"So Dr. Clark, I think I'm getting it. James Cone (black theologian) is not just writing a theology for blacks. He is actually writing a substantial, sustained critique of white Christian theology (the kind that stretches all the way back to Constantine), with particular emphasis on what's wrong with the white "Christian" church of America in the last 350 years. Is that right?"
His decisive "yes" cleared the air in the room.
I saw it all. The white church in America has not been Christian. Keeping your soul cleansed from sin in a vertical, and, oh let's just admit it, virtual piety while holding slaves, endorsing racism, exploiting the poor is not Christianity. It is worse than "misguided." It is evil. Some might go so far as to say that is is demonic. And they'd be right. What else could the verse "Satan comes as an angel of light" mean?
Depravity, a theological term Dr. Cone uses to describe the evil committed by human beings, is not some existential pride-based attitude that can be forgiven through a commitment to the reformed doctrines (sometimes called a commitment to Christ). For Dr. Cone, we are depraved because we have committed atrocities so heinous there is no other way to understand those actions.
We've been lied to. Christianity is not about my personal condition/state before God. It is about the totality of my life and actions, my expressed beliefs (not my private thoughts and attitudes).
When I look back at my disillusionment with Christian faith, I can see now the fissures that led me to a loss of everything I believed. While science and logic pounded on the doors of my shallow fundamentalism, virtual spirituality evaporated into nothingness. Learned behaviors, seeking answers for tiny needs that matter to no one but me, a selfish and self-absorbed piety that focuses on my mental health and personal well-being, reliance on God to protect my immediate family and friends, an outward focus on those outside the faith that ignored their real time needs and instead promised a later date salvation in a heaven where all the injustices experienced here would be forgotten and redeemed with very little inconvenience to me... I couldn't keep it up. My world had grown and my faith had shrunk to a size too small to contain life.
I saw last night that my frustrations with God have come about because of teaching that offered me a very little God. Middle class life had become the scope of God's interest in the world. How pathetic. This kind of God portrait was bound to be knocked flat when I got out of my own world and into the larger one where real people suffer and die and are abandoned during their times of genuine crisis and suffering. How can we continue to think about God as the personal need-meeter of the suburbs when we are faced with the magnitude of life?
There has to be more at work here.
Yet I can see how the dominant culture, so out of touch with need, with being oppressed, with suffering injustice, had to radically adjust the Gospel to redeeming a virtual need. We support our position of power by crediting what is actually our condition of privilege with God's direct involvement in our lives. We endorse our new homes and safe travels with God's seal of approval because we believe God cares for us that personally.
We are out of touch with the reality that leaves others without those "blessings" even though they cry to the Lord and pray, even though they wait on God and believe in God's faithfulness.
We have been led to believe that the personal God of the dominant culture secures our position of privilege and therefore we look no further than our beliefs about God to suggest whether or not we have understood the meaning of the Gospel.
Cone says "That is not Christianity."
Today, I agree.
I don't know what the future holds in the faith for me. But I do know that I am open to another way of seeing and knowing God than the one I inherited from evangelicalism.