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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 4

Inadequate Responses of White Theologians to Black Theology

Here I am discussing possible responses to black theologies from another angle, particularly from the point of view of white theologians who avoid polemic against black theologies and seek to understand themselves as appreciative of the contributions of black theologies. Part 4.

Having discussed some ways in which black theology can be positionized by assumed normative theology, it will also be worthwhile to reflect on certain inadequate responses taken by white theologians to black theology.

A. A first response would be to nit-pick. Looking for every inadequacy, some theologians seek to discredit black theology on the basis of the flaws in the arguments of various theologians. Of course, all theologians are susceptible to flawed theologizing. In the face of black theology’s harsh critique of white theologies, a defensive reaction is not surprising. Yet answering a cogent critique by a counter-critique is an inadequate response, especially when one ignores the central arguments in order to challenge peripheral arguments. It makes a Bible reader think about the story of the speck in the other's eye versus the beam in one's own eye. Obviously, there could be no justification to claim that black theologies are flawless or beyond criticism; however, their substantive criticisms of modern theology demand a more constructive engagement than mere counterattack. It is too often an evasive measure.

B. Others, including many of my teachers, responded to black theology by acknowledging its importance, then declining to engage its agenda. A common sort of reason for this response was that black theologians spoke for a community of which the white theologian has little or no direct knowledge. Sometimes a noble premise helped to justify the lack of engagement: black theology is a subject matter that I dare not address because of my limitations, so it should be left to black theologians to do that work. They say that they would not presume to describe the theological perspective of blacks having not experienced the oppression blacks have experienced. Invisible in these arguments seems to be the assumption that the critical challenges of black theology do not raise systemic problems for theology as it is being conducted in white institutions. A side affect of declining to engage is the fostering of schismatic theological paths and methodological ghettos.

C. Another response is to hear and believe the critique, but deflect it elsewhere. Too often, convinced of our own intellectual responsibility, theologians receive the critical arguments of black theology as if they are directed toward others. This is not unlike the response of many contemporary persons who resent black anger toward the U. S. and its continuing racialized social structure. It is a common mantra among contemporary whites that they know slavery is wrong and have never owned slaves. “Don’t put that on me” is their response.

Luis Rivera spoke to the NABPR/CTS meeting a number of years ago about an experience he had at a conference at a prominent midwestern U. S. evangelical protestant university. He had been invited to speak on his outstanding work published in English under the title, A Violent Evangelism. As he prepared to speak, many conference attendees had approached him with effusive praise about the critical theological analysis he had done concerning late medieval Catholicism and the conquest of the Americas. The more conversations he had, the more uncomfortable he became. He began to believe he was being applauded not for his critique of European colonial theologies broadly, but specifically for his critique of Roman Catholic colonial theologies. The protestant evangelicals attending the conference were looking forward to a roasting of the catholics that would reinforce their sense of rightness. So he changed his topic when he got to the podium, and announced that he thought the conference would be better served to hear a parallel critique of protestant imperial colonial theology.

D. Others white theologians have been glad to engage in the academic repartee of critical theologies such as black theology. This armchair approach is compatible with the multicultural model, and it tempts academic theologians to one of our most besetting sins. We gain insight into important critical ideas which demand revolutionary practice, we learn to speak eloquently about them, we make pointed statements and knowing gestures, but our professional and ecclesial practice remain unchanged.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A Thought provoking post. Very good analysis.

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