The new black theology: Retrieving ancient sources to challenge racism

The new black theology: Retrieving ancient sources to challenge racism

The Christian Century

Jonathan Tran, Assistant Professor of Religion
Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Read Edward Antonio’s review of Brian Bantum’s Redeeming Mulatto (subscription required)

A couple years ago, when the Century asked some leading theologians to name five “essential theology books of the past 25 years,” J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account (Oxford University Press, 2008) was one of the few books mentioned more than once and the only one that was published in the past five years. Last year, the Ameri­can Academy of Religion gave its Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion to Willie J. Jennings’s The Christian Imagi­nation: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2010). These two influential works, together with Re­deeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Baylor University Press, 2010), by Brian Bantum (who studied at Duke with both Carter and Jennings), represent a major theological shift that will—if  taken as seriously as it deserves—change the face not only of black theology but theology as a whole….

…In Redeeming Mulatto, Bantum makes his own use of patristic formulations about Christ in order to address the promises and challenges of interracial existence. He views mixed-race persons through the lens of “the hypostatic union,” the early church’s term for the union of divine and human in Christ. Amid the pains and confusions of what was once branded “mongrelization” stands the fullness of Christ’s joining of humanity and divinity. For Bantum, the mulatto “participates in” Christ’s fullness; biracial individuals “perform” the drama of redemption as scripted in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In Christ’s person, one confronts not only the mystery of divinity but the “impossible possibility” of humanity joined to divinity. Jesus “was mulatto not solely because he was a ‘mixture,’ but because his very body confounds the boundaries of purity/impurity and humanity/divinity that seemed necessary for us to imagine who we thought we should be.”

Baptized into this body, the church in all of its differences offers the world a genuinely reconciled body of diverse persons, in contrast to political orders that exclude (the opposite of baptism) in the name of race, gender, nation, class, ethnicity and so on. According to Bantum, the church speaks the language attuned to this politics of difference: prayer. This is good news for each one of us who is “passing” through America’s complex racial heritage, and it is an indictment of those seeking racial purity and the banishment of racial difference.

When Bantum uses creedal affirmations of Christ’s humanity and divinity to uplift historically shamed biracial persons, he, like Carter and Jennings, speaks in terms that cannot be easily dismissed by white theologians. If Bantum is right about Christology, any Christian (white or otherwise) who affirms the Chalcedonian formula about Christ’s two natures must rethink mulatto life. And if he refuses such rethinking, he cannot blame Bantum’s alleged lack of orthodoxy…

Read the entire article here.

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