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Today we woke up in a world strikingly similar to and unlike the world we knew this time last year. Scenes replete with countless bodies assembled on streets and in the public square reminding the public of the truth of the mattering of black lives have been replaced with scenes of some the same, and other, bodies disrupting the political processes of the moment.
Emergent collective actions on behalf of the reproductive rights and bodily autonomy of women, widespread protest in response to orders from the executive branch of government okaying a restriction on the travels of Muslims into our country, and others can be seen angrily speaking up and pushing back against the tides of an iteration of state power the privileged in the U.S. have only visioned in their nightmares. Those of us who have faced the onslaught of state subjugation because of indigeneity, skin color, economic means, ability, sexual identity and gender expression might be less surprised.
The stakes for black, brown, cis and trans women, immigrant, non-Christian, incarcerated, non-English speaking, disabled, and other people whose lives are lived somewhere between the edges of the margins and edges of the center are much more pronounced than ever before in our recent history. And American religiosity has much to do with this turn to the worse.
Donald Trump’s ascendancy to President is the consequence of the collusion of what scholar Stanley Payne has termed “right-wing populist nationalism,” an obvious backlash against the country’s first black President, an admonishing reaction to an explosive social movement centering the needs of black people in the U.S. and those around the globe, a stupefying resurgence of white heteropatriarchal dominance and its concomitant sexism and misogyny, as well as the maintenance of a white-centered, anti-black, imperialist, neoliberal, patriarchal Christianity that flows through the veins of these times like hot blood enlivening Empire.
I was not shocked, for example, when Pastor Paula White, a white evangelical Pentecostal preacher, senior pastor of the New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, and personal minister to President Trump delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration on January 20th. Maybe I should have been alarmed when the tongue-speaking, shouting, and fire-baptized minister of the gospel who came to prominence and wealth through her display of charismatic preaching in mostly black churches around the U.S. went on to offer support to a presidential contender who described the peoples who helped bolster her ministerial career as signifiers (“the African Americans”), as those who mostly live in retrograde urban spaces in need of more entrenched forms of “law and order”? But I am not.
I should not be surprised a white woman who mastered the performance of black religious expression has been able to separate the performance of black religiosity from the black experience in the U.S. because she lacks proximity to the anti-black tremors shaking the lives of the very black people whose monies have filled her offering plates. And why should I be surprised when Pastor White has been joined in her lauding of Trump by black pastors across the country who support Trump and black figureheads like Martin Luther King III?
Christianity in the U.S. has a race problem, yes. But it is not a problem that is single-variable in its formulation. Anti-blackness and the proffering of theologies centering the good of whiteness is but a piece of the larger problem of an imperialist, heterosexist, patriarchal, trans-antogonistic Christianity that situates those from different regions, peoples who practice different religions, bodies which comport themselves outside of the normative gaze of gender, the black, the brown, the queer, the trans, women, the disabled, as other.
The reason some feel comfortable positioning themselves as Black religious leaders in support of Trump is because Christianity has become another apparatus of neoliberalism and global capitalism. Anti-blackness be damned, as long as prophets are positioned to make profits in a market wholly antagonistic to community-building and does not require the decentering of power, but prefers the cementing of authority, will this dangerous type of American Christianity continue to prevail as the moral compass of our times. Even the black religious have allowed anti-black sentimentality to reign for the purpose of materializing a conservative political agenda organized around so-called traditional family values, male centeredness, heterosexual intimacy and capitalist power.
Given that, we must employ what womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglass has termed a “counter hegemonic act of resistance.” Douglass’s postulation was taken up in reference to ways one must name, deconstruct and thwart the white racist heteropatriarchal foundations of African American denominational churches understandings’ of sexuality and gender, but I want to extend her call to action here to give name to the type of prophetic fire our country is in need of at this time. A counter hegemonic act of resistance within sectors of American Christianities requires we tell the truth about the race problem inherent in religion in America. We cannot lie about the conditions of American politics as shaped by religion nor can we allow Empire to benefit from the proliferation of violent theologies that can turn right-wing populist nationalism into a local iteration of a global phenomena of fascism. It means divesting from the violence of whiteness and anti-blackness, not by words, but by disruptive action.
Part of that work requires an optic that exposes anti-blackness as a consequence of what bell hooks names white supremacist capitalist imperialist patriarchy. American religions’ race problem is a many-headed hydra with teeth prepared to eat away at the well being and lives of so many of us to wide praise and to the glory of a white supremacist, patriarchal, queer and trans antagonisitic, anti-Muslim, anti-black god. And this is not the god the righteous serve. We must be bold enough to name that.
Author’s Note: These remarks were given at a panel on race and religion organized by Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture on February 21, 2017.