Monday, December 10, 2018

The Christian Church's "white supremacy" shame (James H. Cone)


Chris Hedges underscore the theological contribution of James H. Cone’s “withering critique of the white supremacy and racism inherent within the white, liberal Christian church” in his latest column in truthdig.com.

According to Cone, privileged which Christianity and its theology were heresy.
Hedges quotes Cone: “When it became clear to me that Jesus was not biologically white and that white scholars actually lied by not telling people who he really way, I stopped trusting anything they said,” from Said I wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian.
Cone also writes, as Hedges reports:
White supremacy is America’s original sin and liberation is the Bible’s central message…..Any theology in America that fails to engage white supremacy and God’s liberation of black people from that evil is not Christian theology but a theology of the Antichrist.
White supremacy “is the Antichrist in America because it has killed and crippled tens of millions of black bodies and minds in the modern world…It has also committed genocide against the indigenous people of this land…. If that isn’t demonic, I don’t know what is…and it is found in every aspect of American life, especially churches, seminaries and theology.
Two questions emerge:

First, does Cone’s critique apply to Canada?

Second, Is the church’s enmeshment with the archetype of the for-profit corporation an extension of its colonial “white supremacy”?

Notwithstanding the herculean efforts of many well-intentioned people to bring about reconciliation regarding the “residential schools” tragedy, all of those efforts both necessary and long over-due, one has to ask, “Have we really addressed the theological roots of the issue”? Canada continues to face the haunting and daunting spectre of thousands of indigenous peoples who have to boil their water, attend below-standard schools, search in vain for adequate and accessible health care, and a basement-like ceiling on opportunities for work with dignity. Canadian prisons, too, are “over-stocked” (as if indigenous inmates were mere objects) with indigenous prisoners many of whose lives are the direct result of Canadian social policy, historic patterns and the impunity to which previous Canadian leaders (all of them dutiful and serious adherents to one of the establishment churches) were and are indebted.

As recently as the 1990’s in Ontario theology schools, Huron College and Trinity College, specifically, no a single word was uttered, by way of curricular offerings, in rebuttal of the church’s complicity, or even direct responsibility for the “white supremacy” that has been perpetrated for more than a century, demonstrably in the name of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Political correctness, ironically, consumed much of the “talking points” about such things as the debated rights of gays to administer the eucharist, the rights of women to be bishops, the relative merits of the “Red” and the “green prayer books.

And then there is the ghost of “filling the coffers and the pews, in the manner of the corporate balance sheet that permeated the atmosphere around “successful parishes. It is, was and for too long will continue to be, a prime responsibility of  Christian clergy to do anything and everything imaginable to keep the bills paid, the numbers climbing and the reputation of the denomination unsullied.

I have led public services from which people actually got up out of their pew and walked out, because a “guest” gay priest was celebrating the eucharist. In the U.S. a parishioner confronted me, just before the Christmas services with this question: “Would it be alright for a black boyfriend of my grand-daughter to attend the Christmas Eve service?” And, following three years of serving a small church as a single divorced clergy, I was harangued with the following utterance: “You would never have been given this job as priest here if you had arrived with a black wife!” White immigrants from eastern Europe, who worshipped in that church, reported that white crosses had been burned on their property, when they were young people, and they were not even black….so rampant and deep was the racism of “white supremacy” against even white European immigrants. Not surprisingly, 87% of the people living in this country voted for trump in 2016, and in 2018, 76% voted for the Republican candidate, continuing the indelible crucifixion of any Christian expression of liberation of and for all.

Canadians do not like to speak or read the kind of language that fills the theology of James Cone. We like more euphemistic expressions, that essentially “paper over” the deep divisions that nevertheless define the Canadian cultural landscape. However, just today, the Ontario Human Rights Commission issued an interim report:


shot and killed by police…black people are overrepresented in several types of violent police interactions, including use-of-force cases, shootings deadly encounters and fatal shootings (CBC)
There is another under-reported piece of information in the OHRC report:
More white people were carrying weapons in police use of force cases, and that white people allegedly threatened or attacked police more often than black people


The words (previously reported in this space) of an Australian exchange student to a question in a Canadian high school student’s question, “What is the most noticeable difference between the United States and Canada?” come quickly to mind:
“Oh, that’s easy! In the U.S. racism and bigotry are on top of the table; in Canada they are both under the table!”

Trouble is in Canada, there has been little to no co-ordinated, funded and empirically researched data on the rise of white supremacy and organizations that purport to uphold the supremacist ideology, like the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the United States. Only this year has there been an organized and collaborative resource developed to document the various chapters of these organizations and their activities.

Notwithstanding the exemplary work of some leaders in Christian theology in promoting and nurturing ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue in Canada, there is nevertheless, a clear and indisputable link to racial superiority, bigotry and indefensible personal and national treatment of minorities, including various ethnicities and religions that continue to impede the success of all efforts at establishing equal human rights, equal racial justice and a theology that purports to be dedicated to the liberation of all without real and acknowledged voices in the political and cultural landscape.
If Cone spoke for his deceased, murdered ancestors, in the United States, who are the Christian theologians in Canada who dare face the ire of the Christian establishment by calling out the blatant and inexcusable racism of the Christian  church throughout Canadian history.

An underground Christian church that strips all veneer from the politically correct sophistication, acknowledging its complicity and culpability in both distorting and demeaning the core intention of the gospel, teachings and life of Jesus Christ Resurrected, would go a long way to freeing both the laity and the hierarchy from having to protect and defend the indefensible.

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