Who Says God is a White Man? Finding Ourselves in the Divine with Dr. Christena Cleveland

We’re back with a fourth episode in this powerful series; For the Love of Faith Shakers. As many of us who might have come from a Western evangelical Christian community, we were presented a God that has a strong patriarchal presence. As we dig into the history of that, we learn that this image has been crafted, held together and governed by men, as those in power tend to shape the deities as they want to see them. However, history–the same written and oral history that gives us the basis for the Bible–tells us that Jesus likely wasn’t caucasian with blue eyes as we often see him depicted, but that he was Jewish, born and raised in the middle east and more than likely, was a person of color. But the image of white Jesus took root, as well as God as a white man, his father, also a man, emerging from the clouds in a fury–ruling with an iron fist. This generally serves one group of people in one gender, but has been so painful and difficult for black and brown and female and LGBTQ+ communities to see themselves in their creator; and to feel safe with this God, to feel cherished, to feel protected, to feel included. And so to give us some insight toward moving beyond this narrow, potentially abusive and oppressive view of God, we’re talking with Dr. Christena Cleveland. Dr. Cleveland is a social psychologist, an author and activist who grew up in white evangelical spaces and was a popular speaker and influencer in that world for many years. As a researcher and former professor of Divinity at Duke University, she’s done some amazing study around the patriarchal forces in Christianity and other religions, which led to some dismantling of this practice of silencing the feminine side of God’s intimate presence in our life. It wasn’t until she looked at her own history of being “othered” by the white leaders in her religious background that she began to understand the tension she felt about her relationship to God as a black woman. This led to a journey of figuring out who God was to her and how we all–no matter our gender or our color–can find ourselves in the Divine.