“…the aching absence of a truly aching Christian intellectual community…”

The Christian ImaginationBlack Atlantic Christianity comes into being with this painful  truth. The Christianity it works with is necessary, powerful, and living but not very appealing. It lacks appeal because, enamored of the power and beauty of whiteness, this Christianity presents itself to no one but itself and tragically invites “nonwhite” peoples to do the same. An intellectual life formed in so unappealing a setting becomes crushingly insular… I am not dismissing the important parental legacy of Christianity in nurturing key intellectuals of the modern West, and especially intellectuals of the Black Atlantic. But we must not allow this legacy to blind us to the aching absence of a truly Christian intellectual community at the heart of church life in this world. Such a Christian community would reflect in its work the incarnate reality of the Son who has joined the divine life to our lives and invites us to deep abiding intellectual joining, not only of ideas but of problems, not only of concepts but of concerns, not only beliefs and practices but of common life, and all of it of the multitude of many tongues.

-Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race

Jennings captures something so innate to Western Christianity that it is mostly invisible, namely that its rootedness in whiteness leads to an intellectual life that is not particularly Christian. Consider, for example, current white Christian engagement with the Republican presidential nominee. On one side are the supporters who are blind to the threat this man poses to many within the diverse Christian family. On the other side are those who cannot imagine any scenario in which a Christian could support the nominee and yet whose opposition has little physical contact with the lives and concerns of Black and Brown Christians.

Jennings hints at an alternative in which white Christianity redirects its gaze and the seat of its authorities to “non-white” communities and concerns. There is a common life available but the conversion will be a kind of death for those whose experience of God was birthed in the insularity of whiteness.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

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