Listen: Ruby Sales on the Role of Public Theology and the Beloved Community


Civil rights legend Ruby Sales learned to ask “Where does it hurt?” because it’s a question that drives to the heart of the matter — and a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now. Sales says we must be as clear about what we love as about what we hate if we want to make change. And even as she unsettles some of what we think we know about the force of religion in civil rights history, she names a “spiritual crisis of white America” as a calling of today.

Listen to her 53:00 interview with Krista Tippett on On Being.

An excerpt on the need for liberating public theology:

“How is it that we develop theology or theologies in a time where only a few lives matter? How do we raise people up from disposability to essentiality? This goes beyond the question of race. What it is that public theology can say to the white person in Massachusetts who is heroine addicted because they feel their lives have no meaning because of the trickle down effect of Whiteness in the world today? What do you say to someone who has been told that their whole essence is based on Whiteness and power and domination and when that no longer exists, they feel as if they are dying, get caught up in the throws of death…That’s why Donald Trump is essential because although we don’t agree with him, he’s speaking to that pain they are feeling. …I don’t hear anyone speaking to the 45 yr person in Appalachia who’s dying of a young age, who feels like they have been eradicated because Whiteness is so much smaller today than it was yesterday? Where is the theology that redefines for them what it means to be fully human? I don’t hear any of that coming from any place today. We have a spiritual crisis in White America. The crisis of meaning. We talk about Black theologies but I want a liberating White theology. I want a theology that speaks to Appalachia. That deepens people’s understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them instead of calling up on the part of themselves who is not relational. There’s nothing wrong with being European American. That’s not the problem. It’s how you actualize that history and how you actualize that reality. It’s like White people don’t believe that White people are worthy of being redeemed and I don’t quite understand that…As a Black person, I want a theology that gives hope and meaning to people who are struggling to have meaning in a world where they are no longer essential to Whiteness as they once were.”