Sunday, March 15, 2009

Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community -part 1

I stated in my last posting that I would post my article, "Radical Afrocentric Christianity, Black Liberation Theology & Black Nationalism: Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community" in parts for my next several postings. I feel the article is relevant for the discussion on the Belhar Confession in all manner of ways. One may understand from this article that all are sinners in need of a Savior. Also one can begin to understand how one kind of evil, white racism, breeds another kind of evil, black racism. We are all guilty and so we need to bring discernment to the task ahead.

Radical Afrocentric Christianity, Black Liberation Theology & Black Nationalism:
Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community

"I grew up in a very racist family. My mother wished for an African American cook, my father would have thrown the food away if her wish had come true. We argued about their racism though out my teenage years. Teen age rebellion? Perhaps. More than likely it was my constant reading which included stories about the Quakers and the Underground Railroad. It was also friends, the Bible and my teenage conversion to Christ.

But the truth is I am still arguing. I have been writing articles on racism for almost twenty years. My first articles about racism were on the white Neo-Nazi groups called “Identity.” The last article was on some white pagan groups called Ásatrú and Odinist. Those groups worship the gods and goddesses of old European tribes including Odin and Thor. I wrote of the pagan groups, “The factor that either, makes them racists, or gives them the potential for racism, is their insistence on religion as a genetic development as well as an intrinsic part of the human essence.”1

In fact one recent piece of hate mail I received from an Ásatrú member stated, “The word `hate' in your context is clearly an attempt to distort perception and imply some kind of guilt at the very idea of unity among Native Europeans … You would have to be living in a cave not to see that most ethnic groups unit, (sic) march, organize, for the purpose of strength, preservation of culture, religion, heritage, borders etc....” The writer goes on to write about genetics and religion and how all of civilization is due to the European peoples.

But the movement I am now writing about is different; it is about African Americans who are also either racists or potential racists. It is also about a theology that is, as one African American Reformed Christian states, “little more than a mirror of much of the racist white theology against which it posited itself.”2 The movement is theological, cultural and political and is a combination of Black liberation theology, radical Afrocentric Christianity and various kinds of Black Nationalism.

The movement affects both white and African American believers. This is true because those African Americans who hold to an orthodox and biblical faith are being categorized under the title white.3 So most of what I write about this particular movement's antagonistic attitudes toward biblical and orthodox Christianity applies in just the same manner to orthodox and reformed African American Christians.

These three movements, black liberation theology, radical Afrocentric Christianity and Black Nationalism are fed by many streams. Emotionally they are fed by anger over past wrongs, terrible wrongs.4 But they are also fed by different theological, religious and political movements. For instance when reading Dwight N. Hopkins, Associate Professor of Theology at the Divinity School, University of Chicago, one finds a combination of liberation theology and either/or both process theology and `new thought.' The first type of theology follows the writings of Professor James H. Cone, the father of black liberation theology, the latter follows the early twentieth century founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Marcus Mosiah Garvey. 5

I will look at what I have defined as radical Afrocentric Christianity, Black liberation theology and Black Nationalism showing how they overlap and work together. Above all, my main focus will deal with the problem of grounding Christian theology and God's revelation in either culture, `religion' and/or race. I also want to recommend several helpful books and articles on this subject."

1See The NeoPagan Movement and Racism Taken from, Watchman Expositor, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2001.

2 Anthony J. C. Carter, On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African-American Christian Experience, Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing 2003) 16.

3 For instance, see Asa G. Hilliard III, African Power: Affirming African Indigenous Socialization in the Face of Culture Wars,” (Gainesville, FL: Makare Publishing Company 2002), 4.

4 One excellent article dealing with both the horrible treatment of both slaves and contemporary African Americans is, “Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church: An Interview with Pastor Ken Jones,” in Modern Reformation, “Grace Over Race,” Vol 17 #1 Jan/Feb 2008.

5 See, Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic 2007), 78-79. For statements that sound like new thought in Dwight N. Hopkins works see Down, Up, and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2000) For instance, “This divine nature or image of God (or imago dei) has been dormant or subject to attacks on all sides, both internal and external, spiritual and material. Jesus comes as a process of action and dynamism and literally re-turns the poor to the path of their full potential.” (226)


Sam said...

Interesting article. I have to admit I didn't know anything about the Belhar Confession until Bruce announced the task force. I really need to start paying closer attention to what's going on the GA.

I look forward to all installments of your article. Having read the confession, I'm a bit concerned.

Viola Larson said...

I haven’t actually written about Belhar in this series, but it does give a background to some (not all) of the theology of a few who are pushing for Belhar, and I think that is important.

Sacramento, Ca

Anonymous said...

So I stumbled across your blog, based on having a google alert set up for the word Asatru. Since I've only read this one entry (and not the body of your past writings) if I speak on a subject you've already covered, I apologize. But I just wanted to point out a little factoid since I am Asatru, and definitely not a racist.

Unfortunately there are Neo-Nazi elements and racists who claim Asatru as their religion. One of the big poobahs today is Tom Metzger, who doesn't believe in the Gods at all, but jumpoed over from his high-ranking position in the KKK because he felt the Nazi inspired Asatru groups was a better medium at reaching hate-loving converts. However if they actually bothered to do their research they would know that 1) the Gods had no problems sleeping around and there's absolutely no text that points to racial superiority the whole myth of the Aryan race was fabricated and not at all based on ancient sources 2) ancient practitioners married into and traded with ethnic communities all over the world (Africa, the Middle East, the Meditterenean, Europe, Asia, and North America and 3) that those who actually honored those Gods during Nazi occupied Germany, had many of the same laws focused at them as the Jews, including inability to maintain property, hold office in the NDSP, and some were even sent to concentration camps along with the Jews, the insane, handicapped and gypsies to places such as Dachau.

It took us a while, but by working with the Anti-Defamation League, they now make a notation that the ancient symbols of our religion our not necessarily used as symbols of hate. It is unfortunate that the hate groups such as these get far more press then the rest of us. But what they practice is by no means Asatru. It's like calling all Christians a Branch Davidian. You might want to look into national groups like The Troth, or take a gander at Krasskova's Exploring the Northern Tradition, or even the "Heathens Against Hate" page:

As a practitioner of this rich religion and tradition, I'd just appreciate a little footnote that says not everyone who calls themself Asatru is a racist, especially since it appears you're specifically only focusing on the hate-spewing groups. I'd be more than happy to talk to you about the other end of the spectrum should you be curious and like to learn more. :)


Viola Larson said...

Thank you lokis-dottir for bringing that up. I am very aware that there are Ásatrú groups that are not racist. Here is what I wrote in my article "The NeoPagan Movement and Racism."

"As stated, many of those who could be considered a part of the New Romantic Movement are members of the neopagan community. A small percentage of the neopagan movement is racist. Most of the racist groups belong to Odinist communities. They may also be called Ásatrú. (However, not all Odinists or Ásatrú adherents are racist.) All of the groups I will consider in this article are made up of white European descendents; they purposely exclude all other ethnic groups. Their religious focus is on the gods and goddesses of old European tribes. (These include, Odin, who is also called Woden, Thor, Frigga, the wife of Odin and Freya.) Many Odinists see the gods and goddesses of their religion as archetypes or expressions of the racial subconscious. But there are many ways of understanding the multitude of gods and goddesses worshiped by the Ásatrú and Odinist groups. The gods and goddesses may also be viewed as real entities."

You can find the complete article at

I am aware of "Heathens Against Hate" and Troth. Thank you for reminding me that there are Ásatrú who are not racist. I did not know that Tom Metzger had become a member. Has he joined with any certain group or is he just espousing their beliefs?

Sacramento, Ca