Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Religious Cancer of Racism

Almost two weeks ago, our country observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I attended an MLK event at my alma mater, Wittenberg University. Michael Eric Dyson--pastor, professor, author, NPR commentator, and cultural critic--was the keynote speaker. As expected, he was both inspiring and provocative (yes, he went after Bill Cosby). His message to the white people in the audience was to stop investing in the psychological privilege of whiteness.

Dyson's challenge brought to mind an article by James Cone that I first read a few years ago called "The Religious Cancer of Racism". In this piece, Cone calls on white theologians to study racism as seriously as they study the historical Jesus. "From Jonathan Edwards to Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr to the present, progressive white theologians, with few exceptions, write and teach as if they do not need to address the radical contradiction that racism creates for Christian theology," states Cone.

He continues, "Race criticism is just as crucial for the integrity of Christian theology as any critique in the modern world. Christianity was blatantly used to justify slavery, colonialism, and segregation for nearly five hundred years. Yet this great contradiction is consistently neglected by the same white male theologians who would never ignore the problem that critical reason poses for faith in a secular world. They still do theology as if white supremacy created no serious problem for Christian belief. Their silence on race is so conspicuous that I sometimes wonder why they are not greatly embarrassed by it. "

I have made it a goal to address racism in all of my theology courses. I also am committed to doing what I can to work for long term anti-racist tranformation in the institutions in which I work and do ministry--with the help of organizations such as Lutheran Human Relations Association and Crossroads Ministry. Would you join me?


Carlos said...

I agree. Compounding the problem is the insidiousness of racism especially when our society sees itself as so diverse. We automatically assume that everyone receives the same as we do which in itself is racist. It is difficult to address the status quo when you are part of the problem. I think that modern theology is just beginning to awaken or perhaps re-awaken to how influential its voice can be in society. Christianity is called to be subversive to the status quo whenever it does not reflect the inbreaking of the Kingdom which I would guess is all the time. And the church as one of the primary vehicles of the Way needs to be always on gaurd.Whether its racism or nationlism or ? We need always be on our guard to ask the question, "Is it I, Lord?"

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