glass gave way to safety, so when I stand in the pulpit, I always remember where I am.
In “God of the Oppressed,” James Cone recounts how Christian responses to the 1967 Detroit riot revealed not only an insensitivity to black suffering but a larger theological bankruptcy on the part of white theologians. As he saw it, they were not genuinely concerned about all cases of violence. Worried about the threat of black revolutionaries, they did not see the structure of violence embedded in U.S. law and carried out by the police. Cone asks: “Why didn’t we hear from the so-called nonviolent Christians when black people were violently enslaved, violently lynched, and violently ghettoized in the name of freedom and democracy?”
In the midst of all the unarmed black people dying at the hands of police and the even larger problem of anti-black ideology that has normed our society, I thought it fitting to share Moe's song. Let me know what you think about his song entitled Brown Skin.
May we not domesticate the Jesus story for our own religious comfort, but in telling the story, and doing so truthfully, may we worship our crucified Christ and encounter his delivering presence, and therefore be transformed after the image of God.
America’s conversation about race has, like all of our public conversations, come to consist largely of a running commentary on viral spectacles. Recent weeks have been rife with them—the Oklahoma University SAE video chant and the dreadful scene of the double shooting of police in Ferguson; the awesome images of a sitting and a former president crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, heading a massive multiracial and multigenerational crowd; the face of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, bloodied by Alcohol Board of Control officers.
Between April 1831 and February 1832, two officials of the French government under Louis-Philippe toured Jacksonian America. These two officials—Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont—were on assignment to research prisons in the United States and later produced a report of their findings in 1833. But while traveling through America, Tocqueville and Beaumont were also carefully observing political and social life in the new republic. Both men published works on their observations. Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America (1835/1840) and Beaumont wrote a novel, entitled Marie or, Slavery in the United States(1835).
Most Americans are familiar with Tocqueville’s work, but Beaumont’s novel is less well known.
So much religious talk is about naming, about describing a general reality in particular terms. This is important. But in our increasingly secular culture, it’s always striking when someone gets at deep religious truth without bothering with religious language.
For instance, Jay Smooth offers a pretty crisp explication here of the nature of sin and virtue.