Excerpts from our new book: “American Christianity and the Culture of Death: Conversations and Poems on Racial Trauma, Social Justice, and Hope” (2020)
***Now available on amazon in the Kindle edition (e-book)!
There is a sense to say that American Christianity, especially the white evangelical Christian expression has produced a culture of death in the American society. Arguably, the environment some white evangelicals continue to create in the American culture promotes a life of alienation and hostility for non-evangelical Christians and Christians of color. It is religious alienation and political hostility if an individual or a group is not in the evangelical camp. The political culture produced by white American evangelicals is very antagonistic to those who do not embrace the Republican party, the Conservative agenda, “God’s preferential party,” as the say, or even the “Family values” party, they believe.
In the same line of thought, White evangelicals sustain a culture of death whose aspects include existential, social, religious, economic, political, cultural, and ideological. Because some White evangelicals, for the most part, continue to tolerate the unhealthy ideologies of white supremacy and the dangerous ideas of white Christian supremacist theology, death in the culture is inevitable. Evidently, it is a matter of great urgency for black people and people of color. Whenever white evangelicals choose to remain silent on pressing moral issues such as police violence and brutality toward blacks and people of color, the culture they produce is death. When white evangelicals decide not to confront white supremacy and racial injustice, the environment they promote is death.
Finally, when white evangelical Christians fail to act on their moral duty to challenge the racial biases of the Judicial system, the Prison system, and the Police system that are responsible for the mass incarceration of blacks and people of color in this country, they contribute to racial trauma, black tragedy, and even black death. This is how the culture of death and alienation continue to be present in society.
The American church lost the battle when American Christians refused to stand on the right side of slavery. The evangelical Church failed when evangelicals participated in racial segregation and refused to integrate churches, seminaries, and public places. The Christian church in America lost the battle when the people of God refused to stand on the right side of the Civil Rights moment. All of these failures and sinful actions of the American Christianity and evangelical churches have fostered a culture of death and hostility in this nation. White Evangelicals have failed refugees, immigrants, and people of color in history in many accounts and in my times whenever they took sides of the powerful and abandoned the most vulnerable groups in society. They fail them on moral grounds and when they refuse to be an ally to African Americans and people of color on moral issues affecting their safety and lives in this country.
This book offers a critical commentary on some of the most pressing issues affecting the American society and American Christianity; in particular, it is a report on how white evangelicals engage culture and the public sphere. The book is written in the form of a series of meditations and reflections on six urgent matters in contemporary American life: (1) the conundrum of racial trauma and anti-black racism, (2) the culture of death and alienation, (3) the prevalence of Police brutality and violence, (4) the contradictions of American white Evangelicalism and its despairing politico-religious ideologies, (5) the plot of refugees and undocumented immigrants, and (6) the existential meaning and relevance of Black life in today’s society. This book is more than a critical report on a life of despair, alienation, and violence in the American society linked to the omnipresence of white supremacy and structural racism; beyond a life of hopelessness, it provides strategic ways and methods for the American people and Christians to foster both personal and collective hope, and to live in peace and in community with one another. It is also intended to foster racial healing and reconciliation. This text is an attempt to reimagine another country and an alternative societal life toward the common good and human flourishing.
The language and form in the book include both fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose. Thus, the book incorporates a series of blog posts, poems, short essays, and opinion pieces that have previously appeared in various social media platforms and publication venues in the past six years (2014-2020). They are written in the form of short conversations and dialogues, and not in the typical academic style. Our intention in this book is twofold: (1) to engage in honest, deliberate, and courageous conversations with the general American public on the most pressing issues of our time, and (2) to reach the common and intelligent American reader to think about future possibilities and some strategic ways to change the nature of things in this country. Collectively, we hope that we would be able to create an alternative way of being human and citizen in this American world.
The fictional aspect of the book contains a series of poems, written mostly in the year 2020 and in moments of national rage and discontent, street protesting, street rioting—considering the recent tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and a host of black and brown victims at the hands of American Police and white supremacists. These poems reimagine black and brown lives in a way that they tell complex and difficult stories about the uneasy experience of black people and people of color in the American society. These are stories of lament, poetry of despair and violence, poetry of death and alienation, poetry of black rage and protest, and poetic stories of hope and new creation. The first six poems in Part III (“Dead Bones Rise Up! Poetry of Pain, Suffering, and Revolution”) of the book are written by Katia Joseph. These energetic poems reflect Katia’s significant contribution in the book; through her poetic voice, she deploys the language of poetry to protest, demand justice and equality, to humanize America, and to challenge America to live up to its democratic ideals and promises to black and brown people. “Freedom,” an important poem, is written by Terrence Joseph. Through this poem, Terrence puts accent on the practice and significance of freedom for people of color. The remaining poems and the prose division of the book are written exclusively by Celucien.
Part I of the book engages the world of American Christianity; special attention is given to the dangerous ideologies and practices of white evangelicals. Correspondingly, Part II is concerned about social justice issues; hence, it can be construed as a critique on the American society and culture. The significance and influence of the Black Lives Matters movement in the American society is important enough not to ignore in this conversation; its rapport to the role of religion in society and to the cherished ideals preserved in America’s lofty Constitution and the Bills of Right is worth considering. These foundational documents can still inspire hope in society and empower us as Americans and as a people toward greatness and success. Because these historic documents somewhat and partially symbolize the conscience of this nation, we believe that we can always appeal to them to find direction to bring a cure to our contemporary woes and to create another country for the future generation.
For such a time as this, one thing that is true about the Black Lives Matter movement is this: it has now become a global, intercultural, and interracial BUZZ. People around the world can identify injustice when they see it; they can also identify hatred and bigotry when they see it happen, even to strangers. The world is tired about how America treats its Black citizens and its most vulnerable populations. People are also tired about the silence of evangelical leaders and churches on these moral concerns. The question before us as a nation and people is this: how are we going to move forward? how are going to cure the American soul that has been wounded since the foundation of this Republic. We’ve had an awful beginning. Our foundation is not a glorious one. We have written the loftiest Constitution in the world. Our Bill of Rights is another groundbreaking document in the modern world. These important documents must help us to foster and sustain hope, justice, rights, peace, and freedom for all Americans. We must embody their ideals in practical life so we can live in peace and harmony with each other. No other nation and no other people can do it for us. We are the masters of our own destiny, and the cure to our own wound.
This American nation began in the shed blood of the most vulnerable groups and the racially-outcast populations. The Black problem is never a racial issue; it is more than that. The Black problem is inherently an American issue that we as a people must engage and end, even now. (What black people in this country are striving for is equality, not revenge.) White Evangelical Christianity has compromised its ethics, morality, and conviction for the sake of power and influence. Right-wing evangelicals want to dominate, control the culture, and be a reference point in all things political and cultural. Correspondingly, white evangelical Christianity has been silenced on national issues of racial injustice and police brutality and in part, white evangelicals are morally responsible for the conundrum of Black and people of color in the United States. In their writings, both James Cone and James Baldwin linked the problem of white dominion in society with the compromise of White Christianity. American Evangelicalism not only continues to support white supremacy and anti-black racism in society; traditionally, white evangelical Christians have been instrumental in maintaining whiteness as power and dominion, white supremacy as a system, and theology’s racial identity. In many of his politico-theological writings Cone, for example, has challenged an entire (white) theological system and (white) Christian ethical framework that do not live up to the biblical standard of righteousness and justice. He refuted white American theology because of its silence on black pain & suffering, and black death. He debunked white theological vision of God, humanity, & the world because it is built structurally on the strict doctrine of white supremacy and white racial dominion. Cone understood that (theological) ideas have consequence, and that Black and Brown people in America have become victims of those consequential ideas. Yet he pressed that that Christian actions bear more consequences in this life and the life to come.
In the same vein, in his body of work, Baldwin called for the destruction of white supremacy that holds the black and brown body captive, and he also urged America to abandon the false Christianity that sustains the power and dominion of whiteness. Baldwin’s clarion call for the death of white dominion in America is akin to Cone’s urgent message to reject white American Christianity and theology. Baldwin’s vision of America’s redemption is grounded on an alternative world that begins with a fresh vision of American history and identity, and one that will reassess the dignity and worth of America’s black and brown citizens— without forgetting America’s past.
In addition, both thinkers were aware that America’s dominant religion, white Christianity, and the internal force and system, white supremacy and dominion, that created a subhuman category and a marginalized citizenship in the American society needed to die for the total emancipation of this great nation. In other words, white dominion, supported by the narratives and perceptions of white Christianity, is a theological heresy. James Cone and James Baldwin envisioned an alternative American narrative that is anti-white dominion and a new American saga that desecrates all the sacred places and functions whiteness embodies in the American society, as well as all the geopolitical zones and anti-black and brown narratives race sanctifies, concurrently.
This book is written in the spirit of James Baldwin and James Cone; it follows their lead in these complex and difficult matters it addresses so urgently. Yet our moral responsibility is to love one another and to express the deep dimension of love in public in the way of Jesus. We must learn how to love other individuals our systems, laws, and even our hearts do not allow us to do so. Love here is a command; can we command love? Yes, absolutely! Can you command a feeling? Love is more than a feeling; it is a sacred obligation. Love is the moral responsibility that we must practice and embody every day in this society if we want to recreate this society and move forward as a nation.
As a people, we must begin again. If we have to start off from scratch and with a blank piece of paper, it will even be worth it to use a new ink to write a new American history in the twenty-first century. As a group, we must create another country for the common good, human flourishing, our children, and the future generation. Future possibility is “the possibility” we must now embrace toward a new creation and national renewal. We must build “a new nation” and “begin again” to save the wounded soul of America— only if we want to redeem ourselves and create a society characterized by justice, love, and peace, in which everyone is armed with the appropriate tools and resources to flourish and enjoy existence, rights, and freedom.”