Blacklines, January 2003
Copyright © 2002 Lambda Publications Inc. All rights reserved.
by D. Kevin McNeir
With all of the rhetoric about the Christian church and its commitment to being a place for the disheartened and disinherited, one would expect the Church to be a safe haven for those who often live on the margins of society--gays and lesbians, people of color and the poor. But the reality is that these particular elements of society, who often find relatively few places that they can call home, are usually unable to "fit" into the middle-class, right-wing malaise that is adopted by a great majority of this country's Christian churches.
In a new book by Dwight N. Hopkins, Heart & Head: Black Theology--Past, Present and Future, this Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School begins with a personal account of a life of service that required "a compassionate intellect, an intellectual compassion."
Hopkins asserts that in this post-civil-rights, post-affirmative action era, all people, regardless of race, must join together in forging a new common wealth. The fresh approach he takes, supported by a detailed perspective on a new racial, gender and economic democracy, illustrates his belief that a renewed Black theology may be the key to personal and social liberation.
Lesbian readers or those women drawn to the battle for women's rights within the church will be drawn to the author's first chapter, "Black Theology of Liberation and the Impact of Womanist Theology." "Black theology of liberation means thinking about how the spirit of liberation works with poor black folk spiritually and materially, individually and collectively, and privately and publicly," Hopkins writes. "The foundation for black theology has always existed whenever and wherever God has chosen to co-labor with the poor for justice. Moreover, black theology analyzes specific events and times when God gives communities at the bottom of society the freedom to choose life when they live as full human beings." ( Hopkins, 30 ) .
At the basis of his argument is his understanding of Black theology that asserts that God has called women and men to struggle and wants both to become healthy human beings. For readers unfamiliar with the development in the black church of womanist thought, or a reading of the Bible and the development of Christian doctrine that includes women in the equation, this chapter should be both enlightening and encouraging.
But what continues to drive the author and makes this a book that all Christians, regardless of sexual orientation, should read, is his insistent plea to the mainstream church that the real work of the church, both intellectually and spiritually, must remain service to the church and the community.
The chapter that will probably cause the most debates among those in the pulpit and the pews is entitled, "A New Black Heterosexual Male." He asserts that gender differs from sex and that sex speaks to human biology--the genitalia with which each person is born, while gender is defined and determined not by nature but by human culture. "Gender construction remains a socialization process influenced by child-rearing and parenting models, peer pressure and positive examples, movies and other media, educational institutions and training organizations, and biblical interpretations and faith communities. Human beings make other human beings into specific male and female genders." ( Hopkins, 92 )
Hopkins goes on to say that the development of gender, as a product of socialization, is not an overnight process, but is instead vibrant and ongoing. From this perspective, as he writes, there are no right or wrong definitions of gender because gender results from how each society socializes people into gender roles. He believes that the key, as it relates a Black theology of liberation, is not the description of genders but "the presence or absence of liberation, the ethics of equality and mutual sharing."
In other words, we become that which society socializes us to be and are subsequently invited or denied certain rights and privileges because of our gender. Hopkins' analysis is a welcome one in a world where women, the poor and particularly gays and lesbians are often treated as second-class citizens.
"A system of white male culture in the United States not only sets the norm for what is a male gender, it creates and perpetuates stereotypes about the black male gender." ( Hopkins, 94 )
So, what is the role of the true heterosexual male? The author says it is to "take a stand against a host of devious desires and damaging deeds.
"He speaks out against various discriminations as it pertains to race, gender, class, sexual orientation and ecological issues. The starting point and yardstick remain justice and freedom for all, beginning with the most oppressed communities in society and the poor." ( Hopkins, 97 )
This book is full of rich reflections on the Black church and those in this society who, while invited to be part of the church, in most cases continue to remain apart from that very same church.
Copyright © 2002 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved. Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Radio, and publishes Windy City Times, The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community, Nightspots, Out Resource Guide, Blacklines and En La Vida. 1115 W. Belmont 2D, Chicago, IL 60657; PH ( 773 ) 871-7610; FAX ( 773 ) 871-7609. Web at www.windycitytimes.com . Contact: editor