White Evangelicals Are the Most Fragile of all White People is a bitingly brilliant article by Brandi Miller, which I highly recommend. Linked within the piece is an older article by Miller, published on The Salt Collective: The Chasm Between White Theology and Black Liberation. As I read the first article, I couldn’t help thinking, Why do I bother with Christianity at all when Christians keep ruining it? And as I read the second: the history of black liberation and Jewish liberation have interesting parallels.
And, finally, this verse from 1 Thessalonians came to mind: Test everything, and hold fast to what is good.
Test everything, and hold fast to what is good.
Miller, it seems, has found or is gradually finding ways to reconcile her Christian faith with her identity as a black woman. The history of oppression she carries has a direct and not at all contradictory impact on the way she understands Jesus and the cross:
White Christians were asking “how do we save souls” and creating streamlined ways to expedite the spread of the gospel through Bible tracts, evangelicalism trainings, hip conferences, and apologetics.
Many Black Christians were asking what it means to live in our own bodies that are constantly at risk for trauma. This meant a theology, that yes, shared the gospel, but also focused on the body, feeding communities, tutoring kids, and pushing back, even if only theologically, against oppressive violence.
Judaism, as we all know, is no stranger is bodily trauma and systemic oppression either. Miller’s words were like a bucket of cold water dumped over my head on a 90-degree day: Oh, so that’s what it’s about. That’s why I’m still committed to making this work.
Hold fast to what is good.
Jesus was always asking questions and speaking in glorified riddles to an annoying degree and all of them were contextual. Jesus’s questions and parables centered on the people that he was with and their immediate needs. He was healing people’s bodies, getting to know their lives, and inviting culturally ignorant dudes to follow him around and be transformed. Jesus’s questions were not primarily about the soul, they were about fully and holistically embodied life now AND forever.
I sometimes forget that the same issues which plague evangelicalism – casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, an allergy to facts – are also found in various Jewish sects. No matter where I make my spiritual home, there will always be a process of separating the good from the toxic; letting go of the negative and holding tightly, sometimes with an iron fist, to what is good.
Jesus was not located at the center of Roman power and political clout, but on the margins. His disciples spent time following him around and consequently in the presence of the marginalized who Jesus constantly empowered, engaged, and elevated to the highest places in his kingdom.
Simply put, to not know and tie our lives to the worlds, theologies, and experiences of the marginalized is to not know Jesus at all.
For me, there is power in knowing that many devout Christians would support deporting Jesus if he came back today, because they likely wouldn’t recognize him – and he would forgive their sin anyway.
There is power in worshiping not only a God who empathizes with suffering, but personally lived it. He is not passively observing from somewhere in the sky, but was – and is – actively engaged in it.
This is the “good” that I cling to when I feel slammed against the wall between faith and agnosticism.