Book Excerpt – God in the Ghetto: A Prophetic Word Revisited
God in the Ghetto: A Prophetic Word Revisited
by William Augustus Jones Jr.
Publication Date: Apr 30, 2021
List Price: $22.99
Format: Paperback, 272 pages
Imprint: Judson Press
Publisher: Judson Press
Parent Company: American Baptist Churches USA
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Copyright © 2021 Judson Press/William Augustus Jones Jr. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher or author. The format of this excerpt has been modified for presentation here.
Chapter 1: The System
“The System” refers implicitly to the American trinity of capitalism, racism, and militarism. Capitalism is the economic system. Erected on the damnable foundation of slave labor, it pyramided on cheap labor after the emancipation and now thrives on social stratification, which is racism made manifest. Racism serves to preserve and perpetuate The System. Militarism, the formula’s third ingredient, has almost become a political necessity. It is not mere happenstance that the nation has known no real peace for more than three decades. Militarism saps the mental and physical energies of the nation’s youth, those most capable of creatively confronting the evils of racism and capitalism.
A gravestone in a cemetery in Japan bears the inscription:
Who fought the Yellow man
For what the White man
Took from the Red man
This inscription depicts simply and succinctly the American trinity of capitalism, racism, and militarism. Frederick Douglass, in his celebrated Fourth of July speech, declared that “for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival... America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”1 The prevailing barbarity and continuing falsity produce the swelling chorus of dismay and discontent.
Historically, the nation has been long on promise and short on performance. The American promise contained in the Declaration of Independence is probably the most humane ever reduced to language: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”2 The promise embedded in these words is theologically correct and anthropologically sound. The democratic ethic, representing the ideal with respect to the historic social experiment, is rooted in religious realism and grounded in the Christian doctrine of humanity. Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous epigram puts it well: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”3
Humankind has the capacity for justice and injustice, for creativity and destructivity. In America, necessity has perennially outweighed capacity. The democratic ideal has yet to flower. Irrespective of constitutional guarantees, congressional acts, presidential pronouncements, and denominational proclamations, America must be viewed through the lenses of microscopic realism rather than those of telescopic idealism. This was to be that place under the sun where freedom’s flag waved in the interest of all, but!—How bright with promise was the nation’s beginning, but!—What a glorious harvest its springtime promised, but! Every attempt to articulate the nation’s glory serves only to dramatize its shame. A simple, surface diagnosis of “The System” reveals a sick sociology based on a faulty anthropology, which emanates from a false theology. A person’s attitude toward others reflects the nature of that person’s ultimate values.
When sin becomes structured and inequity institutionalized, the resultant arrangement is ineluctably wicked and nefarious, for it denies others access to “the tree of life.” This is the continuing tragedy of America. Victims are correct when they speak of the nation in terms of “The System,” for they correctly ad-dress that power arrangement in society based on wealth and whiteness which prevents the gap from closing between the needy and the greedy. “The System” is racist to the core. So deep and pervasive in the reality that its bitter fruits multiply even without cultivation.