Remembering Liberation Christianity
 — Ruby Sales

Dear brothers and sisters;

I want to respond to the question where we go from here when far too many Black people are in the theological and christological grip of white conservative Christians. I want to begin this reflection by deconstructing the notion that religion is a monolith or that Empire Christianity is the same as liberation Christianity.

Liberation Christianity begins with the assertion that God is on the side of the oppressed rather than the side of the Empire. This is the good news of the radical Jew Jesus who challenged the Roman Empire and its Jewish gatekeepers. Jesus made clear the radical nature of his mission: (1) to bring sight to the blind,i.e to bring a new consciousness that freed his community and others from the false consciousness of identifying with the goals of the Roman Empire. (2) to feed the hungry, i.e. a systemic redistribution of resources that is not charity, but systemic economic justice. ( 3) to set the prisoners free, i.e. a recognition that the Empire uses law and order as tools of oppression and domination.

This message of liberation galvanized the southern freedom movement, South African liberation movement and liberation movements around the world. It is a dynamic message that changes the status quo and rearranges our relationship with God and others. It is a justice message of non violence. It is a message that reminds us that we are not entrapped by history; we have the collective power to free ourselves from the bonds of a tyrannical state. It reminds us that we have the power to make a new history and a new world. The view of our collective power challenges the notion that history begins and ends with the Empire.

George Bush and his conservative allies believe the opposite. Their God is the keeper of the status quo. Theirs is a cynical status quo view of God that allows them to be "on the wrong side of history and issues." The Empire religion espoused by George Bush and his white Christian Conservative allies is headed by a white supremacist patriarchal upper class God who stood on the side of enslavement and the genocide of native peoples throughout the globe, including North and South America.

This is the message of conservative right wing Christians. Like their forefathers, they believe that God is on their side and gives them the theological authority to build an oppressive white supremacist patriarchal world. They misuse scripture to justify this, and they hide their intentions behind self-centered God talk that undergirds and propels exclusion and domination whether its about the inferiority of women, black people or lesbians and gays.

Nor is their Jesus the Jesus who wept over the oppression and suffering of his people. Or the Jesus who was executed by the Roman Empire for proclaiming that God and not the Empire owns the world or the people in it. This Jesus who acted in history for those people whom the Empire minimized moved generations of enslaved Black people to assert, in the face of an Empire that said "they were property without any civil or spiritual rights, " I have a right to the tree of life."

What Black Christian conservatives must understand is that the God of the Empire can never be our God. Nor can their Jesus be our Jesus. The Empire Jesus is their emissary and the messenger of war and oppression. For them, Jesus is not as the Black old folk understood, a poor little shepherd boy, outcast and belonging to a people whose backs were "up against the wall."

The next step is to unveil the lies of White Christian Conservatives so that Black folk understand that these lesbian and gay hating folk come out the same tradition of the people who threw Emmett Till's body in the Tallahatchie River. Their teachings birthed and fermented the hatred that poisoned the minds and spirits of the killers of Samuel Younge and Jonathan Daniels.

Their God can never be our God. Nor can their theology or Christology be ours. They are inheritors of a Biblical tradition that believed that Black oppression was ordained by God because of a curse where God proclaims that "Canaan shall be "the lowest of slaves to his brothers."

We must unveil their hypocrisy and slight of theological hands by remembering that these Right Wing Conservatives barred Martin Luther King and other southern freedom workers from the doors of white churches even as they proclaimed their connection with God. They stand today in the doorways of Christian academies and universities like Bob Jones Academy. In these spaces Christian Conservatives still see Blacks as inferior and the bearers of a theological taint that places us on the lowest rung of humanity.

Our job is to have these conversations that help Black Christian Conservatives remember so that we as a community do not fall prey to demagoguery. For those of us who remember, we are called upon to stir within Black Christian conservatives the reminder we serve a God that brought our us out of the tyranny of enslavement and southern apartheid. This same God enabled Black southern sharecroppers and their allies to bring down southern apartheid, one of the most powerful governments in history, without firing a shot.

There is a great spiritual and social danger of not remembering this God and what God has been with us and for us. When we forget we allow other people to reconstruct God in their own image and to make us believe that their God of hate and injustice is our God. When we bow down to their God, we bow down at the altar of the Empire.

Finally, it is important to remember that our ancestors, these magnificent and ordinary people had a vision of God that broke with the enslavers' view of God. Their view of God moved them to a theology of agape that enabled them to say in the midst of enslavement.:" I love everybody, I love everybody, and you can't make me hate you; you can't make me hate you."

This clear refusal to give over the control of their internal and outward lives to a system and a people that "talked about heaven, but wasn't going there," is the solid and prophetic rock upon which Black Christians must continue to construct our faith and religion.

Ruby Sales, Founder and Director of SpiritHouse

Copyright © 2004, Ruby Sales

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