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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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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Carter's RACE 3: Cavanaugh, Baptists, and Practices

In note 74 on p 393-94 of Race: A Theological Account, J. Kameron Carter helps me identify what seems to me a shortcoming in William Cavanaugh’s turn to the sacrament as the practice of formation leading out of the dilemmas of the modern nation-state in his remarkable and powerful book, Torture and Eucharist. In reading Cavanaugh, certain aspects of his RCC sensibilities concerning the Eucharist did not quite settle well with me to me and remained alien from my own formation as a Baptist. I wondered whether I would be able to appropriate his arguments about the sacrament, or whether I would need to substitute a different account of counterhegemonic practices of the church.

Yet I also have been grateful for the ways that Cavanaugh was describing an alternative to one of the great losses of the Baptist tradition. Too often Baptists have settled into acceptance of a Zwinglian memorial view of the sacraments and the reduction of sacraments to ordinances.

Luis Rivera helps give some perspective this problematic in his counterhistory of the conquest of the Americas with its imposition of Christianity through forced baptisms (A Violent Evangelism). Part of what the Baptists a century after Columbus and Cortez were unhappy about was the way that state hegemony had become intertwined with ecclesial hierarchy to discipline bodies through control of the sacraments. The sacramental practice often seemed alienated from its covenantal institution and embodiment in the living Christ. Thus, the Baptists were demanding a restoration of the sacrament in new covenantal practice dissociated from such blatant state hegemony. In their own ways, they also failed to see the ways their vision of baptism and the Supper would be coopted by the powers and authorities. So my reservations about Cavanaugh's account were no less reservations about what my own tradition ultimately also failed to analyze and understand in its own practices.

The Baptists often lacked an adequate understanding of the full political nature of the church, and thus quickly followed, perhaps afar off, the magisterial vision of the divided body and mind and the two regimes, two kingdoms, etc. Acknowledging these shortcomings and the corrective offered by Cavanaugh, I still think there is room for, even need for, an account of other sacramental ecclesial practices, as suggested by Jim McClendon’s hermeneutical device of word, worship, work, and witness in Doctrine. I find Cavanaugh’s argument to suggest, or at least be receptive to, such an account of ecclesial practices, not unique to Roman Catholicism in the production of bodies (politic).

Cavanaugh’s effort to reconstitute the unity of body and mind, of religion and politics, in the sacrament is in the right direction. However, Carter points out that Cavanaugh does not apply his excellent critical skills to the ways that the sacraments become tools of hegemonic power in colonialism. I must confess that I also missed these critical features of modernity in my earlier research and writing. Carter affirms that racial and colonialist reasoning are central to the constitution of modernity. He extends the work of scholars like Cavanaugh in trying to provide an account which incorporates this problematic of race, politics, and theology, the genealogy of their interrelationship in modernity, and ultimately a Christological critique of modern racialized theopolitics.

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