Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Just Because

by Andre E. Johnson
R3 Editor

I am here in Nashville enjoying my friends and teaching at American Baptist College. However, on yesterday I got a call from Lisa (wife) and she shared with me that there were some pastors who took part in a press conference on Tuesday to opposed the anti-discrimination bill. The bill simply says that Shelby county government or any of its agents cannot discriminate in its hiring against GLBT people. In short, the government cannot hire or fire juts because someone is gay.

It is utterly amazing that while this bill could get these pastors out of the confines of their churches, other issues such as the living wage bill, education, the mortgage and credit crisis, unemployment, homelessness, any poverty measure; green jobs, any measure that would make the community a better place or any real social justice issue, their prophetic tongues become paralyzed.

However, what was really sad and pathetic is that there were several well-known African American pastors promoting this pitiful position. What they don't understand and fail to realize is that they are using the exact "rhetorical template" that was used on African Americans in the case of civil rights. In other words, after the 13th , 14th and 15th amendments were passed, many believed that "civil rights" gave "special status" to blacks. The argument went something like this; sense they were no longer slaves, since they were no longer non-citizens, and since they could vote (at least black men), then they don't need any other special law to protect them. They can now stand on their own two feet. Well, we see how that worked out and even though it took almost 100 years, blacks (along with women) finally got the protection they needed. In short, no one can not hire me or fire me just because I am black, but one can be fired or not hired just because she or he is gay.

Some argue that the civil rights movement and the gay movement have nothing in common and we should stop comparing the two. People making this argument usually ground their case in the belief that being gay is a choice while being black is not. However, whether one believes in a predisposed sexual orientation or not is not the issue. The issue is do you believe that it is okay for a person not to hire or fire a person just because she or he is gay? Should a person have that right?

If this sounds familiar to older African Americans it should--because it is the same argument many whites used to discriminate against blacks when it came to hiring and firing. Blacks were not hired or fired just because they were black and many whites argued that it was their right to decide who to hire and who to fire. Matter of fact, they even argued that their rights were being trampled on because blacks were being given "special status" on top of the rights they already had as American citizens.

The reason African Americans fought for those "special considerations" was because they knew hearts and minds are sometimes tough to change. They realized that no matter how well they did their job or how well they could do a job, that being fired just because or not being hired just because was a permanent reality. They felt that if they had some protection, that maybe supervisors would think twice about not hiring and firing blacks just because.

As it stands now, LGBT people do not have that luxury. It is sad to say, but as this blow up proved, there are many who just do not want to recognize LGBT humanity in any way. I guess they can either stay in the proverbial "closet" or be out and open and hope their employers understand. It's time for LGBT people not to have to worry about job discrimination just because anymore; its time to pass the anti-discrimination bill.

Follow Andre on Twitter @aejohnsonphd

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hip Hop Theology: Afrika Bambaataa

I just finished day one of our hip hop class at American Baptist College. Today we discussed an overview of hip hop; G. Craige Lewis' critique of hip hop, and ended with a brief bio examination of Afrika Bambaataa. It was interesting to see the class surprised to find out that Bam had any spirituality at all; especially after seeing Lewis' critique of Bam and the Zulu nation. Click here to see interviews with Bam.

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Nashville

I just arrive in Nashville looking forward to teaching Hip Hop Theology and Spirituality class at American Baptist College. (Here is the link for the school: I look forward to engaging and conversing with students on finding God, religion, and spirituality in a culture that many believe is demonic and hopeless. Upon examining the texts (lyrics, graffiti, music, videos, etc.), students discover that there is a real spiritual tone going on in hip hop. In addition, even the more open minded student discover more than she or he ever thought hip hop produce.

What I intend to do this week is to write a daily reflection on what we talk about in the class. If it's anything like the other classes I have taught on the spirituality of hip hop, it should be interesting. Stay tuned

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Child Witches

Below is the link to the Nightline story about child witches in Africa. This story is disturbing on many levels; the main one for me is what does this say about African/African American Religion as a whole?

Hip Hop Theology

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a professor of Sacred Rhetoric and African American Religious Studies at Memphis theological Seminary. Since January 2004, I have had the opportunity to teach a class entitled, Hip Hop theology and Urban God Talk (and to my knowledge, the first hip hop class at a seminary in the nation). The class always makes and I usually get a nice diverse class each time it is offered. However, while some are happy that I teach a course in hip hop at the seminary, many still take issue with the terms "hip hop" and "theology" used in the same sentence.

As framed and constructed by the media and even some practitioners, hip hop is considered a hyper-violent, misogynistic, materialistic and, a so called hedonistic culture devoid of anything holy, sacred and good. Indeed, many spiritual leaders of all faiths indict the entire culture of hip hop and promote it as the work of the devil (or Evil One). However, I suggest that a different reading of hip hop culture will allow one to discover a profound; yet diverse spirituality emanating throughout the culture. While not orthodox by religion and faith standards and traditions, hip hop culture, like any other culture, finds hope, joy, comfort, relief, and understanding, through the practice(s) of its worship and spirituality; thus constantly constructing a working theology that speaks both on a surface as well as a deeper level.
Therefore, I am interested in not only discerning and exposing hip hop’s spirituality, I am also interested in examining how discourses concerning hip hop could change if a reading of hip hop included its spirituality and theology.

As I work on this book, I examine the many ways scholars and students of hip hop can examine this side of hip hop. One way is to study video presentations and representations. With YouTube and other websites, one has several opportunities to study this phenomenon. Below are just two examples of a hip hop spirituality and theology "doing work." Enjoy and comment

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Angels and Demons

Lisa (my wife) and I had the opportunity to see the movie Angels and Demons. While we thought it was a fun and entertaining movie, many of the reviewers did not. Despite however poor reviews, the movie soared to the top of the box office in its first week. As one reviewer wrote, the movie is not really about angels or demons; but about faith and science (unless of course the author of the novel in which the movie was made, Dan Brown, is trying to tell us something). Just another example of how the sacred infuses our everyday lives.
I include in the post some of the many reviews about the movie. Compare and contrast but hopefully enjoy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama's Commencement Speech at Notre Dame

This is an example of faith in the public arena. I suggest that Obama takes the moral high ground by positioning himself in the middle; or finding what John Angus Campbell called the "house of the middle way." See it here

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Welcome to the World of Blogging!

As if I am not already busy enough. Here I am starting a blog. How smart is that? Well, I don't know how smart it is, but I do believe that this blog is needed. Well, first, a little about me. My name is Andre Johnson and I currently serve as both a pastor and academic trying to faithfully navigate both arenas. As a pastor, I serve Gifts of Life Ministries, a non-denominational congregation built on what I call a "called centered, mission group oriented, servant leadership church." (Maybe later on I will go into detail of what that means). We see ourselves as an Urban Oasis, a place where we try to practice "radical hospitality." (Again maybe in a later post, I'll share what I think that means).

As an academic, I am currently serving as assistant professor of Sacred Rhetoric and African American Religious Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary. I will also add that I am a part time instructor at the University of Memphis in Communications and African American Studies. Since I study rhetoric, or the study of how language works, my interests vary all across the academic field. Some examples of classes that I have taught range from the Voices of the Black Church to Hip Hop Theology.

My interest in rhetoric and language comes from my passion of trying to be a faithful witness to the community in which I serve. I have always believed that the best teaching and learner happens (or should happen) in a church setting. in the church, everything can (or should) be open for discussion. Just listening to the voices of the community one can learn so much and since I teach, that knowledge is poured into my work and research. For instance, I am currently working on and edited volume of speeches and writings by 19th century bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the AME church and a volume of essays of hip hop theology and spirituality. Both project help me be a better pastor and professor.

When I tell people this, they seemed amazed because they don't see the connection between the two projects. However, in examining the pessimistic prophetic language of Turner, I argue that Turner anticipated much of the pessimistic language of many hip hop artists. Both rhetorics are grounded in the lament tradition of prophecy and both are situated with a pragmatic vision that offers some semblance of hope and encouragement for their intended audiences. I am a better pastor because it allows me to hear and participate (the real meaning of compassion) in the frustrations of the people and I am a better professor because I can take those frustrated voices and give them some meaning and purpose.

Second, you may ask yourselves, what is sacred rhetoric, or what makes rhetoric sacred? Well, simply defined, sacred rhetoric is the study and examination of how the sacred is articulated and performed in the public arena. Scholars, students, and practitioners of sacred rhetoric are particularly interested in how speakers, writers, and performers communicate religious language to their audiences. Whether in the newspaper, on radio, television, at the movies, or even over the Internet, the way people talk and construct versions and visions of the sacred has a profound impact on society—and thus on our congregations. In short, the way we talk about religion, theology, God, the church, etc. shapes profoundly who we are and contributes powerfully to our worldview.

Therefore, using this as a backdrop, this blog will not only offer some writings and reflections from me, but also this blog will consist of other writings, reflections and opinions that I believe are germane to the spirit of this blog (See, I just use the phrase "spirit of this blog". Does a blog have a spirit? If so what is it? What did I mean about the spirit of the blog? See you are getting the picture already). I also would like for you to post your own opinions as well as original reflections and thoughts as well. let this blog be a space for authentic discussion on how the sacred is articulated and performed in the public arena. Let the Sacred Rhetoric: Religion in the Public Arena begin!

Andre Johnson
These stories of examples of what I want to talk about as it relates to Sacred Rhetoric: Religion in the Public Arena. The first is one about a boy preacher, the second is about how former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld drew upon religious rhetoric to support the war effort.