Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Domination and Dignity

Written by: on October 18, 2023

The creation story of Genesis 1-2 depicts the Creator of all known reality ordering the nonfunctional, nonordered (“formless and void”) world. The Creator then creates in his image the human representatives, Adam and Eve, to co-rule with him as his vice-regents. The divine order involved humans exercising dominion (Genesis 1:28) under the supreme reign of God. This is where the humans failed. They decided to disobey, thus breaking the divine order.[1] As the story progresses, we see the horrific reality of a new force in the world: domination.[2]

Black Dignity

Black Dignity[3], written by the Villanova religious studies and theology professor Vincent Lloyd, engages with this concept of domination through the lens of black movements, authors, philosophy, and practices. The critical idea Lloyd posits is that dignity is a struggle against domination.[4] Lloyd’s definition of domination is “the capacity of one to arbitrarily exercise her will on another.”[5] This is most clearly expressed in the domination of white slave owners over black slaves. In a world that has often understood dignity to be “nobility,” Lloyd calls for resistance against the systems that dominate the human soul as the truest form of dignity.[6] Lloyd contends that as with domination being most clearly seen in white slave owners forcing their will on black slaves, so dignity is most clearly seen in the resistance to domination systems of whiteness by black individuals.[7]

Area of Agreement

Lloyd writes, “Struggle against domination means struggle against amorphous but deeply entrenched systems that include racial domination.”[8] Lloyd writes extensively about racist systems of domination. I agree with Lloyd on this, and would argue that race is a social construct utilized to justify the domination of people groups.[9] This social construct of racialized differences that does not in actuality exist has created racialized systems of race-based social stratification.[10] In other words, race-based difference is a non-existent reality that has become existent due to human systems of domination and privileging groups based on race.

Because of this reality, we now face “deeply entrenched systems” of white supremacy that need to be recognized, dismantled, and replaced with equitable systems for human flourishing. According to William Stringfellow,

White supremacy has been so pervasive and so seldom challenged–as the fundamental ethic of society that it has left to contemporary-Americans. both white and black, an inheritance of racism often not readily recognized as such. It has become so deeply embedded in the basic institutions of society in education, the law, politics, the economy, in religion-that it is taken for granted.[11]

Followers of Jesus must be vigilant to this pervasive and insidious form of domination and do what we can to recognize, dismantle, and replace these systems with more just systems.

Concerns and Questions Left Unanswered

The issue I had with Vincent Lloyd may be due to the fact that he is an academic and not, to my knowledge, a practitioner. Therefore, his argument for the dismantling of all systems of domination (with a particular focus on prisons) leads to his call to action: abolition.[12] The practicality of this was concerning for me. It seems the logical conclusion of his call to action is disorder and anarchy. Yes, Lloyd’s hope is that there are local, grassroots movements that replace the systems of domination. But, if human nature has taught us anything, often when there is power removal with a subsequent power vacuum, the cycle of oppression and domination usually continues but with different people in power. Coleman Hughes pressed Lloyd about his stance on prison abolition on his podcast, to which Lloyd did not provide clear answers other than deferring to grassroots movements to come up with solutions.[13] Again, I recognize that Lloyd is an academic, not a practitioner. This is not his area of expertise. But calling for abolition without providing solutions is problematic.

A Return to Eden

The reality of domination is here due to the curse of Genesis 3. This curse was brought on by humanity’s desire for ultimate dominion rather than caring for their limited dominion under the rule of God. The return to God’s Edenic vision will involve choosing to dismantle domination in our hearts, in our world, and instead live lives of loving stewardship of the sub-dominions God has entrusted us with.

[1] For a fuller understanding of the creation story and humanity’s dominion (and failure to exercise dominion under the dominion of God) see chapter four of Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2010).

[2] This is seen in patriarchy’s introduction in Genesis 3:16 and the murder of Abel by his brother in Genesis 4.

[3] Vincent W. Lloyd, Black Dignity: The Struggle against Domination (Yale University Press, 2022).

[4] Ibid. 8.

[5] Ibid. 10.

[6] Ibid. 133.

[7] Ibid. 14, 18.

[8] Ibid. 14.

[9] This idea is the thesis of Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2010).

[10] This would be view three of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s three views of racism, as seen in J.R. Woodward, The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church (Cody, WY: 100 Movements Publishing Academic, n.d., 2023), 196.

[11] Ibid. 195.

[12] Lloyd, Black Dignity, 135.

[13] Debating Race and Incarceration with Vincent Lloyd, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8iuEprjv6I, 1:40:00-1:54:20.

About the Author


David Beavis

David is Australian by birth, was raised in Southern California, and is the Youth and Young Adults Pastor at B4 Church in Beaverton, Oregon. David and his wife, Laura, live in Hillsboro with their dog, Coava (named after their favorite coffee shop). M.A. Theology - Talbot School of Theology B.A. Psychology - Vanguard University of Southern California

6 responses to “Domination and Dignity”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    Excellent summary!
    Id love to hear more on this:
    ” In other words, race-based difference is a non-existent reality that has become existent due to human systems of domination and privileging groups based on race.”
    I think you make some interesting points about Lloyd being a scholar and not a practitioner. You say that he does not make plausible solutions. I am curious if you have some solutions? I love your Biblical tie in’s at the beginning and the end of your blog….what does it mean to dismantle domination in our hearts. ( I like this by the way….the word dismantle) Would you expound on this. It seems like an approach that is individualistic. I am curious how this might impact things systemically?
    Excellent work!

  2. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Kristy,

    In regards to your first question about any solutions I have, I have nothing that comes to mind other than this: don’t dismantle unless there are thought out plans in place. I recognize with systems of oppression, we need to dismantle. But when things are dismantled and there is a power vacuum, there is more often than not a struggle for the power and oppression cycle continues.

    In regards to your second question, yes it is individualistic. However, individual “renovation of the heart” (to use Willard’s language) will be outwardly expressed in systems as individuals are transformed. The problem is when we settle for individual transformation and don’t lean into the work of systemic transformation (something white, western Evagelical Christians often settle for as displayed in Smith and Emmerson book “Divided by Faith”). When we try to transform systems without also looking inwardly at the need for transformation in our hearts, this too is a “not going far enough” but in the opposite way.

  3. Caleb Lu says:

    David, thanks for this post! I am especially appreciative of your willingness to find areas of agreement with Lloyd and points of concern and question.

    I’m curious, as we recognize the need for the dismantling of racist institutions and practices, how can that begin without the call for their abolition. I, in part, appreciate the call for abolition because it brings the very questions you pose up, what will come after? In many ways, I find the very call a prompt for imagining how the world could be different.

    Honing in on the agreement that racist systems and institutions exist and need to be dismantled, I’m not sure the damage being done is acknowledged with enough urgency. I think Lloyd, and others, call for abolition because of the damage it currently causes.

    I’m also wondering how you might define academic and practitioner. What makes Lloyd an academic rather than a practitioner?

    Thanks again for your post and for sharing your thoughts. I’m reminded of the Rwandan saying Jean shared, “they who want cure, speak boldly about the illness”. I hope we can continue to speak boldly and find solutions together!

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Caleb, I agree with you regarding the lack of urgency with dismantling the racist systems.

      For Black Americans, there is such a sense of urgency and the sentiment of how long do we have to keep “explaining” the problem, our history, our value, etc.

      What do you say to someone that is trying to understand but they’ve lived their entire lives in a bubble?

  4. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    David, excellent summation of Lloyd’s work and the issues we’re faced with in terms of domination by white supremacy.

    Your quote, “But, if human nature has taught us anything, often when there is power removal with a subsequent power vacuum, the cycle of oppression and domination usually continues but with different people in power,” is so on target and reflects many of the issues we face globally. This power vacuum often allows for radicalization, gangs over-taking neighborhoods and country’s, and terrorism of the people groups left behind.

    In what ways has the power vacuum impacted inner cities of predominately Black neighborhoods?

  5. Alana Hayes says:

    What is an Area of Agreement that you struggle with? If too personal – maybe in your workplace instead of personally?

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