Heaven and the Bible are all the rage at the movies right now—as if Hollywood producers are just now realizing that there is money to be made in religion. I've already written about the string of comedies about the "biblical" end times that came out last summer, and a Left Behind remake is due out in October [sigh]. I walked past a local Red Box machine the other day and 4 of the top 10 featured rentals were about religion or the Bible: 'Noah,' 'Heaven is for Real,' 'Son of God,' and 'God's Not Dead.' Not to mention Ridley Scott's 'Exodus' is due to premiere this December, and some movie I can't stomach the trailer for called 'Christian Mingle' (don't Google it, you'll thank me later).
So it's no surprise Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks (one of my all-time favorite shows!), has gotten in on the action with a new show on Adult Swim called Black Jesus. As many others have already pointed out, McGruder isn't the first in pop culture to depict Jesus as black, and he isn't even the first to depict Jesus as a pot-smoker. However, there may be more to McGruder's comedy than critics have recognized. Sure, reviews have been predictably mixed, ranging from the now obligatory "conservatives are up in arms" reports to the "calm down people, it's a comedy" reviews. But I predict, not unlike The Boondocks, McGruder's 'Black Jesus' will be packed with astute social commentary.
I'd just like to offer a few initial thoughts on Black Jesus through my hip hop hermeneutical lens, with an eye in particular toward racism.
Being black and Reformed is hot right now. If you're a black Christian male in the U.S. and you want to be cool and sound smart, all you have to do is talk about the "doctrines of grace," God's glory, and Penal Substitution. It's not just for Christian rappers anymore! Now, there's even a black version of the Gospel Coalition.
Some black Calvinists now want to spread their gospel of predestination to the laypeople of black churches. But the problem they immediately run into is: How do we make it seem like the theology of dead, sixteenth-century, white and European men is relevant to black U.S. Americans in the 21st century—when it obviously isn't?
One entrepreneurial black Calvinist thinks he has the answer: Marketing! See, if you have an illogical idea, that really is quite counter-intuitive to the people you want to adopt it, all you have to do is come up with a slick way to package your idea so that it sounds normal and good. Jemar Tisby, a black male student at Reformed Theological Seminary, has figured out just such a solution for delivering Calvinism to black church-goers. He's calling it "Big God theology."
Now, I know what you're thinking: That's incredibly patronizing. Yes, yes it is. But Tisby is convinced the ends justify the means (by double imputation no doubt). He's convinced black parishioners need to intellectually affirm the meticulous providence of an all-controlling deity to have biblical theology. So he's come up with this way of presenting Calvinism to make it sound normal and good. Papa Piper would be so proud!
But not only is Tisby wrong, Tisby is dangerously wrong. In what follows, I'll show that being "big" has never been a priority for God, and why exalting 'big-ness' can backfire and lead to destructive Christian practice Jesus wouldn't recognize.
In statistical, scientific, and measurable analysis, the policy and law-enforcement practices that have been produced by the myth that drugs are society's number one threat form a system of oppression for black Americans in particular and are therefore racist. Despite full knowledge of this fact, many who benefit from the prison industrial complex, or gain political advantage from talking tough about drug crimes, do little or nothing to correct or stop it.
There are more blacks under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began
As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race
Over 1 Trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) has been spent on the 'War on Drugs', yet drugs are no less accessible, used, sold, or potent
Black Americans constitute 13% of all drug users, but 35% of those arrested for drug possession, 55% of persons convicted, and 74% of people sent to prison
Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, Associate Pastor @NewCityChurch of Los Angeles, sometimes web designer, writer, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.