Adventists and the Wakanda Weakness
By the time you read this blog, Black Panther will have reached $1 Billion dollars in box office sales. It was at $944 million world- wide on Wednesday, but it opens in China on Friday, (and I understand there are a few folks living there.) From comic book to cross- cultural sensation, Black Panther is impossible to ignore.
But it hasn’t been without controversy. The ancestor worship, blood rituals, talking with the dead, and astral projection have stirred up conservative Christians and not a few Adventists. Believe me, I think I’ve heard from most of them!
My feelings? It’s a comic book not a Bible. It’s literature. It’s art. It’s certainly not without flaws, but short of the Bible, what medium is? And even the Bible at times uses flawed parables to teach flawless lessons. If you don’t believe that, then you’re ignoring the Rich Man and Lazarus. If God uses imperfect people to communicate the gospel, he can certainly use imperfect art to teach noble lessons- and Black Panther is full of them.
I think there are good reasons for not attending movies, if that’s your choice. I think it’s more sensible to carve out some personal guidelines for movie viewing, whether it’s at a multi-plex or on your phone, and last week I listed 4 questions I ask media all the time.
- Will I leave worse?
- Will I leave weak?
- Will I leave bored?
- Will I leave broke?
Works for me. Work out your own. But let’s move on.
It looks like the real star of Black Panther is not T’Challa, or Nakia, or even Okoye and her female fighting force. The real star of Black Panther seems to be the kingdom of Wakanda. It has caught the imagination of the world. Carvell Wallace wrote in the Washington Post, “What makes Wakanda so attractive is the fantasy of an African nation untouched by colonial influence.” Yes, but it’s more than that.
This fictional East African nation is intentionally hidden from the realities of a messed up world. The mysterious and expensive metal vibranium has made Wakanda prosper in a number of ways:
- It’s the most technologically advanced nation in the world.
- It offers free universal health care.
- It offers free education from kindergarten to university.
- It has one of the highest life expectancy rates on the planet.
- It has discovered the cure for cancer.
No wonder Wakanda is the star of the show! But in spite of all of her strengths, I think Wakanda has one glaring weakness. It’s a problem for imaginary kingdoms and it’s a bigger problem for “imaginary” Christians. It’s the problem of isolationism. The intentional or unintentional decision to separate from the people who need you the most. What do I mean?
Well, Wakanda’s answer to crime, confusion, and “colonizers” is to hide. That’s an oversimplification sure to rile some Wakandans, but it’s basically true. They won’t even allow their youth to attend non-Wakandan universities. King T’Challa was a rare exception.
Wakanda is right about the dangers of the world but it is wrong about the solution. Like many Christians in general and Adventists in particular, the answer to evil in the world is to hide in plain sight. It doesn’t work for at least 2 reasons.
It Hides The Benefits
Wakanda is rich and in need of nothing. That’s a call to responsible engagement. That’s exactly the point Nakia made early and often to T’Challa, the Black Panther. Wakanda had enough resources to help itself and others. That’s not just a word to Wakandans, that’s a word to the church.
In 2011, a major health study of more than 11,000 subjects confirmed that African American Adventists defy health disparities and experience a much better quality of life than average Americans-white or black. Life expectancy was even longer. It ain’t Wakanda but it’s significant!
Our unique combination of healthy living and practical spirituality is desperately needed in communities of color. But far too often they don’t get it because we “don’t get it.” There is no impact without contact. We can’t be salt and light if we’re not connected.
It Hurts The Benefactor
Isolationism presents another problem. It creeps back to kill you. You see it clearly in Killmonger, the villain of Black Panther. Killmonger grew up in the world that Wakanda neglected. They neglected him when his father was killed. They neglected him through his struggles as an orphan. He grew older and bitter, and he finally came home to destroy. They didn’t help, so they got hurt. The Bible records an almost identical story in the life of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20.
When you live disconnected from the real world, you generally stop offering help and start offering criticism. You live in an echo chamber. You’re hearing voices, but the voices you hear are your own. No criticism, no accountability, and becoming more useless by the minute.
T’Challa got it only after he’d lost his kingdom and almost lost his life. Wakanda was almost destroyed by a monster of their own making. Will we get it before it’s too late.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it. Comments, cracks, critiques, and criticisms are welcome.