Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Native theology.

For the past two weeks, my ethics class has been reading Barth (among many other sources) in an attempt to ask the following questions: can the good be known and done? Are some human actions intrinsically evil? For Barth, that which guides human actions is the command of God. All ethics are rooted here. Barth maintains this position with astonishing consistency even when considering the issue of protecting human life. He will never concede to a type of absolutism concerning ethical questions since this would fail to recognize God as Lord over the creature and the person of faith in Jesus Christ must continually remain open to hearing the command of God throughout their life. It is rather liberating yet offers troubling instability. But this is the beauty, in a very real way, of Barth, right? He offers this vision of the Christian life that includes continual dependence and tension that very much accords with the reality of faith. However, if I may be so honest, while this perspective was welcomed, it also caused a great deal of anxiety. When I read that the ethical life is rooted in the command of God, the Canaanite genocide immediately came to mind. This was a direct result of the command of Yahweh to His people, Israel. If I am to remain forever open to the command of God, must I be open to this same sort of atrocity in order to genuinely maintain that I am indeed the creature and God is Lord? And to answer this angst, must I preserve an analogy of being so I can "rationally" maintain that God would never command anything of this sort since it doesn't accord with what I believe as a Christian? Some might say that we should now look to Jesus Christ, for here we see where God is truly revealed - the God for us, for all humanity, the perpetual YES to all creatures. But how can even this be an answer to my initial question if Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah and a fulfillment of the very covenant made between Yahweh and the people of Israel. Is Yahweh not the same God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ? These are basic questions, but I can never get away from them.

And I was reminded today precisely why the Church can't get away from them. I was reading about Native feminist theology (though there really isn't such a thing for the most part) for my liberation theology class and was struck by this immensely challenging excerpt:

Even if we distinguish the 'liberation' church from mainstream churches, the challenge brought forth by Native scholars and activists to other liberation theologians would be, Can a 'liberation' church escape complicity in Christian imperialism? Deloria in particular raises the challenge that Christianity, because it is a temporally rather than a spatially based tradition (that is, it is not tied to a particular landbase but can seek converts from any landbase), is necessarily a religion tied to imperialism because it will never be content to remain within a particular place or community: 'Once again religion becomes specific to a group, its nature also appears to change, being directed to the internal mechanics of the group, not to grandiose schemes of world conquest.' Hence, all Christian theology, even liberation theology, remains complicit in the missionization and genocide of Native peoples in the Americas ...

Robert Warrior's germinal essay, 'Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,' furthers Deloria's analysis by again troubling liberatory potential in many of the theological assumptions of liberation theology. In this essay, Warrior argues that the Bible is not a liberatory text for Native peoples, especially considering the fact that the liberation motif commonly adopted by liberation theologians - the Exodus - is premised on the genocide of the indigenous people occupying the Promised Land - the Canaanites. Warrior does not argue for the historical veracity of the conquest of the Canaanites. Rather, the Exodus operates as a narrative of conquest, a narrative that was foundational to the European conquest of the Americas. Warrior's essay points not only to the problems with the Exodus motif but also to liberation theology's conceptualization of a God of deliverance. He contends that 'as long as people believe in the Yahweh of deliverance, the world will not be safe from Yahweh the conqueror.'
- Andrea Smith, "Native Feminist Theology" in Liberation Theologies in the United States, 149-150.

I immediately felt the weight of the sin of the Church when I read this excerpt. No matter what one believes about the Hebrew Bible and the Canaanite genocide, the genocide of the Native American peoples can never be justified. But I ask, how can I make that statement given the fact that this excerpt above offers some very real questions to my struggles with Barth's grounding of the ethical life in the command of God?

If I get time for it, I want to explore the supposed incompatibility between Native theology and Christianity given Smith's omission in this essay that there is no essentialism upheld in Native American understanding of their culture. Rather, the culture and their identity is seen through the lens of performativity. In light of this, I think a proper understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of the Church lends itself to being genuinely good news for the Native peoples.

No comments:

Post a Comment