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.

Four More Years

No, I am not talking about four more years of the 45th President of the United States, please God, no (and that is a prayer!).

I’m talking about the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent,  2015-2024 (United Nations, 2020). Why am I just now hearing about this now, especially when there is also a joint initiative of my church, The United Church of Christ, with The United Church of Canada (see the video), in promoting awareness of this decade?

(United Church of Christ, 2020).

Mind you, I would like to blame my church denomination for not informing me. I would also like to blame my church home, for not informing the congregation. Truth is, they might have, and if they did, I probably dismissed it. Racism was not on my radar in 2015.

After all, I wasn’t a racist.

Just like I didn’t become white until 1967, and I didn’t see color until 2019, I am only now beginning to understand my whiteness. I am only now beginning to understand how white America has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate systemic racism. I am only now beginning to understand that if change is to happen, it must happen in the pews and at the altars as well as at polls and in the police stations.

White America needs to begin making amends and reparations to reconcile our sins against our African descended black and brown people. Even if that reparation only begins with an inner change in thought and word, as long as that thought and word, lead to action. If we fail to act, the four more years we have left in the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, will also turn into four more years of “Number 45” and his legacy of white supremacy.

References

United Church of Christ. (2020). United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, 2015-2024 [Video]. https://www.ucc.org/un_international_decade_for_people_of_african_descent_2015_2024

United Nations. (2020). United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, 2015-2024. https://www.un.org/en/observances/decade-people-african-descent

The Journey Continues

Dr. Cook-Snell in Starbucks
Dr. Cook-Snell in Starbucks (Cook-Snell, 2019).

Last semester I started blogging about white fragility (DiAngelo, 2018) as an example blog for my students’ assignments. It’s another semester and time to start my blogging again.

My overarching question in my first post of last semester, What color is my hat, was how may I, as a Christian white man, talk with other white men and women of faith, on the topic of white fragility to be a change agent to fight against racism?

Summing up, in Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse, I talked about the fallacy of claiming to see the person, not their color when we defend our non-racists positions. Doing so denies the experiences persons of color bring to the table and the real racism they face growing up black or growing up brown.  In my next post, Family values, I examined the spoken and unspoken words that perpetuated the illusion that my family of heritage did not express racists ideology, only discovering upon reflection how deeply embedded generational racism is in my family of heritage and how it subtly blinded me to issues of white privilege and fragility. Next, in What color is your Jesus?, I asserted my belief that Christ, the center of my faith, was more than likely a person of color than the images of white Jesus that populates my faith. I also found research supporting that when that same Jesus is black (Marsh, 2004), it is more than likely an image of crucifixion then redemption. Finally, to wrap up the semester, I wrote about how the first step to change is awareness of the problem. This semester my goal is to begin to be an active part of that change.

Towards that end, when looking for new materials this semester to use as my examples for my students, I discovered a facilitator training opportunity offered by the United Church of Christ’s Sacred Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) (United Church of Christ, 2018). As a congregant within the UCC, I will be completing that training. As a result, and because life and research are both messy, I’ve revised my question to how may I work towards social justice in the fight against racism with my brothers and sisters in Christ? Same topic, but a different perspective. This semester’s blog will chronicle that journey as my students complete their own journey on their own topics of choice.

References

Cook-Snell, B. H. (2019). [Photograph].

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

United Church of Christ. (2018). Sacred conversations to end racism. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://www.ucc.org/sacred_conversations_to_end_racism

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