"sometimes God takes a radical position against oppression"
February 23, 2020 10:22 PM   Subscribe

Writer, musician and speaker, Andre Henry [twitter] was hired to be the managing editor of Christian lifestyle publication Relevant Magazine, which went well right up until he wanted to publish something every day for Black History Month in 2019.
A Case for the Ongoing Black Exodus from White Evangelicalism - "The refusal of so much of the white evangelical world — including megachurches, non-profits, conferences, and media platforms — to speak prophetically and act courageously in the face of a global resurgence of white nationalism has been a great betrayal to many Black Christians that were committed to multiculturalism and “racial reconciliation.”"

Former staffers loved Relevant's mission, but a toxic culture tested their faith and Christian Magazine’s Founder Accused of Fostering “Racially Insensitive” Culture and "They're Using Us As Props For The Show" and Founder Of Evangelical Magazine Steps Aside

Andre Henry wrote a series on Medium called The God Of The Ghetto in 2017:
Exodus (pt. 1): Introducing the God of the Ghetto
For the past year or so, white Christians — many of them evangelical pastors — have been trying to explain to me that Jesus does not care about me.
Actually, it isn’t personal. It isn’t just me that Jesus doesn’t care about, these Christians say, it’s all black people.
You might be tempted to think I’ve spent the past year cold calling the Richard Spencers and David Dukes of the evangelical world. That must be why these white pastors were saying something so clearly insensitive (to put it sensitively). You would be wrong. These were well-meaning, good natured, Jesus-loving ministers that have “plenty of black friends” and can’t recall ever doing, saying, or thinking anything overtly racist.
They were just concerned that I was taking the following idea a little too far: Jesus saves.
I thought that idea also applied to being saved from threats like police brutality, mass incarceration, and other forms of social pain that disproportionately affect black people.
I was right about the Jesus saves part, say my white evangelical brothers and sisters, but not about the immediate threats to my body and human rights part. According to them, Jesus is more concerned about saving my soul for eternal happiness with God in heaven. So I’d better not get my hopes up about God intervening in the event that I’m in any type of corporeal danger."
Exodus (pt. 8): A Gospel for the Ghetto
Yes, there are indeed times where God does not burst in and miraculously save people from their troubles. Yes, there is a time to consider that nuance. But that time is not at the moment when hurting people are praying for God’s help.
The pastor’s words above are what I’ve referred to elsewhere as the gospel of death: Lie down and take it from the empire. Don’t set your hope on God to intervene, because there is no salvation — not here anyway. So, don’t be obsessed with what happens to you in this life. When you’re dead, no one can stop-and-frisk you or shoot you because of racial bias. You’ll be safe in heaven with Jesus, where none of this stuff exists. Death will solve this. That’s the good news.
Something akin to atheism seems to haunt many of my evangelical brothers and sisters. They say they believe in God, yet they also tell me that prayers against racial injustice are futile. They have chosen to fixate on what God has not done, rather than on God’s saving deeds, and have stopped believing that God intervenes. They instinctively respond with an insensitive word of caution to those who wait expectantly for God. Their basic assumption is that God is not likely to save.
Exodus (pt. 16): Wherever There’s A Ghetto
This failure of the imagination for their society is not unique unto them: its common among many human societies. It also illustrates an important lesson for those who are interested in pursuing a just society in the present: that there is a certain allure to oppression and injustice — namely, that we’ve seen it work.
On the contrary, we haven’t seen justice work as much as oppression. Therefore, it’s much easier for us to imagine a society where injustice is an essential feature.
If we don’t guard our memories of our own experiences of injustice and cultivate our imaginations to empathize with others and to envision living outside of society’s normal injustices, then we will continue living in the same cycles of injustice. Without an adjustment to our imaginations, the best we will be able to do is picture someone else in Pharaoh’s chair, when we need to envision an entirely different way to live altogether.

I was introduced to Andre Henry via The Liturgists Podcast:
Anti-Racism with Andre Henry

Is All History White History?

I had pretty much lost my appetite in the weeks that followed Castile’s death. But on July 25, I sat down and forced myself to eat. Just as I began to lift fork to mouth, I had a…daydream?

In the dream, I was walking next to a park in downtown Pasadena. From inside the park, I heard a street preacher. And though I’m not fond of street preachers, I was curious. So I went into the park to check it out.

I looked to where the voice was coming from and was surprised. The street preacher was me. I was standing next to a large boulder that had been painted white. Words like “mass incarceration,” and “police brutality,” were written on it. It was sitting on top of a kind of wagon.

Then I came back to myself, sitting over my plate of leftovers, and began to weep. I cried because I felt like the vision was an instruction and I did not want to do this thing.

“I’m a sane, intelligent person!” I thought to myself, “I am not dragging a stone around Los Angeles!”

But the next day, I was causing a commotion at the door of my Beginning Greek class as I tried to roll a wheeled platform across the threshhold with the largest boulder I could manage in tow.
posted by the man of twists and turns (24 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
There is an argument I find persuasive that the reason that evangelism can't really speak to the African-American experience is because evangelism (once known as the Southern Baptists) is a sect precision-designed to be a form of Christianity that could justify slavery. The emphasis on contextless Bible quotes and 'literal' readings of the Bible is designed to avoid the Bible's very clear, very obvious anti-oppression stance; if you can only talk about what the Bible says and not what it means, you can justify a litany of sins.

And indeed they have - from justifying slavery, to segregation, to breaking up mixed-race couples, to bigotry against homosexuality, to opposing abortion, this approach has allowed evangelicals to ignore the Good News promised on the front of their text in favour of justifying their own prejudice.
posted by Merus at 10:55 PM on February 23, 2020 [95 favorites]

Merus, that is disturbingly likely. I'll need to sit with that idea a while. It seems like everything wrong with America, every weird quirk that doesn't make sense and makes all our lives worse, comes back to the sin of slavery and all the ways we twisted our souls and our laws and to justify it to ourselves.

Every fruit of this tree carries the poison from its root.
posted by JDHarper at 11:28 PM on February 23, 2020 [16 favorites]

I had to stop for a moment when I saw Pasadena mention and cock my head. Pasadena has it's share of racial problems and then I think, crap, the city redlined everyone black/latino up north of Maple and between Lake and Lincoln at least in terms of ownership.

And then it struck me - ahh, he was at Fuller and then the pushback starts making more sense. Those... ok, that institution threatened to leave Pasadena because it was too expensive and too liberal and then the city government waved some magic wand to prevent four full city blocks just behind city hall from becoming suddenly vacant.

I have opinions.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:34 PM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

JDHarper, I just finished the excellent People's History of The Civil War, and it's pretty clear that's the case.

There was also mudsill theory, the idea that there must always be a lower class.

The rich are much better at class solidarity than the rest of us, at least in the United States, and they have always been terrified that the poor whites will realize they have a lot more in common with poor blacks (and other people of color) than they do with the rich elites, so they have spent the entirety of this country's existence (and going back into colonial times) trying to find ways to make sure they never figure that out.

And of course, racism provided a handy excuse to kill the Natives and take their lands, so it served the interest of the rich and the colonial masters, as well.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:38 AM on February 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

I was introduced to him via the Liturgists’ podcast, too. He delivered a most excellent sermon at All Saints Pasadena on MLK Sunday this year, called “We Need a Spectacular Intervention.” [SLYT] “Best sermon I ever heard” was the response of one person in attendance at All Saints Pas that day (via a comment I saw on Facebook). How many preachers have you heard weave a story from Shrek into their sermons? Or point out who really has the power in “Simon Says”? It's inspiring—but also a challenge to all of us. (Best line of the sermon, IMHO: “The one thing that you have to understand about empires is that they often tell stories about themselves. And by stories I mean lies.”)
posted by kentk at 2:22 AM on February 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

Thank you for posting, I am looking forward to digging into the links.
posted by freethefeet at 3:03 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

“The one thing that you have to understand about empires is that they often tell stories about themselves. And by stories I mean lies.”

As a child of the British Empire, I have come to realise that that is so, so true.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 4:43 AM on February 24, 2020 [10 favorites]

It worth remembering that, even among abolitionists, whites who were willing to accept freed blacks as equals were vanishingly rare. John Brown (of Harper’s Ferry fame, not Brown University) was apparently shocking in his insistence on equality as well as freedom. The Quakers had massive internal divides over the issue, even after that had settled on abolition.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:28 AM on February 24, 2020 [15 favorites]

As a Catholic, this “theology” seems like when in a horror movie someone has taken over the body of one of your friends and is moving with jerky, weird movements. I think the comment above about how this particular band of Christianity was designed to coexist with slavery may be spot on, because I just can’t explain it any other way.
posted by corb at 6:19 AM on February 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

There is an argument I find persuasive that the reason that evangelism can't really speak to the African-American experience is because evangelism (once known as the Southern Baptists) is a sect precision-designed to be a form of Christianity that could justify slavery.

The liberal evangelical Fred Clark, who blogs as slacktivist, suggested that the fundamentalist focus on abortion has a lot to do with reclaiming the moral high ground lost by some churches' failure to support civil rights. It's about saving babies, you see, and what kind of monster could oppose saving babies?

But that's a morally cheap stand, precisely because being in favor of "saving babies" is such an easy call. And as we've seen, evangelical voters are failing the moral test of virtue in supporting Trump despite his obvious unfitness for office, some even going so far as to suggest he's ordained by god to be leader.
posted by Gelatin at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2020 [22 favorites]

There is an argument I find persuasive that the reason that evangelism can't really speak to the African-American experience is because evangelism (once known as the Southern Baptists) is a sect precision-designed to be a form of Christianity that could justify slavery.

The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry gets into this a bit.
posted by gauche at 6:48 AM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

To be "fair" to the racists that Mr. Henry has been talking to, it apparently also doesn't matter to Jesus whether white people have health care or decent-paying work -- so it's not that he hates black people specifically.

Or to put it another way: Tarim loves rich people, that's why he gives them so much money. Tarim hates poor people which is why they don't have any money.
posted by Slothrup at 7:19 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that Jesus or god are going to sweep down from the heavens and save you like a superhero. The whole message is that your suffering in this world is not in vain because you'll be rewarded for your fealty in the afterlife. It is only a compelling message if you feel powerless and without hope, because at least things will be better once you die. It is also compelling if you're a really awful person who is desirous of salvation. But if you're looking for a message of hope that you will be delivered from suffering in this life by way of divine intervention, the New Testament is not the pace to look, prosperity gospel retconning notwithstanding.

And people need hope! They need to believe that things will get better, that oppression will end, that something or someone bigger and more powerful than their adversaries is On Their Side. Because without hope, what is there? So I see where Andre Henry is coming from. And, yeah, the white evangelical Christian establishment is completely racist.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:30 AM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Christianity always justified slavery.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:42 AM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

it apparently also doesn't matter to Jesus whether white people have health care or decent-paying work

So at some point this morning I stopped screaming in dignity of the worker and went to look up a couple choice passages, and at that point it's when I learned some more of the differences between the Catholic/Orthodox bibles and certain brands of Protestant bibles, which makes me wonder a lot less about how prosperity doctrine and similar things can prosper. For example, Sirach absolutely addresses some of this. The idea is not that 'god comes down like a superhero', it's that mortal people who believe in God will do it themselves, acting themselves to end oppression and do good in the world.
4:1 My child, do not mock the life of the poor; do not keep needy eyes waiting
4:9 Deliver the oppressed from their oppressors; right judgment should not be repugnant to you.
7:3 Do not sow in the furrows of injustice, lest you harvest it sevenfold.
7:6 Do not seek to become a judge if you do not have the strength to root out crime, Lest you show fear in the presence of the prominent and mar your integrity.

10:8 Sovereignty is transferred from one people to another because of the lawlessness of the proud.
13:4 As long as the rich can use you they will enslave you, but when you are down and out they will abandon you.
13:18 Can there be peace between the hyena and the dog? Or peace between the rich and the poor?
13:19 Wild donkeys of the desert are lion’s prey; likewise the poor are feeding grounds for the rich.

34:25 The bread of charity is life itself for the needy; whoever withholds it is a murderer.
34:26 To take away a neighbor’s living is to commit murder; to deny a laborer wages is to shed blood.
posted by corb at 8:45 AM on February 24, 2020 [21 favorites]

Wow, RJ Bohyn's piece about her time working for Cameron Strang (linked from the "steps aside" article) is very damning. The story about him wanting to run a deliberately inflammatory picture of a rapper with a noose around his neck, and her objection, which made him furious with her, is just stunning. What a complete jerk, papered over by his apparent ability to turn on the charisma when he wants to.
posted by mediareport at 8:46 AM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Hauling around literal boulder as a palpable material reminder of white supremacy. Of anti-blackness in America. Much respect and 💌 to Andre Henry.
It’s true that I ticked a lot of people off by what I did and said, and the stone was just the beginning.

There isn’t room here to tell you about the days that followed, where I dressed for a funeral everyday to mourn the victims of state violence, with their names written on my suit. There isn’t room here to tell you about how my friends and I spent a year at the doors of the Pasadena Police Station in prayer to protest the police-involved death of one of my neighbors. Another time.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:24 AM on February 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

Also this:
I eventually came to feel like a token. I tried to rationalize that access to the platform was an opportunity to amplify a truly antiracist message. Perhaps that was true to an extent, I could express antiracist values to an extent. But that extent was to a white sensibility. If people like [insert rich white evangelical male leader] have the final say on how to pursue racial progress, there will be little racial progress.

I know of Black people who work within such spaces, exerting a great amount of energy and care to push white institutions toward racial justice by the inch, all in the name of “progress.” I respect their faith in white institutions, although I can’t share it.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:28 AM on February 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

Mathew 25:35-36 — For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

It doesn’t include “for I was a slave and you freed me,*” but it’s pretty clear on how you should treat people you encounter, without regard to race or ethnicity. For the non-Bible focused, this set of verses are not just nice things to do but the things that get you into heaven; their reverse, a few verses later, are things that get you into hell. So, they are serious.

* Although its treatment of strangers precludes enslaving them, I would think.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

The idea is not that 'god comes down like a superhero', it's that mortal people who believe in God will do it themselves, acting themselves to end oppression and do good in the world.

Absolutely this, as well as that passage from Matthew 25, just above. I think often about this poem, attributed to St. Theresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which
he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which
he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes,
you are his body.

Christ has no body now on earth
but yours.
posted by gauche at 9:37 AM on February 24, 2020 [13 favorites]

Here's a link to the Exodus series on his website, bypassing the Medium paywall. The links at the top don't work for anything past Part 1, but the navigation links at the bottom do.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

I get the sense that many people don't realize that the line "Jesus, take the wheel" was intended quite literally. That may be contrary to the message one gets from reading the Bible without the benefit of Evangelical "theology," but it very much is the message coming from thousands upon thousands of pastors, the "nice" televangelists on the TV, and much of popular culture.
posted by wierdo at 5:39 AM on February 25, 2020

You'd think that if the Christian god really wanted the believers to know that keeping human beings against their will and working them to death was seriously wrong he'd of explicitly spelled it out in one of them there Commandments he put in the front of the book.

You know. Instead of forcing hesitant believers to sift though passages with a decoder ring squinting to interpret it to maaaaybe mean that slavery is sort of wrong.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 10:46 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

This all very directly relates to the problem of evil.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:11 AM on February 25, 2020

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