Thursday, February 17, 2011

De Honkify Your God

James Cone
What exactly does race have to do with religion?

I just had an interesting conversation with my professor (she used the term de-honkify and I liked it) from my online class (African American Religious Culture).  This is the same professor from my White Privilege post.  I will be learning much more about these specific theologians/philosophers later this semester, so I may come back and make some changes in the comments section.  But here are my thoughts for now…

First of all, humans are visual creatures.  We see color and beauty often times before we see anything else.  When the African world and the European world collided, there were  obviously significant visual differences.  These differences were emphasized and became an integral part of American society when the two cultures a clear social hierarchy.

These differences affect ever aspect of our daily lives including religion and God.  During slavery, God was made white. This white God was used to justify slavery and the superiority of the white man (look farther back at Manifest Destiny).  Along with a white God there are several subtle ways that white privilege, and the idea that white was the status quo, both played a role in the development of this lens in which we view society.

James Cone needs to be seen for what he was in the culture that he was a part of.  He was not some black power racist but rather a man trying to explain to theologians of the time (19600s) that race and color play a significant role in religion.  In response to the white god, Cone said “no God is Black, he is the God of the oppressed.”  If you want to see God at work, go to the ghettos, go to the homeless shelter, not the churches.  Cone explains this by breaking down exactly what God did through Jesus on the cross.  Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, not the Pharisees.  God’s character has not changed he still emphasizes with and is present in the lives of the oppressed.

In response to this idea of a black (or more importantly, a non white God) the white theologians and white churches responded by stepping back and ignoring the truths that cone was presenting.  They, in a sense, whimpered and said, “no, God is not White and God is not black, race doesn’t matter.”  They wanted to keep “their God” and if this meant not letting him be white either, that was fine.  It was clear to them that he was not black.  Instead of seeing the issue as an issue, they became outspoken about how God has no race and that race doesn’t matter when the truth is race does matter.  

I plan to continue this exploration of exactly how race plays a role in orienting oneself in the world (Longs definition of religion) and how race and history are involved in the history of the church...

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