“Do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19 | Forum for Theological Exploration

“Do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19

By: Erica Ramirez
December 11, 2014

Church leaders are important because they have real power in shaping imaginations and perceptions.

Zimmerman mistook Martin for a thief. Wilson saw Brown as a charging “demon.” Ronald Ritchie, when he called the police, stated John Crawford III was loading a gun, waving it around, and pointing it at people, including children. We know, for certain and beyond all doubt, this account was false, an imaginary situation spun from fearful misperceptions. But the policeman involved, they went with this fiction. They made a crucial and split-second choice, they made the wrong choice, and the costs were enormous. John Crawford III, totally innocent, is dead. My scholarly interest is in this crucial, split-second decision-making: what factors influence judgment when you aren’t conscious of your making a decision?

I work to unearth how religious practices inform our perceptions. Perception, here, is that level of intellection that acquires the data upon which you make your judgments and to which you respond emotionally. It is a set of faculties with which you take in the information you identify as important, as credible, and as meaningful enough to merit response. This step before conscious deliberation—I don’t think this is an innocent activity. What constitutes good and right perception? What powers have informed your perception?

My work identifies how power structures in society are mirrored into the church via discourse, ritual, and structural hierarchy. Who, for example, gives out communion? Who sermonizes? The adherent who is only familiar with white or male leadership, has his/her imagination molded accordingly. Simplistically, it becomes hard for that person to readily identify a white male police officer as a perpetrator of injustice. Another example: associating God with Light, over and against darkness, superimposes a bias against African-ness into our minds. Fear of the “dark continent” is projected onto dark skin. Yet again, consider how evangelical megachurches are often structured like corporate America and borrow corporate lingo. Minorities, children, and women, people more or less left out of corporate America, then seem less godly by their lack of association with business than do the white males that typify corporate leadership and overpopulate pulpits. This work presents new ways for churches to be held accountable, but they are necessary because few people are cognizant of their own racism and sexism. They don’t see where and how they practice it. My work is to make it obvious when churches practice social injustice, however right their belief or doctrine might sound or read.

My passion is for integrity between the structure, ritual, and polemic of the church and that their effects be salubrious. Church leaders are important because they have real power in shaping imaginations and perceptions. But, after Ferguson, I no longer limit “the church” to the building and pulpit. This week, I watched “lay” friends lie down in NYC, evoking Martin, Brown, Garner, and Crawford. In their protest-performance, I recognize the logic of transubstantiation: theirs become the broken and bleeding bodies under the elements, under domination. And I become hopeful because our civil ritual is being renewed—protest is our inheritance! It’s my honor to find the new holy.

Photo by Neil Cooler

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