36 Responses to “Carter Book Event: The Death of Christ: A Theological Reading of Fredrick Douglass’s 1845 Narrative (Chapter 7)”

  1. Brandy Daniels Says:

    I also really appreciated Carter’s attention to gender here, and found the connections he drew between race, gender, and religion–his assertion that Douglass’s narrative “helps one understand that the problems of gender and class in modernity are prismatic moments of the problem of race,” and then addressing how it is all bound up in theological discourse–to be particularly instructive (303). I also found his comment in the footnotes regarding the strengths and limitations of Coakley’s work on submission (p308, fn 42) to be quite interesting and helpful.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I found this chapter to be repellent — it seemed to be criticizing Douglass for standing up for himself and gaining some measure of dignity. What was he supposed to do instead? What would have been the theologically correct response to being repeatedly beaten to within an inch of his life? And how exactly is Douglass “repeating” white theology’s mistake? Does he turn around and start beating the shit out of Covey every day?

    It was especially problematic that it comes after a chapter in which he had found striking similarities between his own theology and a piece of writing in which a slave praises God for being delivered back into slavery. I don’t think he’s promoting submission to oppression, but I have no idea what he’s trying to do in these chapters. I was angry the whole time I was reading them.

  3. Brandy Daniels Says:

    Adam, that is really interesting… (and it humors me that we had such drastically different responses to this chapter)…

    I guess what I read this chapter as doing was not necessarily reading Douglass’ action as ‘theologically incorrect’ but as only partially correct, and ultimately inadequate, in that Douglass ties his narration to a particular performance of gender that eschews black femininity and thus bolsters the same system that is oppressing him (I’d also perhaps delineate between action and narration of action– its not only about how Douglass responded to Covey or to Aunt Esther, but how he situated and narrated those encounters).

    I read what Carter was doing here as somewhat, methodologically speaking, analogous to third wave feminist critique of both first and second wave feminism–i.e. second wave feminism’s project, so to speak, in its critique of sexism and rape culture (e.g. Catherine McKinnon, Andrea Dworkin) was inadequate in that it operated under the same paradigm as the culture it was critiquing, reading everything through the male gaze (I’m thinking here of critiques by Drucilla Cornell, Butler, and Saba Mahmood…). Which is not to say that protesting against rape is bad, but that doing so under this particular paradigm is both inadequate and problematic…

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    That’s also another thing that stunned me about this chapter: suddenly he’s talking about gender! Throughout the book, we’ve been told that the crucial thing is to have a proper theology of Israel, and all of a sudden, it turns out that gender is our standard for measuring the adequacy of a theological response.

  5. Tim McGee Says:

    Brandy,
    Thanks for the summary and I think your analogy to third wave feminism is helpful.

    Adam,
    I’d simply add that I’m a bit perplexed that you missed that this was a textual engagement–a literary reading–and not just some much-belated ethical evaluation of Douglass’ conduct. And I’m also perplexed that you think the book is trying to offer a single “standard for measuring the adequacy of a theological response.”

    Brandy says, “it points to the contradictions that become embroiled in emancipatory politics of identity—how “such a politics often repeats the form of the self that needs overcoming””

    Given Carter’s last long comment on ambivalent identity and repentance, are we ever able to not repeat “the form of the self that needs overcoming?” As he said in that comment,

    “as Butler’s theory of subjection makes clear, agency and thus the subject is consituted (and not just tactically so) by and in the very power it turns against. And to turn against that power, is not simply to take leave of it. One’s turn from power is still an imbrication in and with it. Therefore, the question haunting this account repentant subject formation and the ambivalent scene of agency (and thus my chapter, though at the time I had not the conceptual tools at my disposal to better articulate it) is how to affirm participation (in this case, in Christianity) as the basis of agency (political and otherwise) and yet “insist that agency “may do more than reiterate the conditions of subordination” (Butler)?”

  6. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I too had problems with this chapter that are related to some lingering issues I’ve had throughout reading Carter’s book but that go deeper to the heart of Christian theological discourse. I agree broadly with Adam’s issues and I’m given little comfort by this being a “literary” reading of Douglass’ narrative. Throughout the book I’ve found myself tossed back and forth between various problems that are not fully explored. The obvious one is the issue with supercessionism, which I don’t think Carter really resolved in any way through his “non-essentialist” reading of the covenant. I think this is far too abstract an answer and leaves me feeling cold. The same goes for this sudden injection of gender into the book. I’m troubled by the problematic acceptance of the usual divisions between femininity and masculinity that is so common to Christian theology (especially what could be termed the Duke school and their appropriation of the creepy nuptial theology of White European Catholicism), but more so that in Carter’s commitment to a theology of weakness we find ourselves all faced with the prospect of simply becoming feminine if we are to be Christian (which may be the case, but isn’t, I think, a very compelling reason to me). My problem here is two-fold. First, in the pursuit of remaining true to this theology of weakness and applying it as criticism to Douglass’ narrative we are left, in the absence of a concrete positive proposal (as opposed to the abstraction we are given), with a distinct feeling that Douglass would have been better off in terms of his theology if he had not struck his master. Second, it seems to me that what Carter repeats an annoying anti-intellectualist trope here ironically by criticizing Douglass for not seeing the abstraction of the cross (cross as revelation of power as the exchange of love, p. 306) in his pursuit of being an intellectual.

    OK, so what does all this boil down to? It seems to me that Carter himself could be accused of being blind to the whiteness of his theology in terms of its acceptance of the pietism of the theology of weakness. The abstraction here is masked in so far as those who participate in this theology all speak in the right pious poetics. Carter seems to be joining with others in claiming that this poetics is what makes something “true” theology in opposition to pseudo-theology. But what we end up with in this poetics is a kind of universalist Christology of the bad type. All who want to be like Christ, to come into their own divinity, must accept their passive role as open before the God of Creation. All creation is vulnerable before God and the Christian accepts this as grace. Well, in so far as this is precisely a model of political sovereignty that demands the silence and acquiesence of non-sovereign political subjects then I think it is incredibly naive. Other feminist theologians have argued that this theology of weakness doesn’t respond correctly the condition of most real women. For them their “sin” is in being passive! What keeps Carter’s theology from accepting this kind of pluralist Christology?

    I have to say, I was actually much more sympathetic to Douglass in Carter’s presentation of him than Carter would probably want me to be. The “I rose” thing was inspiring. And indeed I think the whole notion of a black religious Gnosis is exactly what should be celebrated in Douglass because it does not “merely reflect back to modernity how modern theology has tended to function quite often to ground the political economy and order of things on the basis of a white religious Gnosis”, but instead because it is a knowledge of the strength in oneself, in the culture that one is within, that allows rejection of that white religious form of knowledge. And really, it’s quite an abstract way of reading Douglass’ resistance to suggest it is a “mere reversal”. Where are Douglass’ white slaves?

    Hopefully these criticisms can lead to a productive conversation as I do appreciate what Carter is attempting here. The audacity of it is to be celebrated I think, even though I want to urge him to throw off this theology of weakness stuff. You just get good quasi-Catholics that way who hate birth control and celebrate their own conservatism as if it were a form of liberation.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I found Douglass’s appropriation of the resurrection to be inspiring, much as Anthony did, and I found Carter’s attempt to position Douglass as explicitly rejecting femininity to be forced and unconvincing. I honestly think that if a white theologian had written this chapter, people would be up in arms over it.

  8. Tim McGee Says:

    Adam and Anthony,
    Some of this is frankly so absurd it’s hard to know how to pursue a conversation: e.g., quasi-Catholic guilt by Duke association, accusing Carter of abstraction and then proving this point by the totally abstract–decontextualized–consideration that Douglass wasn’t a slaveholder of white folks, the “could-a-white-theologian-say-this” test, the refusal to countenance an argument that unfolds or burrows into a problematic progressively (“where did this gender bit come from”?), the accusation of an “anti-intellectual” refrain (as if a critique of scholastic reason means he’s an anti-intellectual), and the failure to distinguish between an engagement with the literary representation of a scene and an ethical evaluation of the actions in that scene.

    Anthony–you bring up what I hope could be a direction in which this conversation could head, and that is the question of passivity, femininity, and agency. You say, “in Carter’s commitment to a theology of weakness we find ourselves all faced with the prospect of simply becoming feminine if we are to be Christian (which may be the case, but isn’t, I think, a very compelling reason to me).” You then say, “All who want to be like Christ, to come into their own divinity, must accept their passive role as open before the God of Creation. All creation is vulnerable before God and the Christian accepts this as grace. Well, in so far as this is precisely a model of political sovereignty that demands the silence and acquiesence of non-sovereign political subjects then I think it is incredibly naive. Other feminist theologians have argued that this theology of weakness doesn’t respond correctly the condition of most real women. For them their “sin” is in being passive!”

    From these two comments, we can see the tension between an identification of femininity with passivity (your first comment) and the critique of such an alignment (your second). Femininity is thus positioned in a kind of double-bind: bound to passivity and then bound towards an aggressive confrontation with the conditions that render them passive (so that a non-violent response will not be read as an action of agency but as a confirmation of their subjugation to the order of the feminine). The subject is positioned as “closed” to the other such that encounters with the other oscillate between the two poles of violent domination (assertion and passivity), the subject and abject, the living and the socially dead. Carter’s argument in this chapter is briefly that Douglass encounters this structure of agency which positions his blackness as social death and, in his wrestling to free himself from such domination, ends up ascending towards a position of agency by shifting abjectness from the register of race to the register of gender (such that his masculinity affords him an agency that is distinguished from the religious passivity of the black feminine; a 20th century parallel to this would be Richard Wright). Carter is not asserting that we should all just be passive subjects to domination (come on…) but instead probing ways to explode the whole agency-as-domination dynamic from within and not in opposition to the lives of those rendered doubly abject, black women. That is to say, are there ways to understand Douglass’ “resurrection” as not “standing” in contrast to the weakness of black female religiosity?

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Could it be that those forms of black female religiosity Douglass is critiquing — to the extent that he even really is, which I’m not sure I buy — are actually worthy of critique?

    It seems to me that Carter is setting up female spirituality as the standard in the next chapter, which again is weirdly sudden given that the whole rest of the book has been about this notion of covenant and focused on Israel. (Admittedly, she does cite the Old Testament, so she must embrace a full-blown Carter-style theology of Israel, etc.) We’ve been told the whole time that the “constructive portion” is going to be the pay-off in light of which the whole rest of the book must be understood, yet I don’t see how these three chapters are constructive at all, nor how they even correspond to the rest of the book.

    And as Anthony says, your separation between “literary analysis” and “ethical assessment” is artificial and unconvincing to me. It seems like a way to gerrymander around our criticism rather than actually engaging it. And obviously in context there’s no way Douglass could ever have white slaves — yet a big part of Carter’s argument seems to be that bad theology leads to bad ethical results (such as the bad theology of modern supercessionism leading to racial oppression, for example). Is there any evidence in Douglass’s book or in his life practice that he victimized women? From what I can tell, he was way ahead of his time in advocating for feminism.

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Just an expansion of my second paragraph: what one was led to expect was an argument that early black Christianity had a robust sense of standing in relation to God solely through the covenant with Israel as recapitulated in Jesus (or to put it more plainly, that early black Christianity is somehow homologous to Eastern patristic thought, given that that’s his apparent standard for a non-supercessionist theology), in a way that pushes back against white supercessionism — and further that this consciousness more or less directly helped them to resist slavery or white people’s definition of them.

    What do we get instead? First, qualified praise of a narrative where a slave praises God for reuniting him with his master. Second, a critique of a genuine reappropriation of Christianity for resistence, because it supposedly victimizes women (obviously a valid concern, but one that had been basically absent from the entire book up to that point). Finally, we get more or less unqualified praise of the religious autobiography of a woman who was never actually a slave.

    All of this has, to say the least, a problematic relationship to what the rest of the book set us up to expect.

  11. Hill Says:

    I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the irony of Adam’s deployment of the “could you imagine the reaction if a white person had written this?” trope. He has achieved a near perfect inversion of the usual circumstances in which that sort of argument is proffered. That is not to say he is wrong, of course.

  12. Tim McGee Says:

    Adam,
    Thanks for the further clarification–I’m appreciating the conversation and still hopeful that others (including you Brandy) will join in.

    On the “jump to gender” issue: if we momentarily privilege one thread of the book–its genealogical inquiry into the origin of modern racism–then the examination of gender isn’t a side issue or a jump at all but is an essential component of any account. In a few short pages, E. Balibar makes a couple relevant points on racism, sexism, and anti-semitism. He first states that “racism always presupposes sexism” (Race, Nation, Class, 49) He then, on the next page, begins a discussion of nationalism and anti-semitism, saying on p. 52 that “all the ‘official nationalisms’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries , aiming to confer the political and cultural unity of a nation on the heterogeneity of a pluri-ethnic state, have used anti-semitism.” Finally, on 53, he says that “racism is constantly emerging out of nationalism…and nationalism emerges out of racism.” The link between anti-semitism and sexism is then the (re)production of the national community, the (racial) body-politic. Carter’s book, as I read it, isn’t trying to provide the single standard to secure the purity of our discourse (such that, if we endorse X (and maybe Y and Z), we an assure our own righteous standing or proper ethical/political performance; instead, he offers a genealogy that highlights the formation of the national community as a theological project (with racism, sexism, and anti-semitism as interlocked and inseparable components) and then explores possible trajectories within Christian thought (patristic and African-American) that can help explicate the kind of identity (per)formed by black Christians as they sought to extricate themselves from the domination of this theological racial nation and to live into another mode of human existence and identity.

    Carter isn’t making the absurd claim that all these thinkers had robust doctrines of Israel’s election (he himself hasn’t theorized that aspect out) but instead, I think, tracking and imaginatively exploring the possibilities of a larger identification of black identity within Israel’s history, an identification that does not replace Israel (supercessionism) as if identities must be construed oppositionally (or in closure) but instead offered and offers resources for a different valuation and narration of the self in openness–love, desire–to/for the other (gesturing not towards naive theological poetics but Fanon).

  13. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    At Anthony, Adam, and Tim,

    I will have to be honest. Two years ago, when I finished this chapter, it was probably one of the most confusing “What the Frakk?” moments I had dealt with in terms of theological texts. In fact, in July of last year, when Jay posted on his blog about Frederick Douglass, I had to ask him what was up with him accussing FD of being sexist? You can see the conversation here: http://jkameroncarter.com/?p=318

    Like Adam, I was thinking to myself, there is no way Frederick Douglass was sexist; I mean he joined the Suffragist movement for crying out loud, working with all of those white women leaders, and that Sojourner Truth. I mean, this was supposed to be a book about Race, right, why bring up gender in the next to last chapter, essentially? His criticism had bothered me so much I had to go back and re-read Narrative, and I still could not see it.

    Even after Jay’s answer to me on his blog post, I was still remained perplexed. Two things had to happen before I now make an apology for Carter’s critique of Douglass. First, I had to finish Edward Said’s Orientalism, and secondly, I read Chapter 7 all over again. Okay, starting with Said. On the first page in his introduction to Chapter 7, Carter brings up Said; it is not by accident. In Orientalism, Said argues that part of the problem with Orientalists (the scholars of Middle Eastern histories) was that they studied Islam as a cultural reflex of the essentialized Orient. In other words, Islam is but the religious expression of the weak Middle Eastern/Asian Other. While Said is not free from a few Islamophobic comments himself (as a Christian reading this text, I felt too comfortable reading it), his point can easily be applied Westward, in the form of Occidentalism, that is, the idea that Christianity is nothing but the national response of Europe and North America for the sake of building the nation-state. With this idea of nation-state, comes a notion of agency. The ideal agent in the Occident world is the self-reliant, self-made man in the tales written by Benjamin Franklin and Horatio Alger, two men whose works I had the (dis)pleasure of coming familiar with in a college American literature class. For them, rugged individualism and U.S. American variety of virtue was all that one needed to succeed in life.

    I have a deep suspicion that Carter’s theological criticism of this notion of the self propagated by Douglass comes from, in part, Carter’s familiarity with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, even though he does not say as much. A close reading of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics would see that his is a 20th century German Protestant critique of the Western laizze fairre attitude of “To Each His/Her Own.” This logic is supersessionist, for it rejects creation’s story, as told through Israel of our interhumanity. As Jay argues in his comments to me on his blog, the U.S. American nation-state has as its founding bricks dialectical/oppositional thinking, “master/slave, freedom/bondage, male/female, weakness/strength.” This criticism of Douglass is consistent with Carter’s criticism of Cone’s use of Tillich’s dialectic and non-participatory mode of being that they both put forth.

    To focus on gender exclusively as the issue Carter has with FD is to completely miss the point. Carter’s concern is about the formation of the nation-state, and how FD participates in this formation by promoting an assimilation (in the classical theological sense–theosis) of whiteness. FD’s resurrection happens through the very violence that he imitates his slave masters to be using.

    The question we should be putting forth to Jay is this: does this mean, by this reasoning, that Nat Turner and the other black slave rebellions were “sinful,” ignoring the cross as a display of Triune Love?

  14. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Tim,
    I realize that my criticism of the “Duke School” seems rude in the light of the fact that Jay teaches there and that Brandy and yourself were students. I wasn’t thinking of how that would come across and so I apologize for the rudeness there. I meant that there is a certain common trope I find when I speak with Duke students or students influenced by Duke professors like Hauerwas and Hall. That trope is one of quasi-Catholicism (this isn’t a new critique of mine) and it’s manifest really clearly in the Balthasarian-esque view of gender and narrative and the subsequent sexual ethics. As for the rest, I’m sorry if I upset you, but I don’t think the critiques are unfounded. The fact is that, while Douglass couldn’t have owned slaves, I’m not sure from reading fragments of his narrative that he would have wanted to! I don’t see it flowing from his thought as an abolitionist intellectual (which is very different from scholarly reason, but I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing either… depends what that means). Anyway, hopefully Rod’s very clear exposition of the issue will help focus this and any offense I caused won’t be distracting.

    Rod,
    I agree with your last question for sure.

  15. Tim McGee Says:

    Anthony–
    Thanks–that was really generous. Just to clarify, I wasn’t hurt at all. To be honest, I am working to put a little distance both intellectually and “on paper” (coursework) from some of those stereotypical Duke Div intellectual habits/persons, and I’ve learned to do that from Jennings and Carter. I was mostly just a bit perplexed by the number of what I took (and in many ways still take) to be uncharitable or dismissive readings and trying to figure out how to push back without destroying in the process what I took to be the other, very productive and thoughtful aspects of the discussion.

    To linger a moment on the white slaves question, gesture to the lucid comment by Rod, and return to the pesky question of literary reading: I don’t think Carter is saying that the violent response to Covey is, in and of itself, a kind of repetition of slave-holding logic. I think Carter’s inquiry is whether, at the end of the day, the literary presentation of this scene within the framework of Douglass’ narrative still remains beholden to the binary, self-reflexive articulations of agency (thanks again Rod for bringing Said into the conversation), articulations which position the black woman in this text as the symbolic representation of the weakness or lack of agency Douglass has “risen” above. The point, I think, isn’t to offer a historical evaluation of what Douglass or others chose to do but to explore and build from Douglass’ text in a way that is appreciative yet critically aware of the lingering defects.

    The manner of engagement is similar to the sections on the Patristics and the frequent allusion to jazz–it’s not about mastering the historical or exegetical situation but about finding certain melodies that can be entered into and transformed, redirected, and re-presented in and for this moment. Douglass offers us much to work with–I don’t think he’s a foil for or dialectically arranged over against the next chapter. However, the careful attention to a certain problematic that surfaces in his text allows us to both elucidate the performance of American racial identity (has a “specular” function in that it reflects back to us the latent sexism) and leads us to search for a different trajectory.

    Rod’s suggestion for a kind of inspiration from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics itself provides an answer to the last question he asked on violence (both in offering a critical redirection of the “knowledge of good and evil” lingering within the question AND in pointing to Bonhoeffer’s own rebellious actions).

  16. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    @Tim,

    I would push you further, especially when talking about Carter’s text. He seems to be pushing for nonviolence (by condemning violence) as one of the ways in which human beings can engage each other without going through binaries. Is it possible to use violence and therefore justify violence without resorting to oppositional thinking?

  17. Tim McGee Says:

    Rod,
    You’re right to push back towards the text. He says “the modern theological imagination proves surreptitiously complicit in who the self comes to be forged in the kiln of sacrificial, ‘sacred’ and therefore sanctifying, violence” (305). Violence as a mechanism for the creation or display of agency is indeed being critiqued. But I don’t think that entails a critique of all the slave revolts (both in the way such a global critique would itself be framed oppositionally and also as not all acts of violence are construed and enacted as ways of rehabilitating or suturing the self).

  18. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This goes back to the feminist critique, though — how do you say that to someone whose identity has been formed through violence, but as a victim? Even if that kind of subject-position has historically tended to be occupied by or identified with women, it’s clear enough that Douglass occupied it himself before he “rose,” so that rejecting it is not rejecting or abjecting the feminine tout court, any more than when a biological woman stands up for herself.

    Douglass’s “resurrection” is homologous with feminist subject-formation, and he then follows that up by actively aligning himself with the most advanced feminist movement of his time. This is emphatically not the story of someone copying the white structure of abjecting women.

    I’m well aware of the standard womanist narrative where the formation of black male identity relied on enforcing patriarchy within the black community (to a degree that slavery had rendered impossible). Douglass does not seem to me to significantly anticipate that trend — in fact, in himself, he seems to represent the “path not taken” in that regard. It’s hard for me to hear the critique of Douglass as anything other than a critique of standing up for yourself because that’s not Christ-like.

  19. Adam Kotsko Says:

    In fact, it’s pretty common for feminist writers to say that patriarchy forces women and lower-status men into a submissive position. Oftentimes the compensation it offers to men is the ability to force “their” women into submission, but again — no evidence that Douglass does this, unless rejecting passivity as such means rejecting femininity. In which case, who’s really taking the problematic stance toward women?

  20. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’m curious if Carter considers this early work of his to be influenced by nuptial theology?

  21. Alex Says:

    Quick and tangental question perhaps: would anyone really argue that Douglass’ action was wrong outside of this densely theological debate? I haven’t read the book, but I think it good and proper to hit one’s slave master. To me it feels intuitively wrong to claim the opposite.

    Indeed, I don’t think sending the Angel of Death to murder of the first born sons of an entire nation really counts as not opposing slavery with intense counter aggression.

  22. Robert Saler Says:

    “Indeed, I don’t think sending the Angel of Death to murder of the first born sons of an entire nation really counts as not opposing slavery with intense counter aggression.”

    Comments like this are why this site needs a “like” button…

  23. david cl driedger Says:

    If Bruce R is following this thread (or anyone else in the know) I would be curious to hear a little of the interpretation history around Moses killing the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. That aspect of the text seems relevant to this conversation (particularly with Alex’s final question).

  24. Tim McGee Says:

    “This goes back to the feminist critique, though — how do you say that to someone whose identity has been formed through violence, but as a victim?”

    Adam–I’m not exactly sure what your concern is here. Could you say more? I’m wondering if Carter’s last longer comment on “ambivalence” and power in the formation of subjects would be relevant here.

  25. Adam Kotsko Says:

    All I’m doing is reprising the feminist critique of a one-sided concept of sin as pride. For most women, it’s precisely their lack of pride that’s the real problem.

  26. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    @Alex and Tim, et. al.,

    I fail to see exactly how YHWH “sending the Angel of Death to murder of the first born sons of an entire nation really counts as not opposing slavery with intense counter aggression” is inconsistent with nonviolent Christian theologies. Is it necessary that God have to be a pacifist in order for pacifists to worship God? I hardly think so, and in any case, to the contrary, I think the reverse is actually true, that is Christian pacifists/nonviolent advocates must trust in a God capable of violence.

    How so? Well, this all started in undergrad during the War of Terror. All around me, Christians of all races and background claimed to believe in an all-powerful God and yet still trusted fully in America’s military might. After a while, I came to see this a rather odd notion; if indeed God was omnipotent (yeah, during my days as a classical theist for I didn’t know any better), then obviously, wouldn’t Christians have faith in that all powerful God. The answer to that question I kept receiving was that God has placed God’s “sovereignty” into the hands of the church, and in the USA’s case, the American military. Bring to the question: What does it mean to have faith in God, to fully trust God?

    First, I would say many pacifists reject supersessionist ideas like “God evolved from the OT to the NT, violent to nonviolent” ala Brian McLaren. In a close reading of John Howard Yoder, in his dealings with the “Old” Testament, he interprets that there was an early Jewish pacifist tradition (I just love how Christian theologians can lay claims to what is Jewish–never ceases to amaze me). Anyhow, in the Hebrew Bible, from the wars of the Holy One, where YHWH sends Metatron or the Angel of YHWH or Michael or whoever the heck this guy is, to lead the Israelites into war, the message is this: rely on God for our victory, and not military strength, horses, chariots, swords, or alliances. In fact, Ezra comes very close to this nonviolent ethic, with the Jews not bringing any of the Persian soldiers with them (but racial violence in that book, another matter, right, depending on whose violence you are talking about).

    So, for the Gentiles (that would be us black and whites here in the United States or whatever), we can know the Lord of Hosts [YHWH of Armies literally] through Jesus Christ, in his life death and resurrection. For those who agree with Christus Victor theory of atonement, the notion of fully trusting in the Creator’s military activity is a necessity for remaining a pacifist.

    Now, in terms of the theology of the enslaved Africans in the 17th-19th centuries, J Kameron Carter faces a dilemma. In David Walker’s Appeal, Walker appeals to Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts/armies in his declared war against Jeffersonian democracy. “If you will allow that we are MEN, who feel for each other, does not the blood of our fathers and of us their children cry aloud to the Lord of Sabaoth against you.” As I mentioned in a prior post in this thread, if we are to believe the editors of Nat Turner’s story, and to believe that it was really God who ordered Nat to instigated a rebellion, then in Jay’s theological vision, Turner and Walker remain in sin as far as chapter 7 of Race goes.

  27. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Rod,
    I guess I just prefer the theology of Muntzer: ‘I shit on God, if he does not put himself at my service like he did with Abraham and the Prophets.’

  28. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Rod’s position seems kind of insane to me.

  29. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    @Adam,

    Not the first time I’ve heard that.

  30. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’ve never heard a pacifist say anything remotely like that. I also tend to oppose any theology that relies heavily on “it’s okay for God, but we should do the opposite” kind of logic.

  31. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    @Adam,

    “I’ve never heard a pacifist say anything remotely like that.”

    Well, I mean, Yoder argues something very similar. So I am totally unoriginal. Probably indebted to him, and probably a few others. Also, I am not a pacifist first, and then all else comes after that. I am working through a Christian theology of nonviolence, which does not naively suggest that “all violence is immoral,” but seeks to find a position where God in Christ taught us that all human beings are of immeasurable worth, and that not even the calculations of politicians can determine the value of life. This may be unsatisfactory for some, but for me, I find these arguments reasonable.

    “I also tend to oppose any theology that relies heavily on “it’s okay for God, but we should do the opposite” kind of logic.”

    That’s a rather over-simplified interpretation of what I argued, but no matter; not entirely what I meant. In fact, my stance is far more nuanced, on Nat Turner and David Walker, are protesting against the violence of empire,and that God is with them, present in their visions of freedom. By not seeing “pacifism” as absolute, I am trying to practice nonviolence even in theory and story of bloody revolutions. Not sure what this means for a theology of political revolution though, as I find revolution preferable to Just War theories.

  32. Jeremy Says:

    For those who agree with Christus Victor theory of atonement, the notion of fully trusting in the Creator’s military activity is a necessity for remaining a pacifist.

    I don’t understand why endorsing that particular view of atonement necessarily leads to an embrace of pacifism. I know Weaver makes that argument, but he does acknowledges that it is an innovation of the ‘classical’ theory. I just don’t understand how being violent necessarily means that one is not ‘fully’ trusting God. Why is self-defense somehow non-Christian. I think Malcolm X was right when he said, ‘I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do.”

  33. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    @Jeremy,

    “I don’t understand why endorsing that particular view of atonement necessarily leads to an embrace of pacifism. I know Weaver makes that argument, but he does acknowledges that it is an innovation of the ‘classical’ theory.”

    Actually, you are correct. I used “necessarily” unnecessarily. In fact, in Joerg Reiger’s Christ and Empire, he warns that one of the dangers of the Christus Victor atonement theology from above is that it can lead to a Christian triumphalism, and yes, even a new pro-crusader mentality. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    ” I just don’t understand how being violent necessarily means that one is not ‘fully’ trusting God. Why is self-defense somehow non-Christian.”

    Check my response to Adam. I do affirm self-defense (in this case, slave revolution), it’s just not the primary option in my view, and already pre-supposed in various Christian traditions and canon. Again, I am not an absolutist. My position is probably best explained– nonviolence as the preferred theological/ethic option, then non-lethal force, and lastly lethal self-defense ala Nat Turner and David Walker. I do not accept any of the premises of the Just War however; it just has too many problems for me to accept it.

  34. Jeremy Says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Reiger but have yet to good a chance. Thanks for the clarification. I just was concerned with any sort of ethical absolutism.

  35. Race: A Theological Account by @JKameronCarter | Political Jesus Says:

    [...] of this chapter, and in fact, I feel it suffice to leave you all with this comment I left on the AUFS Carter event: “I will have to be honest. Two years ago, when I finished this chapter, it was probably one [...]


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