Featured Reviews, VOLUME 8

Kelly Brown Douglas – Stand Your Ground [Feature Review]

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Kelly Brown Douglas –
Stand Your Ground

Douglas gives a resounding No to that question as she takes an entire chapter (chapter 4) to explore the character of God while interacting with the hauntingly beautiful Negro Spirituals. Douglas seemingly offers an argument deeply grounded in the theology of personalism or the belief that God loves all people unconditionally, God is a personal being who embodies righteousness and God’s existing in freedom is indicative for how humans are to exist as well. Douglas also relies heavily on primitive African articulations of God which will undoubtedly rub some people the wrong way. Personally I found her insights to be quite refreshing. My major disagreement with Douglas came in way of her exposition of the Exodus and her describing God as “transcendent,” “independent” and “infinite” (144, 157-162). Douglas takes a negative view of the Exodus as a narrative that legitimizes (America’s) conquering land and erasing people. However, Douglas does find some use out of the story insofar as it demonstrates God’s “preferential option for freedom” as God initiates Israel’s history with a miraculous act of liberation. Nonetheless, she ultimately finds the story to be endlessly problematic which causes her to doubt whether or not this story should aid in mobilizing a freedom movement. What I think Douglas misses is 1) it is not God who makes the “first move” in the Exodus narrative but it is in fact the Hebrew slaves (Ex. 2:23-25). In God’s immanence, God is compelled by the cry of the Hebrew slaves to perform a liberative act. 2) Genocide is morally reprehensible even if it is a “divine mandate.” God seemingly comes to realize (regret?) this as a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab is grafted into the community of Israel and Amos explains that God is even interested in performing exoduses for Israel’s enemies (Josh. 2; Mt. 1:5; Amos 9:7)!

God’s knack for associating with the victims and liberating the captives is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. Douglas successfully avoids one-dimensional interpretations of Jesus that simply suggest that in Christ’s death he stands with the oppressed. For Douglas the resurrection is the thing that uniquely reveals “death does not have the last word” (188). Because of Douglas’s emphasis on the resurrection she affirms that black suffering matters but she insists that black life matters more. Douglas also correctly concludes that the cross/resurrection is God’s way of nonviolently defeating the powers of this world while simultaneously affirming the sanctity of human life (184). Douglas’s affirmation of nonviolence is further displayed in her respect for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unlike most people, Douglas refuses to domesticate or sanitize King by referencing his more optimistic speeches. Douglas takes the long view of King’s legacy and shows that he and those who came from the black prophetic tradition believed righting the past would take more “than facile apologies or even guilty verdicts for killers of innocent black children” (221). Douglas convincingly claims that the only way that reconciliation can ever happen is by “acknowledge[ing] the ways in which our systems, structures, and ways of being in society are a continuation of the myths, the narratives, [and] the ideologies of the past” (221-222). In the process of acknowledging this history, the present reality will begin to transform.

If there were ever a book I felt comfortable judging by the cover it would be this one. The art on the front of the book conveys so much: beauty, lament, hope, justice. The reader will be pleased to find the same to be true about every single page within the book itself.



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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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