Monday, 15 July 2013

Zimmerman Trial, Racism, and Gender Roles

In the wake of the recent trial of George Zimmerman, it appears the "not guilty" verdict is being perceived as yet another reminder of how racism still exists in America today.   Today's post on Thabiti Anyabwile's Gospel Coalition blog is a clear reflection of how a well respected and influential black pastor has interpreted the outcome of this trial.

I have not followed the trial closely enough to comment on wether or not justice has been served.  However, what did catch my attention is the passion and conviction that this trial has evoked in Thabiti's own heart.  This trial appears to have stirred a painful reminder to Thabiti that the reality and sting of racism is still alive and well.  The racial attitudes of the 1950's are not as far removed as he had hoped.

The paragraph that caught my attention is Thabiti's response to what he perceives as injustice and where he bares his soul, declaring fresh resolve to the following courageous quest:

"But what does my Bible tell me? And how does our fixation on “race” square with its pages? “From one man God made every nation (ethnicity) of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…” (Acts 17:26). African-American fathers and mothers valiantly used that same passage to fight for the full humanity of both African Americans and every White people in this country. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “race,” a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of race-based theory, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “race” from ethnicity and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling class, privilege, and cowardice. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current categories they can’t imagine life differently. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view skin the way we do, most of us are already misunderstood. I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding".

This resonated so intensely with me because everything Thabiti reveals about his frustration with racism is exactly what I, as a woman, feel about the injustices and inequalities of the great gender divide within our churches.   I could not help but adapt Thabiti's words and make them my own even though my words are directed at a rather different but equally real and legitimate injustice.  It's an injustice that I don't think Thabiti himself recognizes just yet but I am hopeful that someday he will make the connection.  Perhaps using his own words and phraseology will help me clarify my point:

"But what does my Bible tell me? And how does the Church's fixation on "gender roles" square with its pages? From one man God made every nation of people (male and female), that they as men and women should inhabit and rule the whole earth… (Genesis 1 :26-28).  Egalitarians have  valiantly used this same passage (along with Galatians 3:28) to fight for the full humanity of both male and female. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “gender restrictions” , a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old traditional social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns of "Leave it to Beaver" on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of patriarchal theology, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity as a free and liberated woman in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “patriarchal ideology" from the church and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling hierarchy based on gender, privilege, and control. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current complementarian "gender role model" that they can’t imagine relationships that function on the premise of equality. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view the female gender the way they do, most of us bold, courageous, and egalitarian men and women are already misunderstood. I have nothing to lose so I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding."

Thabiti's final resolve is that he is thankful he possesses "the 2 most powerful weapons": prayer and preaching.  As a black pastor who is grieved by the effects of racism, at least he still has the privilege and "rights" to those 2 weapons.  As a white woman within my particular denomination, the weapon of "preaching"  is not an option for me.  It's not the color of my skin that disqualifies me.  I am disqualified because of my gender, something I cannot change any more than a man can change the color of his skin.   But I am allowed to pray and therefore I have one powerful weapon, not two.

Yet I am hopeful.  The pulpit may be "off limits" for women but in a twist of technological opportunity, many of us have found a "Platform" in the world of blogging.  God has made a unique and powerful way for us to get His message out there while our consciences find release to voice what the Lord has laid upon our hearts.  

For many women, a blogging audience is considerably larger than most pastors have in their pews on any given Sunday morning.  (For example, my first month of blogging reached almost 1,000 page views).   I know Thabiti follows blogs of women (as seen in this post about Wendy Alsup's New Wave Complementarianism) so he can vouch for the effectiveness of a woman's voice within this context. 

Thabiti's prayer (below) is also my prayer and I am empowered in my speech with the same Holy Spirit who empowers him to preach:

"But I can pray. And I have the privilege of preaching. And I believe those are the two most powerful weapons in the world. I believe God hears my prayers in Christ. I believe he makes my words powerful when I preach Christ. I believe mountains get moved, hearts get changed, hands are put to work, and heaven comes down again when I pray and when I preach. I’m so weak. I’m so foolish. I’m so limited. But God is not. The Lord is so strong. The Lord is all-wise. The Lord is unlimited, unstoppable, unshakable, unchanging, and un-anything else that might be a human handicap. So I’m going to God. Not as a means of escape or simply to lament and mourn. Lamentation and mourning have their place. I’m going to God because He is God. He can fix it. He does all things well. He is great. He reigns. And He will do all what I can’t. He’ll even do what I can do far better than if I did it in my own wisdom or strength. Actually, apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I don’t want to do anything. In fact, I don’t want to be apart from Him. So with faith and desire I’m going to God in prayer and gospel preaching.
No doubt there are better plans. Certainly there are folks with stronger feelings and louder voices. But this is what I can do living on a Caribbean island and looking for the coming consummation of the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. Because He is coming, I’m hopeful."

I hope Thabiti and other Church leaders will be able to sense in their hearts the similar connection between racism and the gender divide.  Wherever we find ourselves on the receiving end of inequality, wether due to race OR gender, it's important to establish that the FEELINGS of inferiority in both instances are the same!! Any attempt to biblically legitimize "roles within the church and family" based on race or gender is an appeal to live according to the flesh, not the Spirit.

Church, it's time that we let go of the lies and make the necessary changes to walk in Truth!





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