How might a theological anthropology enable Christians to resist ideologies of racial oppression in church and society?

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Despite Christian doctrine’s claims of all men being created in the image of God, the Church has historically been guilty of racial discrimination. The very notion of slavery goes against Christian theology. Western Christianity has especially failed to adequately interfere with this social malice in the centuries past. In contrast, among cultures of the newer churches around the world there is more communal harmony and acceptance. This is evident in indigenous peoples from less materialistic and less consumerist cultures that practice Christianity. There, we find “traditions of cherishing every creature, however small, and of living in close and respectful relationship with the earth itself. Openness to traditions like this could lead the church into a renewed relationship with the Creator and the creation, and to a deeper respect for life itself.” (McRae-McMahon, 1998) This essay will elaborate how theological anthropology will enable Christians to resist ideologies of racial oppression in Church and society.

All Creatures were made in the Image of God

The renewed understanding by the Church is that all people are made in the image of God. This includes the young and the old, men and women, persons in good health or disability, etc. Even those adopting varied lifestyles are included, just as those from every race and culture. This renewed understanding by contemporary Church should raise erstwhile restricted patterns of social relationships into the full realization of God’s will. We can achieve this by “forming an inclusive community, the gifts of all will be released, and all are celebrated and invited to share what they have and are with the church and the world.” (McRae-McMahon, 1998)

Pluralism as the Motto for Modern Church

Moving away from ‘exclusivism’, modern Christians will have to adopt the principle of Pluralism in the religious context. Theologically, exclusivism within pluralism becomes “idolatry of one’s own tribe, self, group, religious complex, experience.” (Marty, 1997) This is a dangerous tendency. The challenge facing Christians in the West today is how they are going to “deal with the other, the others who always outnumber us globally and usually do so next door or in our region? None of us will have the world to ourselves, especially after the electronic revolution that connects so many in so many ways.” (Marty, 1997)

Arguments Against Oppression from Contemporary Theologians

Those who are sceptical of Plurality and tolerance in Christianity will only have to hear the arguments put forth by theologian-academics such as Thomas Mann, Professor Chung, Professor Thurman, etc. For example, Mann notes in his Joseph series of novels that the world today is multi-cantered. Professor Thurman has spoken of the dream of the universal, and Professor Chung would have us “transcend exclusivism through various instrumentalities.” (Marty, 1997) What these theologians also know is that “even within the groups — two of which have a billion or more adherents — there is “internal pluralism” and disagreement, for which, we might be grateful, nettled though we may be by contention within our own.” (Marty, 1997)

The Relevance of the Black Church

Historically, the Black Church was formed as a reaction to the intense racial oppression and segregation that prevented interracial worship. Consequently,

“slave owners made allowances for their slaves to attend, congregate and hold separate worship services to carry out Christian practices. For the slaves the church was the only vehicle where they could exercise a measure of autonomy. In a system, which dehumanized the slaves in every arena, the church was a place to gain self-esteem, encouragement and skills.” (Lincoln and Mamiya, 1990:242)

Hence, even as white Christians oppressed blacks, the saw hope through the Church. The instrumentality of the Church as an agent of oppression or hope is a matter of application and practice.

The message of New Being in Christ in resisting oppression

The notion of New Being in Christ dispels racial oppression as antithetical to the Christian spirit. Christians only need heed to the message contained in New Being in Christ to resist ideologies of racial oppression in Church and society. The Crucifixion and subsequent Resurrection are two events that break through into human consciousness and manifest as New Being in Christ. Further,

“the divine life maintains community with all human life, and through human life with all existence by taking upon itself the fact and the consequences of existential separation (sin and tragedy). The divine love suffers with, but not instead of, those who receive that love. It suffers for, but not instead of, those who resist it…The demand of essential being is no longer demand or judgment when it is given as the New Being. God gives what he commands and commands what he gives” (Augustine).

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