Embodied Anti-Racism: Valuing the Body in Faith and Practice

 on September 26, 2022

Each season in the Church calendar year involves the body. Think just of Advent and Christmas, which evoke the most detailed images of an embodied Jesus. Our theologies of Incarnation, Resurrection, Baptism all in some way involve the body. As much as we would like our faith to be simply a matter of spirit, it is never just about the spirit but equally about the body. A balanced faith recognizes both.  

To develop a theology of the body, we must acknowledge that we live in our bodies. Emotions, memory, and trauma reside in both the mind and the body. We are learning more and more that memories and trauma can be passed from one generation to another through our very DNA.  

A brief survey of human history—a history of enslavement, colonization, oppression—shows that bodies have not always been valued. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries people were burned at the stake for heresy and the Tower of London was a torture chamber. When the Great Plague raged through much of the United Kingdom, many people fled to colonies. Whether trying to get away from starvation, poverty, or violence, most of the new immigrants to the New World brought both the trauma and punishments to the New World English Colonies. In North America, bodies were devalued just the same, primarily the bodies of Indigenous Peoples and People of African descent.  

Today, the bulk of anti-racism work is done by African, Asian, and Indigenous bodies. These bodies are reclaiming the faith after God surveyed creation and saw “Everything that was made, and indeed it was good” (Genesis 1:31). As the author of 1 Timothy says, “Everything created by God is good” (1 Timothy 4:1-5).   

In light of this bodily reality, a few things stand out about anti-racism work. The work of anti-racism is about calling out generations of racism and trauma. It is the work of breaking an inter-generational curse. As in the words of Jeremiah prophesying salvation as he pointed to the coming of Christ Jesus: “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” (Jeremiah 31:29). 

One of the reasons we remain Christian is because of the seriousness with which the Chirstian traditions honour flesh and blood. We believe God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in. This is no small thing. It is the physics of divine love! This divine love calls out our culture which separates the physical from spiritual as nothing more than being confused, if not outrightly wrong. 

Faith-based anti-racist work creates a culture where all belong and where each body feels safe. By basing anti-racism work on our baptismal covenant, we are claiming a cultural shift. Anti-racism is not a private affair but a collective experience. Not only is the experience communal, but the approaches to healing and reconciliation must be as well. Healing does not occur in a vacuum. We must collectively make connections with other bodies—in groups, in neighbourhoods, and in communities.   

Anti-Racism is a privilege that you still have to exercise. No matter what I think of my own body, what I am, or what you are, we can still offer our bodies to God to go on being useful to the world. It is an opportunity for a renewed culture that is body-centred with a focus on the healing of bodily trauma. Of course this takes time and effort. It may take ten years—maybe three generations. This is not a cause for despair, but a recognition of where we are, where we must go, and where we have been. Either way, the time to begin is now! Anti-racism is not about pointing fingers. We all carry traumatized bodies which bear the wounds of racism and white supremacy. Anti racism work is about healing these known and unknown wounds. 

  • Naomi Kabugi

    The Reverend Naomi Kabugi is chair of the Anti-Racism Working Group. She is rector of St. Stephen on the Mount, Hamilton, and Christ Church, Flamborough, Dundas.

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