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 States?
  • 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?

Week 2 | 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 church respond?

Week 3 | 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?

Week 4 | 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?

Week 5 | 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 “calling out?”
  • 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?”

Week 6 | 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 Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism?