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Challenging the theology of blind faith in an oppresive “In God We Trust” America

Written by: on November 9, 2016

Flag tearThere is no denying that fact that  today Americans woke up with many feelings, emotions, questions, etc. For some, the president-elect is seen as a revolutionary political messiah. A person who vows to protect the racist, bias, sexist, religious, and misogynistic ideals of America while reassuring them that their superiority is restored leaving the marginalized in this country to lament.

For others, the very idea that this is indeed the country that they live in has caused many of them to feel disgusted to the point of being physically sick. Not because they were unaware of the horror but because they are forced to live within it. Having to look toward  a future that will undo any forward progress we have made. Feeling marginalized and oppressed while being unnervingly reassured by their oppressors “do not worry this is a good thing, this is how our country is suppose to be”. Which in turn sends a message that says ” your lives do not matter as much as ours“.

The true twist of the knife in the heart of the oppressed is that for many in the American Evangelical church they believe that this return to old American ideals is God’s intended plan to redeem our country. As if the progress we have made to provide equal rights for everyone is somehow not the country God desires for us to live in. While some people would not come out and said that directly with words instead they did it behind a curtain with their vote. Dr. James H. Cone, a well renowned black theologian, said “It is ironic that America, with its history of injustice to the poor, especially the black man and the Indian, prides itself on being a Christian nation.”[1]

As I sit and reflect (even cry ) as I try to reason with what we are experiencing in our nation, I wonder what does this mean for me to be a Black Christian in America? How deal with the reality that the predominately White Evangelical church context of whom many have chosen to abandoned the fundamental truths of the Gospel have chosen instead the supremacy of societal power in order to remain my oppressor instead fighting against injustice as my brothers or sisters in the faith?

In light of our reading for this week of  Who Needs Theology? by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson, I challenge the blind faith belief system of a “In God We Trust”  America? Olson tells a story about his faith journey to disassociate from his denomination “They had a theology that they accepted unquestioningly but that was not integrated into their own lives in contemporary society and culture. Unfortunately, those beliefs often are a distortion of true Christianity. Such theology is untranslatable to a world hungry for Christian answers to life’s pressing problems, and it is based more on wishful thinking and pious feelings than on the gospel contained in God’s Word.”[2]. In looking at our current American Christian context these words ring true. In a society built solely on blind faith and individualistic ideals, how does theology shape the way we see the world around us? Many would argue that theology the antithesis to our christian faith and beliefs? That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact as a Christian Theologian [we] reflect on the meaning of God’s Word and how it illumines life, giving meaning and purpose to existence[3]. The wisdom that we obtain in our reflection is not for just for the purpose gaining knowledge but it is to lived out in our lives daily. There is an interdependence that exists between Theology and Life. Grenz and Olson believe that our life experiences are a result of what we believe and yet what we experience can also shape what we believe–this is what they refer to as our interpretive framework. “[O]ur interpretive framework comprises our fundamental belief system and constitutes our basic theology. Our belief system-our theology-therefore, stands in a reciprocal relationship to life. Theological convictions lead us to look at life the way we do and allow us to experience the world as we do. Our life experiences, in turn, bring our theological convictions into the picture and cause us to reexamine, reevaluate and even revise our convictions about God, ourselves and our world“[4]. So what does this mean for us ?  In this case, we as Christians cannot blindly live with a belief that we are a fundamentally a Christian nation. We must challenging our nations belief system by God’s Word. Asking the questions are we as a nation  “Speak[ing] up for those who cannot speak for themselves;ensure justice for those being crushed…speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (proverbs 31:8-9 NLT) or  Are we adhering to God’s command when He says”judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another.Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other” (Zechariah 7:9-10, NLT). What about the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39)?

In order to truly be Christians living in this nation, I believe, we have to detach ourselves from the Christian nation way of thinking and believe because it fundamentally goes against the nature of God and the Word of God.  In his book, Black Theology and Black Power, James cones writes “If the Church is to remain faithful to its Lord, it must make a decisive break with the structure of this society by launching a vehement attack on the evils of racism in all forms. It must become prophetic, demanding a radical change in the interlocking structures of this society.”[5]  How can we attack a system if we are apart of the system that perpetuates these “evils”? I am reminded of the words of Jesus  “…but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world…”(John 5:19, NLT) and of James “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you“(James 1:27, NLT). In the wake of our election many of us are asking the question how do we survive? Is there a way to experience true freedom and progress in the midst of oppression?  In a country that is viewed upon out of a bleak and dirty window, I implore us to look out and see with lenses of truth. Jesus said “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, NLT). James Cone in his book God of the Oppressed compels us not to just know truth but to allow it to be made active in our lives.  “Indeed our survival and liberation depend upon our recognition of the truth when it is spoken and lived by the people. If we cannot recognize the truth, then it cannot liberate us from untruth. To know the truth is to appropriate it, for it is not mainly reflection and theory. Truth is divine action entering our lives and creating the human action of liberation”. [6]

 

1. “James H. Cone Quotes (Author of Martin and Malcolm and America),” James H. Cone Quotes (Author of Martin and Malcolm and America), , accessed November 09, 2016, https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/17438.James_H_Cone

2.  Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God     (Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996), Kindle, Location 1265.

3.ibid, Kindle, Location 113

4. ibid, Kindle, Location 1400.

5. James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power (New York: Seabury Press, 1969), 28.

6. James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), Kindle, Location 747.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

12 responses to “Challenging the theology of blind faith in an oppresive “In God We Trust” America”

  1. True, true…we are called to live in truth and not blind faith; to advocate for the poor. Through this election, I found comfort in this: although my country and leadership is changing, I am not. I am still advocating for the less fortunate, bringing truth to the seekers, and walking with the hurting. It matters not who is in leadership, as our calling is clear: be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. Thanks Christal for your heart-felt post. I loved your pic…very moving.

    • Thanks Stu! I agree “Use whatever platform that God has given you to watch our leaders like a hawk, and speak out when they choose injustice over justice.”
      When we do this as a united front with all races to repulse the systematic racism, sexism, bigotry, bias, etc. that has plagued the very foundation of America then and only then we will see a change.

    • Jen thank you for your reflections. I agree we have to continue to remain vigilant. We have to see and own the fact that even in our faith we continue to fuel the same societal ailes that separate us as a nation. As believers we cannot be silent on issues of injustice. Being PC is not an option because Jesus would not be!

  2. Mary Walker says:

    When I took the Ethics class at seminary, we defined ethics as “faith lived out”.
    It is sad that American Christians haven’t always done a good job of living a consistent Biblical faith. What we’ve “lived out” hasn’t always been good. I am not sure why. You mention injustice towards blacks. Is that same superior attitude also behind injustice for women, Native Americans, Chinese, Irish, and anyone else not white/male? Is it basically a sin? I’m asking a sincere question. Do we as a nation need to repent?
    From your post: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you“(James 1:27, NLT).” I would also like to add a favorite verse from my ethics class, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
    I also appreciated that Grenz and Olson stressed that our faith needs to go from head to heart to hands. Yes, Christal, may our light shine bright in this dark place!

    • Mary thank you for sharing your reflections and questions. Here is my response:

      You mention injustice towards blacks. Is that same superior attitude also behind injustice for women, Native Americans, Chinese, Irish, and anyone else not white/male? YES ABSOLUTELY! I cited a Black Theologian but I was referring to racism, bigotry, sexism, etc. However I will say this, one thing I have noticed is that people will be outraged and outspoken about sexism but have a hard time addressing racism. They are more worried about their communities ostracizing them for it. To rebuke sexism seems more acceptable than if you speak out against racism. I think that is due to the fact that their is a racial sense of accountability that many are not ready to face.

      Is it basically a sin? I’m asking a sincere question. Do we as a nation need to repent? I will answer both of these questions together. Is racism, bigotry, sexism and gender bias a sin. I would say yes. When we talk about repentance. I do not believe that as a country we repent because we are not a Christian nation. Reason being, we never were. We repent because we have sinned against each other. We as a community of believers must repent and change our negative systematic ideals, doctrine and behavior in order to be a beacon of hope for change in our world. Until we do it will be difficult for our American society to want to be introduced to Jesus.

  3. Thanks Cristal, this was a good read.
    We are not a part of this world but we must determine how to live in it. It’s similar to stepping in a bed of fire ants. It stings like heck but we need to remember, that pain from that sting is how pain relief was created.
    Jesus lived in this world, he was hated and abused. He was crucified. He still maintained a loving heart. What an example! He knew the power he possessed. We gain that power when he returned to the Father. We need to exercise our spiritual gifts!
    Theology, its all in there.

    • Lynda thank you for your reflections. Yes we have the power and need to use it. One thing I will note is that yes while this is true. We as the marginalized are frowned upon for advocating for ourselves because those that oppress would like to see us come to a silver lining that doesn’t hold them accountable to address what they need to change and undo. Just as much as it is imperative for us to exercise our gifts, it is all the more imperative that those in power make changes the deconstruct a system that makes our efforts powerless.

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    I want to react to your statement “Is there a way to experience true freedom and progress in the midst of oppression? ”

    In a way, we are spoiled in that we live in a democracy. The fact that we can have a voice in our government is an alien concept to first century Christians. It is alien to many of our brothers and sisters who live in socialist and muslim societies. The early church thrived under persecution. The church in China, Nepal, and Iran is currently thriving even though their governments oppress them.

    The good news, Crystal, is that you have a voice. When you see our culture, our government, and our lawmakers forsake justice, you can speak out. As you encounter those who feel hopeless you can provide hope.

    I believe that the best cure for bad theology is good theology, the best cure for injustice is justice, and the best cure for hate speech is love speech.

    Fortunately, we live in a society where you CAN make a difference. Use whatever platform that God has given you to watch our leaders like a hawk, and speak out when they choose injustice over justice. Speak the truth in love. Do not give up, our society needs YOU Crystal Tanks!

    • mm Katy Lines says:

      And the CHURCH needs to hear these voices. Not to say we shouldn’t address the sins perpetuated in our country, but much of the church has swept our own transgressions under the rug. We have much repenting to do, and need to hear the voices of the oppressed to remind us. I lament that our congregation was led in the 20s by the KKK leader of Anaheim. I want to call us out to repent and publicly confess. Our CHURCHES need Christal to speak up, too.

  5. Thank you for this honest, thoughtful post, Christal! I’m finding myself looking at systemic racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism wondering where we can go when the church is complicit. We can and should speak up and fight for the oppressed as individuals but there is something so devastating about the white evangelical church falling in line behind these systemic issues.

  6. mm Katy Lines says:

    I read some of Cone’s work in college, but was prompted to read “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” last summer. Dangerous book.
    Cone writes, The Christian Gospel is more than a transcendent reality, more than “going to heaven when I die, to shout salvation as I fly.” It is also an immanent reality– a powerful liberating presence among the poor right NOW in their midst, “building them up where they are torn down, and propping them up on every leaning side.” The gospel is found wherever poor people struggle for justice, fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… Without concrete signs of divine presence in the lives of the poor, the Gospel becomes simply an opiate; rather than liberating the powerless from humiliation and suffering, the gospel becomes a drug that helps them adjust to this world by looking for “pie in the sky.” 155
    As you lament, we Christians must stop looking at our nation as “Christian” and begin looking at how we respond to injustice.

  7. Christal, thanks so much for this post. Cone has been an important theologian for me. As Katy points out, he is dangerous – dangerous, because to honestly engage with anyone writing powerfully from the prospective of oppression, is to invite the Holy Spirit to draw us into the act of calling out for justice – even or especially if we (as a culture or part of a culture) are part of the injustice (systemic or otherwise).
    Dangerous indeed.

    Thanks again for a great, honest and convicting post

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