Which Jesus do you follow?
We need an ethics of liberation which brings salvation to both the oppressed and their oppressors.
By Miguel De La Torre
As an ordained Southern Baptist minister of the Good News, I am instilled with a mission to evangelize those held in Satan’s grip, in the hope that they repent from their sins and find salvation and liberation.
However, my calling of bringing the Good News of the gospel differs somewhat from those who read the Gospels through the eyes of the dominant culture. Some of my white colleagues believe they are called to spread the Good News to so-called heathen and pagans — defined as anyone who is not a Christian and, in some cases, as other Christian groups who don’t believe in the same doctrines and in the same way as they do.
And yet, to hear the stories and histories of the colonized is to hear how much damage Christian white missionaries have done to indigenous cultures, to their self-worth as a people, and to their country as a whole. Maybe one of the worst things that ever happened to humanity was a Christian evangelism that failed to examine its complicity with white supremacy, turning the gospel message of peace into a destructive genocidal act. Whenever the gospel message of love is wed to the colonial message of conquest, what is produced is a satanic pseudo-religious offspring that establishes a white supremacy that justifies theft and genocide. For evangelical conquest to occur, others must be constructed as inferior.
While Jesus may be desirable for some, not all “Jesuses” are beneficial. We must avoid the Jesus of white supremacy that launched crusades to exterminate so-called Muslim infidels; the genocidal Jesus who decimated indigenous people who refused to bow their knees to the European white God; the capitalist Jesus who justified kidnapping, raping and enslaving Africans; and today’s neoliberal Jesus who is blinded to the pauperization of two-thirds of the world’s population so that a small minority of the planet can consider themselves blessed by God.
It is these Jesuses of white supremacy which are satanic; thus, those who follow the satanic Jesus of white supremacy can only find liberation and salvation through the rejection of this Jesus of the dominant culture. Hence my evangelical zeal to bring liberation to those blinded by the whiteness of a constructed Jesus — who, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, remain silent in the face of oppression. Followers of the Jesus of white supremacy may be complicit in the inhumanity faced by the oppressed, but they too are in need of salvation from the loss of their own humanity.
If ethics is the construct of a particular type of culture, then those born to and/or raised within the Euro-American culture are a product of a society where white supremacy and class privilege have historically been interwoven with how Americans have been conditioned to normalize and legitimize the way they see and organize the world around them. This racist and classist underpinning contributes to the metanarrative of the dominant culture’s ethical perspectives. A world view is constructed in which complicity with the U.S. empire is deemed normal and where those who benefit from Euro-American-based ethical paradigms usually accept the present order of things, failing to consider the racialization of their discipline and/or their world view.
Few Euro-American ethicists, or ethicists of color attempting to assimilate to Euro-American definitions of academic excellence, recognize how the ethical paradigms they advocate are reinforced by a social location privileged by economic class and whiteness. As alluring as Eurocentric ethics may appear to the marginalized, most of it remains embedded within the empire and thus potentially incongruent with the gospel message of liberation read in the biblical text.
Therefore, I have to ask: why must people of color in general follow Euro-American ethical analytical paradigms when engaging in moral reasoning? To engage in the Eurocentric ethical discourse, either conservative or liberal, is damning to nonwhites, even when the normative Eurocentric ethical paradigms are said to be progressive and worthy of implementation by U.S. marginalized communities.
If it is true that ethics, like theology, is contextual, then the “decent” ethics of Euro-Americans rooted in personal piety and virtues is incongruent with the survival ethics required by the marginalized. What is needed is an indecent and vulgar ethics that reflects the indecent and vulgar conditions the marginalized are forced to endure. The disenfranchised require a disruptive and subversive ethics which de-centers the normative Eurocentric ethics designed to legitimize the dominant bourgeois lifestyle.
Eurocentric ethics fails communities of color when it refuses to consider how empire is fundamentally a Eurocentric problem — a problem that the academic discipline we call “ethics” aids and abets. The driving force responsible for maintaining a status quo that privileges one group at the expense of people of color is a Eurocentric-driven culture — a culture where the marginalized are the object, the problem, but never the subject, the solution.
In order for that culture to reconcile the empire that benefits them with their commitment to Christianity requires an abstract ethics that, while distinctly Eurocentric, can be presented as universal. As such, ethics becomes a Eurocentric construct which is part of a larger metanarrative that privileges the vision and virtues of Euro-Americans. In the same way that one cannot serve two masters — God and mammon — people of color cannot adhere to two ethical paradigms: a liberative ethics seeking justice for the oppressed and a Eurocentric ethics embedded in the empire.
Simply stated, Euro-American-based ethics will not save nonwhites, mainly because we remain invisible and voiceless in the discourse. For ethics to be liberative, it must move beyond the moral reasoning of the dominant culture. Why? Because most Euro-American-based ethics either ignores or provides justification for the prevailing structures of oppression that remain detrimental to people of color. And if ethics fails to address oppressive structures, then we must construct new ethical paradigms for our communities, ethics that are rooted within our own context.
While the ethical positions held within the dominant culture are neither uniform nor monolithic those who benefit from the power and privilege accorded by the dominant culture are nevertheless incapable of fashioning an objective ethical code of behavior because their standing within society is protected by the prevailing social structures which privileges white supremacy. Those indebted to white supremacy who seek their salvation in fear and trembling must move away from white ethics and, in solidarity with marginalized communities, participate in liberative praxis — that is, praxis rooted in the social location of the marginalized. Only by inductively engaging in liberative praxis, can liberation and salvation be hoped for.
So I invite you to join me in my evangelical crusade. We wrestle not with flesh and blood but with the powers and principalities of white supremacy. We hold a liberative ethical methodology that can bring salvation to the oppressed and their oppressors. Through our commitment to praxis, we can boldly help lead those following the satanic Jesus of white supremacy toward a liberation which is the foundation of Good News for all.
OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.