The White Christian’s Burden

This is the text of a talk I gave at Greenbelt Festival 2014. The theme of the Festival was “Travelling Light”; my talk was originally called “Travelling Heavy”, and I summarised it for the programme as follows:

Christianity doesn’t travel light. It is weighed down with history, much of it shameful. But if we don’t understand our past we can’t understand how it continues to form us, and we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes. What would it mean for us to deal with the burdensome history of Christendom?


I want to start by telling you three stories, that may or may not be familiar to you.

The first story is about the 2014 Winter Olympics, which took place in Sochi, Russia.* Not long before the Winter Olympics took place, Vladimir Putin passed a law banning ‘non-traditional sexual propaganda to minors’, which is to say that there was a ban on anything that could be construed as pro-LGBT propaganda. It wasn’t very clear exactly what was being banned, or how thoroughly it was being banned; there was some ambiguity over whether wearing a rainbow lapel pin would count as propaganda to minors, and the Russian government said different things at different times about whether non-Russian citizens would be arrested for breaking the law. But there was a huge outcry in the UK and the US. Celebrities wrote op-eds. Stephen Fry wrote an open letter. Gay rights activists loudly argued that we should boycott Russian vodka, or even the Olympics as a whole. Lots of people I know, including lots of Christians, shared articles on Facebook and Twitter, and talked angrily about how terrible it was that Russia were doing such awful things to their LGBT population. Continue reading “The White Christian’s Burden”

A Note on Cone on Malcolm X

I’m posting a footnote from the book I’m doing on conversion, as I think it (the note) might be of interest for discussion:

One of the more interesting instances of such a progressive narrative is presented by James H. Cone, in Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Orbis, 1992): “As one seeks to understand Malcolm, it is important to keep in mind that his perspective was undergoing a radical process of change and development during the last year of his life. He gradually discarded his Black Muslim beliefs about race and religion and moved toward a universal perspective on humanity that was centered on his commitment to the black liberation struggle in America” (211). I find Cone’s account particularly interesting because, even as he gives way to a narrative of secularization (moving from religion, i.e. “Black Muslim beliefs,” toward a broadenened political orientation), he elsewhere insists on the importance of religion in any attempt to understand Malcolm X. For instance, he calls attention to that fact that even “sympathetic interpreters often miss the central role of religion Malcolm’s thinking,” and that this is because “religion is commonly separated from struggles for justice” (164). Cone here indicates that such separation is unfortunate, that against such separation we should attend to the link between religion and the political. But if this is the case, then why is he apparently so content to present Malcolm X’s life in terms of an overcoming of religion’s narrowness in favor of the “universal perspective on humanity” that a secular, or at least developmentally secularizing, tendency offers?

Continue reading “A Note on Cone on Malcolm X”

Liberation Theology, Satan, and Reconciliation

A couple of months ago I read Douglas’ The Black Christ. This works reviews the history of slave religion and the development of black liberation theology. In the last chapter, Douglas sketches her proposal for a womanist Christology. Something I found interesting in her work was her review of three major black liberation theologians: Albert Cleage, James Cone, and J. D. Roberts.

All three men have different views of theology and reconciliation. However, I only want to discuss the divide that separates Cone from Roberts. Continue reading “Liberation Theology, Satan, and Reconciliation”

The Right-Wing Messiah

Last night I saw a preview for Secret Millionaire, which caused me to seriously question my already tottering faith in humanity. Apparently based on the show where the boss becomes an employee for a day, Secret Millionaire asks its tititular millionaires to move to the areas of the US that have been “hardest hit” (by what?). There they will live among the poor, all the while trying to determine which family is “most deserving” of a sudden influx of cash.

The premise is disgusting, but familiar — after all, what is Jesus Christ but a fabulously wealthy individual who “took the form of a slave”? Continue reading “The Right-Wing Messiah”