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The Color and Gender of God

I read the book, The Shack (Young, 2007), well before it became a popular read, the movie was produced, and it was a topic of discussion in Christian book circles. I loved the character of God in the book, who was a Black woman named Papa. The juxtaposition of a feminine God with a masculine name combined with the narrative of God as Black versus the white patriarch character I had been introduced to in my Christian journey resonated with me.

In an early post on my blog, Racism – How very white of you, I have a blog entry titled, What Color Is Your Jesus? (Cook-Snell, 2020a). In that I write, “So why do we (white Christians) usually portray Christ as white? Of those pictures that show a black Jesus, most are associated with the crucified Christ versus the everyday living, breathing, eating, and miracle working Jesus (Marsh, 2004). Marsh (2004) posits when we (white Christians) see pictures of everyday black Jesus, we cannot relate and cannot see ourselves in a crowd of black and brown people following a Black Jesus.” Depicted in that entry is the Cristo Negro de Esquipulas, a Black crucified Jesus (Cook-Snell, 2020).

Black Madonna of Częstochowa (n.d.).

I hold these images in my mind while I currently listen to God is a Black Woman, written by theologian Christena Cleveland (2022). Cleveland’s discussion (and I’m only in chapter 2), brings in the feminine God and counters the B.C.E. and C. E. imagery of God. She challenges the Indo-European, Greco-Roman, and westernized traditions of a masculine, white-skinned God. She questions how this imagery continues to relegate and push to the margins of Christianity those who have been held captive to doctrine, racism, heterosexism, ableism, genderism, and the other “-ism’s” plaguing both the secular and the sacred.

Realizing the capturing and enslavement of black and brown persons fed both the European and the subsequent rise to dominance of the settlers on stolen land that was colonized by white-skinned individuals was sanctioned by the capital “C” church as authorized in the Doctrine of Discovery (Cook-Snell, 2020b), it is time for the capital “C” church to question how we have depicted God and the harm this has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate. As a member of the United Church of Christ, I am thankful that our denomination has, and continues to, stand in the gap for marginalized, minoritized, and underrepresented persons, but we still have more work.

References

Black Madonna of Częstochowa. (n.d.).In Wikipedia. Retrieved from February 22, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna

Cleveland, C. (2022). God is a black woman [Audio Version]. HarperCollins.

Cook-Snell, B. (2020a, January 31). What color is your Jesus? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://bretthcook.blog/2020/01/31/what-color-is-your-jesus/

Cook-Snell, B. (2020b, March 26). The WASP’s nest? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://bretthcook.blog/2020/03/26/the-wasps-nest/

Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56. https://doi.org/10.1558/blth.2004.2.1.45

Young, W. P. (2007). The shack. Windblown Media.

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(Dis)Trusted Servant

I’m Christian. I go to Church. But I do not trust the Christian Church. I’ve got over 40 years of reasons why. The psychological condemnation by the Christian Church I received as a gay man has caused a deep-seated distrust of the institution. But I go to church to worship, not to worry. How does my distrust of an institution relate to the topic of antiracist activism?

No Justice No Peace by Notsik
No Justice No Peace by Notsik (wiredforlego, 2020).

It is similar to the reason Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Immigrant persons do not trust the institution of law enforcement. Law enforcement is an institution has publicly and sometimes egregiously harmed, wounded, and killed, persons of color. I have students of color who write about their internal conflict they have experienced when even driving or walking by a police officer.  We have seen the brutal killing of black men and women through unreasonable acts of restraint. The institution is rooted in selectively reacting based upon race, we have seen the tepid action of law enforcement in applying disproportionate restraint tactics of the white mob of protestors at our nation’s Capitol. Had the crowd been black, I can almost guarantee the reaction of law enforcement would have been swift, aggressive, and forceful.

This prejudicial and preferential treatment of white community over Black, Brown, and Indigenous community is not new to our nation’s history.  It is in our history we find the very reason of this institutional bias that treats light skin better than dark skin. The modern-day police departments, at least the Southern departments, have their beginnings in the slave patrols of the Civil War and during reconstruction (Potter, 2013). It would be easy to dismiss with an “in the past” argument and “not relevant to today”, but the field of epigenetics would suggest otherwise.


The field of epigenetics suggests that generational trauma is passed down up to 14 generations (Singh, 2020).


If we consider a generation to be 35-40 years based on a Google search, then that means that generational, racialized trauma that we are experiencing today may be a result of acts committed against the body Black from 1461. How ironically close that is to the “discovery” of America made permissible by the Church’s Doctrine of Discovery. The doctrine which ultimately led to the institutions of white supremacy through our euro-descended ancestors first, then the enslavement of our African brothers and sisters second, and ultimately to the law enforcement institutions today. Not to say racism is encoded in our DNA, but to say that systemic racism has affected our bodies’ chemistry in a way that is passed down from generation to generation. Black and white trauma at both ends of the racist/antiracist spectrum is the result. The past is not in the past, but is in the present.

Before trust can be placed into the hands of law enforcement, law enforcement must address the truth of their past, admit its failings, and become an institution of change. Police lives do matter, but police are not blue, the institution is blue. Blue lives matter places the institution above the person, an institution founded in racism and that continues to support racial profiling and the arrest and murder non-white persons.

References

Potter, G. (2013, June 25). The history of policing in the United States, part I. Eastern Kentucky University Police Studies Online. Retrieved January 9, 2021 from https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1

Singh, A. (2020). Building a counseling psychology of liberation: The path behind us, under us, and before us. The Counseling Psychologist 48(8), 1109 – 1130.

wiredforlego. (2020, August 20). No justice, no peace by notsik [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wiredforsound23/50282335652/in/photostream/). CC BY-NC 2.0.