Why I am inviting the Church of the Brethren to Watch Black Panther
I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
John 17:14 (KJV)
“Peacefully, simply, together” could easily be imagined on the tourist brochures promoting Wakanda, if Wakanda were the sort of place that had tourist brochures. The part of the tagline that describes our denomination could also describe the nation imagined in the movie-phenomenon Black Panther. They have chosen to harness the technological potentials of vibranium for (mostly) peaceful means; they focus on improving the standard of life in Wakanda. Instead of consumeristic consumption and conspicuous wealth, the culture achieves the imagined ideal that allows for technologically assisted ease and harmony with nature and wildlife. This could make them a shining beacon, a city on a hill, for the whole world. Instead, they create borders that hide their technology, prosperity, and wealth. By doing this, it is easier for them to remain a tightly knit group of tribes whose survival is deeply interwoven.
Togetherness is easier said than done and in Wakanda this has meant stepping away from the wider world and minding their own business. However, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering around her. As the movie starts, she is on a mission to save women who are being abducted by soldiers in a neighboring nation, disguising herself as one of them. She stops the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) from killing one of the soldiers, who is just a boy who had also been taken from his family. Nakia’s compassion for the outside world has made it impossible for her to tolerate her country’s willingness to ignore the suffering of the wider world. When she speaks up about the difference Wakanda could make, the response is that it could destroy their way of life.
This is the struggle we continue to face, as Brethren and as Christians. Through our outreach ministries, especially those related to disaster relief, we help others and put our faith in visible action. Yet to be the city on the hill is not just to have our light shine but also to realize that others will come to our light and churches. Like the people of Wakanda, we are often afraid of what it means to expand beyond our traditional groups and include others. Yet, continuing the work of Jesus means continuing to go beyond Nazareth and walk through Samaria, to accept invitations from Pharisees and centurions, and to make disciples, equals in faith, of all nations.
The themes in this movie are complicate and complex. I invite you to continue this conversation, bringing your own perspectives and insights. Intercultural Ministries will host a video call on Thursday March 29th at 1:00 EST. More information at www.brethren.org/intercultural or RSVP by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Gimbiya Kettering is director of intercultural ministries for the Church of the Brethren.