Angela N. Parker
Eerdmans, 133 pages
Published September 14, 2021
In If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I?, Angela Parker – a professor of New Testament and Greek – takes our hand and guides us on an unrelenting journey through dismantling Western notions of biblical authority and the construction of God’s identity as White and male. Unapologetically Black in her approach, she tasks us, the readers, with questioning our fundamental understanding of how we are taught to understand God and God’s relationship to creation. She interrogates the inadequacy of the theological educational approach in which the benchmark for authority and authenticity is still heavily skewed toward White and male.
Parker introduces alternative definitions for accepted concepts based in the lived reality of being Black, female, Christian and American. For example, she plays with the culturally accepted narrative that if God is White/male, then White/male Christians are God’s earthly proxies. Parker argues that White supremacy’s influence, while subtle, has left the vast majority with a deeply immature understanding of the breath of God, which prevents us from fully understanding God’s identity and being in relationship with the Divine.
We often associate the breath of God with the Holy Spirit. Parker builds on this image through poignant reminders of the deaths of Eric Garner, George Floyd and others, establishing “I can’t breathe” and the breath of God as two sides of the Divine. God’s breath, according to Parker, is manifested in the totality of the biblical narrative as a lived experience. White supremacy’s knee-jerk reaction that whatever is “foreign” is alien expunges God’s true and living breath, choosing instead an identity for God that better perpetuates the White ideal. Our ivory towers are left with a narrow scope of God’s awesome works in non-White community.
She demystifies protective strategies used by White biblical scholars. A hermeneutic of suspicion is applied to sacred texts and people in positions of power who define the narrative. Parker rallies against homogeneity in cultural biblical understanding and pushes for a working lexicon that is not based in the harmonization of the sacred texts, arguing that “engagement in critical consciousness is the way faith communities … talk to one another.”
Parker wants readers to be uncomfortable. She denies that anyone can claim to be ignorant of the fact that women, especially Black women, have been purposefully erased from both biblical and academic history. The chapter “Stop Gaslighting Me,” for example, holds cultural and theological communities accountable for actively disenfranchising marginalized groups.
While heavy in tone and nature, Parker never loses us in translation or interpretation. Her book is approachable and lends itself to small group discussion, peculiarly in faith communities moving toward becoming Matthew 25 churches or seeking to dismantle structural racism. In a seminary setting, this book would thrive in ethics or biblical hermeneutics classes. If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I? might also serve as an excellent primer for White students and a catharsis for those of color.
Presbyterian Outlook supports local bookstores. Join us! Click on the link below to purchase If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I?from BookShop, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. As an affiliate, Outlook will also earn a commission from your purchase.