Archives For Liberation Theology

This one is from our upaid contributor, colleague, and friend Rev. Drew Colby— 

Over the last month, with the Covenant Catholic boys’ debacle, and the Wall shutdown, and Northam, and Herring all in the background, I’ve been reading a book a church member gave me: No Future Without Forgiveness by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It’s his account of his time on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in post-apartheid South Africa.

By 1990 Black and Brown South Africans had experienced decades (in some ways centuries) of oppression based solely on skin color. The Afrikaans “pigmentocracy” in which Blacks were segregated, dehumanized, intentionally under-educated, and ultimately tortured and killed in droves through armed conflict, had just fallen, and the window for healing was open; but fleeting.

In what Tutu describes as a miracle, rather than inflict proportionate justice, or even pursuing the “Nuremberg Option” against the perpetrators of war crimes and state killings, the citizens chose to pursue reconciliation. The commission called for reports of abuse and crimes of apartheid. They received over 20,000.

Under the terms of the TRC, the criminals and human rights abusers named in such reports were not arrested, or hanged by an angry mob. Instead they were given a chance to apply for amnesty. Complete amnesty. No reprisals. No prosecutions. No fines. Amnesty. What Christians such as Tutu might call unmerited grace.

And what happened was a miracle upon a miracle, what the gospel of John refers to “as grace upon grace.” In the wake of profoundly evil oppression, the oppressors–racist murderers and rapists–came forward and offered the only thing they had: the truth. Victims were present to hear the story of how their loved ones were humiliated, or raped, or killed, shot in the back, burned alive. And the perpetrators then testified, having already been granted amnesty.

Notice this with me.

The victims consented to a process that would let their perpetrators go free in exchange for the truth.

The victims wrote their report with this understanding, then the perpetrators applied for amnesty, and then, once amnesty was already approved, they would be free to give their confession.

It was not the confession that was the pre-condition for their amnesty. It was their amnesty that made way for their confession. It was not repentance that merited grace. It was grace that illicited repentance. It was not their transformation that earned them forgiveness, it was their forgiveness that freed them for transformation.

Unmerited grace, the blotting out of their sins, liberated these Whites in a way that nothing else could.

And it paved a way for the national racial reconciliation and healing which, though ongoing, makes America’s attempts at reconciliation look like child’s play.

Obviously the American story is different. It’s a totally different context, and our “window” for such a process may be closed. The racism we live with now in America is generally more covert, even accidental. Much of the structural, institutionalized racism still exists but without a process like TRC, American racism has been permitted to go underground. There is likely not much hope for thorough reconciliation or restoration in our lives.

Nonetheless, in our current culture, I don’t see anyone coming close to trying. There have been attempts but they’ve been more like virtue signaling than creating space for the open, honest, confession of the sin of racism.

When White politicians or other leaders talk about racism, it’s usually to acknowledge the problems of our racist past. Acknowledgment of past mistakes is not confession of present sin. But, then again, can you blame them?

In our current national and social media discourse, what does anyone have to gain from confessing honestly and openly to inherent racism? What do we do when we find racism or any sin? We call it out and call for their resignation. We assassinate the character and end the career of the person in question.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. This response is largely justified. It may be that Northam must resign, and people have every reason to ask for it; but it is not a solution. It resolves nothing. Consequences make sense but they do not improve race relations.

Nevertheless, the telling of the honest truth is something that can bring resolution.Take it from Archbishop Tutu:

“We were seeing it unfolding there before our very eyes as we sat in the commission… Now it was all coming out, not as wild speculation or untested allegations. No, it was gushing forth from the mouths of perpetrators themselves how they had abducted people, shot them and burned their bodies or thrown corpses into crocodile-infested rivers.”

This kind of amnesty for the sake of letting the truth out may not be available to us. It would be nice if we had an American Tutu ready to lead such a process for us. But, even if we had all that, and we could grant amnesty sufficiently so that the truth could be open enough for us to grow past it, there remains one more question.

Any understanding of justice that holds water would say that the history of both Apartheid South Africa the United States of America includes evils that deserve to be accounted for. Punished. To deny this is to leave the wound open.

Amnesty, forgiveness, mercy, grace, will always illicit repentance, but repentance is not atonement. That begs the question, if no one gets punished for these sins, then where have they gone and who will atone for them?

This is why what we say about atonement matters. And it’s why I’m coming to believe that substitutionary atonement is White Liberation Theology…

Here’s the second part to our conversation with Dr. Ruben Rosario Rodriguez.

Back in the day, Ruben taught me Barth for the first time. Now, we’re both black sheep, closet Reformation guys in Catholic and Wesleyan folds respectively. Ruben Rosario Rodriguez is professor of theology at St. Louis University and is the author of the powerful new book Christian Martyrdom and Political Violence.
In this installment, Ruben talks particularly about racism in both the academy and in the student body.

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It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

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Back in the day, Ruben taught Jason Barth, Luther, and Calvin for the first time. Now, they’re both black sheep, closet Reformation guys in Catholic and Wesleyan folds respectively. Ruben Rosario Rodriguez teaches theology at St. Louis University and is the author of the powerful new book Christian Martyrdom and Political Violence.
In the 2-part conversation, Jason and Ruben talk about racism, liberation theology, the limits of post-liberalism, and martyrdom as a necessary possibility to any definition of Christian ‘witness.’
Give us a rating and review!!!

Help us reach more people: Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Help support the show!

This ain’t free or easy but it’s cheap to pitch in. Click here to become a patron of the podcasts.

Disclaimer: This is not a ‘political’ post, sorry to disappoint.

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One of the articles making its way around the blogosphere is John Blake’s recent post, The Gospel According to Obama, on CNN’s Belief Blog.

When I was a student in college, I unintentionally attended a black church one Sunday morning. Still new to the faith, I wasn’t sophisticated in deciphering church names, denominational markers etc.

I had no idea the church I stepped into was going to be a black church. I had no idea until that Sunday that the way the faith was expressed and understood in churches like that was so very different from what I knew.  And I had no idea until that Sunday to what extent my own Christianity had been conditioned by my white, middle-class, suburban life.

That Sunday in college, and worship services and relationships that followed into seminary, lead me to think Blake’s article, while not crap, is wrong.

Blake takes up the now familiar, tired storyline about how many white, evangelical Christians do not view the President as a Christian, when Christianity is in fact the religion espoused by the President. Blake steers clear of the now familiar, tired statistics which describe the disturbing number of Americans who believe the President is a Muslim or a crypto-Muslim (why that would necessarily disqualify him for office is another, seldom asked question).

Instead Blake takes the ‘the President is Other’ storyline in a different direction. Blake, marshaling the inconclusive- and not a little opportunistic- opinions of Diana Butler Bass and Jim Wallis, argues that the reason white evangelicals don’t understand the President as a Christian is because they don’t understand his Christianity.

True so far, I think.

Blake, Bass and Wallis argue that evangelicals don’t understand the President’s Christianity because his is a ‘Social Justice’ Christianity, which focuses on the biblical mandate to care and advocate for the poor.

This is where they go wrong, I believe.

There’s no doubt the President’s political perspective overlaps with the Social Justice tradition on many tangible points; however, Blake, Bass and Wallis conveniently- but also mind-blowingly (and ultimately, offensively)- gloss over the fact that the Social Justice movement was from its inception and remains, in its muted strength, a movement of white, affluent Christians while the President- newsflash- is black.

In so thorough a piece, Blake somehow leaves out the fact that the Black Church in America has its own very particular, historically rooted understanding of the Christian story and its this-worldly implications for the poor.

The gaping hole Blake leaves in his article where the Black Church should be leaves one to wonder if he- or Bass and Wallis- actually know any African American Christians. That’s hyperbole. I’m sure they do. Still, for white liberal Christians, like Wallis and Bass, to leave out the distinctive witness of the Black Church and see in a black President’s faith only their own reflection is its own kind of racism.

White evangelicals don’t misunderstand the President because he’s a Social Justice Christian; they misunderstand him because he’s a black Christian. 

 Or maybe, I think the logic holds (and applies equally to Wallis and Bass), they misunderstand him because he’s black.

Which, more so than any political point, may reveal out a more serious omission. To paraphrase Paul, we can’t all be a part of the Body of Christ and live like we have no use for the other.

This is how Scot McKnight pushes back on Blake’s article:

“I find it exasperating that once again the commentators and locators of Obama’s faith are lilly-white Americans: Jim Wallis and Diana Butler Bass. Both of whom, intelligent as they are, want to locate Obama’s faith in the social justice tradition….But there’s a major issue. White elites are the ones who articulated the Social Gospel, most famously Walter Rauschenbusch but not limited to him. That Social Gospel was fixed deeply in the psyche and ministries of much of the mainline denominations so much that one can say culture and church meshed to where difference is not always detectable. Mainline faith in the USA is the religion of the privileged. The Social Gospel is a kind of white social justice Christianity.

 African American “social gospel” types are not simply the Social Gospel type. Why did we not have an interview with someone like Brian Blount, a clear, forceful African American liberation theologian? Or James Cone? It is my view that “Social Gospel” does not do justice to President Obama’s faith.

 A theology done from the oppressed and for the oppressed is not the same as a theology done from the position of power and privilege. President Obama’s faith is an African American liberation kind of social gospel. There’s a difference and it is worth the nuance.

Here’s the link to the rest of Scot’s post.