Darkness and Light
READ EPHESIANS 5:8-14
In this pericope, Paul is stating that Christians have to undergo a dramatic transformation of the self by moving from darkness (sin) into light (salvation). Light and dark imagery connotes divergent meanings associated with the two words. In other words, darkness is seen as the antithesis of light, with light being the symbol of God’s purity, glory, and wisdom, and darkness symbolizing depravity, disobedience to God, the unenviable place of the dead, the place where the wicked sit, and a place of punishment into which wrongdoers will be cast.
As U.S. Christians we have a hard time talking about race. The Bible is replete is racialized language that has damned and subjugated people of color. The Curse of Ham (Genesis 9:18-27), and Apostle Paul’s edict to slaves (Ephesians 6:5-8) have served as the scientific and Christian legitimation for the enslavement of people of African ancestry in this country. And neither resenting textual encounters with Paul’s use of light and dark imagery nor contextualizing his use of it eradicates its racial stain.
We must, as Christians, look at the systemic problem of what happens when the racialization of light and dark imagery has a broad-based cultural acceptance in our society today.
Why? Because language is a representation of culture. Language re-inscribes and perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender and sexual orientation we consciously and unconsciously articulate in our everyday conversations about ourselves and the rest of the world, and consequently transmit generationally and in our religious traditions. My enslaved ancestors knew that their liberation was not only rooted in their acts of social protest, but also in their use of language, which is why they used the liberation narrative of the Exodus story in the Old Testament as their talking-book. The Exodus story was used to rebuke systemic oppression, racist themes, and negative images of themselves.
Too many of us keep these words alive, ignoring their power. Even reclaiming racist words, like light and dark imagery, can not eradicate their historical baggage and or existing racial prejudices. Instead, it dislodges the words from their historical context and makes us insensitive and arrogant to the historical injustice done to a specific group of people. It also allows Christians to become unconscious and numb in the use and abuse of the power and currency these words still have, thwarting the daily struggle many of us work hard at in trying to ameliorate race relations.
FOR REFLECTION AND ACTION
Make a list of images in Christian faith that deal with light and dark. What images can you imagine that would change the connotations of these words? Pay attention to images of light and dark used in your church during Lent, and meet with a diverse group to discuss the impact of these images on perceptions of race.
By Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe is the Coordinator of the African American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion, a Huffington Post blogger, and a syndicated religion columnist. She is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African- American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School as Ford Fellow.