Love and the Racial Enemy: Theological Possibilities of Racial Reconciliation Between Black and White US Christians
In this dissertation, I examine the widespread failure of racial reconciliation work between black and white Christians in US American churches. I treat such failure as a failure of love, specifically the failure of black and white Christians to love each other as enemies. This sets two primary tasks for the dissertation. First, I work to understand this failure of love. Drawing on black studies—on the work of Frank Wilderson, in particular—I examine what I call the racial enemy relation, which I argue is a fundamental antagonism between black people and white people. This antagonism is grounded in and perpetuates white supremacist systems of violence and exploitation. I turn to affect theory to argue that this enemy relation is obscured by a distorted love. At the heart of this distorted love is what Sara Ahmed calls the promise of happiness. In short, I argue that racial reconciliation work fails insofar as Christians embrace an idea of love that confuses good feelings with good relations and, in doing so, are unable to confront the racial enemy relation with faithful love.
Second, I give a Christian theological account of faithful love that can guide intervention into the distorted love of white supremacy and promote a constructive approach to love of the racial enemy. In conversation primarily with black, womanist, and feminist theologies, I argue for a notion of faithful love as the embrace of the lover’s need for the beloved, while holding such love accountable to self-love, love for God, and God’s love for those who suffer. I ground this account of love in an understanding of divine love as driven by God’s need for creation, including humanity. Ultimately, I argue that in confronting the racial enemy, Christians are called to embrace their need for their enemy and to pursue that need toward conditions of mutuality in their broader society.
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