Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Willie Jennings at the Korbel School tomorrow at noon



"In honor of Black History month, the Iliff School of Theology and the Josef Korbel School's Religion and Violence Series are presenting a very special event on Thursday, February 7, 2013 at noon in the Arthur N. Gilbert cybercafe. Professor Willie Jennings of the Duke University Divinity School will be discussing Religion and Race: The Colonial experience which is the subject of his new book published by Yale. We are honored to welcome Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock who will introduce the event. We have three outstanding panelists, Professor Alan Gilbert from Korbel, Professor Edward Antonio from Iliff and Professor Arthur Jones, Associate Dean of the Women's College and founder of the Spirituals Project at DU."

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Willie Jennings' The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race challenges from the point of view of slaves and, to some extent, indigenous people the domineering "white" imperial Christianity which saw others as lessers, slaves, tools. This was, he argues, an adaptation of Christianity to the commodification of the new capitalism. But he also suggests that in driving indigenous peoples off their lands, Christianity itself produced a racist hierarchy. He offers a particularly grim account of Spain and its notion of limpieza de sangre (blood purity), its characterization of all race mixing antedating that of the English and of course, the Nazis (Portugal is also a "pioneer" in this regard).

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Jennings emphasizes the original peoples of the land, tied to the land, who were displaced, dishonored, enslaved, wiped out. He is very good at tracing the agonies of those victimized, who were much nearer to the image of Christ than the "Christian" butchers.

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Jennings also emphasizes the alliance between blacks and Jews historically, in the civil rights movement and in jazz. He sees Jesus who was, in his idiom, a Jewish body and the appropriation of him by Christians (they could have seen, he suggests, other peoples having land and integrity, as "like us" rather than beneath Europeans in a hierarchy). He seeks to recover the spiritual link of Christian and Jewish community.

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All of this is an important anti-imperial or anti-patriarchal effort to forge a more humane Christianity.

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But the Israel of old put to death the Canaanites and others. In the case of Egypt, Jennings mentions God smiting the first sons. What crimes had these children committed?

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In Palestine, Dorothy Cotton led our delegation in singing civil rights songs. But we stopped and had a discussion of Joshua fit the battle of Jericho...and the walls came tumbling down. It is a powerful song. But it praises Joshua's blowing the horn and the walls coming down and killing the inhabitants.

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There are many spiritual aspects of Judaism, but this is not one. It is an imperial "Lord's" blessing of the same murderousness Jennings sees through in Christianity.

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We did not sing the song.

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The founding myth of Israel is that Palestine was "a land without people." See here. This is false.

In the occupied territories, the state of Israel has created a system of apartheid. Palestinians who have long lived in East Jerusalem, for example, are "permanent residents" and cannot travel 35 kilometers to the sea.

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Settlers' children, were they to be arrested, would be brought before a judge within 24 hours. Palestinain children are rousted out of their homes at 2 in the morning, taken to military prison, held for 8 days and often tortured, then brought before a military judge, and sentenced. See here, here, here, here, and here.

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There is now a great movement for indigenous rights. It extends into United Nations resolutions and into the repudiation by the Methodist church and others of "the doctrine of discovery" i.e. the claim of colonial settler states to dispossess those who were already there. It is part of an attempt to repent of past murders and heal the world, an attempt at truth and reconciliation.

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Jennings' book makes an important contribution to this broad movement. But it might, perhaps, have gone further in this regard, seen of the Jewish faith that even the victimized can sometimes victimize, and that Palestinians, too, need their human rights recognized and upheld.

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