In If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I?: Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority biblical scholar Dr. Angela N. Parker argues that the Christian doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility have historically been abused to serve the purposes of a White patriarchy under the guise of biblical authority.
Parker, also an ordained clergy member, teaches New Testament and Greek at Mercer University’s School of Theology. As described on the university’s website, she “merges Womanist thought and postcolonial theory while reading biblical texts.”
In the following Q&A (held December 4), Parker breaks down the themes explored in her book, including how inerrancy and infallibility have been historically abused; the idea of Scripture being God-breathed and what that implies for believers; and how communal memory is presented in the Bible and should impact society today.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Hey, everyone tuning in to this Faithfully Magazine Live Chat. Today we are talking with Dr. Angela Parker, about her latest book, “If God Still Breaths Why Can’t I?” It’s actually right here with me. “If God Still Breaths, Why Can’t I? Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority.” Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Parker.
Parker: Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to this conversation.
Absolutely, as am I. So, I guess, first off, I like to open up, of course, with a little short bio, about our guests, and I think it would probably be a lot more interesting if you actually introduce yourself. I know you’re a New Testament scholar, a womanist New Testament scholar. But I’m sure there’s a whole lot more to you than that. So, who is Dr. Angela N. Parker?
Parker: Dr. Angela N. Parker is also Reverend Dr. Angela N. Parker. So, she is ordained Missionary Baptist, which, as she remembers her own ordination, she remembers pastors and preachers telling her, “This would have been so much easier if you were a man.” That’s the first thing. The second thing is, Reverend Dr. Angela Nichole Parker is a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and also a daughter, and a niece and a cousin and an aunt. So, I am located within a large family system that has blessed me and pushed me and challenged me and is always with me, even in the midst of teaching the New Testament.
I am also a seminary professor. So, sometimes I get students who’ve never had a Black female professor before, and especially one teaching them Bible. And believe me, everyone already thinks they already know Bible. So what am I going to tell them that they don’t already know. All of this makes up who I am and as a mother and grandmother and thinking about what we see in society today, there is no way that I would not engage such an important topic as thinking through Black Lives Matter, our current criminal system, our current injustices that are happening in the world, and still trying to hold on to my own homegrown faith of learning Bible at the knee of my mom and dad and godparents and really loving Bible and holding Bible as the authority. But seeing that it’s also used against people. I think that’s who I am.
All right. Well, thank you for that. And of course, you teach at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.
And in one of your other, I guess, podcast features, or even speaking about your book, you also explicitly mentioned that you’re training future pastors. I do have some seminary experience myself. So, reading and digesting some of the personal things, because your book is part memoir, as well as its a biblical interpretation in a sense, biblical theology. And reflecting on my own seminary experience, especially that first semester, you get all types — if I can put it like that — of people at different stages in their lives and different Christian traditions. And we all have different beliefs about the Bible, especially coming in, and how we were brought up, and the traditions we hold dear.
And the subject you teach, I guess we’d have to say it’s radical because it’s not common and that’s the whole point, right? You’re pushing against this historical use of the doctrines of inerrancy… I’m sorry, what is it?
Right, exactly. And the two, of course, are closely related. And so I know from experience, when the things you hold dear about the Bible are challenged, there are these knee-jerk reactions. And you do share in the book that there was one gentleman, in particular, a White gentleman who came at you, because you dare to call the Holy Scriptures “the text.”
So, I’m sure that wasn’t the only unique experience you had. But tell us a little bit about the kind of students you get, and how you broach them into looking at the Bible critically? How do you deal with that with these new students?
Parker: Well, the interesting thing about my syllabus is that it says right on the syllabus, “We are learning modern academic biblical scholarship.” So, because we are learning modern, academic biblical scholarship, from day one, I can say, this is not your Sunday school, or your Wednesday night Bible study, Bible study. This is thinking through the history of the texts, thinking through the actual literary structures that you see within the text. And also thinking about what are the spiritual ramifications of understanding the history or understanding the context or understanding the people.
And the other piece is, because Bible is often used as “this is the Word of God for me individually,” one thing I have to disavow students of is the lack of thinking through community within the biblical text. So, when you’re reading Paul, and you see that Paul says something about you, Paul, often most of the time uses a plural “you.” So, Paul is not speaking to an individual in 2021. Paul is speaking to a particular community that’s going through a particular situation. So, if you understand that particular situation for whatever Pauline community he’s writing to, then you have to think critically about how do I nuance that circumstance for me today and for my community today?
And that’s the difference. So beginning to unpack that slowly with students is something that I have to start from day one. But the other thing is at the beginning of the class, first class, and I’ll say, “All right, who knows what a plank is, P-L-A-N-K, an abdominal plank, or a forearm plank, or however you want to do your planks? We’re going to introduce ourselves to one another, and we’re either going to be in a plank position. And if you don’t feel like you have any core strength, you can do a wall sit, so you sit on the wall with your legs and do a wall sit. And if you’re uncomfortable with any of those, just sit in your chair, because I’m not going to make you do any kind of exercise that you don’t want to do.”
But with that being said, I say, “Think about your core right now and how you have to hold yourself in the midst of beginning to introduce yourself to other people. And what does it mean to actually sit in the class and you hear something that could actually kick you in your gut, and you have to hold yourself calm, because we’re adults, and we’re maturing human beings. So, that means that you don’t necessarily have the right to have a knee-jerk reaction and come at your colleague. You actually have to listen to other people and their varying perspectives, and think about” — and I always go back to the beginning of the class — “remember, when we held those planks and you had to hold yourself and not automatically react? What does it look like to be mature people and actually talk about the varying perspectives that people bring as they read biblical text?”
So, that’s how I begin to at least make them think about it throughout the semester. So, by the end of the semester, students are like, “Oh, I know why you did that now.” So, that’s what I do. It’s about bodily in addition to reading, and I think, oftentimes, we think about reading the Bible as the spiritual and it’s not getting into our body, per se. So, I try to be an embodied professor as well.
And I’m almost tempted to ask what kind of grade that guy got at the end of the semester, but I won’t. But I do want to point out before we get into the thesis of your book, and I think you mentioned it in the book itself, or maybe in one of your other podcast appearances, but you are a rare breed as a Black New Testament scholar. And I think when I came across that either in the book or after your comments in a podcast, I immediately went online. I was like, “There can’t just be 17.” And sure enough, I found an NBC article from a few years ago, highlighting a couple of Black women firsts in theology, presidents of the Divinity department of a school, or attaining to a particular chair of a school.
And that’s sad. But it does show the importance, that we need people of color, women of color, Black women, to be encouraged, also because that’s also part of your journey. You were discouraged as you made your way through the early stages of training for your career, and in your career, folks telling you, “You shouldn’t focus on this particular part of biblical studies. There are not a lot of people like you in this field. It might be a problem for you.” So, if you could just briefly touch on that, the importance of representation for one, and what compelled you to keep pushing and to prove these naysayers wrong?
Parker: The interesting thing about being in this position now is I do have an opportunity to be the professor that I did not have. So, that’s what I’m really trying to do, be the professor that I did not have in the early stage. And I remember one of my professors, saying… and he whispered it, he said, “Your folks don’t do this.” And I said, “Whose folks?” And he was like, “You know, Black people…” I said, “What don’t we do?” And he said, “Well, you all have a hard time, even with the English language, how are you going to learn Greek or Hebrew or all these other languages?”
And I just remember sitting in his office thinking, “Wow, I have been profiled right here, right now in my academic career, okay.” And I made a conscious decision from that moment to actually do this, to actually get a Ph.D. in New Testament, because a few of my professors told me I would not be able to do it. And I’m a Capricorn, so I’m very stubborn and that’s just who I am and what I tend to be. So as soon as someone tells me, I can’t, you best believe I will. And so the charge to me has been to be the professor who pushes others to say, “Yes, you can. Yes, I can.” And it’s not easy, it was never easy by any stretch of my imagination.
I would often leave classes crying, especially my Greek class, I would leave my Greek class crying, just thinking, it would never sink in, it’s never going to sink in. But now I teach it. And I teach it to students who often feel that same anxiety and same trepidation that it’s never going to sink in. But I can confidently stand before them and say, “Yes, it can. Yes, it will. This is what you have to do. You have to do this everyday over and over again. And there is a reward at the end for thinking through the biblical texts that we love and hold dear, in an expansive way.” So, I’m appreciative of the naysayers who said I would never be able to do it and I still see them every year at our annual convention.
So, it’s often funny because I can see certain people at the SBL (Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion) annual meeting, and they look at me and you can see their faces fall, because their faces are like, “God, she’s still here.” I’m just like, “Yes, I’m still here.” So, I just think it’s the Capricorn in me.
Well, you know what, congratulations. I’m glad you’re a Capricorn if that’s what kept you moving, because like I said, you are a rare breed, so your presence and your work are definitely appreciated.
Parker: But I do appreciate the colleagues now who have come before and I would say, Dr. Mitzi Smith, Dr. Love L. Sechrest, and Dr. Wil Gafney. All these wonderful scholars who are continuing to pave the way for what I hope to do later on in my career as well.
Right, definitely. Thank you for dropping those names. And so I guess to get into the meat of your book, you’re basically saying then, historically in the West, the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility have been used to maintain a White male power structure in a sense. And primarily also to check and keep marginalized communities in their place, to keep women in their place. And you’re saying, we need to push against that. And all of that is linked, of course, to various ways we’re “supposed” to read the Bible. And you introduce us to the idea of when you initially started your training, you were being taught to read the Bible like a White male scholar. And because historically, White men have just been in control of it, they’ve dominated that…
Parker: And they still do.
Absolutely. You’re right. And so give us a bit of that argument and I don’t know if you can just make it real for us. Some of us, of course, may say, “I know exactly what she’s talking about. Let’s look at slavery. Let’s look at the so-called slave Bible.” So, if you could just make that real for some viewers who are still trying to say, “Well, I don’t know. Of course, the Bible is inerrant. Of course, it is infallible. What are you talking about?”
Parker: If I have to make it real, I have to ask people, do you think that the Bible floated down from the sky, written by God? And if that’s the case, then perhaps the idea of every word written by God is completely without error, or every word written by God is going to accomplish the end that it seeks to accomplish through salvation. However, when we actually look at the history of the people who were writing the text, there is that combination of humanity and divinity that’s happening within the biblical text. So, actual human beings are writing the text, actual human beings are picking up a quill or whatever and writing something down.
And they’re doing it both in their humanity, in addition to what I would call their conversations with God, how they’re trying to figure out what their relationship with God looks like, as they think about their relationship with empires, or as they think about their relationship with other people. So we’re getting all of this background in our biblical texts. But oftentimes, when we read it, we disavow or don’t think about the people who’ve actually written it, and look at it as God writing it. And that’s not tenable. Because even when you read Pauline literature, at some point, Paul says, “I’m not writing this of the Lord. But I’m telling you what I just think.”
So, if Paul can say, “I’m telling you what I think,” then we should actually take that seriously, that sometimes our biblical writers are riffing off the top of their head, telling us what they think. Or they are actually being very shady human beings. I’m a Pauline scholar, so I often go to Paul. Paul is very shady in Galatians, because he talks about, “I was called by God, and this is what I’m going to do. And I met with the so-called pillars of the church, Peter, and John and James, and they didn’t give me anything new. So, we shook hands, and we went about our way,” shady.
So, when you read the text, and you actually see the humanity within the texts, then I would make the argument that the idea of inerrancy and infallibility are actually those tools used by White men to actually keep people in control, to keep women in their place, to keep enslaved people in their place, to keep children in a particular place. But without thinking about what’s going on behind the scenes. So, I would say that if we love our Bible, the way that we say we do, we will look at what’s going on behind the scenes and not be afraid to actually engage that and have conversations with God in the midst of what those looking behind the scenes looks like.
Okay, you pretty much in your response there gave us an idea, those of us who don’t have a grasp of the doctrine of what inerrancy is. But briefly, what is infallibility?
Parker: Yeah. So, infallibility is the idea that the biblical text will accomplish the salvation and that it needs to accomplish. And so, if you’re reading it, and you’re reading it with what scholars called the Rule of Faith, then you will get salvation in the end. And that idea actually holds up this idea of salvation is what we’re going to get in the hereafter. It’s not worried about what salvation actually looks like right now. So, when you talk about infallibility, the folks who were the arbiters of power, i.e., White men, can look at an enslaved person that they’re beating, and say, “You’re getting beat right now, but don’t worry about it, because you’ve accepted Jesus. So, in the hereafter, you’ll have your mansion, you’ll have your shoes, don’t worry about the beating that I’m giving you right now because I’m the master and I have rule over you.”
“I had to go to seminary and see where this curse of Ham comes from and then realize that that’s a whole made-up myth of why people try to keep Black folk in their place. And that becomes an interpretation that is used in this infallibility argument that, yes, you are cursed, Black folk, but if you accept Christ, then your soul will be White…”
And that’s a problem, because there are still people, especially in the Black church, and you have to realize I’m a product of the Black church. So, I would actually teach texts before going to seminary, and have conversations with my own loved ones, my own church family. And there was this sense of, “Well, we’ve been cursed as a result of the curse of Ham, so we should not expect anything good in this life. Everything’s going to come in the hereafter.” And that just never sat with me well, even before going to seminary. So I had to go to seminary and see where this curse of Ham comes from and then realize that that’s a whole made-up myth of why people try to keep Black folk in their place. And that becomes an interpretation that is used in this infallibility argument that, yes, you are cursed, Black folk, but if you accept Christ, then your soul will be White, and you’ll make it to heaven even though you’re still jacked-up right now here on Earth. It makes no sense.
None. And just to clarify some things there. I did two things last night, just to test it out. I did a Twitter poll to see what some of my followers would say biblical inerrancy is, and I took the main three options or positions or possible responses. And overwhelmingly, people voted that the Bible is completely accurate, it’s perfect. And so then I did a Google search to see if I could find some different takes, the different positions on it. And overwhelmingly, and I’m not sure why the top of the Google results were mainly conservative sites, conservative Christian sites, they were at the top.
So, I just randomly clicked on one and it’s just so strange and I don’t want to talk too critically, because we’re all at different stages, right? None of us come out of the womb knowing. We learn as a process and through experience, but the whole thing, and this is a prominent site, backed by educated Christian leaders, and I’m reading their argument or their position for biblical inerrancy. And overwhelmingly, the tone is, “because God is perfect, the Bible is perfect. And you have to be careful of those Christians who say otherwise,” like the position you mentioned, where the Bible is trustworthy for salvation like if you read through, it will accomplish that purpose. And they’re like, “You got to be careful of Christian who even say that without saying the Bible is practically perfect, because they may not be real Christians.” And that just struck me as bizarre because they’re essentially idolizing the Bible saying God is inseparable from the Bible. But of course, we do need the Bible, obviously, God reveals Himself through it, but God is not the Bible. We don’t worship the Bible. And yeah, this site is overwhelmingly led by White Christian men.
So, I have to acknowledge that when I start to question why are they doing this. We don’t worship the Bible. We’re not going to insult God if we acknowledge the truth that the original manuscripts were not in English, were copied and recopied so many times and trusted Church Fathers decided what would be in the canon, these are the 66 books. So, I don’t know, why do we have such a hard time and some of us who are questioning are getting to the point of challenging the way we’ve always been taught to look at the Bible, so-called objectivity. And we’re starting to do actual contextualization. But maybe in environments where it’s not safe to openly do this and discuss these things. I don’t know, what is your encouragement or advice to Christians who are starting to take those steps or finding that basically, they’ve been fed lies and it’s okay to question?
Parker: Yes. A few things were coming to me as you were formulating that question. And part of the advice that I would give folks is to do as you’ve already alluded to. In the book, I talk about the concept of bibliolatry — bibliolatry being the idealization of the Bible in such a way that it becomes an object of worship. And so we know that we’re supposed to worship God alone, and the Bible actually points us to God. It is not God. It is the pointer to God. And so how do you begin to have a relationship with the biblical text that is still pointing you to God? And that’s part of the conversation that I would say, hopefully, you have in your churches or in your communities, because the other piece is, we are actually descendants of Judaism and conversations in Hebrew Bible.
So, what does it look like to even think about the ways that Midrash occurred, both in biblical texts and then for folks who were studying texts after, even Jesus has gone and risen from the dead, that they would sit around in the community and have these conversations about the Bible? And they would argue back and forth about the biblical texts, the way that our bibliologist minds have evolved…. The way our bibliologist minds have involved has come down to, we get the right one interpretation from a higher-up. We don’t actually sit down and have conversations about the Bible. We hear a 20-minute sermon that’s from our pastor who’s on a raised dais and that is the word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.
Then we go home and don’t engage with it until we come back next week. That idea of the preached word coming down over us is completely different from what I argue as conversations with the text. And so what does it look like to actually be in communities, in faith communities that sit down and have conversations with the text and with one another, that takes power away from the pastoral leader, which is probably why we’re having so many issues now, because pastoral leaders, especially White, large televangelist-type churches, they don’t want that power taken away from them. And so, it makes sense that people are going to have qualms about others taking “power” away from them. So, there has to be a way to ask the, “Well, Pastor, have we considered? Sir, have we considered?”
There has to be a way to be in particular communities that may not seem safe, but you can ask a pointed question that allows other people to ask questions, and then perhaps the community can begin to freely lovingly ask questions together instead of receiving the top-down authoritarian reading and preaching of a biblical text. I don’t know if there’s a way that we can do this without losing a little bit of safety, I think we’re still going to lose safety in the midst of this, because we’re not going along with the status quo, the way we’ve always been. So, my advice to people would be, take it slowly, continue to do your own reading, don’t be a B-U-T-T about it, but ask pointed questions so that your community can begin to just ask pointed questions together.
And the course you set along, because you’re a Black woman in America, you look through the lens of womanist theology. Just briefly explained for some of us who may be hearing the term womanist for the first time, essentially, in a nutshell, what does it mean, to be a womanist?
Parker: In a nutshell, a womanist scholar takes seriously the lived experiences of Black women, specifically for me, in the United States of America. So, that means you can have [an] Africana womanist, for example, coming from South Africa who is thinking about Black women’s lived experiences in the context of South Africa. And because areas of scholarship such as black liberation theology sprouted up that were much more conversant with Black men, or even feminist theology, which was much more conversant with White women. Black women saw the need for thinking through the particular intersecting, interlocking oppressions of race, class, and sex. Because White women were thinking about sexism, Black men were thinking about racism. But there was a lack of thinking through the intersecting ideas of oppression that occurs with being Black women.
So a womanist scholar is going to look at biblical texts, look at theological texts, and begin to ask, “Well, what does this say to me as a Black woman living in the United States of America?” For a lot of us, we see that the particular preaching and teachings of mainstream and evangelical churches still keep us particularly oppressed, especially in some of the organizational structures. So, I talked about gaslighting in the book, that if a Black woman is told, “Oh, you’re getting too loud,” or “You need to calm down,” or “You need to be like your White sister, you need to do this.” That’s folks in authority, who are specifically demeaning a Black woman’s lived experience and saying, “Oh, it couldn’t have happened like that, you just made that up. That wasn’t what so and so intended.”
So oftentimes, when Black women get together, we’re like, “Am I crazy? Is this okay? Oh, I’m not crazy. Okay.” So, that womanist lens begins to put us together to say, hey, these experiences are not… we may experience them differently as Black women, but there are still some commonalities of the experiences that we are having in the United States of America, especially with regards to churches and faith communities as well.
All right, and I just want to add there for anyone who’s listening and they’re like, “Well, I guess it doesn’t include me.” The womanist perspective is actually for the betterment of the entire community. It’s just centering Black women.
Parker: Yes. Because one tenet from Stacey Floyd Thomas was, “If I’m going to walk to Canada, I’m not walking to Canada by myself. I’m taking mommy, I’m taking daddy, I’m taking cousin, I’m taking auntie, I’m taking everybody with me. Because what good is it for me to get to Canada and I’m there alone.” But I would also make the argument that womanist thought is also liberating for White male masculinity as well. How so? Masculinity studies are just cropping up even more right now. And so you hear language in the media about “people are trying to make men not be men anymore.”
Well, actually, that’s a false idea of what masculinity is. It’s this hyper-individualistic, rugged idea of masculinity that also tends to be violent. So, is there something liberating in helping, especially a White male construct of that type of masculinity be decreased as a result of engaging with womanist thought? I think there is. So, it’s not just even for Black folks. But it’s, how do we have liberation for even those who are on the upper echelons of society who don’t even think that they need any kind of liberation.
As you mentioned in the book, you’re not saying we all have to take on a womanist lens when we’re reading the Bible. But the basic thing, of course, is to contextualize it and ask those questions of the people in the text who are on the margins and what’s happening to them and how that speaks to us. So, what does the womanist perspective, theologically speaking, how does that translate to us right now, in our time in America? And of course, in your title, and in the book, you mentioned certain individuals because of the theme you’re using, the motif of breath and breathing. How does that speak to us now, with the things that are going on, racially? How does the womanist perspective help us understand these things?
When you read Herodias and take away the way that traditional scholarship has blamed her and her daughter and made them these hypersexual beings without any idea of sexuality in the text, we see that White male scholars and even White feminist scholars have over-sexualized a child in the biblical texts.
Parker: Sure. Let’s think about even motherhood. I’ve written an article about Herodias in Mark chapter six. And in that particular article, I talked about her Herodias, raising a female daughter in a patriarchal context where her daughter will never inherit. So, she has to train this daughter in order for that daughter to survive. Think about how Black mothers and fathers talk to their Black children about if you’re driving and you get pulled over, you say, “No, sir. Yes, sir. You keep your hands on the steering wheel.” And those conversations that are meant to keep Black children, Black boys, Black girls alive. When you read Herodias and take away the way that traditional scholarship has blamed her and her daughter and made them these hypersexual beings without any idea of sexuality in the text, we see that White male scholars and even White feminist scholars have over-sexualized a child in the biblical texts. They’ve made the child older, and you read it in commentaries.
So, as a woman and a scholar, I read the commentaries, I read the texts, I translate the text, and I have to ask, “What’s going on behind the scenes that these women are just trying to survive?” We look at our society today and we see that a lot of Black and brown folks are just trying to survive. They’re just trying to breathe. And so when we think about motherhood, and what we see in the biblical text, we can begin to see that there are different ways to interpret someone like Herodias, who simply tried to keep her daughter alive.
When you think about today, just today, we’ve had the Crumbleys who were just found after their son slaughtered people in Michigan, and the text that the mother sent to the son with the “LOL I’m not mad at you. Just don’t get caught.” There’s something different between what it means for me to read the text as a Black mother, knowing that there’s another type of motherhood that probably tries to raise White male sons to be successful at whatever cost there needs to be.
And this is just me thinking through this today. I don’t have a definitive answer. And I also want to say, of course, not all White mothers and, of course, not all Black mothers, but there’s still something to be said about how a lot of Black mothers are holding their breaths every time their children leave the house. But it doesn’t seem necessarily true for perhaps White mothers when their children leave the house. And there’s something to be said about what that conversation looks like, as we even ponder the days and weeks ahead, as parents in Michigan are bearing children as a result of gunshot wounds.
Thank you for that. The Herodias example, I actually never thought of it like that, thank you for that. And I just want to clarify, that “LOL” text, that wasn’t after the shooting, that was after a prior incident where Jennifer Crumbley’s 15-year-old son was caught searching for ammunition. That was her response to that.
Let’s get into the idea of breathing a bit. And the biblical text being inspired and learning to look at it in a certain way can allow us to have full breath. Speak about that analogy a bit, what are you reaching for with that?
Parker: So, in the Second Timothy 3:17 passage, you get this idea, what’s called hapax legomenon, it’s the one time that this phrase happens, that’s what that means. That phrase just happens one time in the Bible. And that phrase is theópneustos. So it’s the idea that writings of Scripture are God-breathed. The Second Timothy text uses that language to talk about God-breathed and to talk about it in relationship to text. So, when I think about the authority of the biblical text, I’m thinking about God, still breathing and speaking through the ways that people have conversations with the biblical texts today. So, that means that I’m thinking about actually God showing up when we’re reading, God showing up and doing something when we’re reading biblical texts.
As I think about my own relationship with God, my own salvation through Jesus Christ, what do I expect God to do? Well, I expect God to show up. And I expect the Spirit to do something in the ways that groups of people come together and read this text and we all [inhales and exhales deeply]. But we just talked about Black mothers, Black fathers, brown mothers, brown fathers holding their breaths. Not being able to breathe because we’re living in a society where our children easily fall as a result of militarized police violence, or just that fear of someone being a vigilante, that children lose their breath because someone kneels on their neck.
And you see that man, George Floyd, calling for his mother and saying, “I can’t breathe.” If we take God’s Word seriously, and I think we should, then that seriously means that we have to have conversations about what we’re seeing in society that actually stifles breath, that actually stifles the flourishing of people from living, that actually stifles women’s voices when they know God calls them to preach, but their congregation says, “No, that’s not for women, you don’t have the right anatomical equipment,” whatever. So, there’s something about actually taking God’s breath seriously that enters and infuses each and every one of us to live the full, flourishing, Spirit-filled lives that God would have us live.
That’s what I’m playing with in this book, and thinking about how do we have these conversations where we all can breathe a little bit better, we all are living in the fullness of what God has called us to do.
“I think one thing specifically about communal memory is oftentimes, we imagine that once we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, that everything else prior is completely gone or diminished, because we have this language in the Bible of a new creation, new creature.”
All right, and finally, talk briefly about the idea of communal memory. When I was looking at that, the immediate example that came to my mind is this far-right push now to basically control what kind of history white children are being taught in school about this nation’s history, the truth, the full truth of our history, and how depending on who has the power in society, how these things can happen, and impact communal memory and the things that can come as a result of that. So, talk briefly about the value of communal memory and its place.
Parker: Yes. I think one thing specifically about communal memory is oftentimes, we imagine that once we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, that everything else prior is completely gone or diminished, because we have this language in the Bible of a new creation, new creature. And so there should be an almost erasure of everything that came before, meaning, you’re not a Black person but you’re a Christian. We’re all now part of this community of God. And that also means that people would say, “Well, if that’s the case, I don’t have to worry about what ancestors did in slave times, or in colonial times, or the beatings or the rapes that people had or endured in colonial slavery,” because everything is new and we are this amalgamation of the United States of America that everyone is assimilated into what it means to be a “Christian nation.”
So that means that we don’t have to remember the March on Washington, we don’t have to remember fighting for civil rights, we don’t have to remember that when Irish folks first got here, they were considered less-than and enslaved, but then they became White. And so everybody becomes White, except those folks who could never passively look White. So, you don’t have to remember any of that, you don’t have to engage with any of that history. Well, when you look at biblical texts, you can also see that there is communal memory in the biblical texts. So, I look at Galatians, specifically, and talk about the communal memory of the Galatian people that they remember the feeling of “only a good Galatian is a dead Galatian.”
And so that’s part of the memory that they’re bringing, even into these communities that Paul is setting up as communities of Jesus Christ. So, I make the argument that the Galatians did not forget that communal memory because they still held that in their bodies, hence, that’s why they were trying to be circumcised, they were trying to assimilate into the early Christian communities. It wasn’t working, and Paul says, “You’re not supposed to do that. You don’t need to become Jewish in order to become Christian.” So they still held onto that communal memory.
Well, what does it look like for African Americans or Native Americans or other folks who have been oppressed to know that when this nation was first founded, the idea of Manifest Destiny included the idea that it’s “only a good Native American is a dead Native American.” Yeah, “a dead Native American is a good Native American.” So, that was the M.O. of those founding fathers who were coming in and taking over this land — which then you say, “Oh, don’t worry about that, because now it’s all forgotten.” But you still see, Native Americans have a higher rate of suicide, that African Americans during 2020, our rate of suicide is also increasing as well.
So, there are still these ramifications of not thinking about communal memory that is still hitting us today. And there has to be some way to nuance the idea of, I see communal memory within the biblical text. And I also see communal memory trying to be erased today. What does it look like to actually nuance our ideas about communal memory that are actually more nitty-gritty to the text, nitty-gritty to our Bible, and then have actual mature conversations about communal memory today that says, “We have to remember these enslaved times because they’re still impacting us today. We have to remember Native Americans’ slaughtering because they’re still impacting us today?”
That doesn’t mean that your history was just all good and you have to just say, “Oh, yeah, it’s all good and I’m over it.” No, we actually have to have good conversations about the history of the United States of America that allow us to actually have better conversations about the biblical texts as well. That’s what I would argue, and we are nowhere near that yet. And that’s what I think is horrifying. And I was thinking about this conversation earlier today and I was thinking, “So where’s the hope and what do we do now?” I think that for some of us, who are people of color and still call ourselves Christians, there’s some hope for continuing these conversations.
There’s some hope of, if we keep talking, if we keep writing, that some little momentum, some little movement will occur, that people will not be so afraid of CRT, Critical Race Theory, not be so afraid of thinking about the actual history of this country, that will we’ll look at that history and actually say, “Okay, now what do we have to do to be better because we still have systems in place, we have a new Jim Crow, that’s a new prison system, that’s a new enslavement system, where enslaved folks who are mostly Black men are also still building economic wealth, just as in enslaved time. How do we have that conversation, and then think about the transformation of society?
Excellent points, excellent questions. So, we hit about an hour’s time. We touched on a lot of things. I don’t know if there are any points specifically, you wanted to make sure to mention that we just didn’t get to?
Parker: I would just want to say thank you, especially for your points of clarification. I really appreciate the moments where you are a brilliant conversation partner who brings about the points of clarification so that your readers and hearers, auditors actually hear an African American woman who’s trained in the Bible and still loves Jesus. That’s what I hope your listeners hear, that there is not a disavowal of Jesus in any part of my body, that Jesus is still Savior for me, even as I had these difficult conversations about what it means to read, and still love our biblical text, even if I wrestle with it.
On that note I just want to say thank you, Dr. Angela Parker, thank you for your discussion about your timely book, “If God Still Breaths Why can’t I?” And I hope this conversation was enlightening, edifying, encouraging to our listeners, those who will be listening down the road. Thank you for your time. And thank you, Dr. Parker. And also if people want to stay in touch with your work, where can they find you?
Parker: They can find me on Twitter @anp22fab. They can find me on Facebook at Angela Nicole Parker, and they can also find my website on Mercer University’s School of Theology. You can find my information there as well.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated.