I watched it. Then I watched it again. Not necessarily because it was so captivating, but more so because when I watched it the first time I missed the introduction (it felt like trying to read the bible by starting in the book of Matthew or John; at some point you’ll have to begin at Genesis to get a better context). I watched it a third time because I was impressed by the way the theological themes were being teased out with Christological creativity and satirical sophistication.
It actually affirmed and reminded me why I have spent the last 16 weeks teaching the #SonOfGod: Black Jesus & White Lies – Race in the Black Church series at Abyssinian Baptist Church which was birthed on the back of the constant cinematic revisions of Biblical history which kept perpetuating ancient Hebrews and Egyptians (from Moses, to Mary, to Jesus) as white people. As an emerging servant-scholar-pastor, public theologian and college professor of religion I’m ever mindful of the truth in Dr. Cornel West’s statement in his latest book Brother West: Living and Loving Outloud, “In America, every card in the deck is a race card.” Race matters...especially in 21st century religion, contemporary theology and spirituality. I! Get! It!
That’s why I was taken aback (sadly) when met with information of the impending protest of Aaron McGruder’s new series Black Jesus. Have people of faith nothing better to galvanize behind? How about we spend our ecclesiastical energy around instances highlighted by Dr. Leslie D. Callahan in her article, Black Jesus: We Have Other Things to Boycott? Callahan argues, “...this is not because I am incapable of indignation. I’m just saving my ire for other things, such as, the carnage in Gaza, food insecurity in my city and every city, and even the nonsense folks preach in pulpits depicting Jesus as a money-hungry capitalist, which by the way is at least as blasphemous as portraying him as a cussing, smoking, homeless dude in the hood.”
Why were so many in the black faith community so disturbed? What has McGruder done (this time) that has disrupted so many? It is, again, abundantly (and sadly) obvious for me. There continues to exist in the life of those in the 21st century a gap, void, chiasm between the characters and catalogue of the biblical text and the life of black folks in North America. People are familiar with scripture, salvation and the Lord and Savior but people usually don’t place themselves in close proximity of those who we find in the chronicles of our faith. We hear about the forerunners of the faith, but few of us simultaneously imagine their bodies being kissed by the sun like ours. We presume most biblical characters are white. We think race and racism existed then in the same fashion it exists now. We think God is white (an old white man with a long gray bear to be exact – google “God” and see what comes up).
We think the Jesus of the bible and in history, literally looks like the painting authorized by the Vatican of a pale skin, brunette with light brown eyes. We think that we’re reading and referencing a text that has little or nothing to do with our history, legacy and life with the exception of the connection between the Hebrew slaves and the African-American slaves or maybe some subtlesimilarities in songs sang in the civil rights movement based upon the scriptures.
So when McGruder takes the artistic liberty, theological acuity and satirical courage to depict a “neighborHOOD Jesus”, those who think they have a monopoly on biblical interpretation and a sickening spiritual superiority complex feel compelled to defend the myths – it makes perfect (pathetic) sense. Fact is,McGruder's Jesus is more contextually/historically accurate than most preachers’ presentations on Sunday's.
In the mainstream Jesus is most often presented as a social-superstar who gives back-stage-passes to prosperity (read: WHITE), instead of a religious revolutionary who is concerned with social-political-religious liberation not simply our "soul's salvation." (read: BLACK) You think I'm upset with McGruder for presenting an alternative "hood" Jesus? "...Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?" PUH-LEEZ.... we're so colonized that we don't even understand when we're defending the elements of our own oppression!!! Therefore, when it comes to those who are so gung ho about using their faith as a means to protest pictorial representations of religious figures on television but silent about abusive priests, manipulative ministers and pimpish politicians, I’ll let them have it. But be clear, I am NOT impressed with our colonized Christianity and pathetic attempts to perpetuate piety. And neither is God!
-Rev. Earle J. Fisher