Malcolm X and the Missing Gospel

Comments (4)
  1. Maurice Wallace says:

    Not so great. A very nice exegesis of Paul but at the (unnecessary, and arrogant) expense of Malcolm X whom the writer clearly hasn’t read adequately or closely enough. Where is the comparable exegisis of his speech? Moreover, I can’t help wonder for whom “the desperate yet dangerous urgency for change” is so dangerous? For oppressed people? I don’t think so. For Israel under Pharoh? No. For the Jesus, the religious revolutionary? Nope. For the oppressed, the enslaved, the Messiah, it is the refusal change that is dangerous. The status quo is already a dangerous, deadly violence for some which the gospel knows better than this writer. What is the the gospel but a desperate call to change the dangerous condition of sin, including racism? There is no space to unpack all that is wrong with this article and its misguided understanding of social justice as a gospel imperative,but it is worth recommending that the writer consider that the “the heat of Paul’s frustration” and the simulatneous “warmth of his undying love ” for the new believers might be the very sentiments beneath Malcolm X’s words. Sadly writer doesn’t take the same care is taken with Malcom X’s speech as Paul’s. If the writer believes Malcom.X and Paul don’t compare, then perhaps he should not have attempted to compar them.

    1. Joe B says:

      Hi Maurice,
      I really appreciate the feedback, I wrote the article and understand things aren’t always going to come out the way I intended. As a background, I have a deep love and appreciation for Malcolm X and have listened to several dozen hours of his speeches and transcripts and would say his autobiography is recommended reading for anyone trying to understand race in America, especially Christians. My point wasn’t necessarily to compare Malcolm the man to Paul the man, but to take a simple but profound idea from one of Malcolm’s most famous speeches (and maybe his most well known one line ever) and juxapose it with something I had recently read in 1 Corinthians. Maybe, it didn’t work the way I wanted it to and I understand I could have spent more time unpacking more from Malcolm’s side, but I had to keep it relatively short. While I’m certainly not new to minority social justice voice (both Latino and African American) I certainly wouldn’t set myself up as any kind of expert, so any feedback I can get I appreciate and I certainly want to avoid coming across as arrogant at all costs, so thank you.

      What I was going for in the article was to show that while Malcolm has significant and important things to say about the state of world and systemized oppression (much of which I’ve benefitted greatly from), any foundation for social change that lacks an understanding of the gospel will always be left wanting. I think that social justice is a gospel imperative but that we can only pursue real social change with a sturdy understanding of ourselves and others as informed by the gospel.

      I think what is “dangerous” about Malcolm’s call for reaching that summit by “any means necessary” was the room for misinterpretation. Because though I know Malcolm X wouldn’t advocate for unprovoked violence, there were more radical voices that emerged (like Stokley Carmichael and H Rap Brown, or even Eldridge Cleaver) that took those “any means” to open itself up to all out war (which I think Christians should do our best to avoid, but will say I support much of what Malcolm says about black self-defense). I attempted to take these “dangerous words” and see how Paul used them in a completely different context, which could equally be dangerous if misunderstood.

      I read back over the article several times after publishing and saw some holes that I didn’t see in the rough draft, and I appreciate the criticism. I want to get better at this kind of conversation and it doesn’t make progress without some mistakes. Thanks brother.


      1. Maurice says:

        Dear JB:
        That you have accepted my criticisms graciously is to be admired. I stand by my view of your article, in any case. Just as you have read back over your article several times, I hope you will read back over my response with the same determination (and grace which, as I said, I esteem). You will find in my criticism, I think, three general points I would urge you, especially as a social justice “ally”* (presumably, since I’m not entirely clear what you mean by your nearness to “minority social justice voice”), to deeply consider.

        First, you will probably find it surprising that I would, without knowing you, describe your article as arrogant. By this, though, I mean to point to a certain presumptuousness in the article about Malcolm X. I do not doubt that you have read more of Malcolm X than I gave you credit for in my first reply, but I do doubt that you have in mind the Malcolm X of his autobiography as you are reading his speeches. That Malcolm X and the one in your article are not identical. I’ll say more about why I believe this below, but here let me say your article might have benefited from the pre-publication critique of a reader or two adept in matters of faith, race and social justice. Which leads me to a second and third point I urge you to think longer on.

        Consider, that is, that for Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver, American anti-black state-sponsored racism was the original violence of their time and the ground from which their radicalism emerged. Living black in America was (and, frankly, remains) violent, more menacing than you will probably believe because I’m saying it. In short, then, their radicalism was created–provoked, you might say–by racial conditions they did not create but desperately sought to escape. That’s what “any means necessary” means to highlight. Though you worry that many might misinterpret the “by any means necessary” message and be led to open it up to “all out war,” which Christians, you say, “should do our best to avoid,” you forget that our Christian country was not already at war, within our borders against blacks and outside our borders in Vietnam and Korea. How is it then that H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X should have frightened us, Christians, more than Nixon or Kissinger or Bull Conner or George Wallace? Only those whose lives are un-menaced worry over Malcolm X’s words. Those whose lives are menaced, even if they admit to not knowing with certainty the meaning of phrase are nonetheless convinced of Malcolm X’s affirming love for black people.

        Finally (I’ll be brief), I don’t disagree with you about the meaning and centrality of the gospel to our faith. But social justice is achieved through the gospel. There is no social justice without the gospel–it is the gospel that motivates social justice by Christians–but neither is there the gospel without its evidence in social justice ideals. Social justice work is kingdom work. The Christian faith is not all personal piety. The fruit of the gospel at work in us is in the shape of the world around us. It is true that social justice is not salvation. I don’t know anyone who imagines it is. I know plenty, though, who advocate for it as loudly as they do because so many others are so painfully silent about it. Silent because they can afford to be pious and not concern themselves with systemic sins like economic exploitation, voter suppression, white flight, hunger, mass incarceration, health disparities etc.

        I’m out of time now but I hope I can return later to extend your fine exegesis of Paul so you may see that very letter, and related Scriptures, in the light of the social justice concerns that were also Malcolm X’s.

        Grace and peace,

        *Not my favorite term. An ally is often a stand-by. The friend who sees you getting clobbered in an unfair fight, two against one, cheering you on from a safe distance. Never bothering to lend you, now badly beat, a hand in defense.

  2. Natasha Peacock says:

    Great article.

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