Thursday, April 30, 2015

Freddie Gray, Baltimore, and the Christian Logic of Abuse

Smarter, better-qualified people than myself have written smarter, better things about the protests in Baltimore. From a quick survey of Facebook, here's Ta-Nehisi Coates, Julia Blount, Benji Hart, and those are just the three articles I've seen shared most.

Of course, I've also seen the terrible responses, the white people referring to the protestors as “thugs” and “animals” (transparent racist dogwhistles both), sanctimoniously misusing out-of-context MLK quotes, expressing far more concern over CVS than over black human lives – and the inevitable production of Freddie Gray's arrest record, as if that revealed anything other than the logical knots into which white supremacy will tie itself in order to maintain the just-world fallacy.

Something that really strikes me about the white supremacist treatment of Freddie Gray and the Baltimore protestors is the extent to which it manifests the Christian logic of abuse. White America has been subjugating people of color for centuries, and when we demand compliance from the people we oppress, we are operating exactly as white patriarchal Christianity does.

Bloggers like Libby Anne, Sarah Moon, and Samantha Field have been writing for a long time about the abusive Christianity of patriarchy and the profound harm it does to women and queer people. Scholars like Delores S. Williams and Kelly Brown Douglas have spent decades critiquing the intersection of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy in Christianity, and the oppression of black and brown women at the hands of an imperialist religion.

Wives, obey your husbands. Slaves, obey your masters.

As the religion of empire, Christianity has taken the contextually specific advice given by one subject of imperial oppression to others, in a world he expected to pass away imminently, and imposed it from above as the rule of law. This advice is not normative advice for moral living; it is a measure for survival as a beleaguered minority. A black mother in the US in 2015 tells her son to avoid the cops, not because avoidance of cops is all-purpose moral advice, but because it is a survival tactic to avoid being murdered in a white supremacist context. A whole system that puts the onus on black people to avoid being murdered by cops is a profoundly broken system.

The logic of patriarchy blames women for being abused while simultaneously encouraging them to stay in abusive relationships. The logic of white supremacy murders black people and simultaneously blames them for their own murder. Much of that logic traces directly back to the imperial wielding of the cross.

The resurrection is a profound symbol of the transformation of abuse and suffering into new life and hope. The imperial misstep is to demand abuse and suffering. Imperial Christianity sees abuse and suffering transformed into new life and hope, and concludes that more abuse and suffering is needed. The Christianity of empire, of patriarchy, of white supremacy, centers Christ's death and believes that it can be the agent of hope.

This has never been true. The face of God is not the face of white America. The face of God is the face of Freddie Gray, the faces of those who protest. As Kelly Brown Douglas says, “To be where God is, is to be where black people are crying out for freedom from crucifying realities.”

ETA: Nyasha Junior has an important take on Kelly Brown Douglas' piece.