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).
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.
I am sickened, distressed, saddened, and dismayed by how our society continues to defend Stand Your Ground culture as a defense for murder. Two semesters ago, I read a book that opened my eyes to how good-intentioned white people still unknowingly perpetuate racism while vehemently declaring they/we/I are not/am not racist(s). I talk about that briefly in Why this Blog and Why this Topic.
The book deconstructed my own social constructs about racism and left me wanting to be part of the change. I began blogging about that read in Fall 2020. Part of that blogging effort was also to provide examples of assignments for my students to use in completing their research efforts on any topic of their choice. A process I now do every semester on the same topic.
In Spring 2020 , I enrolled in a year long facilitator training through my church denomination’s program, Sacred Conversations to End Racism (United Church of Christ, 2020). As I blogged about that during Spring 2020, part of the information I learned is that race is not a biological construct, but a social one, that all humanity has its roots in Africa, that a 23 and Me DNA test shows my own African heritage of 1.3% Angolan and Congolese, and the role of the Christian church in perpetuating racism, slavery, murder of indigenous Native American’s, and Eurocentric perspective within which it is embedded supports tacit racism whether we/they know it or not.
Because I remain committed to the topic, I will continue my blogging efforts for my Summer classes as I teach (a Maymester 3-week class and a Summer Session 1 8-week class). In my last entry for my Spring 2020 semester, I revised my research question to, “How may I work towards restorative racial justice within the Christian Church?”.
And that question stands. It stands because it is relevant. It stands because restorative justice does not just include education, it includes action. It stands because of Ahmaud Arbery. It stands because of Trayvon Martin, Onesimo Marcelino Lopez-Ramosand, Ziad Abu Naim, and Jordan Davis (Grimes, 2019). And it stands because of all the black and brown people murdered under the auspices the capital “C” Church’s Doctrine of Discovery in the 15th century that has evolved into today’s Stand Your Ground culture that allows this murder to continue.
It is now the end of Spring semester, COVID-19 has changed our world, probably forever, and my students are writing their concluding blog for the semester. My entry here, is an example for them to follow. It is by no means is it the end of my own blogging.
I have peppered this post with images from the 2015 Norman Rockwell Exhibit, We the People and his Golden Rule painting (Rockwell, 1894-1978a). I have come to believe the historical Christian Church has failed at Matthew 7:12, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (The Peoples Bible, 2009). I ask you before you read this summary of my previous entries for the semester, to look at Rockwell’s Golden Rule to the right. Notice the rainbow of black to brown to white and remember my post, The Myth of Race.
My focus this semester was looking at the question, “How may I work towards social justice in the fight against racism with my brothers and sisters in Christ?” (See The Journey Continues). My greatest movement towards answering that question was committing to a year-long facilitator training program with the United Church of Christ Sacred Conversations to End Racism (UCC SC2ER, 2020) (See Jesus didn’t Speak in Red letters.)
Participation in that process and reflecting upon what I have learned has already led me to change the name of my blog from Let’s talk about racism: You say you’re not a racist to Deconstructing racism: Moving beyond what we see. Here are some of the things that I learned and that are supported in social, anthropological, and genetic research.
I learned that we all have our origins in Africa and at some genetic level, we are all persons of color. I lay my case for that in my entry Across the Great Divide. I supporting that in facts through my own genetic testing results indicating my African ancestry of 1.3% Angolan and Congolese. Race, as a biological construct does not exist.
I learned that while there is no basis for race, racism, as a social construct is alive and well in the 21st century. A fact I talk about in my entry I was Black until 1967.
And I learned race, as we use the term today, is a direct result of a Papal Bull allowing Christians to seize the lands of other people and to enslave them and which future Protestants would use to continue the same. A fact I talk about in The WASP’s Nest.
I know I have not begun to address my question, but I have laid the foundation for it. But based on what I have learned, I feel the Church has more of a role in atonement than I thought. I feel the Church mut not only be socially just and live the Golden Rule, but must be restorative and atone for the sins of its past. My question shifts from society to Church and “How may I work towards restorative racial justice within the Christian Church?”.
We’re Americans, and as such, we can’t remember shit. Perhaps that’s why, as we write this, the massive, orchestrated effort by the current administration to revise history even as it occurs is experiencing almost total success. Events are being reduced to sound bites; sound bites are becoming mantras. The truth—if you edit carefully enough, omit artfully enough, distort brazenly enough—becomes lies. And lies, if repeated relentlessly, become truth. Especially if they are wedged immovably between the covers of the kind of history text that bored you to tears in high school.
(Cooper, 2006, p. 11)
My husband I have a wasp flying around our house. It flew in several days ago when we were letting the dogs out. Because I hate to kill things, I am keeping an eye on it to try and shew it out of the house when it gets near the door. But I’m concerned about the dogs discovering it and getting stung. Thus far, wasp and dogs, have kept their distance. If that changes, I suspect I will have to take a swatter to the wasp in order to protect our dogs because wasps don’t die when they sting (The Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation, n.d.).
Speaking of discovering things, did you know the word discover, comes from its Latin and French roots, and as used in Middle English originally meant to “make known” (Lexico, 2020).
So how do lies, wasps, and the word discover relate to racism? They are the very foundation upon which our White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) society rests, and within which a culture of racism and racists history has been so thickly veiled and embedded into society, that we cannot see it’s role in how we continue to perpetuate subtle racist ideology today. If racism is to be deconstructed, then the Christian Church must recognize, and atone for, its culpability in the issue.
Let us go make known how this happened …
On June 18, 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull, Dum Diversas. The first set of documents that would compose the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery (i.e., making known) would allow for European Monarchs, with authorization from the Christian Church –
“to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens (Muslims) and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit (Emphasis Added)” (as quoted in Charles & Rah, 2019, p. 15).
So, when Columbus “made known” the America’s to an Imperialist European Monarchy, the establishment of the slave trade began. When the frontier men and women “made known” to President Andrew Jackson the wild, wild west was prime territory, the genocide of Native American’s was sanctioned (in Adelman, 2003, DVD Scene 8). Not only was it sanctioned by the Government, it was sanctioned by the Christian Church as our God-given, puritanical, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant historical narrative. And these WASPs have not lost their sting.
The Doctrine of Discovery continues to sting Native Americans through the government’s environmental policy towards Native American lands and the Dakota pipeline (Aune, 2019). It is still an issue of relevance in the United Nations (Pineda, 2017). And the Doctrine of Discovery is the king pin of our stand your ground culture that allows the WASPs to sting with complicity and near impunity in the murder of innocent black and brown persons (Douglas, 2015).
All of this was “made known” to me in my UCC SC2ER facilitator training this week. I am sickened and saddened not only by the Christian Church’s historical role, some of which was taught in our whitewashed history of the Christian Crusades, but not it’s long lasting and continued effects into the 21st century. It is time for the Christian Church to rend the temple veil of history behind which American Exceptionalism lies and begin to make ethical, moral, and financial reparations for its actions. A topic I hope to broach in my next entry.
Pineda, B. (2017). Indigenous Pan-Americanism: Contesting settler colonialism and the doctrine of discovery at the UN permanent forum on indigenous issues. American Quarterly, 69(4), 823-832. http://doi.org/10.1353/aq.2017.0068