This blog post, written by Soong-Chan Rah, professor at North Park Theological Seminary, comes on the heels of one of the most significant
elections in American history – the election of an African-American to
the highest office in our nation. Some have seen this landmark moment
as the end of racism in America (or maybe the beginning of the end).
I’m dubious of such a claim, but it is certainly a constructive step in
the right direction.
Interlude on Christology and Race: Gregory of Nyssa
This blog post comes on the heels of one of the most significant elections in American history – the election of an African-American to the highest office in our nation. Some have seen this landmark moment as the end of racism in America (or maybe the beginning of the end). I’m dubious of such a claim, but it is certainly a constructive step in the right direction.
In the first part of Race: A Theological Account
, J. Kameron Carter devotes a significant number of pages deconstructing the concept of race. Deconstructing the origins of race and the root cause of racism reveals the depth of infiltration of racism and racialization in our society – particularly as it relates to Western Christianity. Our souls encounter a dis-ease as we realize the power of racism. But deconstructing the race problem only takes us so far. At some point we must begin the process of re-construction or a proactive positive construction.
This interlude focuses on the theological interpretation and reflection of Gregory of Nyssa. The abolitionist view of Gregory stands in contrast to his contemporaries and reveals the possibility of a positive theological construction on the issue of race. “The link Gregory makes between the identity or person of Christ and the Image of God helps us see more clearly how his stance against slavery is internal to his theological outlook” (p.245). In contrast to modernity’s “violence of (pseudo)-theological whiteness” (p.250), Gregory’s consideration of the imago Dei and human dignity leads to a vastly different conclusion. Theology becomes a path towards positive construction.
In light of Gregory’s example, is there the possibility of a more holistic Christology leading to a positive constructive theology of race for the 21st century? An increasingly multiethnic and global Christianity means that there is the possibility of a more complete Christology. The marginalization and alienation of non-Western theological perspectives leads to a consideration of Christology from an incomplete perspective (i.e. – from the exclusive perspective of Western, white theology).
For example, American evangelicalism seems to be excessively focused on the crucifixion element of Christology. Much blood and sweat has been shed over this issue. However, when one examines the Christological focus of non-Western, non-white points-of-view, one sees an increased concern for resurrection and kingdom elements of Christology (liberation theology as an example). A more constructive theological exploration of Christology, therefore, requires the integration of non-Western theology or the theology of “the other”. The great promise of 21st century global and multiethnic Christianity is the entering into other stories for the sake of integrating the non-Western perspective. “Christian identity . . . is leaving behind one mode of identity and ecstatically entering into another” (p.234).
And now, to bring this reflection back to our immediate context without making too much of a partisan politics statement.
Putting aside whether one agrees with Obama’s policies for one moment, could it be that the election of someone who has previously been categorized as “the other” may lead to a fuller understanding of our nation’s place in the world? Could an Obama presidency mean an integration of aspects of American life and culture that has previously been ignored? Does this moment in American history signify a change in what we think of as “real” America?
In turn, could this significant change in our nation also pose a proactive challenge for God’s people to be more attentive to the voices of “the other”?