One of the realities of being a white Protestant in America is the historic freedom from needing a theological framework to confront structural and institutional forms of injustice due to race. Race continues to be a heavy burden for people of color in America. As such, a theological framework primarily oriented toward issues of personal salvation and morality is sufficient to address the questions of the dominant white culture. However, for blacks and Latinos, who not only have to wrestle with personal questions regarding sin and salvation but also evil from the outside because of their race, they need the Cross to provide hope that God intends to relieve the burdens and liabilities of being a subdominant minority. These burdens range from stereotypes and racial discrimination to issues of identity in light of Anglo-normativity and sociopolitical wellbeing. Blacks and Latinos need a comprehensive theology that deals with the cosmic scope of God redeeming every aspect of the creation affected by the Fall through the work and person of Christ.
Dr. Vincent Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College and an UrbanFaith contributor, presents a comprehensive theological framework in his chapter in a new book I edited titled Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation. Bacote introduces the themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Renewal (CFRR). CFRR reminds us of the following: God created the world good, it was corrupted by the Fall introducing sin and brokenness into the world, but God has a unique plan to renew the entire creation through the work and person of Jesus Christ. That is, the entire creation formed and shaped by Christ will also be renewed by Christ and reconciled unto Him (Col. 1:15-23).
CFRR not only tells us who we are, it also gives Christians a vision of the implications of the kingdom of God. Christians are not passive bystanders but are called to be leaders in the business reconciliation until Christ returns to bring finality to the renewal process inaugurated at his death and resurrection in ways never before realized in human history (Rom. 8:12-25).
For those seeking to preach the Good News of what was accomplished in the work and Person of Jesus Christ to blacks and Latinos, the application of biblical texts cannot be limited to personal issues of salvation and sanctification. Subdominant minorities who are immersed in a world of white privilege need to hear hope that God also intends to relieve them of the complex burdens of being a minority — burdens that whites do not encounter in their day-to-day lives in America. This is one reason why minority teachers are vitally important in ethnic church contexts. Otherwise, applying the gospel to the realities of white privilege will likely not be addressed regularly. Now, by white privilege I simply mean the privilege, special freedom, or immunity white persons have from some liability or burden to which non-white persons are subject in America.
A team of authors led by Fordham University psychology professor Celia B. Fisher provides an excellent list of issues that blacks and Latinos need to reconcile with the Truth. In an article titled “Applied Developmental Science, Social Justice, and Socio-Political Wellbeing,” Fisher and her team remind us that when evil entered the world it created a context for the following burdens experienced by Native Americans, blacks, and Latinos in America: (1) societal structures, policies, and so on that limit access to minorities, (2) the persistence of high-effort coping with the reality of marginalization that produces high levels of stress, (3) psycho-political wellbeing and validity concerns which address the ways in which minorities apply human dignity to themselves within a context of Anglo-hegemony, (4) communities that accept dysfunctional behaviors as behavioral norms in the shaping of one’s personhood, (5) institutional racism which examines the “institutional structures and processes passed on from generation to generations that organize and promote racial inequity throughout the culture,” (6) proactive measures intended to dismantle racism, and (7) contexts to provide healing for those who have experience major and minor encounters with racist attitudes, beliefs, or actions.
The revivalist impulse by many evangelicals rightly understands that ultimate social change comes when members of society become followers of Christ. However, American history has clearly proven that personal salvation does not stop people from being racists nor from setting up social institutions and policies that deny others access to the means of liberty and human dignity. If evangelism alone were effective for social change, Christians would never have participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, been slave owners, created apartheid in South Africa, or allowed Jim Crow laws to come into existence.
Theologians like Abraham Kuyper remind us that, because of God’s common grace, evangelism is not necessary to persuade people to treat others with dignity and respect — after all, the law of God is written on the heart (Rom. 2:15) even though it merits them no favor with God. Therefore, work at both. We must morally form individuals and dismantle cultural norms of racism that become structural.
I suspect this is one of the major reasons why many whites are unsuccessful at reaching blacks and Latinos. If the gospel is not being applied to issues of the heart and issues that require outside, structural justice, we will miss areas in need of biblical application. Blacks and Latinos in America do not have the privilege of not talking about the issues addressed in the Fisher article, because all minorities experience aspects of those issues in various ways.
If we believe the Bible speaks to the questions of the day, then we have to do a better job of developing the cultural intelligence that applies the Truth to issues of the heart and to the cultural spaces minorities inhabit as subdominant races.
The superstar rapper/entrepreneur Jay-Z has generated lots of buzz lately regarding his spiritual beliefs. Is his music satanic? Is he a member of a secret society? Commentator Paul Scott suggests we may be getting distracted by the wrong questions, and that’s exactly how the hip-hop industry wants it.
“Big Ballin’ is my hobby / so much so they think I’m down with the Illuminati.” — from the song “Hot Toddy” by Usher, featuring Jay-Z.
Over the past year, the hottest topic in the hip-hop world has been whether artists such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, and others are part of some diabolical secret society. From street corners to college campuses, people are losing sleep over the question: “Is Jay-Z part of the Illuminati?” The issue has reached such a level that Jay-Z has responded to the accusations on collaborations with Rick Ross and Usher, as well as radio interviews. To add to the controversy, MC Hammer reportedly has jumped on the bandwagon insinuating that Jay-Z is a devil worshiper.
While some of the discussions have been thought provoking, many have done nothing but subject people to the same “spookism” about a devil with a pitch fork and a red suit that they get in many churches. Much of the “spookism” that is being used in regards to the Illuminati is just a mask to divert attention from the real issue, global white supremacy.
The Illuminati was formed May 1, 1776, by Adam Weishaupt, with the purpose of organizing a secret society of “enlightened white men” to rule the planet. However, it must be noted that — according to the book Illuminati 666, compiled by William Sutton — Weishaupt has said, “regarding the order, let it never appear in any place in its own name, but always covered by another name and another occupation.” So when an interviewer asks a rapper if he is a part of the Illuminati, the person is really creating a smokescreen to hide the real issue.
What should be questioned is why hip-hop industry insiders from J. Prince, Ice Cube, to 50 Cent have felt compelled to address the issue. If the accusations of something fishy in hip-hop did not have at least a grain of truth, the whole controversy would have been easily dismissed and not dignified with an answer.
There is a term called “limited hangout,” which is defined as “the release of previously hidden information to prevent a greater exposure of more important details.” This is the deception that is transpiring with the hip-hop secret society controversy.
It is often said that if you don’t ask the right question, you cannot get the right answer. The question that should be posed to Jay-Z is not whether he is a member of the Illuminati, but “What does he know about the Illuminati?” Because if he claims that he doesn’t know anything about the order, then he cannot possibly know if he is playing a role in their agenda, can he? Also, the major question should not be whether a rapper is part of a secret society, but what is his relationship with the 10 percent of the population that controls 90 percent of the wealth and how does this affect “the ‘hood”?
The discussion of the role that covert white supremacist organizations have played in the oppression of the non-white people of the planet has been discussed by researchers and conspiracy theorists. However, the issue has been rarely viewed in a hip-hop context, so people have been either unwilling or unable to connect the dots.
We must start by studying the various covert plots to oppress non-white people that were taking place in the United States during the mid-19th century by secret organizations such as the Know Nothing Society and the Supreme Order of the Star Spangled Banner, which included such members as Albert Pike, who according to Michael Newton’s book on the Ku Klux Klan has been “named by some historians as the author of the Klan’s original prescript.”
The same agenda was also being carried out across the Atlantic by European white supremacists, such as Cecil Rhodes who founded the Round Table Group that espoused the doctrine of Anglo-Saxon world domination, including the colonization of Africa. So, perhaps, instead of looking at rappers, we need to be looking at Rhodes Scholars?
Although many of the societies have been based on racism, the motivation has also been economic, as these organizations follow the proverb that “a fool and his money are soon parted.” If you keep the masses ignorant, they can be easily exploited.
Herein, lies the role of hip-hop.
While commercial rappers like Jay-Z may not be card-carrying members of a secret society, it is not debatable that many support global white supremacy by way of “racial shadow-ism,” which Neely Fuller defines as “when victims of racism are directly or indirectly, ‘assigned,’ bribed, coerced and or likewise influenced by white supremacists to speak or act to do harm to other victims of racism.” He says that the reason for this is to cause us to believe that the person acting in a “shadow” capacity is in control, when in actuality he is a mere flunky for the global elite.
Also, while most people reference a Tupac video clip as evidence that he exposed the Illuminati, if one really listens to the clip, Shakur actually denied its existence. In it, Shakur said the only thing that matters is getting money, regardless from whence it came.
There is an old saying that if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book. So the information about secret societies that has hip-hop heads buggin’ is not really secret, but can be found in our local libraries. But when you have successfully dumbed down a society, you do not have to really hide the truth, as it can be “hidden in plain sight.”
So if the power of secret societies is keeping the masses clueless, what role does hip-hop play in making ignorance bliss? Frankly, I’m less concerned about Jay-Z being on the cover of Forbes magazine than I am about the “conspiracy” of rappers who are considered too dumb to be in a secret society (such as Gucci Mane and Wacka Flocka Flame) carrying out a mission to dumb down black and urban children.
Our greatest weapon against oppression is knowledge of the truth. Instead of engaging in ghetto gossip and fairy tales, we must encourage people to read. We cannot rely on hip-hop websites and YouTube for our information, but must get our information the old fashioned way — from a book.
We must understand that for those who do not study, everything is a secret. However, for those who diligently seek truth, as Jesus taught: “There is nothing that is hidden that shall not be revealed.”
Jesus, who was a Palestinian Jew living under Roman occupation, preached a message that was anti-state and anti-religious imperialism. In fact, many believe that the Roman authorities and the elite within the Sanhedrin killed Jesus for espousing this anti-Roman, anti-Sanhedrin sentiment. Holy Week and Easter are now past, but the controversies that led to Jesus’ death are never far from us.
Let’s take a brief look at some of Jesus’ teachings and acts that stirred turmoil within the social and religious circles of His day, and ponder how they continue to affect us today.
• The Roman authorities forced its subjects to believe that the emperor was the savior, son of god, and redeemer of all peoples. Consequently, when returning from a military victory, the emperor would enter Rome in a triumphant procession that buttressed his might and power. So for a peasant from a marginalized town of an occupied territory to enter Jerusalem triumphantly (as a Savior) and to postulate Himself as God’s son and the messiah was not only a brazen sign of mockery of the emperor, but also of the Roman Empire.
• Jesus’ tirade against the vendors at the Temple was also a radical act. Since the Sanhedrin demanded a large portion of the vendors’ profits as rent for their space in the Temple’s outer portion, and since they kept the funds rather than investing them in improving the lot of the community’s poor, Jesus — in true prophetic fashion — denounced the corruption. He would not let others use religion as a means to garner wealth and prestige.
• Jesus’ overall message, summarized in His sermon on the plain (Luke 6:17-49), reverses the first century social order by placing the poor and meek first and the rich and powerful last. In the oppressive first century Galilean milieu, the poor and meek were the impoverished Jews (particularly women and children), while the Roman and Jewish male elites constituted the powerful upper class.
Both the Roman Empire and the Sanhedrin worked in collusion to keep the peace against constant rebellious threats from the occupied Jews. Jesus’ messages and actions therefore threatened both the Sanhedrin’s and the Roman Empire’s imperialist power and thus their legitimacy in the ancient Palestinian region. For His radical message and acts, Jesus paid the ultimate price.
Given the radical anti-imperialist message of Jesus, I often wonder whether Christians in the United States and Europe grasp Jesus’ radical gospel. I especially contemplate whether the young (ages 15-24) Christians truly comprehend it. These children of the empire, compared to the children of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, live relatively well. They do not normally witness their friends shot in the street; they usually do not die from starvation; and they do not know what it means to be persecuted for their parents’ political and religious views.
This speculation grew as I started teaching a high school class on Scripture. The student body at the high school I taught was heavily Haitian and Hispanic. Few of these students were third and fourth generation Americans who lived, by their own admission, in comfort. Others found themselves residing in the United States after escaping the repressive political and economic situations in Haiti and some Latin American countries. And still others were first-generation Americans who live in rough neighborhoods and ghettos, where, as one student told me, “doing drugs, stealing, and fighting were everyday things.”
As we began exploring the prophets of the Tanakh and Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament, an interesting dynamic unfolded. Those who live in rough neighborhoods and those who had escaped a repressive economic and political context to live in the United States became extremely interested in what these prophets had to say about poverty, imperialism, and violence. On the other hand, those whose families had been established in the United States for several decades and who live in affluent neighborhoods did not really participate in the conversations about Jesus’ message of hope for the impoverished, oppressed, and marginalized. In fact, several of these students ignored their peers’ reflections on how they identified with Jesus’ message.
This dynamic is perhaps related to another phenomenon, namely the growth of Christianity in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America and its decline in North America and Europe. It is no secret that Christianity has become a religion of the Global South. Jesus’ anti-imperialist message is relevant in countries where several inhabitants live in extreme poverty and/or suffer from political persecution.
In the countries with relative political and economic stability, however, Jesus’ gospel is perhaps losing its radical edge. Rather, the focus in these wealthy countries is more on personal spirituality, personal sin, and personal salvation. Within these same countries, perhaps the only ones who truly comprehend the radical nature of Jesus’ message are the individuals who live in impoverished neighborhoods and/or are immigrants. May they — through their suffering and identification with the poor rabbi carpenter — inspire the children of the empire to help forge a globally just and sustainable society.