Hey, White Jesus: It’s Not Me, It’s You.
I finally owned the truth that my faith has been in transition for several years. I grew up in church, made my confession of faith as a teen, and have maintained church membership for most of my adult life. Prior to owning this truth, I acted like my faith related questions were a hinderance to my faith, but the dismissal of my own thoughts and questions felt cheap, rooted in fear, and incompatible with a critical, more fully developed faith.
Broderick Greer, former host of the Theology Live podcast, offered a tweet that resonated with my decolonization process: “Blacken the text. Feminize the text. Queer the text. Liberate the text.” At its core, this tweet was a call to take up what hooks called bringing margin to center. That simple tweet affirmed so much of what I had come to know as my new norm with Christian theology.
Say It Loud: I’m Black & I’m Proud!
I’m a Black Feminist/Womanist Christian. Foregrounding concepts of power, privilege, and oppression in my analysis is what I do. I think, analyze, and understand through the lens of how systems shape individuals’ experiences. I am often frustrated in church and by the way many Christians in the United States context do church. Be clear: I’m frustrated with the way Christians, myself included, have done the practice of Christianity, not with Christ.
God Doesn’t Need Us to Be Gatekeepers
I’m frustrated (and disappointed) by the homophobia, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, sexism, patriarchy, wreckless masculinity, classism, and shaming guised as God’s word and work. My righteous indignation burns for churches and Christians who proclaim a savior that liberates the imprisoned, but who turn around and oppresses people with God’s word. I’m tired of being preached at about submission because I’m a woman whose place is [supposedly] behind men.
The incongruence of thought in my faith was that a loving God can’t/couldn’t stand in agreement with the violence perpetrated through systems and functions of oppression like homophobia, misogyny, classism, toxic masculinity, rape culture, and white supremacy that had been guised as “Christian values”. It. Just. Don’t. Work. If we’re to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, then my faith walk couldn’t be just/righteous without critiques to and the dismantling of these evils perpetrated in/through churched spaces. I can’t/couldn’t sit up under leaders who encourage(d) evil “in Jesus’ name”. I had/have to choose one: Liberate folks with God’s word or oppress people with it.
Oppression disguised as Christian Values just won’t work. We must dismantle oppression in the sanctuary immediately.
Blacken the text
My journey to “Blacken the text”, to endarken it, primarily consists of recognizing and removing whiteness and white supremacy from interpretation and centering so-called people of color in the text. This has been one of the most powerful things I’ve done. Simple things like naming that people in the Bible were people who’d likely be considered “people of color” by contemporary western standards enabled me to better envision myself within the text AND question/pushback against the tradition of centering white images in Western Christianity.
First up was giving White Jesus the boot. He had to go. With that, any notions of difference-neutral (read: colorbl*ndness) readings of the text had to go. Biblical folks had cultures, robust languages, and customs that shaped their lives, their writings, and their interpretation of their experiences with God. Seeing difference complicates the texts in ways that trouble and counter white supremacy and whiteness. I’ve had to reconcile the ways I’ve been complicit in the reproduction of whiteness centered christianity and how I desire to have an inclusive, equitable faith.
If I’m honest, getting many (white) people to say that Jesus wasn’t White is challenging. Even in doing so, the counter is that it shouldn’t matter what color Jesus was, as long as his blood on calvary was red *side eye*. If his hue or color doesn’t matter, then why can’t so many acknowledge his status as a non-white person? The willingness to flatten difference, instead of embracing the richness of it, is why I will continue to endarken scripture. At present, my tolerance for the white supremacy that undergirded much of my experience as a Christian won’t let me be still about the issue. It’s challenging and detrimental for me to be in worship with community members who use their faith to oppress my culture and race through, be it overt, covert, or internalized white supremacy (or its cousin anti-blackness).
Feminize the text
Feminizing the Biblical text is critical to the decolonization process. I look for the women in Biblical scripture. I ask myself, where are the women folx?
Rev. Janae Pitts-Murdock did a guest spot called HERmeneutics on the Theology Live podcast that continues to bless me. In the episode, she highlighted the briefly written story of Queen Vashti in the Book of Esther. Her discussions around what little we know about her, the ways she is (rarely) taught about and when she is taught, she’s portrayed as a contrary wife and an unprincipled person. Rev. Pitts-Murdock went on to humanize Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she watched her son die and discussed the ways women are often afterthoughts in the preached word.
I am prompted to ask how, if at all, are women affirmed in the text? What are women doing when they’re being centered in text? I examine the text for the ways (plural) that patriarchy has shaped the narrative around these women, some who lack a name. I have transitioned to learning more about womanist theological interpretations of scripture. Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman’s session on Womanist Theology emphasized the presence of women in scripture, the value of women’s -Black women’s- “God talk”, and the necessity of naming the oppressive len(s) that cover scripture and guide interpretation.
As an unmarried woman who desires children but who may not be able to birth them or afford to adopt them, hearing “barren” women preached always gave me pause.
Feminizing the text has helped me to stretch my theology and consider what other interpretations might help me to learn more about the nature of God, as well as the parallels and differences in the roles of women across time as they relate to faith. It helps me see myself more fully within the text, within my practice, and within the Body of Christ.
I am prompted to ask how, if at all, are women affirmed in the text? What are women doing when they’re being centered in text?
Queer the text
Queering the text, for me, has been a deliberate process to disrupt and remove heteronormativity, homophobia, and transphobia. These three have been hell and high water to remove because so much and so many people are invested in these ideas. I was one of those people whose investments in cis and binary gender and man/woman relationships made me a Chick-fil-a christian: “Nice” to Queer folks but thinking poorly of their “lifestyle choice” *rolls eyes and gags*.
Consider the ways in which most of our Women’s Ministries operate in churched spaces. These collectives often center on being a wife to a husband, of course, because Audre Lorde knows there isn’t room for women to love other women within heteronormative christian ideology. I’ve rarely experienced a women’s ministry or church that interrogated the text in ways that challenged patriarchy, restrictive definitions of womanhood and femininity, or the idea that women can be more than some combination of problematic descriptors: sorrowful, deceitful, wretched (Biblical ratchet), or broken.
I’ve replaced the phobias and antagonisms with a faith that includes Queer folks and a genderless God. God is God. I don’t wild out with folx who insist that the spirit God is gendered he, but I don’t stand for the idea that God can only encompass maleness. If we’re known by our works, then I can’t deny the faith of Queer folks who love God too. That’s not how that works here.
Liberate the text
Here’s where I feel my help coming on.
If God is a mighty liberator, how can I oppress anyone with God’s word or with my religious practices?
That doesn’t even make sense, and yet, that was exactly what I (and plenty of other Christian identified people) did. I work(ed) to differentiate convictions from lingering thoughts associated with oppressive ideology and search(ed) the text for people and groups who needed or experienced freedom as a means to conceptualize what a liberation focused faith might look like. I am constantly disheartened by the means my Christian kinfolk go through to oppress and beat people with the word of God. Our best testimonies are the love and grace we reflect toward others, not the damning sermons or laws that insist that all people live some rigid, legalistic, colonized interpretation of christianity.
Contextually speaking, I’m the descendant of enslaved West Africans in the stolen land that would be colonized as the United States. Liberating the text to identify the places where chains and bondage have been removed and interrogating passages for systems of oppression guised as “God’s will” or “the culture of the time” are always appropriate. After all, those same texts were used to justify and enforce the violence, torture, abuse, enslavement, rape, systemic oppression, and daily indignities of my ancestors by people who proclaimed to be doers of the Word.
Using the text to oppress is trashcan behavior. While I’m not convinced that we’ll ever end every form of oppression on this side of time, we can certainly counter and disrupt it. There are plenty of people/groups who experience freedom on this side. I can’t, in good consciousness, call oppression “God’s will” when it’s a system held in place by the actions of people who use scripture (and laziness) to support it through some form of law, policy, or practice. If people can create it, then surely, people can dismantle and disrupt it.
Liberation involves interrogating the scriptures for systems of oppression guised as God’s will.
My faith now looks, feels, and operates vastly different from my former faith walk. My prayers remain that God help my heart and mind to be fertile ground for the Word to take hold and that my will and ability be strengthened by God’s grace to do the work before us as Christians. I embrace the intellectual curiosity that God gifted me with. I recognize that most churched spaces I’ve encountered lack the ability or willingness to be theologically curious. As such, I spend less time in churched spaces as my primary means to learn about and connect with God.
If God is infinite, which I believe God to be, then can’t the infinite, omniscient, omnipresent God handle questions and inquiries from this finite being that this same God created 🙂 God is grown enough to handle my questions.
There hasn’t been space to explore who God is and who God might be. God is grown enough to handle my questions.
I recognize that like Sway, I won’t have all the answers, but I’m not going to let less than tidy/messy responses/answers/conclusions stop me from inquiring.
I don’t seek to be God. God is God. I seek a faith that liberates, welcomes inquiry, does justice, and allows for an authentic relationship between God and creation. In my journey to keep it positive, I’ve learned that God is so much more than the petty, micromanaging, tit for tat, fear-centered God that God has been made out to be. I’m thankful for the community of faith I have crafted and been graced with. They are loving, even when our conclusions settle in different places. We fellowship with one another, ever thoughtful of the ways our beliefs and practices are shaped by our social locations and how we employ our faith within the world. We’re perfectly imperfect and critical. I intuitively know (read: feel) that my faith has grown through the decolonization process.
I recognize that some folks just won’t be able to receive what I’ve offered. I too used to be unable or unwilling to receive any portion of truth that *might* create dissonance around my faith. Press your way anyhow.
There will be some people reading who might feel connected to pieces of this offering. Awesome. Press your way too.
With that, I think I’ll run on…see what the end’s gonna be. Ase. Amen.
I seek a faith that liberates, welcomes inquiry, does justice, and allows for an authentic relationship between God and creation.