When Race Becomes the Judge

“I would… suggest that the revelatory canon for theological evaluation of biblical androcentric traditions… cannot be derived from the Bible itself but can only be formulated in and through women’s struggle for liberation from all patriarchal oppression… The personally and politically reflected experience of oppression and liberation must become the criterion of appropriateness for biblical interpretation and evaluation of biblical authority claims.”

Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Reconstruction of Christian Origins 

Responding to Fiorenza’s claim, William H. Willimon wrote in Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized, “In other words, if my experience and therapeutic goals collide with those engendered by the Bible, too bad for the Bible.  My experience becomes the judge of Scripture.”  I have seen this happen more often than not in matters of race.  When an incident involving race occurs, we do not turn to the Bible for a response.  We turn to ourselves; the Bible is not allowed in the huddle.  And it is because we have already judged the Bible to be irrelevant, not applicable or unhelpful.  When it comes to race, there are some things that even the Bible can’t fix.

Also, the experience of the racialized life seems to have a wider impact upon the lives of believers than the goals determined in the Bible. The ministry of reconciliation, the journey of discipleship even the cosmic war over good and evil is surpassed by the personal and social struggles of race.  Here, the Bible appears to be disconnected from our real experience and for some, out of touch with reality.

Worse still, the truth of the Bible has been subjected to the judgments of race. Michael Joseph Brown in his work Blackening the Bible: The Aims of African American Biblical Scholarship wrote this regarding the discipline of African American biblical interpretation: “(It) looks for the potentially liberatory readings of biblical texts, the kerygmatic proclamation, behind what otherwise presents itself as a repository of patriarchy, ethno- religious exclusion and heterosexism.”  Here, the Bible is treated as a tool employed in a greater work.  It is judged and consequently, only of interest when it serves the purposes of the interpreter.

Another clear example of this is Kelly Brown Douglas’ The Black Christ.  The Black Christ is an expression of Black Nationalism and this Christ is he who identifies with the suffering and oppression of Africans enslaved during American slavery and later those African Americans who experienced injustice and inequality due to Jim Crow segregation.  The White Christ is connected to slave- holding Christianity and “characteristically allowed for (1) the justification of slavery, (2) Christians to be slaves, and (3) the compatibility of Christianity with the extreme cruelty of slavery.”  While it is true that there were persons who interpreted the Scriptures to justify slavery, to label those beliefs as accepting a racially divided Christ misses the point.  Jesus Christ “came that we might have life and life more abundantly” and to assert the deeds of darkness with the Light is blasphemous (John 10.10).  Jesus didn’t come to earth to serve the purposes of humanity but to do the will of God.  Again, the truth of the Bible and the identity of Jesus Christ is subjected to the experience of slavery and racialized oppression.  Instead of naming the interpreters as misguided, self- serving or even sinful, Christ is used as a descriptor for two experiences, labeled black or white and in turn, subjected to our reality as opposed to Him bringing us into His reality.

The identity of Jesus Christ as Messiah, as the Son of God, as our Master and Teacher don’t even enter the conversation.  What is more important is the experience.  And based on the experience, one can determine that Jesus Christ who came to save humanity was a Black Christ to some and a White Jesus for others. The experience serves as the argument and reduces Jesus Christ to a point. 

Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am” (Mark 8.29)?  Don’t repeat what others have said about Him, don’t name Him based on your experience; instead, allow God to reveal the identity of Jesus Christ to you.  God is, in fact, the only true Judge.  Amen. 


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Seeking to lead words and people to their highest and most authentic expression, I am the principal architect of a race-less world.

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