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This Is My Body
ON DEC. 10, 2015, shortly after then-candidate Donald Trump suggested a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration, Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins wrapped a hijab around her head, snapped a selfie, and posted the photo on Facebook. “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” wrote Hawkins in the post. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
It was a costly act for Hawkins: Three months later, following a controversy about whether she had violated the evangelical school’s statement of faith, she was no longer a tenured professor at Wheaton. But Hawkins doesn’t regret what she did. As she sees it, true solidarity—she calls it “embodied solidarity”—always comes with a cost.
When it comes to bodies and the church, Christians often start with St. Augustine. Though the esteemed fourth century bishop of Hippo spent a full decade debunking the dualistic heresy that material bodies were evil, he remained famously skittish about fleshy influence on the soul. By Augustine’s reading of scripture, bodies weren’t inherently wicked, but they sure were weak—especially female bodies—and you had to watch ’em or God-only-knows what kind of sinful depravity might creep in. He often quoted the Book of Wisdom: “the corruptible body weighs down the soul and the earthly tabernacle presses down the mind that muses upon many things.” And you don’t have to be a church-history expert to trace the devastating legitimacy Augustine’s ideas gave to misogyny and other forms of body-based oppression in Christianity.
Yet as Christians in every generation have countered, we can’t write bodies off so easily. After all, smack dab in the middle of our confession of faith is a savior who suffered bodily, was crucified, and rose again. What’s more, this same savior was known for saying that love is laying down your life, and how we treat others is ultimately how we treat God. “‘Suffering with’ requires our entire bodies,” Hawkins later explained. “Suffering from a distance is not solidarity. Theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all.”
Sojourners asked six Christian writers and theologians: What does your body tell you about God? Not bodies in the abstract, but your body: pimples, dreadlocks, muscles, belly buttons, wrinkles, thighs, and all. And though it might sound like an exercise in navel- gazing sure to make Augustine roll over in his grave, the responses we received say a lot about the carne part of incarnation: the radical solidarity of a God who took on flesh. - The Editors
Subversives in Christ
I WAS RAISED in an African-American church, but as an adult I discovered Anabaptism. Since then I’ve sought to learn from both the wider black church and Anabaptist traditions, to the point that I now consider myself an “Anablacktivist.”
Two experiences at my undergraduate Christian college helped propel me to see the significance of these two Christian streams. The first time was a chapel service, maybe a year after 9/11. The speaker, the Catholic priest John Dear, challenged us about U.S. violence and militarism—arguing that these weren’t consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus. I leaned forward in agreement, captivated by his message, feeling that it rang true and faithful to Jesus.
Then I noticed some movement in the darkened auditorium. Droves of students disruptively got up from their chairs and headed straight for the exits, in protest of the speaker and his “subversive” message that refused to affirm everything that the U.S. was doing in the world. I found myself deeply troubled by the defensive response of my (mostly white) Christian brothers and sisters to Dear’s thoroughly Jesus-shaped critiques of U.S. empire.