A conversation between Miroslav Volf and Willie Jennings—on how crowds reveal our deepest fears; the need for the care of people to inform the care of the economy; and the impact of COVID-19 on people of color.
Willie Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Africana Studies, and Religious Studies at Yale University; he is an ordained Baptist minister and is author of The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, and Acts: A Commentary.
- Willie Jennings wrote in Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible: "The crowd is always susceptible to the fear that ... clothes the creature. The crowd is the creature exposed in its vulnerability. So nationalistic slogan, religious incantation, or enthusiastic cheering are used to conceal this vulnerability. The volume of a crowd is never an indication of the strength of their faith, but always their vulnerability and oftentimes their fear. The crowd needs faith. A crowd that gains faith shrinks in size and becomes a congregation.” (Page 189)
- Miroslav asks Willie to explain and elaborate on this passage on crowds and fear.
- "Crowds show us, not so much strength, they show us the vulnerability of the multitude."
- A congregation is a crowd that has been disciplined, shrunk in size, by the reality of faith. …Of course you can have a congregation that still longs to be a crowd…"
- “The challenge for Christians is to remember that we are not to fear loss."
- The deep psychic shock that loss brings: “If anything, loss, for a moment, opens us to the nothingness out of which we’ve come."
- We should avoid theological or biblical slogans. But how do we speak in ways that align our sight with real hope?
- Faith as an ability to see and respond without being overcome.
- The need to be sensitive that at this moment people of faith have already been lifting a burden
- Willie’s formation in the African American community of faith—lifting the weight while acknowledging the strain.
- David Ford on Christianity is inside many constellations of multiple “overwhelming”—being overwhelmed is a part of Christian faith.
- Christianity that seeks control is unhelpful in a moment like this.
- One of our greatest challenges with respect to crowds and fear is that "the nationalist imaginary” (h/t Charles Taylor)—playing off the economic well-being of the nation with the well-being of the human creature.
- Crowds and the formation of political and ideological tribes. Applying crowd thinking and fearmongering to the political landscape.
- "Fear is used to sell almost everything. Risk management is fundamentally a modulation inside the deployment of fear. You cannot have the advertisement industry as it now exists without fear. So many ways of selling the good life for us begins by trafficking in fear. And this can’t be separated from the ways in which our political imaginations work. And this helps to drive the ways in which we imagine our friends and our enemies."
- People of faith are often the progenitors of fear.
- Miroslav’s background as a religious minority in the former Yugoslavia. “Christian faith was born in the fires of persecution, and now suddenly we’re all up in arms and twisting ourselves into pretzels because there might be some limitations on what we can do."
- Willie: “Being raised in the African American community, the worry about religious persecution was never a worry. We had other things to worry about than someone persecuting us for our faith. … We were afraid of them killing us, lynching us, shooting us, destroying us."
- Comparing white fear vs Black fear. Fear of liberal hegemony versus fear for one’s life.
- Economic inequality and COVID-19: The care of people must become the context within which you think the economy, as opposed to the care of the economy as the context in which you think about people.
- The impact of COVID-19 on the black community.
- "When America gets a cold, the Black and Latino community gets the flu.” (Willie quoting Cornel West)
- "They have to dance daily with this virus."
- Toni Morrison: This is part of the absurdity that blackness must face.
- With social distancing in place, what does it look like today to act faithfully and do something concretely to address these disparities?
- Allow the communal dimensions of our faith to move through us bodily. We need to reach out and connect with each other. "The Christian must gestate communion—must always be moving toward communion."
- "We have to ask once again: How do we understand the good society? The very fibers of our existence are at stake."
- The structural, as opposed to behavioral, nature of inequalities.
- Even in the end, there is a beginning.