I just finished reading Daniel White Hodge’s Homeland Insecurity: A Hip Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context (IVP, 2008) and it is a book well worth writing a few words about.
The book begins by looking at the problems in missiology: the White Supremacist underpinnings of C20th mission, and the active and passive racism of more contemporary short-term missions and white-led urban ministry. Hodge draws from his own ministry experience and interviews with a host of people who either worked with or were connected into these kinds of mission activities. Their experiences demonstrate the way structural racism is obfuscated, tension denied, and the blame for discriminatory treatment shifted back to those ethnic minorities raising legitimate concern. One of the key insights from this section was Hodge’s pointing out that when white suburban kids come into these urban contexts they do so having (usually) done no work on what it means to be white in racialised America, how it came that you and the people who look like you live where you did, and the people who don’t look like you live where they do, surrounded by the “problems” you’ve now come to fix. This self-reflective work is essential, it is not enough to do cultural exegesis on the context into which you’re being “sent”, work needs to be done to attend to the where you are coming from, who you are, and the atmosphere of privilege, assumed normativity and supremacy you have imbibed throughout your development. Basically Hodge ends with the logical conclusion that short-term missions need to die. There may still be a place for cross cultural exchanges or encounters for mutual learning, but what is of far greater need are lifelong relationships that allow for tension and are based on a commitment to solidarity in the struggle to overcome injustice and seek the flourishing of the community.
The second section engages a “cultural exegesis of the wild”. The Wild, for Hodge, symbolises “the uncharted, nondomesticated, non-evangelically tamed area of ideological thoughts, theological principles, generational motifs of those from Hip Hop and urban multiethnic generation” (11) it is “a new space not designed for White supremacy… an ongoing development and creation of ideas… moving towards a more holistic space in which all are truly welcomed and embraced” (12). To do this Hodge engages the God in, and Jesus of, Hip Hop before again turning to stories from those voices often ignored in the conversation around young people and the nones (i.e. folks who aren’t suburban whites). Hodge’s work on Hip Hop theology/missiology is fantastic and fascinating. Hip Hop, Hodge writes, “provides a space for this generation of youth and emerging adults to (1) find God in a contextual manner, (2) have room for lament, ambiguity, doubt, and the profane, and (3) find diversity within Christianity and remain true to their own cultural heritage” (90). This section picks up on Hodge’s earlier work and compliments the broader conversation on the way the music of the oppressed and disenfranchised refuses to look away from the pain and complexity while still holding onto the hope that things will be better and refusing to cede even an ounce of humanity. For anyone whose read James H. Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues, Hodge proves a wonderful conversation partner.
The final section of the book, “Church in the Wild: an Unconventional Missiology in the Twenty-First Century”, was my favourite. I want to draw quick attention to three chapters in this section.
The first, “Baptized in Dirty Water: Learning from Post-Sould Missiologists Tupac Amaru Shakur and Kendrick Lamar” performs a close reading not only their music, but their on personas and place within the world of Hip Hop. I’m pretty sure Hodge’s next book shares the same name as this chapter, so I can only hope it is a widening and deepening of some of the profound and provocative conversation happening in passages like this:
“Tupac was creating a neo-sacred theology, which was a contextualized spirituality of and for the urban post-soul community” (186).
“The goal was to create a manner in which a portion of society who had been forgotten, those living in urban enclaves, could still be human and have meaning… For the urban post-soulist, this process of searching for God in the mystery, the hurt, and the pain, and then finding God in that heinous mixture is a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the facile three-point sermons characteristic of so much evangelical theology” (192)
“Lamar presents a post-soul epistemology of hope rooted in the more of racism, sexism, patriarchy, and the dominant culture” (200)
The work of both artists contains three key gospel messages, “hold on”, “keep ya head up”, and “heaven has a ghetto” – these messages speak to those whose future is constantly under the threat of the racist system of their society, it lends a voice through which to address God and “a place to find meaning in unbearable conditions.” Rather than offering easy answers or shirking the tension it shows a way to talk with/about/to God in the midst of ambiguity and embraces transparency into their own struggle, shortcomings, and sin. All this together, Hodge argues, provides a powerful trajectory for a post-soul Hip Hop missiology.
The second chapter (which I promise to say less about, I just get excited sometimes, this is life stuff!) looks “Beyond Reconciliation in the Wild.” While this is written with the US context in the foreground, Australian audiences will find plenty of direct and powerful challenges for our churches, communities, and nation. “For me,” Hodge writes, “reconciliation has no meaning other than marketable charm” (216). I won’t spoil his insightful critique of the ideological constructs surrounding reconciliation, the way it is used and abused to silence those who have been oppressed, and is all too often “reduced to ‘feeling good’ about another race” (216), but I want to point out that Hodge offers some excellent, detailed steps as to how Christian organisations and ministries might “put to death… respectability and bootstrap narratives”, and white dominance in missions.
The final chapter I want to draw attention to offers a “Theology for the Wild” and focuses on protest and civil disruption as missiology. Given some of my own work using James Cone to disrupt neat and universalised calls to nonviolence, this chapter was of immense interest and help to me. Hodge explores the inconsistencies in narratives around violence – how the hegemonic violence of the state (dressed in religious garb) gets glorified, celebrated, or excused, while the insurgent and urban violence is quickly and emphatically denounced, demonised, and dismissed.
“Historically, we praise White men who… employed Christian ideology to use violence to benefit Americans and advance American exceptionalism [e.g. Revolutionary War]. Yet ethnic minorities are told to keep the peace, forgive our enemies, turn the other cheek, not repay violence with violence, and ignore the bloodshed. Where is God in that? … Far too often White supremacy demands that minorities avid conflict at all costs” (247).
And while violence is neither goal or answer (249), we must recognise that nonviolence is a privileged position and asking Black people to be patient while there is a boot on the back of their neck is dangerous bullshit. The chapter ends with some – must read- reflections on missiology in the wild for White Christians (those who have stuck with him to the end, something he admits will have been hard for many, and that sadly those who probably most need this will have already walked away).
I highly recommend checking out this book; especially if you are involved in youth ministry, mission, intercultural ministry, or ministry in areas of social disadvantage. The precise deconstruction and bold proposals provide plenty of provocation and hope to digest and discuss. The use of interviews, data, personal experience, and theomusicology weave together a book that is informative, passionate, fun to read, and accessible for a wide variety of theological reading levels. My thanks to Dr Hodge for this work. I leave the final word to him:
“Western evangelism has run its course. There is not much we can salvage from it. Hip Hop theology creates space for multiethnic voices to imagine God and heaven while filled with doubt. It allows us to live in ambiguity while still seeking the face of God. Hip Hop theology gives credence to love, unity, peace, and fellowship with God from the context of a multiethnic and intercultural perspective. This is where missiology needs to go, and together we can begin to reconstruct what Christianity looks like in the wild for a generation seeking new and fresh symbols of Jesus.” (232)
Meal: Got to be something far spicier than you’re used to…
Song: I mean, so much music is directly referenced in the book so its hard to choose one, Kendrick Lamar, Alright
Book: Traci C. West, Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter (WJK, 2006).