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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reception of Black Theologies 3

Denying the Dogmatic Significance of Black Theologies: Racism in Churches as Merely Moral Failure

Here I'm offering a view on the dogmatic significance of black theologies. Part 3.

4. A fourth perspective is both appreciative and ultimately puzzled by black theology. From this perspective of normative theology, black theology speaks up about the moral failure of the church, and it does so eloquently by drawing on theological tradition. However, the problem is a moral failure, not a dogmatic issue. Dogmatic or doctrinal theology is not implicated in the critique brought by black theology, from this point of view. Whites are fully capable of continuing to theologize in their traditions without need for reform or revolution.

Let me discuss this last perspective a bit more. It assumes that the normative theology that white theologians and ministers do in white institutions is largely on track. They can continue to do systematic theology dependent on Thomas, Calvin, Edwards, and others without the need to apply a historical, systemic, and structural critique of the traditions that flow through the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries during which churches and theologians helped to construct and validate the globalization of race consciousness and white supremacy. Somehow, Christian dogmatic theology emerged undamaged by its coexistence and collaboration in the Era of European World Domination.

Moreover, this perspective denies a primary methodological claim of Jim McClendon concerning the relationship of ethics and doctrine. Ethics is not the afterthought or the second moment derived from the first moment of dogmatics. The divisions of systematic theology usually called doctrine and ethics are both fully theological, thoroughly interrelated, and mutually dependent on one another. For that reason, he said that he could have put either ethics or doctrine first in a three volume structure for systematic theology, for each makes its proper claim. A theology grounded in practices cannot ultimately separate an intellectual moment from a moment of action in theological reflection.

On a less grand scale, but no less insightful, John Perkins describes his growing awareness of the doctrinal problematic of race. In his interactions with white evangelicals, and perhaps especially white Baptists in the South, he became increasingly aware of the depth of their spiritual devotion to a Jesus and a God who also sanctioned white supremacy as an article of faith. On paper, their theological statements of faith seemed to be orthodox, yet something must have gone terribly wrong for so many in churches to have been formed into a racialized theology. More than failure to do what they knew to be right was at work. The sheriff’s deputies who beat him nearly to death did so out of a deeply rooted, theologically sanctioned vision of sin, salvation, and Jesus Christ.

To be continued . . .

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