What Does It Mean to Be a Global
The Case of the International Association on Black Religions and Spiritualities
The International Association on Black Religions and Spiritualities
It is my belief that U.S. residents are compelled to redefine what it means to be a global citizen. Why? Because we live in the heart of the superpower. Whatever our politics or theologies, we Americans benefit from the transfer of wealth and income from the Third World to North America. Our civic duty calls us to influence the U.S. government to pursue a different set of values – values of cooperation, peaceful relation, compassion, and joint programs. These are our civic responsibilities because a democratic polity urges us to engage in visioning for a better world. Moreover, from a Christian ethical perspective, the Bible instructs us about what are the ultimate concerns and foundational guidelines for what it means to be a healthy spiritual human being and build a world community. Here I refer to Matthew 25:31-46. This is the famous parable where Jesus divides all of humanity between the sheep and the goats. The sheep – symbolizing a decent human being – are those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the stranger, provide clothing for the naked, take care of the sick, visit the prisoners, and live on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. Therefore, in my estimation, to be a world citizen is to follow these sacred values and human practices.
So far in our conversation, we are suggesting the following. To be a global citizen today entails recognizing at least three things: One, the rise of one superpower; two, increased poverty and marginalization in the Third World; and three, the moral and civic obligation to stand with the left-behind, locked out, and lowest sectors of the world’s population.
The International Association on Black Religions and Spiritualities is one, small step to re-define global citizenship.
Today dark skin peoples or black communities globally experience a host of challenges and possibilities. First are the variety of expressions of spiritualities and religions. Whether Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, or black people in Europe and the U.S.A., a sense of values glue our peoples, communities, and oppressed nations together. For us, spiritualities and religions unite the sacred and "secular" as one. This progressive world view and practice exist in all forms of black spiritualities and religions; such as indigenous spiritualities, African Traditional Religions, traditional, pre-colonial, post-colonial, Islamic, Santeria, Dalit Spirituality, Australian Aboriginal and New Zealand Maori cultures, Candomble, Christian, black Buddhists, and other mainstream and non-mainstream types. The sacred covers all reality – the rituals of worship and even how we collect firewood and water, the naming of our children and even our ties to land inheritance.
The International Association on Black Religions and Spiritualities (IABRS) is a global network of darker skin peoples focused on education and advocacy around the issues of human dignity and justice for poor communities and oppressed people. There are eleven countries that make up the Association: Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Dalits from India, Aboriginals from Australia, blacks from England, blacks from Cuba, Afro-Brazilians, Jamaicans, and African Americans. We draw on the progressive spiritualities and religions of darker skin peoples because we believe a better world is possible. Black people in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands survive, thrive, celebrate, and resist using their spiritualities and religions. All forms of sacred practices among darker skin peoples offer important examples for better human relations. To model new, collective human interactions, the IABRS combines half female and half male participation at all levels of the international network. It includes young people in order to pass on the wisdom of the older generations. It has a strong presence of practitioners and academics. It works in solidarity with other marginalized movements. And it impacts policies that will be helpful for poor people.
We work with existing organizations and institutions to put them together through a global network. Also, the IABRS offers solidarity among its own members – both individuals and the various darker skin peoples and countries represented in the network.
In progressive religions and spiritualities, the value of social justice and change of earthly systems unites with the value of healing the pains of individuals. In social analysis and self-analysis, we see a better world is possible.
A major experience of spiritualities and religions or our sacred values is collective and individual human dignity. The necessity to have human dignity stands at the center of what it means to be a human being. Being human is dignity for the identity of oppressed peoples and of the individual self. And individual human dignity takes place within the context of community human dignity.
Human dignity is close to human rights. But dignity is different from rights. To have human rights assumes that an oppressed community or an individual already enjoys dignity. So human dignity comes before human rights.
What is human dignity? It is made up of at least three parts – self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Self-love means an oppressed people loves their own identity – how the sacred has created them and how they are born beautiful and healthy and sacred as a people. Love of self accepts the self without wanting to be someone else. Self-love in an oppressed community embraces its culture (of course, while learning from other cultures), wisdom, languages, spiritualities, religions, ancestors, and ways of being, seeing, and acting in the world. And self-love includes a love of nature, animals, birds, plants, fish, air, water, earth, and the minerals of the earth.
Self-esteem happens when a people who love themselves put value on themselves. There is worth to our very being. We hold our selves in high regard. When an oppressed community loves itself, it values its history, ancestry, land, language, traditions, its unborn, its very existence, its right to live on earth, and its connections to the sacred and all of creation. What worth do we have for ourselves, our bodies, minds, and spirit? What worth do we put on our ancestors, the present, children, and the unborn? What worth do we have for nature and all of creation? What worth do we put on our families and our extended families?
If we love ourselves and hold ourselves in high esteem, we become more self-confident as an oppressed people. Self-confidence helps us to act out our love and esteem of self in the world around us, especially as a peoples movement to change the world. With confidence we protect our being and creation. We move in the world to challenge those obstacles that prevent the health of human beings and creation. We have strong confidence in the future and the future of our unborn. We struggle for justice now. And we have a deep hope in a better society and better relations between humans and all of creation. We have hope that healthy societies will one day come on earth. Self-confidence encourages an oppressed people to define its own self and the space around it in such a way that we are in harmony and balance with our selves, neighbors, our ancestor, all of creation, and the sacred.
In addition to our spiritualities and religions, defined by collective and individual human dignity, we are all "black" people. By "black" we mean the darker skin communities of the world. Black is a broad umbrella word. It represents more than skin color. It stands for a tradition of struggle against colonialism caused by Europe and the U.S.A. It represents a history of being the objects of Christian missionary work. Today it indicates attacks on our culture by global propaganda that tries to define what is beauty and the effort to force the entire world to become like the culture of only one superpower. So from the negative side, to be black is to be ugly, dirty, lack leadership abilities, ignorant, uncivilized, backward, savage, volatile, overly sexed, low morals, ad criminals. Unfortunately, too many of us in our own communities believe that those blacks with lighter skin are more beautiful, intelligent, and moral than the darker ones among us.
Blackness, in its negative sense, sometimes means passive consumers of products from the major monopoly capitalist corporations in the world. Not only are we seen as easy consumers of these products. Our communities are the ones who work and produce the wealth, products, and income for the small group of families, primarily from the U.S.A. and Europe, who own and control the majority of human beings and creation. These elite families and monopoly capitalist corporations have historically taken and continue today to take wealth, money, land, and resources from the Third World or developing world. The transfer of wealth and income taking place globally shows us that the key concern for the world’s majority is the elimination of poverty and the establishment of justice.
But we also have to admit that just as black spiritualities and religions have been positive by sustaining us, helping us to survive and thrive, and resisting negative forces outside of our communities, our own black spiritualities and religions have a deep negative side. This negative side comes from the unhealthy aspects of our traditions and from us accepting the negative influences of powers seeking to control us and our land. Not all parts of black religions and spiritualities are positive. A key sign of our harmful spiritualities and religions is the extra oppression faced by women. We have to be aware of negative external and internal factors. But our main vision is to realize that black religions and spiritualities mean that a better world is possible.
Various obstacles block the vision of a better world. One of the major problems confronting oppressed black communities or darker skin people globally is the lack of international connections. Too many of us are unaware of and not tied to each other. In many examples, we do not know of thousands of grassroots communities struggling for human dignity on a daily basis. If we can connect these life and death movements internationally, it will give us more solidarity, resources, and hope for our local efforts and our children’s future. Too often lack of connection keeps our eyes looking at the demands and tasks of local experiences. Yet an international network can help turn our eyes to global friends dealing with similar challenges. Concrete support for the local can come from peoples’ movements throughout the world. How can we also learn from all of our local victories? How can we exchange information about the similar ways the small group of major powers are affecting our people’s daily existence?
Many of our situations and histories show some similarities: gender analysis and balanced gender participation in society, decrease and eventual elimination of poverty, inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, ecology, recovery of indigenous cultures, land dispossession, sexual violence against girls and women, economic fairness, religious freedom, HIV and AIDS, blockades against our countries by a major super power, youth crime and disillusionment, artistic and material culture, our ability to create new knowledge, democracy defined by our own local cultures and traditions, how can ordinary people have ownership of the resources and governing structures in their own country, what does equality look like if it is defined by the bottom of our societies, and the need to educate our youth.
Other parallel concerns include: the increased presence of transnational businesses, the growth of evangelical Christian missionaries (mainly from the economically developed countries), loss of land, structural adjustment programs demanded by international financial organizations, disruption of cultures due to movements from rural to urban areas, the extra pressures and burdens on women, and centralization of a global mono-culture (through television, movies, music, food tastes, and clothing styles) make critical differences in people’s everyday lives. All of these tings greatly impact religion and spirituality, especially for poor people who don’t have access to wealth, media, and other resources to put their voices into global discussions.
Our attempt to build an international network on black religions and spiritualities is one movement to help put oppressed peoples’ and poor peoples’ voices into international conversations. We think that black religions and spiritualities throughout the world provide strong, positive resources. Each of our countries, communities, and local networks offer unlimited examples of how to work for a better world. An international association can offer another way for progressive religious and spiritual people to show that the dominant, negative religions and spiritualities spreading globally are just one way. Unfortunately the international media, missionaries, and money have come together on a world scale to serve the cultural, political, and economic interests of only a small sector of the earth’s 6 billion people. A black religions and spiritualities association can try to show a more healthy way in the interests of the world’s majority. And important lessons and leadership come from darker peoples who occupy every land base and body of water on earth.
The network can link the local to the global. At the same time, the network can encourage its member countries to make alliances with more groups and organizations inside of each country. All of us are working very hard on important issues facing our communities. Because of the demands of our tasks, sometimes we do not have the time or energy to link hands with groups in our own countries. One objective of the international association is to help broaden ties within each nation.
In addition to creating a global network of progressive peoples and encouraging each country to reach out to other groups in their own contexts, an international association on black religions and spiritualities can help the development of human dignity for oppressed peoples and communities. We all can become more hopeful to know that solidarity exists across the waters and among continents. The local victories and setbacks are not only part of a larger connection, but they are important. This sense of belonging to a larger relationship and this sense of being important can increase human dignity – self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence within each of our own unique movements. And so a global association builds human dignity for the local. The lessons and leadership from the local further strengthens the international association. Human dignity of love, esteem, and confidence focuses on working toward a better possible world. The international network can act on issues that all countries have in common. The global association can also agree on a critical issue affecting only one or two countries.
A fourth objective of an international network on black religions and spiritualities is to practice a new model for women and men working together. Structurally it could always have a fifty percent male and fifty percent female representation. Obviously this structure works against those negative parts of our traditions and current practices that put women in the role of followers. But more importantly, a structure of gender equality offers a way to always draw on the rich wisdom, experience, and intellect that women bring to black spiritualities and religions. The point is to use all resources we bring from our local contexts into an international network.
Another important objective is the survival, thriving, and future of our youth. History teaches us and common sense tells us that the future of any people or society is in the hands of young people. The international association can have a special focus on building the human dignity of our youth (girls and boys, and young men and women) by putting youth in contact with youth in other countries. In fact, in each local contexts, we have at least one thing that ties us together. Some part of our work deals with educating young people and young adults. Perhaps young people and young adults could be one of the major objectives of the network
IV. Program of Action
The program of action of the association can have two parts – education and advocacy.
Education: We can educate ourselves through a regular [a] internal bulletin for association members. This organizational bulletin could be a short newsletter that contains news about the work and groups in each of our communities. What are our local issues and community struggles? What does a local movement tell the rest of the association members? What help does the local want from the international network? What are examples of local victories and setbacks?
Education can also mean publications. We can publish articles in [b] journals. One major international journal that has already agreed to publish articles is Black Theology: An International Journal. The editor of the journal is Anthony Eddie who is the male delegate from England. In addition, each of our countries has its own journals published by the educational institutions where we work. Other journals are published by networks and organizations that we belong to.
When we have papers on one theme we can also publish [c] edited books. Ideally these books would be published in different languages or by local publishers in our own countries.
Education can happen by [d] exposing young people and young adults to other countries. We can do this by having youth from one country spend a month visiting another country. Another example is to help youth attend schools and colleges in different countries.
And education can take place if we try and arrange [e] faculty exchanges.
Advocacy: Advocacy can take different forms. A local struggle could ask that members of the international association write letters and emails supporting the local struggle. Or a country might be facing a negative policy decision caused by an international economic, political, or religious organization. Or perhaps the international association can unite on a public statement against unjust actions taking place in any part of the world (for example, an unjust war against a smaller nation); HIV and AIDS; child labor, unfair trade practices, etc.). In other situations, we might want to join progressive campaigns started by other global networks, such as the World Council of Churches, interfaith groups, the World Social Forum, the United Nations, and so forth.
The suggestion is for the international association to meet every 2 to 3 years. Each country would send delegates that maintain gender balance. Delegates would report on [a] current issues affecting marginalized communities; [b] the status of local organizations involved in grassroots struggles; [c] the role of religion and spirituality in local movements; [d] plan for the global program of action of the association (that is, education and advocacy); [e] discuss publications (that is, the internal bulletin, journal articles and edited books); [f] discuss programs for educating young people and young adults; [g] and where possible, we could decide on a common theme to tie us together until the next world gathering. At these international meetings, delegates could visit local grassroots communities and also participate in local spiritual, religious, and cultural events.
Another suggestion is that the leadership of the association would be a committee of international delegates – two from each country, one woman and one man.
In between the world meetings, we could have two Coordinators of Communication (one woman and one man) who would coordinate the communications among all delegates.
One important theme many progressive people are talking about is Another World Is Possible. Clearly from a global perspective, many communities desire and are working toward an alternative to the present negative impact of globalization. The very lives of poor communities and oppressed peoples are at stake. Negative globalization affects all of us. Because of this, the world has become smaller, and we have become united as a result. The good news is that thousands of grassroots movements are organizing on the local level to reach their human dignity and choose life over death. Different types of black religions and spiritualities are active in these resistance movements for justice. By black we mean a very broad definition that includes the world’s darker people. The majority of the nations of the earth put black people at the bottom of society. Black communities and countries are usually the ones most hurt by negative globalization. By religions and spiritualities, we mean values where the sacred and "secular" are united. At the heart of our black spiritualities and religions is human dignity. Human dignity includes the collective self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence for oppressed peoples. Basically, black people are sacred.
While recognizing our differences, we also see our commonalities. The building of an International Association on Black Religion and Spiritualities is to help link our local work with the solidarity and support of a global network. In a small way, such a network can add to the growing world movements that are creating another alternative for life against death. For us, this alternative is a better world – one based on justice and healthy spirituality and religion; one that will bring a full life of human dignity for poor people and oppressed communities.
This is a long-term process that organizes in the present for the future. If a better world is possible, fundamentally we need to work with those who are the future; that is, young people and young adults. The youth sector is connected to many issues that impact all aspects of our countries: the rural and urban sectors; hunger and food; HIV and AIDS; orphans; street children, housing; jobs; informal and formal economies; family planning; sex and sexuality; health, literacy; education, right to relaxation and recreation; gangs and inner city violence; and land and land inheritance.
A better world is possible if the elders and the youth work together and strengthen our positive religions and spiritualities. The International Association on Black Religion and Spiritualities is one attempt to be faithful to the Spirit and the spirits of our ancestors. It is their legacy that calls on us to continue and pass on a better world for future generations than the world we live in now.
Endnotes (see part one)
13.See J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, African Charismatics: Current Developments within Independent Indigenous Pentecostalism in Ghana (Leiden, The Netherlands: African Christian Press, 2005); Andre Corten and Ruth Marshall-Fratani, ed. Between Babel and Pentecost: Transnational Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001); and Paul Freston, Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Rev. Dr. Dwight N. Hopkins is an ordained American Baptist minister. He is Professor of Theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Dr. Hopkins received his M.Div., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees from Union Theological Seminary, New York and also holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. Hopkins has published several books including Introducing Black Theology of Liberation, Down, Up and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology, Black Faith and Black Talk: Essays in Honor of James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power (editor) and Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion.
Copyright © 2006. Dwight N. Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.
Used by permission, BlackandChristian.com, 2006