100 Years of Racism
The Ubiquitous Dogma and Practice of White Supremacy
Rev. Will Coleman, Ph.D.
The purpose of this theological reflection is to explore the underlying “dogma” of white supremacy that precipitates more blatant eruptions. It will do so in both narrative and parabolic forms. It assumes a leitmotif of social, political, economic and spiritual variables that seem to be omnipresent within U.S. cultural history and manifest themselves in particularly disturbing eruptions within its racialized history. These explosions, however, are rooted in and nurtured by a deep and sustained consciousness. The method for is this reflection is as follows: i) the problem; ii) biblical presentation of tzelem elohim and patri christi; iii) theological anthropology and the “economics” of white supremacy; iv) righteous resistance.
1. 100 Years of Racial Unrest/Racism in The U.S.
For this year’s spring/summer edition, the editorial board chose the theme “100 years of racial unrest/racism in the U.S.” With that theme, they were trying to connect 1918 (leading up to the “Red Summer” of race riots in the U.S.) to 1968 (and racial unrest during that turbulent period) to 2018 (and contemporary problems with racism and white supremacy). Their hope was to explore possible connections and movements during these three particularly significant years, thinking, for instance, about hashtag activism and the question of what a contemporary “riot” looks like; theologies—and ministries—of protest; the experience of white rage; and the significance of black theology and political thought in shaping responses to such unrest and racism.
For the sake of space, here is a selection of background information on the periods mentioned above.
1919 (“Red Summer” of race riots in the U.S.):
1968 (racial unrest during that turbulent period):
2018 and 2019 (contemporary problems with racism and white supremacy)
The underlying “dogma” and practices of white supremacy in the U.S. are not restricted to these episodes. Instead, they are eruptions of a much more deeply seated orientation of bigotry and hatred that can be interpreted biblically and theologically. For this purpose, I have chosen two biblical passages: Genesis 1:26a, 27 (the image of divinity) and Ephesians 5:20, 21 (the parenthood of divinity and its familial relationships). They are presented and interpreted as counter white supremist narratives.
2. Biblical Presentation of Tzelemelohimand Paterchristi
The following biblical passages have been selected as ways of thinking about the models for understanding what it means to be created in the image of divinity and of transforming perverted expressions of familial, social, political and economic relationships. They have been rendered in transliterated Hebrew and Greek, along with English translations, plus the Latin texts with an accompanying English translation. This is intended to signify the deep structures, as well as the layers of transmission, of these historic writings that, presumably, have contributed to the “Christian” character of Western civilization, including the U.S. republican-democratic experiment.
Creation and the image of divinity (tzelem elohim [hb], eikona theou [gk], imaginem dei [lat]):
Genesis 1:26a, 27
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.
26a. kai eipen ha theos poiesomen anthropon kat’ eikona emeteran kai kath’ homoiosin (and said the theos let us make anthropon according to image our and according to likeness)
27. kai epoiesen a theos ton anthropon kat’ eikona theou epoiesen autousapsen kai thelu epoiesen autous (and made the theos the anthropon according to image of theou he made him, male and female he made them).
26a. Et ait: faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem (and said: let us make human to image and similitude of us)
27. et creavit deus hominem ad imaginem suam; ad imaginem dei creavit illum, masculum et feminam creavit eos (and created deus human to image and similitude of it; masculine and feminine it created them)
These passages in Genesis 1:26a and 27, according to the “Priestly” writer, indicate that the human being (adam), both male and female, was shaped in the image and likeness of the elohim (creative, divine powers).
Subsequently, they both were given shared custodial responsibilities among other created beings and ecological stewardship within the planet earth (aretz, adamah). This custodial-stewardship was never intended to be one of reckless domination. Rather, it was intended to emulate the successive cycles of “evening and morning” creations that penultimately produced the human being on the sixth day and culminated in the “shabbat” of re-creation on the seventh one (Genesis 2:1-4a). Like the elohim themselves, adam, male and female, were to work and produce via mutual collaboration, while enhancing the processes that had been initiated by the elohim. This was to be the norm for maintaining “order over chaos” and community within individualism.
These passages are of the first order in describing “theological anthropology.” This is the notion that the human being, every human being, is in the image of divinity (imago dei). No one is more or less so. Just as “adam” is shaped equally and simultaneously in this narrative as zakar (male) and neqevah (female), so too, it is inferred that their offspring would be so.
The perversion of this model for all human beings into a privileged ethnicity and gender is nothing less than a cultural “fall” into depravity. Likewise, this assumption contributes to the sin of ecological exploitation towards other humans, animals, plants, mineral resources, etc. Consequently, the original intent of the “shabbat” (Genesis 2:1-4a) as a cycle of re-creation and restoration is sabotaged.
Pater Christi versus pater familias and the oikos–nomos (economy, “house-management”) of familial, social, political and cosmic relationships:
Ephesians 5:20, 21
20. ve-hodu bekal-et al-ha-kol le-lohim avinu beshem adonenu jeshua ha-mashiach (and giving thanks in/for all things to the strong one, father of us, in the name of sovereign one of us, jeshua the messiah)
21. he-kanoo ish leachi beirat elohim (subjecting each one to another in the fear of the strong one)
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)
20. gratias agentes semper pro omnibus in nominee domini nostril jesu christi deo et patri (giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our sovereign one jesu christou, to deo and patri)
21. subjecti invicem in timore christi (being subject to one another in fear of christi)
This doxological appeal of Paul to the assembly (ekklesia) of followers of jeshuaha–mashiach is an invocation to celebrate the reality of an eternal divinity and “father,” new reigndom, sovereign savior and egalitarian familial relationships in contradistinction from the dominant socio-politico-economic one of the Roman Empire. Further, in lieu of acquiescence to both the national and familial “pater familias,” he encourages them “submit” themselves to each other. This is revolutionary when the expansive pericope (Ephesians 5:20—6:24) is taken into consideration.
Recently, as I was preparing a sermon, I read the assigned lectionary text of Ephesians 6:10-20. While doing so with the Latin Vulgate version in-hand, my eyes landed on this phrase in verse 10: “decetero.” I wondered, “of” what “other things”? I back-tracked to verse 1. No: this was actually the continuation of something else before both the admonition to children/father and servants/masters. I went to chapter 5. Verse 22? No. Something else preceded the discussion on wife and husband relationship. Verse 17 was more likely, culminating in verses 20-21 as a doxology. Now, the admonition of what this new family should be like, in preparation for “putting on the whole armor of god” (6:10ff) made more exegetical sense. It emphasized 1) doxological praise; 2) recognition of a new humanity/family; and 3) the investiture of the complete wardrobe of familial- socio-politico-economic covering/protection from multi-dimensional “powers and principalities.”
In reading the entire pericope (5:20—6:24) the most stunning realization is that Paul is extraordinarily anti-pater familias. This dogma established the father of the household as the sovereign ruler over wife, children and servants. Instead of conceding to the status quo of Roman household (and national) mores, he interjects his preeminent notion of the “fatherhood” of the emergent “Christian” deity and theocracy combined with the uncontestable sovereignty of the “christos” (meshiah). Within this new order, the paterfamilias creed is subjected to the rule of pater Christi, in which members are to “fear/revere” their heavenly father and each other. At every point the injunctions are stunning: wives revere husbands—husbands love wives; children obey parents—parents do not provoke children; servants obey masters—masters to the same?!
This pro-democratic theocracy has been suppressed and/or ignored for centuries. And it is this very suppression that constitutes the heresy and/or apostasy of “Christian” civilizations and has contributed to the belligerency of white Christian supremacy, along with its non-Christian siblings.
iii. theological anthropology and “economics” of white supremacy
The genealogy and dogma (opinion) of white supremacy are deeply embedded within the European economic history of class, gender and race. The latter has functioned as an extended evolution of European feudalism into neo-feudalism within the United States via the subjugation and annihilation of indigenous populations (clearing the land) and the servitude of Africans (exploiting agrarian profits). This dogma does not exclude white female complicity and collaboration. For example, southern U.S. neo-feudalism conceded inheritance rights to the wife of the plantation owner and her children, and not to his female servant(s) and/or their children. In fact, the latter could be sold for profit. Consequently, within this economic compromise, she was neither helpless nor disenfranchised. This one example brings the “economics” of race and gender into an intersection and focus more clearly. Also, subsequent racialism and racial violence are connected to this covert consent. The white male became the predominate architect, preserver and undisputed enforcer of the doctrine (i.e., replicated teachings) of racial domination, along with its economic corollaries.
The word “economics” comes from two Greek terms: oikos + nomos, “house law” or house management. This is the management of the “house” of services, goods, products and human labor. Within U.S. southern neo-feudalism, this functioned in correlation with the Roman idea of the “pater familias” as the plantation “Master” (from the roman word “magister,” a cognate for both “manager” and “magistrate”), who was the final arbiter of how his domain was to be ruled. His wife, children and servants were all subject to him. No one was free without his permission or adjudication. Ironically, this was the very abomination that Jeshua, his followers, and especially Paul, rebelled against, at the cost of their lives. Within the context of the expedient efficiency of Christian agrarian capitalism, the admonitions and examples of the founders of Christianity were stringently distorted into pro-slavery apologetics and suppressed by abominable apostacies.
One such apostasy was uniquely Germanic. This important variable in the formula of white male domination stemmed from the double-pronged heresy of the supremacy of Germanic ethnicity and gender. In rebellion against the injunction of Genesis 1:26-27, the “white” Germanic male assumed the one and only archetypal mode of true humanity. This apostasy (borrowed from its chauvinistic Aristotelian antecedent) became an intentional “turning away” from, in the doctrine of the “priestly” narrator, a divinely inspired communitarian egalitarianism toward a perverted and demonic hegemonic distortion of tzelem elohim (imago dei). While, it is difficult to trace this mythological-psychological-spiritual origin and formation, nevertheless, its ubiquitous tenacity is omnipresent. Fueled by a sense of omnipotence, it seems to be indomitable. But it is not. It is a false deity.
3. Righteous Resistance
The heresy, apostasy and abomination of white supremacy, like the oppressive “economies” of the Babylonian and Roman Empires, has to be countered with righteous resistance. Both biblical passages that were presented and exegeted within this article are models for this. The “priestly” writer of Genesis 1:1-2:4a refused to submit to the idolatrous images of Babylonian supremacy. Instead, this author crafted a radically alternative macro-economic vision of both creation and ecological justice (mineral, plant, animal and human).
Likewise, Jeshua, his earliest followers and Paul, thought, spoke and lived from a revolutionary inspiration of ushering in the “reigndom of heaven” within the heart of the hegemonic Roman Empire. This was not merely a “spiritual” movement of the underclass and marginalized non-citizens (with the exception of Paul, who was a citizen). It was a wave of righteous resistance. The model for justice that they presented and demonstrated was a direct afront to the “pater familias” status quo (in all of its ramifications) of their time. They proclaimed, lived and died for “pater Christi” and “pater hemon” (“our father”) as the new familial, social, political, economic and cosmic order. Consequently, their liturgy became a daily rhythm.
Resistance to alleged supremacy was costly. It always is. But not resistance to oppression is even more costly. Alleged supremacy must be exposed, denounced and confronted whenever and wherever it rears its wounded head. Otherwise, like the great beast of the apocalypse, in Revelation 13, it will dominate and/or consume everything within its scope.
White supremacy is a genre of the multi-headed demon of class, race, gender. It is tenacious. Nevertheless, it is not omnipotent. It may present itself as omnipresent, but this an illusion. It masquerades as omniscient, but this is false knowledge. Within the context of the U.S., African American cultural history and resistance has, is and will continue to demonstrate that this demonic force is a false deity. This is the resounding message of the parable of this article.