One Book One Diocese: Lenten Reflection Questions
Below are discussion and reflection questions to guide our “One Book One Diocese” Lenten study of Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.
Week 1 | America’s Exceptionalism (Prologue – Ch 1)
- In the prologue, Douglas describes
the story of Trayvon Martin as the “catalyst” for writing this book. How did
you experience news of Trayvon’s death and, later, the acquittal of his killer?
Do you think differently about it now?
- The idea of America as
“exceptional” or “special” or “chosen” is, for many of us, ingrained at an
early age – in school, in our national celebrations, in the rhetoric of
political campaigns, and even in church. Douglas argues this exceptionalism is
grounded in a myth of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority. What would it mean to
give up the idea that there is something inherently special about the United
- Douglas introduces the idea of “Stand Your Ground culture” as an “extension of English Common Law that gives a person a right to protect his or her ‘castle’” (xiii). You may want to review the Indiana “Stand Your Ground” law for reference. Douglas argues that we consider a person’s body as part of his or her “castle” – but that body-as-castle protection only applies to white bodies. What “castles” in our lives do we deem worthy of protection at all costs? For those of us who are white, how do these “castles” relate to our whiteness?
- Douglas discusses the construction
of “whiteness” and the way that new European immigrants were able to sublimate
“their European ethnic identities in order to become white” (37). This led to a
“path to Americanness” not available to people of color. How do you see the
construction of “whiteness” in our national dialogue about immigration today?
| The Black Body: A Guilty Body (Ch 2)
- Douglas outlines the distinction
between the way white bodies and black bodies are understood in American
stand-your-ground culture. White bodies are understood as “cherished property,”
while black bodies are understood as “valued” commodity or “chattel” (53). She demonstrates
the way that scientific and religious thought led to ideas like enslavement
being “a sign that God did not intend their freedom” (56) and black people
having been created “inferior” (64). What do you make of the way that she shows
Christian religion was and is used to promote and support racist thought? How
might we, as Christians, respond?
- The end of the chapter recounts
ways that the free black body has been and is understood: hypersexualized (64),
dangerous (68), criminal (77) and guilty (86). Douglas provides several
historic and contemporary examples. Consider your local media (online, print,
radio, TV), as well as local agencies and organizations, including your local
police department and its social media feeds. How are black bodies portrayed?
Do they fit any of these four racist paradigms? If they do, how might the
| Manifest Destiny War (Ch 3, Excursus)
- Douglas examines the tension
between the way that the Exodus story has been a source of hope for the black faith
tradition, while also providing a Biblical framework for the narrative of
Manifest Destiny. Scripture (sometimes the very same stories or verses)
continues to be used in both liberating and dangerous ways. How do you respond
when you see scripture used in a way that causes hurt and harm?
- Douglas writes, “It is no accident
that stand-your-ground culture has been most aggressively if not fatally
executed after every period in which certain ‘rights’ are extended to black
people, ostensibly bringing them closer to enjoying the ‘inalienable rights of
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” This pattern of “white backlash”
began with the emancipation” (117) and, she argues, was fueled by “the presence
of a black man living in the White House” (130). This book was published in
2015, prior to the 2016 Presidential election. How, if at all, have you seen
“white backlash” playing out since then?
- Douglas discusses the restrictive
housing codes enacted to protect white spaces. Think about your own community — where you work, where you live, where you
worship. Do you see lasting effects of restrictive housing covenants or
redlining in any of these neighborhoods?
- The author tells a personal story
about her own son getting pulled over for “driving while black” (130). She
writes, “no matter where he is I do not rest at night until my son lets me know
he is home” (131). In reflecting on the death of Trayvon Martin, she argues
stand-your-ground culture “deprives black bodies of a home” (132). Parents of
white children do not have to have the same conversations parents of children
of color must have in order to keep them safe. Are there conversations parents
of white children might have within their own families in order to help keep
children of color in their community safe?
| A Father’s Faith: The Freedom of God (Ch 4)
- Douglas writes: “According to a
faith informed by an African theological paradigm, for God to be God, God must
be free. Freedom is what makes God God. The enslaved could ‘Go home to their
Lord and be free,’ because their Lord was free. God meant freedom from the
intricate fetters of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism. To listen to a faith that was
born during the ordeal of slavery is to hear a people’s testimony that God is
not one with those who consider them chattel” (148). What does it mean for God
to be free? What does it mean to be created in the image of a free God? What implications does this have
for all people of faith?
- What is the role of the black
faith tradition, according to Douglas? How does it connect to hope? What does
black faith have to tell us about Christianity and resistance?
- Douglas discusses the story of
Abraham and Isaac, saying “one thing is abundantly clear: God stopped the
sacrifice. God did not desire Abraham’s son to be put to death. This same God
of the black faith is one that does not require the sacrifice of our sons and
daughters” (167). Does this differ from the way in which you have interpreted
this story or heard it interpreted before? In what ways?
| Jesus and Trayvon: The Justice of God (Ch 5)
- Douglas says, “there is no doubt
that guns of stand-your ground culture are today’s crosses” (180). With this in
mind, does the church have a role to play in the ongoing struggle to reduce gun
violence in this country? If so, in what ways?
- This chapter cautions against a
theology of “redemptive suffering” and “making meaning out of senseless deaths”
(185-188). Why does this matter, particularly to oppressed communities?
- According to Douglas, salvation in
the context of stand-your ground culture requires “naming and calling out our
very narrative, ideologies and discourse of power that indeed promote the
culture of stand-your-ground sin” (196). What might “naming” and “calling out”
look like in your own context? How might you engage in the work of “naming” and
- Douglas writes, “the church is
compelled as a bearer of the memory of Jesus to step into the space of the
Trayvons and Jordans …” What might it
look for the church (your congregation, the diocese, and the wider Episcopal
Church), to “step into this space?”
| Prophetic Testimony: The Time of God (Ch 6, Epliogue)
- Douglas describes this time in the
life of our country as “kairos time. … a decisive moment in history that
potentially has far-reaching impact. It is often a chaotic period, a time of
crisis. However, it is through the chaos and crisis that God is fully present,
disrupting things as they are and providing an opening to a new future—to God’s
future” (206). Do you think we are living in a so-called “kairos time?” What
might you point to as evidence?
- Douglas describes the way in which
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” provided a “prophetic
signifyin’ response to America’s grand narrative of exceptionalism.” This is an
incredibly familiar speech for most of us. Does Douglas’s analysis change the
way you hear it? If so, how?
- Douglas says that “one of the
tools of our stand-your-ground culture is the narrative that we are now living
in postracial times. Such a narrative discards what happened to Trayvon,
Jordan, Renisha, and Jonathan” (226). Can you recall examples of when and where
you have heard this “postracial” narrative?
- The book closes with the words of
Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom: “God is in control. And so God is. Left
for each of us is to act like it, and thus to be where God is, standing up to
stand-your-ground culture so that our sons and daughters might live.” Having
finished the book, what do you think committing to act like God is in control
might look like when it comes to the stand-your-ground culture of white