Supporting Theological Reflection and Conversation that Strengthen the Ministry of the Church
On Thursday, January 26, 2006, the IRT welcomed Mark Lewis Taylor to Watts Chapel at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education to give the first public lecture in a series of lectures to be presented in conjunction with the colloquy entitled “Race and the Reformed Tradition.” Dr. Taylor is the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. The title of his lecture was “White Racism and Anti-Racist Theological Work.”
Taylor’s lecture was a constructive response to a problem posed by James H. Cone more than thirty years ago: “What would anti-racist theology look like? It would be first a theology that comes out of an anti-racist political struggle.”
The lecture was organized into three parts: 1) theoretical base points for anti-racist work; 2) today’s white racist regime; and 3) the challenges of today’s regime. Among the key base points for theorizing about race and racism are the following: discounting the essentiality of the notion of race itselfrace is not essential to a full conception of what it means to be a human being; recognizing a fundamental difference between prejudice and racism, the latter being the power to routinize outcomes in society; and the strategic necessity of counter-racist group identities by which whites may affirm ethnicity without lapsing into racism.
It is Taylor’s contention that white racism has become ensconced in recognizable “regimes of power” in American society, recognized in at least four dimensions: the psycho-cultural in which whiteness is privileged over blackness, the juridical regime and economic systems in which the meting out of justice and the chances for economic empowerment are all too often conflated with racist intent, and, finally, a desire in some quarters to establish an American Empire within global markets and political dominance.
Taylor is also author of Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right:Post-9/11 Politics and American Empire (Fortress Press, 2005) which addresses themes of post-9/11 culture and the way white racism pervades U.S. interests in empire and religious practice. He is also national coordinator of “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” a group of 800 university teachers organizing for a new trial for Abu-Jamal, a journalist on Pennsylvania’s death row since 1982. In addition, he has been an activist in the current anti-war movement, in policy issues relating to Mexico and Latin America, and in the “No More Prisons!” movement. His books include The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America (Fortress Press, 2001), Reconstructing Christian Theology, Remembering Esperanza: A Cultural-Political Theology for North American Praxis, and Paul Tillich: Theologian of the Boundaries, as well as numerous articles and essays in professional journals, magazines, and newspapers on issues of justice and peace.
Rodney S. Sadler, Assistant Professor of Bible at Union-PSCE at Charlotte in North Carolina, spoke at a public lecture for the IRT in Watts Chapel on the Union-PSCE main campus on March 16, 2006.
His lecture entitled “Can a Cushite Change His Skin?” focused on several key themes from his book, building his premise that concepts of “race” would have been alien to the biblical texts. To prove this thesis, the book explores how the Cushites, a group that contemporary scholars would almost unanimously consider “racially black” were viewed by the Judean authors of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and compare their assessments of this “Other” with racialist assumptions of African peoples. Following suit, the lecture provided a general view of what is meant by “race,” and using significant examples from the book, it explored the presentation of Cushites in Scripture.
From such examples as Moses’ Cushite wife (Num 12:1) and the rhetorical question “can a Cushite change his skin?” (Jer 13:23) Sadler demonstrated that though Cushite peoples’ characteristic dark skin coloration was noted, it was neutrally valued and was not disparaged. Isaiah 37 was used to explore the political-military alliances that existed between King Hezekiah of Judah and King Tirhakah, the Cushite pharaoh of Egypt; the reliance on this southern “Other,” Sadler suggests, was crucial to Judah’s survival during a critical juncture during one of Sennacherib’s sieges of Judah. Even texts that had no explicit reference to Cush were examined, such as Gen 9:18-27, for from this text arose the notion of the “Curse of Ham” that theologically legitimized slavery and subsequent forms of racism in the United States.
After examining these and other key passages, Sadler suggested that the concept of race was alien to the Old Testament and that differences moderns would perceive as “racial” were accepted as matter of course, and associated simply with differences in national origin. The sense of ontological “Othering” that is the precursor to racialist thinking was assessed to be a later synthetic human creation during the Enlightenment period created for certain political and economic reasons. As such, Sadler suggests, we should note that we have the power to unmake what we have made, this dangerous and destructive myth that we call race.
Sadler has taught courses in Hebrew, Greek, Old and New Testament interpretation, wisdom literature in the Bible, the Psalms, and African American biblical interpretation. He is also on the steering committee for the African American Biblical Hermeneutic Section of the Society for Biblical Literature; on the editorial board of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology; and an editor of Biblia Africana, an Old Testament commentary. He has recently published Can a Cushite Change His Skin? An Examination of Race, Ethnicity, and Othering in the Hebrew Bible (T&T Clark, 2005).
PUBLISHED IN THE BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE FOR REFORMED THEOLOGY, SPRING 2006, VOL. 6, #1.
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