I would like to begin by thanking Drs. William Yoo, Melissa Browning and Thelathia (Nikki) Young for their thoughtful and thought-provoking responses to my lead essay, “the ubiquitous dogma and practice of white supremacy.” Each of them has given me more food and thought and deepen my initiation perspective on this subject.
Dr. Yoo has lifted up the metaphor of the “false deity” of racial superiority and given specific historical illustrations of both its pervasiveness via Christian silence along with suggestions of what “righteous resistance” should look like. By doing so, he has grounded how both tselem elohim and pater Christi should be expressed in the face of dogma and practice of the heresy of white supremacy. This is not simply a matter of spiritual transformation; it necessitates a multidimensional reformation (against racism, sexism, classism, etc.) of neo-feudalism.
Likewise, Dr. Browning issues a call for deconstructing white supremacy from within. Indeed, this is the “heart” of its persistence: its intergenerational transmission within the dysfunctionality of “American’s original sin” (which includes both the genocide of indigenous people and enslavement of Africans). Like Dr. Yoo, she sees my own appeal for “righteous resistance” as a necessary and persistent way to overcome the apparent ubiquity of white supremacy. Also, she gives an insight into the necessity of the heirs of the latter to engage in true metanoia (“turning around,” repentance) from their internalized sense of privilege and entitlement. This would require divestment of the hidden “spirit” of white supremacy in all of its more subtle forms.
And Dr. Young brings both appraisal and critique to my proposal. Her appreciation for it is expressed in her agreement that the deep structures of white supremacy are multifaceted. And further, white supremacy is “an ethical norm and moral telos in the context of the United States.” This is a distortion of the divine intention of “God’s relation to God’s creatures and divine order within God’s family.” The juggernaut of contention is with the usage of Ephesians 5:21, 22 as a model for an alternative to the Roman practice of paterfamilias via the appropriation of pater Christi. In either case, “pater” remains the hegemonic problem. It is the ipso facto familial structure and norm that has to be de-constructed.
With their essays standing on their own, along with my appreciation for both their thoughts and words, I further offer these reflections. The “ubiquitous dogma and practice of white supremacy” should provoke ongoing deep analysis, righteous resistance and multiple revolutionary strategies.
First, there cannot be superficial gazing in amazement of its persistence. It does so because some have and continue to benefit from it while many more have and continue to suffer from its causes and effects.
Second, white supremacy must be resisted in thoughts, words and deeds. It must be called out and “exorcised” as the “demonic” spirit that it is. And here is the twist: this is not to be done by its victims. Instead it must be done ferociously by its intended beneficiaries. Those who stand on the path of “affirmative action” for white supremacy and domination must intentionally reject its allurements. Even more demanding, these cannot be substituted with insidious “paternalism (or maternalism)” toward the intended victims of white supremacy. They must be unmasked too. Exorcism and resistance are both the challenge and call to live in bonafide biblical discipleship and with confessional authority.
And third, white supremacy must be defeated and banished into the “wilderness” via multiple revolutionary strategies. Revolution is radical (it goes to the “root”). As the word connotes, its intent is to “revolve” (“roll back”) and reverse the laissez faire attitude and action in relation to “the way things have been done.”
Revisiting Genesis 1:26-27 and Ephesians 5: 21-22, I offer the following revised exegesis.
26a. vay-yomer elohim naaseh adam besalmenu kidmutenu (and said the strong ones, let us shape human being in our image, according to our likeness)
27. va-yibra elohim et ha-adam besalmow beselem elohim bara otow zakar u-neqebah bara otam (and shaped elohim human being in its own image, in its image elohim it shaped them, male and female it shaped them.
For the sake of illuminating another way of engaging in “deep analysis, righteous resistance and multiple revolutionary strategies,” I will dare a “heretical” (thinking outside of 4thcentury C.E. dogma), non-trintarian interpretation of the semantics of the Hebrew text. In verse 26, the noun is plural (elohim= “strong ones”), as are the verbal form and pronominal suffixes (“let us,” “in our,” “to our”). And further, the author states that the human being (“adam” is not the name of a “man,” but the description of a bi-gendered being/s) is both male (zakar= male) and female (neqebah= female) equally in all aspects. S/he is the complete image of the elohim. Anything less, is not so. Once we can imagine that the elohim is not masculine, but both, we can appreciate idea that divine creativity and the divine image equals communal mutuality in “the heavens” (ha-shamayim) and is to be so on “earth” (ha-aresh). This demands a clear departure from participating in all contemporary compromises of racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, etc.
As stated previously, any deviation from this “divine order,” according to the Priestly author, is a reversion into “chaos.” This is to be avoided through ongoing rectification of this potential at every turn in one’s daily familial, social, political and economic interactions. Therefore, one’s thoughts, speech and actions must demonstrate themselves in direct opposition to the presence of white supremacy. One does not compromise for the sake of “getting along with” apostacy. S/he both lives in and participates in the knowingness of tzelem elohim (image of the divine powers) fully, completely and unapologetically.
Ephesians 5:20, 21
20. eucharistountes pantote huper pantone n onomati tou kuriou hemon iesou chrisou to theo kai patri (giving thanks at all times, for all things in name of the sovereign jesou christou to him who [is] theo and patri)
21. hupotassomevoi allelois en phabo christou (submitting yourselves to one another in fear of christou)
While bearing in mind the on-target critique of patriarchal “appropriation” by Paul that Dr. Young has identified, I would like to focus on one Greek phrase from among other clues in the broader pericope of Ephesians 5:20-6:20, enphabo (“in fear”). For me, this is a hinge that swings a door that has historically been opened the wrong way. For centuries Christian white supremist apologists have overstated the “pseudo-imperative” of “slaves obeying their masters.” What they have intentionally ignored is the “real imperative” of this phrase, along with everything that precedes and follows it. ALL followers of the Christos are instructed to revere this One and demonstrate mutually respect with each other.
At the same time, there is no defense of Paul’s appropriation of the Greco-Roman paradigm of misogynism as the only model to reform. He could have searched for and found a mater familia model instead. In fact, the most revered and well-known one through Northeast Africa and the Mediterranean basin was that of Isis, “the great mother.” Even in the heart of the bellicose masculinity of pax Romana she was well-respected. Romans of all social classes could be initiated into her rites. Even though he himself was mistaken as an African “Egyptian” (Acts 21:38), apparently, he did not ascribe to any of its perennial philosophies, theologies or practices. His singular focus on reinterpreting the Torah as a Hellenistic Hebrew limited both his appreciation for and appropriation of any other model of human mutuality. Without the feminine, the masculine is flawed, “as in heaven, so on earth.” This type of revolution was not even in his peripheral view. Nor is it now, with respect to canonical revision. And yet, it has to become so in order to think and explore outside of the “received texts” that have been exploited and tilted exclusively toward white male supremacy for centuries. My wager is that women scholars, in particular, will continue until they excavate a deeply hidden truth about the other texts.
Not in conclusion, “the ubiquitous dogma and practice of white supremacy” should provoke ongoing deep analysis, righteous resistance and multiple revolutionary strategies. It is my hope that the lead essay, along with these thoughtful and thought-provoking responses and my response to them will stimulate an un-tethering to the paralysis that stands still before the demonic face of white supremacy.
“ego emi to alpha kai to omega, arche kai telos, legei kurios, ho theos, ho on kai o en, kai ho eimi kai ho erchomenos, ho pantokrator (I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the goal, says the sovereign, the living one, the one who was, and the one who is, and the one who is coming, the all-sufficient one).”