I love reading Chris Hedges. His books, The Empire of Illusion and Death of the Middle Class were so good. He also writes articles and talks about reviving popular politics and reviving popular culture from the rise of predatory corporate capitalism. This time, he talks about James Cone, who encourages people to resist, to be honest with how they feel when they confront racism, or classism. To stand up for civil rights, which are, in fact, being denied to all of us right now.
Hedges writes: “James Cone, perhaps the most important contemporary theologian in America, who has spent a lifetime pointing out the hypocrisy and mendacity of the white church and white-dominated society while lifting up and exalting the voices of the oppressed. He writes out of his experience as an African-American growing up in segregated Arkansas and his close association with the Black Power movement. . . .
“People who resist create hope and love of humanity,” he said.
“The civil rights was a mass movement, but a movement defined by love. You always have both sides. You have bad faith and good faith. I like to write about the good faith. I like to write about faith that resists. I like to write about faith that empowers. I like to write about faith that enables people to look another in the eye and tell ’em what you think.
I remember growing up in Arkansas. There were a lot of masks. I wore a mask in Arkansas as a child, not in my own community but when I went down to the white people’s town. I knew what they could do to you. But I kept saying to myself ‘one of these days I’m gonna say what I think to white people and make up for lost time,’ and so the last 40-something years that’s what I been doing. I write to encourage African-Americans to have that inner resource in order to have your say and to say it as clearly, as forcefully, and as truthfully as you can. Not all would be able to do that ’cause white people have a lot of power.”
“Now white churches are empty Christ churches,” he said. “They ain’t the real thing. They just lovin’ each other. That’s all, that’s all that is: socializin’ with each other, that’s what they do most of the time. You seldom go to a church that has any diversity to it. Now how can that be Christian? God was in Christ reconciling the world unto God’s self. Well, it’s in white churches that God and Christ separated us from white people. That’s what they say. And I’m sayin’ as long as you are silent and say nothin’ about it, as Reinhold Niebuhr did, say nothin’, you are just as guilty as the one who hung him on the tree because you were silent just like Peter. Now if you are silent, you are guilty. If you are gonna worship somebody that was nailed to a tree, you must know that the life of a disciple of that person is not going to be easy. It will make you end up on that tree. And so in this sense, I just want to say that we have to take seriously the faith or else we will be the opposite of what it means.”
I used to live in rural Arkansas too, and I noticed exactly what James Cone was talking about. A mask. A refusal to say what was going on. But we gain nothing by being silent!
When I went to a church, I have to say, it did just seem like a social club, and it has to be better than that. If people want to fill up the churches again, give people a reason to go, and make their churches better, why not talk about things that really matter, and let your church take part in social justice movements? If your church really cares about the poor, the hungry, and the sick, why not get political about it? Why not do something to stop poverty at the root rather than putting a bandaid on it by doing soup kitchens or allowing people to sleep on your church floor. I mean, keep doing it, but that doesn’t go far enough!