What Are We Celebrating?

            I wonder what we are really celebrating this July 4 holiday weekend.

            My stomach turned this morning as I caught a whiff of Ray Charles singing, “America the Beautiful.” 

America, America

God shed His grace on thee!

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

            What “good” are we talking about? What was it in the past and what is it now? Is the “good” government – including its highest court – taking away the rights of American citizens? Yes, the overturn of Roe v Wade happened, taking away the right of a woman to carry or terminate a pregnancy. Women are not safe; if they spontaneously abort a fetus, they may be accused of murder and have to stand trial. If they are raped, the government – supported by the high court – will insist that they have that baby. There’s so much that is wrong with this ruling. I found myself last evening praying that my daughter, who has not yet been pregnant, does not end up having an ectopic pregnancy, or some other life-threatening condition – because this government has ruled that she cannot do anything that would save her life. It made me shudder …

            But this is not new. In the 19th century and going into the 20th, abortions were illegal and those who died trying to abort their fetuses were labeled criminals. (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/my-grandmothers-desperate-choice)

The whole situation is so scary that I can hardly think about it.

            But there’s more. The erosion of voting rights – again – is equally as painful. Voter suppression laws promise to make voting more difficult than ever for a large swath of the population. The right of women to vote may soon be attacked in this assault on the most primary right of American citizenship; some say women “may not need the right to vote.” (https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/politics/2021/10/22/ann-coulter-says-women-shouldnt-have-right-vote-19th-amendment-missouri-state-university/8528256002/)  That sentiment was expressed by John Adams in the aftermath of the writing of the Constitution. (https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1646) , and historically, many men felt that women “were not made to vote.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/07/womens-suffrage-nineteenth-amendment-pseudoscience/593710/)

The Court ruled that those not read their Miranda rights upon arrest cannot sue law enforcement for damages. ( https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article263028058.html)

The Court ruled that people have the right to carry weapons in public, striking down a law in New York that forbade people from carrying weapons outside of their homes. That ruling comes even as many lawmakers are calling for teachers to be armed following the latest mass shooting that occurred in Uvalde, Texas. Some say that teachers should be armed and that students should be trained in gun use as a graduation requirement. (https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/regional/florida/politician-wants-marksmanship-to-be-a-required-class-in-every-florida-public-high-school/77-a721adbe-a0d0-4e08-b747-4f92631e6b11). (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/23/us/supreme-court-ny-open-carry-gun-law.html)  

The right to peacefully assemble is being attacked in Ohio. (https://chroniclet.com/news/281560/gop-bill-would-target-ohio-protesters-with-terrorism-law/) The separation between church and state was weakened by a ruling by the Court that said private religious schools can receive public funding – a victory for those who formed private and religious schools to avoid having to comply with the ruling that separate but equal is unconstitutional in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education case. (https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2022/0621/Supreme-Court-ruling-Maine-s-religious-schools-can-get-public-money)

So, what are we doing? What are we celebrating? The rights of all of us are being attacked, eroded, and taken away. People fought in wars to protect the rights of Americans. Admittedly, those rights were never fully intended for Black and Brown and Jewish people, not for immigrants or Muslims or Jews – but the fact is, people in all of those categories fought in America’s wars because they believed in the principles of the US Constitution.

Who is going into this holiday feeling good and safe and secure about being an American in America? What is being celebrated? The country is moving into a fascist state, and that move is supported by a lot of people who do not yet realize that they, too, will eventually be affected by this erosion of rights. If all of us are not free, none of us are free, as Emma Lazarus noted in 1883, a statement quoted over and over again by people including Maya Angelou, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This is a strange time for everyone – even for those who do not yet realize it.

And that’s a sad and true reality.

Why Hearing the Word “Christian” Makes Me Sick

            Let me begin this piece by saying I love the story of Jesus the Christ. I love what the Jesus of the Gospels stands for. I love it that Jesus reached out to and accepted everyone – from disgraced women to diseased Gentiles. It was Jesus’ capacity to love and accept people, not judge and exclude them that made me love what Jesus stood for, even as a child.

            I grew up believing that we were supposed to love everyone because Jesus did. We didn’t have to like them, but we were obligated to love them. I grew up being taught that we were also to forgive everyone. It was a tough lesson, leading me to write one of my earliest books, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. Jesus’ capacity to say he forgave the people who lied on him and to him, who subjected him to a mock trial and ultimately sentenced him to death, was remarkable to me.

            I grew up believing that I would not be completely successful in trying to do what Jesus said to do – or maybe would not even come close – but I grew up committed to trying. It was my belief in what Jesus taught that made me understand that forgiving even the racists that worked to keep non-white people in spiritual, economic, and social bondage was necessary. And I believe that carrying that mandate within me helped me from becoming bitter about the things that certainly seem unchangeable in American society.

            But I learned that not all people learned the way of Jesus like I did. I learned that pastors in churches taught and preached from the pulpit the “rightness” of segregation and bigotry. I learned that people who said they believed in Jesus would stand in the doorways of their churches to keep non-white people from coming in. Gandhi experienced that and said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He made this statement after being prohibited from entering a Christian church in Calcutta by ushers who, as he tried to enter, told him he was not welcome because the church was just for high-caste Indians and white people. He was too brown and too poor.

            How in the world could anyone who professed to love Jesus do anything like that? And yet, it was common practice. Many who call themselves Christian believe that it is God’s will for them to discriminate against people of color. Many fought and still disbelieve in the concept of the necessity for all people to have civil and human rights. 

            I still shake my head when I think of the testimony of the late Sam Bowers, convicted in the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and also for the murder of  Vernon Dahmer, a Black man who dared register people to vote. Bowers, who became the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, shared that he had been told by God, in a Damascus Road experience (his words) to “save white supremacy.” Whose god is that?

            There are preachers who teach that attention to social justice – i.e., liberty and justice for all – is anti-Biblical, in spite of words in the text that say the opposite. They teach versions of the Great Commandment – that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and our neighbors as ourselves that make their students believe that loving and caring for each other is not required by God. I heard one preacher teach that the common understanding of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is wrong, that the lesson is about salvation, about getting right with Jesus, not extending love and assistance to someone, including and especially one whom you might not like or approve of.

            I am no longer puzzled but angry and offended at and by people who call themselves “Christian” but who use the name of the Christ to push and practice bigotry, exclusion, and hatred. I am angry that they are using the word “Christian” to describe actions that are clearly anti-Biblical and in violation of the very spirit of the Christ.

            Louis Gohmert made a statement that the mass shootings would stop if prayer was again required in public schools. (https://africa.businessinsider.com/politics/texas-rep-louie-gohmert-says-more-prayers-could-stop-mass-shootings-as-the-house/jy3bced) I disagree, but my observation is that Gohmert and others believe that the nationalist god and their religion – not Christianity at all – is the god to whom all should pay obeisance, a god who apparently does not care that so many people are suffering at the hands of people who say they despise big government but are advocating huge government to keep everyone under their control.

            My skin crawls when I hear the word “Christian” applied to people who believe in and practice exclusion and bigotry of any sort. I have a violent physical, emotional, and spiritual reaction to those who use the name of the Christ even as they make policies that would take freedom and dignity away from so many people. 

            There is no way I would or could pray to their god. It is not the same God that I worship and follow.

            This betrayal of the Gospel and the slander of Jesus’ name is not new; it has been a part of the American political and religious landscape since the time of this nation’s inception. I agree with Frederick Douglass, who said that Christian ministers …” strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion for the oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that pure and undefiled religion that is from above

            I don’t want any part of their god or their bible, both of which they have compromised to fit their racist, sexist, political, and ethnoreligious ideologies. They might be religious, but they are not Christian. At best they are religionists who have grabbed hold of the word “Christian” because they realize that Jesus the Christ did spread a message of empowerment that encouraged and strengthened all those who were left behind and left out. Their religion is based on dominating others and has done too much damage to too many people to allow it to be called Christianity or for them to call themselves Christian.

            They are imposters of the great religion and they defile the name and the work of the Christ.

            Jesus deserves better.

A candid observation …

We Are Not Safe

            Even as we approach the seventh anniversary of the tragic mass murder of Black people attending a Bible study class at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC by an angry white boy, the nation is experiencing the stench of its rancid white supremacy.

            In the 2015 Mother Emanuel massacre, the angry white boy was 21-year-old Dylann Roof. This weekend, Peyton Gendron, 18, joined the ranks when he stormed a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, and began shooting, killing 10 people.

            And even though reports say that police were “on the scene in minutes,” I found myself remembering a Civil Rights leader from the 60s, Diane Nash, describing how even as Black protesters and allies were beaten by angry white mobs, the police did nothing, often standing on the sidelines watching or worse, participating in the violence themselves.

            “We were not safe,” she said. “The police didn’t protect us.”

            Gendron, as apparently was the case with Roof, was driven by hatred of Black people and a fear that Black people, immigrants (of color) and Jews are on a mission to replace white people. A believer in the “Great Replacement Theory,”(GRT) this young man wrote a manifesto explaining his politics that has been being fed to white America by media outlets and personalities, most noticeably on Fox News by Tucker Carlson.

            When reading accounts of violent rampages carried out by white people on Black people in this country, there is always inclusion of “respectable” white citizens participating in the melees, including white law enforcement officers.  And recently, reports are being emphasized that show the percentage of white supremacist-believing individuals serving in the military and on police forces around the country. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/military/pentagon-report-warns-threat-white-supremacists-inside-military-n1258871) (https://newrepublic.com/article/162400/us-military-white-supremacy-problem) (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/09/white-supremacist-group-patriot-front-one-in-five-applicants-tied-to-us-military) (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/27/white-supremacists-militias-infiltrate-us-police-report)

            “We,” Black people are not safe. Nor are Brown people or Asians or members of the LGBTQIA and trans communities. “We” cannot call the police and expect to be protected. That has never been the case for us in this country. 

            We live in a culture of violence. Even though media personalities will say – and do say – as reports of racially-motivated violence erupt – that “this is not who we are,” the truth of the matter is that this is exactly who we are. We live in a culture of violence, glorified and revered from the days of our founding. We are the modern-day “cowboys and Indians” generation.

            That so many white people are afraid of being “replaced” is at issue. In a 2012 Atlantic article, author Ta-Nahisi Coates wrote that white fear of being paid back in kind for all they have done is real. (https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-avenger/262826/) It could be that white police officers cannot and do not protect Black people because in their hearts, they see themselves as the guardians of the white supremacist system under which they enjoy so many privileges.

            No Black life – or no saving or protecting of a Black life – is worth the risk of losing their upper hand.

            It is telling that so many white people – including white Christian pastors – have remained silent, and not surprising that Right Wing media have been quiet as well. Those who say they are pro-life are proving that they are not pro-life at all, but, rather, pro-fetus and pro white privilege.

            We are not safe. These angry white people – many of them mere boys – think they have a duty to protect white supremacy in general and white women in particular from Black men. Peyton Gendron is not sorry he killed innocent Black people. He believed it was his duty to do so.

            And because he is not alone, we, the non-white who live in this country, including Muslims and Jews and soon, women who are still young enough to reproduce – are not safe.

Watching a Government Wash Down the Drain

            Whenever I have my phone or keys in my hand, and I walk across a street drain, I clutch them more tightly. I have a fear of dropping them down a drain, making them forever irretrievable.

            Unfortunately, I cannot clutch the government of the country I’ve lived in all my life, the government of a country that made people want to come here and live because this government was believed to be better than so many others. Here there were freedoms and fair elections. This country was an idea and an ideal that people in other countries recognized as being special and rare. We called it a “democracy.”

            But it turns out that a fair number of Americans did not like or appreciate democracy, and it seems that they have resented “the experiment” for some time. The very pluralism that helped make America stand out was a source of irritation for many. It got in the way of the maintenance and growth of white supremacy, and that was not acceptable. (https://www.fordfoundation.org/news-and-stories/stories/posts/democracy-is-a-threat-to-white-supremacy-and-that-is-the-cause-of-america-s-crisis/)

            Since the 2016 election, this country has been on a downward spiral, with things like truth and ethics being washed away as lies and racial hatred and an almost hysteric series of actions designed to keep white people in power. Fox News has helped the process, but so has the mainstream media. The rights of Americans are being taken away, bit by bit, and are being lost in drains that move swirling waters of raw political ambition further and further away from even a chance of those rights being retrieved and saved.

            While the Republicans have been largely silent and have defended the attacks on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, calling what happened legitimate political discourse, they have been quick to condemn people in this country who for the most part have engaged in peaceful protests for their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms – including freedom of speech, religion, the press, and assembly.

            The only freedom for them that is sacrosanct to them is the freedom to bear arms, a freedom that leads to untimely and unnecessary death, not life, as they proclaim to support.

            It is probably not hyperbole to say that millions of Americans wake up every day to see if the Department of Justice is going to do something to plug the drains before there is so much water in them that the drains will overflow. But there is nothing, and the people who are running roughshod over the right of people to be treated as human beings are getting more and more emboldened. They are cocky about their capacity to be white in this country and get away with pretty much whatever they want, a sentiment that was expressed by one woman who participated in the insurrection who said she would not be arrested because she was “white with blonde hair and blue eyes.” (https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/jenna-ryan-convinced-she-wont-go-to-jail-apologizes-for-having-white-skin-blond-hair-12000445)

            All that is going on is part of the work to “make America great again,” but what people are yearning for was not great. It was filled with discrimination, racism, sexism and unfettered violence. It was a country that allowed and encouraged discrimination against people who were easily identifiable and not worry about being held accountable. It was a country that supported the rights of wealthy white men, primarily, who brought their women along although they treated them as objects just as they did non-white men and women.

            These people cannot be called Republicans. Or Christian. Or Conservative. They are nationalists, rabid supporters of white supremacy. In the current controversy about the renunciation of a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will (or can) carry a fetus, they are blind by their quest for white male domination, and unconcerned about “liberty and justice for all.” They believe not just in big government, but in enormous government, a government that controls every aspect of the lives of its citizens. They want control of women’s bodies, yes, but also control of a woman’s right to privacy, the right to use contraception, and a child’s right not to be forced to carry a fetus after having been raped by a stranger or family member.

            They want to end public education, get rid of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, raise taxes for the very poor, and make everyone practice the same religion. (https://thehill.com/homenews/media/581443-michael-flynn-says-of-the-us-we-have-to-have-one-religion/)

            We are watching it happen in real-time. Those who hate democracy, who ignore the Great Commandment that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves – a commandment that appeared in the Hebrew Scriptures and was repeated by Jesus -are on a mission. The United States Supreme Court is not a believer in liberty and justice for all; it is and has always been, a political tool used to uphold and protect white supremacy, which attacks not only the rights of Black people, but of Brown and Asian and Indigenous Americans, women, and anyone whom they think is not “American” enough. Women, even white women, are not protected from white male nationalism. They will see, but by then, it will be too late.

            When something falls into a drain, the rushing water pushing it along, there is a sense of hopelessness as you reach and try to catch it before it gets out of reach. But the water is strong and the drain is there; your phone or keys or glasses are gone forever.

            If we can plug the drain, if we can put something over the grid to slow the water down, we may save democracy. But we had better move more quickly than we have. The storm of white nationalism is getting more and more intense, and we are all at risk.

A candid observation …

My Struggle with the Bullied God

            It is not a wise thing to share struggles one has with one’s religion or one’s God, especially if one is an ordained minister, and yet, that is where I am.

            My stomach turns when I hear people say, “The Bible says…” or “Scripture says…” I find myself scowling and thinking, “Which Bible are you speaking of?” I have watched throughout my life people quoting scripture and at the same time showing hatred and disrespect for fellow human beings. It has always made my blood boil, but more now.

            I was repulsed when people who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, stopped to pray, lift up holy hands, and call on “the Lord Jesus.” Again, the question for me was, “whose Jesus?” Certainly not the Jesus of the Gospel, the Jesus who taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, the Jesus who reached out to include the marginalized and ignored. So, to whom, exactly, were they referring?

            It was probably the same Jesus that Sam Bowers, who was the co-founder and the first Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan worshiped. Bowers shared that he had a Damascus Road experience where God told him to save white supremacy. That was to be his ministry. Bowers was a church-going man who gathered murderers-in-training for prayer and fasting before they would go on their sprees to intimidate, terrorize, and murder Black people, Jews, and those whom he believed were Communists.

Bowers was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering Vernon Dahmer, a Black man who registered Black people to vote, but before that, he had spent six years in federal prison for the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. He apparently loved “the Lord Jesus.”

            God, it seems, has been remarkably amenable to being manipulated. White nationalists manipulate the deity, as do members of other dominant groups, and God seemingly is OK with it. There is no one group of people that is less likely to manipulate God. It seems that the powerful are the ones who not only define society, its rules, mores, and customs, but also God and what is required to be “holy” in the sight of their God. They make their power their god.

            The subjugation of people is not unique or new; white nationalists are part of a bloodline of those who oppress people, using violence, in order to hold onto power. Walter Wink notes in Engaging the Powers: “The Romans subjugated the Jews and attempted to destroy the Christian church. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church fought and subjugated the Gnostics, inquisitors subjugated witches, the Germans murdered the Jews and the Jews, who suffered so hideously at the hands of Hitler, now subjugate and murder the Palestinians.” That’s not a popular thing to say, but it is true.  Again according to Wink, Marc Ellis, a Jewish writer, wrote, “The tragedy of the Holocaust is indelibly ingrained in our consciousness. Contemporary Jewish theology helps us to come to grips with our suffering; it hardly recognizes that today we are powerful. It holds in tension Holocaust and the need for empowerment. Consequently, it speaks eloquently for the victims of Treblinka and Auschwitz yet can ignore Sabra and Shatila.” (pp. 200-201)

            What we worship is power and money, not God; that means that money and power are, for us, God. And it is maddening. It seems that those with power and money bully God into submission, and God acquiesces! God, the Creator of all, is silent in the face of horrendous suffering. Those who worship money and power credit God for the murderous actions they take against people who threaten or challenge them; they say God is the source of the suffering of human beings who are accosted, afflicted, and assaulted by, again, human beings. God brought Hurricane Katrina, they say, to punish members of the LGBTQIA community; God is the force behind the abject poverty of Haiti because its Black leaders dared to fight against white oppression and win. God is the author of segregation and not only created but approved of slavery. The power people say all of that and more and God, the bullied God, says and does nothing.

            The God of the powerful is not a deity that believes in mercy and love and forgiveness. No, their God is one who sanctions those who judge others based on human definitions of wickedness and sin. The Jesus of the Gospel, who said to the woman caught in the act of adultery “Go and sin no more” is absent for the powerbrokers. That Jesus is not the Jesus people in power refer to or respect. 

            The Bible doesn’t help. The Bible was written by men in power, and in this so-called sacred text, we see misogyny, sexism, toxic masculinity, racism, classism, and far too much violence. And while so many refer to the Bible as the go-to text for all they say and do, it is a tainted text that has been manipulated to support power. The Negro Bible, also called The Slave Bible was written by white people who wanted to keep enslaved Black people in their place and not get the idea that God was a deity who supported their quest for freedom and equity. Whole books of the Bible were taken out of this special text created especially for the enslaved.

            And so I struggle. The god of white nationalists is not the God of the Bible, but the Bible isn’t all that sacred, seeing as how people have willfully distorted, changed, and manipulated the words contained within its pages at will. There is a flagrant and blatant disregard of the Great Commandment – that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and our neighbors as ourselves – and there is little fear that ignoring that command will result in any consequences.  The bullied God says and does nothing, and the powers and principalities continue doing exactly what they want.

            In 1953, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King warned against the “false God of nationalism.” It is that god that is running the politics of this country, or that is at least being quiet as this country continues to run roughshod over “the least of these.” 

            “The least of these” need some victories, victories that cannot and will not be overturned by political operatives, including the US Supreme Court. Even as human beings deride, disrespect, and disregard the rights and needs of so many people, the Creator God of us all really needs to stand up and stay up and fight the good fight against those who have made bullying God their favorite pastime.