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.

What color is your Jesus?

Cristo Negro de Esquipulas
Cristo Negro de Esquipulas (2019).

In my research question, I pose the question on how, I, as a Christian, can help in shattering the frozen face of white fragility and talk openly about race. I find it curious that the majority of representations of Christ I see, picture a white Christ. Geographically, I don’t see how Christ could have been white. Christ was middle eastern, so he had to at least be brown, and as far as I am concerned, a black Jesus would make geographical sense. 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. DiAngelo (2018) would argue that this is a result of our racism being so deeply embedded within our society we are blinded by our own white colored glasses.

Black Jesus
Black Jesus (Marsh, 2013).

When I went back to college at the age of 43 to finish my bachelors and pursue my masters, I did so at a primarily white, fundamental Christian university. As a gay man at a fundamentalist Christian university, it was a challenge to live as an out gay man, but somehow I managed. During my Christian ethics class on the immorality of homosexuality, I found myself asking my professor if I could tell my story, because, quite frankly, I wanted to put a face to the discussion. He agreed only if I would allow questions. I agreed and invariable the nature or nurture question was asked, to which I responded, nature, followed by my normal response. “If you think I chose to be gay, to experience discrimination, to be spit on, to be called faggot, to be thought of less than, then you go out and live one day as an openly gay man then come back and tell me you chose it”.

How is this relevant to the discussion? In a TedTalk on bioethics (Wolpe, 2010) show advances in bioengineering allowing us to change the color of puppies, kittens, monkeys, and pigs. He theorizes that we will eventually be able to change our skin color.

My statement to you is this … if you wouldn’t chose Black, then you might be more racist then you are willing to admit.

References

Black Christ of Esquipulas. (2019, July 8). In Wikipedia [Photograph]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Christ_of_Esquipulas

DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56

Marsh, K. (2013, March 12). Was Jesus Christ black? [Photograph].  A Do-Good Movement. https://adogoodmovement.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/was-jesus-christ-black/

Wolpe, P. R. (2010, November).  It’s time to question bio-engineering [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_root_wolpe_it_s_time_to_question_bio_engineering

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