Look What They’ve Done to Christianity

            I wrote before that I get a bad feeling when I hear people say “Christian.” 

The Christianity I was taught in Sunday School is nothing like I have seen Christianity being practiced – now or even in history.

            I have been singing, for some reason, “Look What They’ve Done to my Song.” The words are sticking with me: 

Look what they’ve done to my song, ma
Look at what they’ve done to my song, ma
It was the only thing I could do half right
And it’s turning out all wrong, ma, look
What they’ve done to my song

            Those who have been calling themselves “Christian” have for the longest time been assaulting the religion of the Christ. While they brag about being “Christian,” their actions tell of allegiance to a force that has nothing to do with the lessons of Jesus the Christ.

            We had grown used to it in primarily white, conservative, evangelical denominations and congregations, but now those who call themselves “Christian” nationalists have come front and center stage.

These people have a religion – i.e., they have a set of beliefs to which they adhere – and they believe in and worship a superhuman controlling power, as those who practice religion must do. But their “superhuman controlling powers are money and power. They believe in the power of individuals, not communities. They believe in a militant and muscular God, a God who apparently supports the “isms” of this world, including racism and sexism, militarism and materialism and extremism. They believe in and support the “phobias” so many people relate to – including Islamophobia, Transphobia and homophobia. The nationalists are not devoid of beliefs and it is important to note that, but though many worship in church buildings and are in “Christian” denominations, their beliefs bear little resemblance to the religion I have come to know as “Christianity.”

            To be honest, a study of Christianity shows that it has been far away from the fundamental beliefs taught by Jesus for some time. God the parent and Jesus the son were made to be the proponents of conquest and domination, not liberation, justice, and freedom for all whom God created. The religion of Jesus was about community and relationship building between people who would naturally not communicate with each other, but those values were a minimized component of the religion that evolved from Jesus’ time.

            Central to this alternate view of Christianity is the need for violence; this violence has been central to the foundation of Christianity as we know it for thousands of years. The belief is that Christianity was set up as the army of God, sent by God to conquer nations and peoples. Neither the scope nor the depth of the brutality meted out to people seemed to bother those who aligned themselves with the belief that it was God’s will that they dominate all people and all nations. Walter Wink noted that violence “is the first resort in conflicts.” Ironically, he said, “we learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace.” This violence is good, they believe. It is called “redemptive violence.”

            The ideology of this religion (nationalism) of conquest has been damaging and painful to so many people who have flocked to churches looking for a good, kind, accepting, forgiving God. On the contrary, they have found – in the most devout church-going people – hatred, prejudice, judgment, and a belief in the “rightness” of their tendency to tear people down. In their quest for domination, using violence as a means to get it, they are doing God’s will. All of us have received lessons of the oppressor’s religion; all of us, or maybe many of us, grew up singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and have not given those lyrics a second thought. As long as the masses of people have not thought about the theology they’ve been taught and the implications of it as well as its contradiction of what Jesus taught, they have practiced their religion with little difficulty. It did not, or has not, bothered them that their practice of religion has turned many people off and away from God and from church. Those who continued to go to churches that adhered to this kind of bigoted, violence-based religion, suffered and struggled with their questions; those who did not believe as they did simply stayed away.

            But now there’s a move on for there to be “one religion” for this country – that of the religious nationalists. As they work to erode the rights of nearly everyone, there is little pushback against what they are doing. There is a feeling of self-righteousness as they, for example, push for “prayer” in schools – but what they’re not saying is that it is highly unlikely that the “prayers” of any religion other than that of the nationalists will be acceptable. They have said that there needs to be one religion in this country and that religion is nationalism. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/15/politics/michael-flynn-one-religion/index.html)

            The religion of Jesus was one that liberated people, one that taught people that God, their creator, wanted them to be free from laws that were unjust and oppressive and one that taught them that they were loved, regardless of who they were, what they had done, or their social class or race. Jesus’ power was what it was because his religion was one that embraced all people, including “the least of these.” His teachings taught that all whom God created were precious in God’s sight and worthy of being treated as such.

            But the religion of the nationalists, and actually the Christianity that has historically upheld and practiced bigotry, hatred, racism, sexism, and all other forms of judgment against certain people, contradicts what Jesus taught. Nationalists seek power and control, and they worship capitalism more than they honor and respect God. Their greed cancels out their capacity for grace, and their arrogance makes them unable to have “eyes that see” that Jesus said we should all strive to have.

            I cannot see where the Jesus of the Bible would condone the hatred and violence, and the elevation of the former president to the status of a god, more important than the lives of the masses of people in this country and their well-being. They should stop using “Christian” to describe their religion, because in principle and by Jesus’ own tenets, their religion is not what Jesus came to earth to bring.

            Better that we are honest and call nationalism what it is: a religion that has as its core beliefs violence, domination, and control. That is not the religion of Jesus the Christ.

© Susan K Smith

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 …