Our Slip is Showing

In the “old days,” women would wear slips under their dresses and/or skirts; to not do so was considered a violation of proper modesty. The slip could be whole or what was called a “half slip,” which was, as the name indicates, a garment that hung from the waist down.

Half slips were notorious for not being cooperative. You would get what you thought was your size, and the slip would be fine for a while, but sooner or later the elastic around the waist would wear, and the slip would not stay in place.

In variably, the slip would hang below the hem of the skirt or dress, and some other sympathetic woman would whisper, “Your slip is showing.”

I thought about that as I have been watching what has been going on in our government. Our foundation is one which was built on racism and sexism. Though we were purported to be a democracy, the Founding Fathers seemed to have disdain for the idea of too much power coming from the people. This government was always about elevating and keeping some in power, and about keeping other people down. According to Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States, four groups of people were not represented in the Constitutional Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women and men without property.” (p. 91) Even at the inception of this “great democracy” the value system was firmly in place: the rich were to run the country and to maintain their power and increase their wealth by exploiting the working poor. Writes Zinn: “the Declaration functioned to mobilize certain groups of Americans, ignoring others.” “The American people” was never the masses, but was really the small group of wealthy, white, male landowners…”We the people,” a phrase coined by Governor Gouverneur Morris did not mean Indians or blacks or women or white servants.”

Charles Beard, a 20th century historian, wrote in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution  that “the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates.”

If we read and study this history of America, we might not get quite as agitated as some of us are in the present day as we watch what is going on in our government. We are abiding by traditional American political history. That history is not a stellar one; it is fraught with discrimination and bias, with government allowing for and even sanctioning those who do what they think best in order to keep the moneyed class in power, to keep the oligarchy intact.

And while it has not gotten as much attention as the escapades that have been going on in and around the White House, the sexism that was written into our Constitution is rearing its ugle head as well. The House constructed a health care bill that is sure to have devastating effects on many, including women. In their work to craft this bill, a picture appeared having only white men in the White House, deciding whether or not maternity care and mammograms should be considered to be “essential” health issues to be covered under the Republican bill. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/03/trump-health-care-summit-white-guys)

As this administration barrels through proposals that will hurt so many people, it seems that her slip is showing – a slip which includes her racism, sexism, and paternalism at the least. With these people in power, poverty will increase, as will mass incarceration; voting rights are in danger of being seriously compromised, and anyone who challenges the policies stands the possibility of being sanctioned. These people in power are not unlike, it seems, the Founding Fathers, who envisioned a country run by a small group of wealthy white men who controlled everyone and everything.

The slip which is America’s undergarment has been soiled by the dust that comes from such injustice, but it is America’s legacy. Those in power do not worry or care about if the slip is showing, but, rather, only that it stay in place in order to maintain – or in this case, regain – the status quo.

It’s called “making America great again.”

A candid observation.

No Place of Justice for the Masses

As an American who absorbed the civic lessons about the government – its three branches which were put in place by the framers of the Constitution to insure that our government would be a democracy of the highest order – I grew up thinking that when all failed for people who were looking for justice, there would always be the United States Supreme Court. I grew up believing that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was a place where anyone in trouble could find justice. Even the titles of these federal agencies brought a sense of comfort. When all else failed , there would always be something in our government which would protect the poor, the innocent and the forgotten.

But as I have grown older, I have been disappointed, over and over again, as I have watched the Court, for the most part, protect the interests of the government. In spite of the banter about the justices not being partisan, they have seemingly too often been aligned with the government and particular political parties.  I was stunned when I read that U.S. Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote, in the Dred Scott decision that there “were no rights of a black man that a white man is bound to respect.” I was stunned and hurt to learn that in the Buck v. Bell case, where a attorneys were fighting the right of an institution to forcibly sterilize people whom powers that be thought to be “feebleminded” that a former president of the United States, William Howard Taft, served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the constitutionality of states carrying out the procedures. In that case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, considered by some to be this nation’s finest legal mind, aligned himself with his opinion that eugenics was a right thing in order to create a perfect race of people, and he wrote against Buck and her case. Buck was poor and a victim of the heinous belief system of eugenicists, which was popular in the 1920s, and Holmes wrote, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

There have been times, for sure, when the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on behalf of a marginalized group of people. Brown v. Board of Education is probably the best known, when the Court ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, and the ever controversial Roe v. Wade ruled on behalf of women who declared that they, not the state, have a right to choose what they do with their bodies, but for too many cases, there has been no legal protection for the marginalized, not in local and state courts, and certainly not in federal courts.

If it is true that the Constitution was and is a magnificent document – and it really was – it is also true that too often, the tenets of that document have been woefully ignored. Among those tenets is the principle that all Americans were entitled to have speedy trials tried by a “jury of their peers.” And yet, in case after case, American courts have tried African Americans in trials which have had all-white juries, where black people have been deliberately excluded – and that is, if they have had a trial at all. Far too often, black people have only had to have been accused of a crime and a lynch mob has come and dragged them out of jail cells before a trial was ever held, killing them on the lawns of court houses or sometimes, in the deep woods – and none of these people have ever been arrested or held accountable.

It is a scary and real thought that there is no place where you might find justice in this land which some say is a “nation of laws.” It would be better to say that it is a nation of laws for those who can afford to pay for justice. Adam Cohen, in his book Imbeciles: The Supreme Court,American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, notes that the justice system in many cases has failed to adhere to the principle contained in the Hammurabi Code, which teaches that “the purpose of law is tonsure that the strong do not harm the weak.” That has not been the case, not in this country or elsewhere. Those who apply the law have been in too many cases totally biased and blind to the justice desired by “the least of these.” As Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said that it is true that life is better for an individual if he is “rich and guilty” than “poor and innocent.”

That fact leaves little room to believe in the justice system. In fact, that fact belies the reality that the ideal and the real too often do not intersect, and that despite the lofty words contained in our written documents, justice for many is simply not going to a reality. The poor, the left out and the left behind are just out of luck in this “land of the free and home of the brave.”

A candid observation …

 

The Definition of Strength

It has always seemed to me that the common definition of strength is not what it really is.

Many Americans this morning are celebrating that force is being used in the war-torn Middle East. The missiles fired on Syria were supposedly dropped because the administration, specifically, the president, were horrified by images of people who had been hit with a deadly gas.

Then, the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) was dropped in Afghanistan, killing a some members of ISIS.

Many Americans are rejoicing. They are saying that the moves made by the administration show “strength.” People are saying, “we are back in the game again.”

The game? What …game? Is it really a game that we seem to be on the brink of a deadly war?

Diplomacy, I guess, is a punk technique. In the presence of ISIS, the only way to handle this is to “bomb the —- out of them.” The way of the Empire is to engage in war, to force change by killing innocent people and destroying other countries.

People have been absolutely incensed with former President Obama for not engaging in war. It made him and the United States look weak, they say.

But this new president – this is the Popeye against the Brutus called terrorism. He really believes he can destroy ISIS with bombs.

Meanwhile, he is hurting his own people by proposing budget cuts that affect programs that help the poor, the elderly, and children.

It doesn’t matter, though. He does not see the irony of him and his administration being outraged about Syrians treated badly by their government while his own government is treating his own people badly, under the sanction of the law.

All that matters is that he is showing “strength” in a conflict which seemingly has no end. Americans will run to participate in a war against an idea, and in a war which has such deep roots that not even the strongest nuclear weapon would be effective.

Is it arrogance or hubris that makes a nation “strong?” That seems to be the message. In a world in which so many people profess to believe in Christianity, which touts the formation and preservation of community, the basic Christian message seems to be disposable.

Refraining from force is perceived as being weak. The strong do all they can to maintain power, a mindset which inevitably causes the less fortunate (or “weak”) to be trampled upon. The deployment of force is held more dear than is the exercise of compassion and restraint.

So, this American president is standing on a platform, beating his chest, bragging about his strength. He is Popeye; his “spinach” is the belief that using force means or defines that very strength.

Meanwhile, the huddled masses, here and around the world, will be trounced upon, and nobody seems to care.

So much for strength.

A candid observation …

Whose God is the God of the Evangelicals?

I am sick. Not because Donald Trump is leading the pack of GOP candidates, but because he has such a large following, presumably including a large swath of “white evangelicals.”

I am sick because white religion has always seemed estranged from the Gospel that I read, and I am sick because it is those religious people who are crying out for the America that “used to be.”

Why do I say they have seemed estranged? Because it has been white evangelicals who, historically, have supported white supremacy. They have not fought for justice for black people; they have, instead, supported policies that kept black people marginalized. They have fought to keep black people confined to the lowest economic rungs of this economy. They fought to keep segregated schools; they fought to suppress the right to vote from blacks, and in fact, worked hard to keep them from voting. They required that black people defer to them; they would not support laws that prevented lynching (an anti-lynching bill has never been passed in this nation.) They have supported mass incarceration. And yet, they worship the God who had a son named Jesus, who required believers to do good “to the least of these.”

Ironically, many white evangelicals have pooh-poohed the idea that they have treated black people poorly. They point to the fact that there is welfare to help the poor (though they want to eliminate welfare and say that black people are lazy, completely ignoring that it has been white people who created policies and practices that kept black people from securing gainful employment.) As a sort of the sick reasoning that had white slaveholders saying that slavery was “good” for black people, the economic policies of today, which keep black and poor people in debt represent a sort of extension of that mindset, and are looked upon as “gifts” to a people who many religious white people think are dumber and less capable than white people.

They are opposed to diversity; I read a story that said that many white people believe diversity is genocide directed against white people. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/01/12/racists-struggling-raise-money-white-genocide-billboard) They seem not to care about the abject condition of urban schools; they seem not to care much about the fact that so many black, brown and poor people cannot make a living wage.

And they, they go to church and say they believe in Jesus.

They are supporting Donald Trump because they want the country to be like it was: openly racist, a place where whites could stomp on the lives, the rights, and the dignity of black people with little pushback. They want the country back that relegated black people to the lowest rungs of life, even as they squeezed labor out of them for the most paltry of wages. Many of them believe that God intended for this country to be “the white man’s country,” and they worked to support and spread segregation. (See Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, by Carolyn Renee Dupont, p. 92)

There are too many people of color in this country now, they believe; there are too many changes going on, and white evangelicals are afraid and resentful. White evangelicals resent the granting of rights to members of the LGBTQ community, and they are outraged that same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. They likewise revolted when the United States Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, and ordered that public schools be integrated. Many municipalities closed their public schools rather than integrated. But the changes …they are troubling to white evangelicals who believed they knew and know what God wants. That’s why they don’t care that Donald Trump really isn’t “religious.” They don’t care that he knows so little about the Bible that he can say “two Corinthians,” belying his ignorance of the Bible. They don’t care that he said he has never asked God for forgiveness, when forgiveness is a central tenet of Christian belief. (http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/)

In the 60s, white evangelicals in the South fought those who worked for civil rights, be they white or black. In Mississippi,  white evangelical Christians “arrested local activists, stalled voter registration, intimidated black citizens by bombing their homes and churches.” (Mississippi Praying, p. 183) White ministers who tried to support the efforts of blacks to gain basic human rights were called out …by the evangelicals …who said those ministers were not ministers but were outside agitators…”

The history of white evangelicals when it comes to granting dignity and equity to black people simply has not been good.

And now, many of them are Islamophobic; they support the building of a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out; they believe in the rightness of mass incarceration and are dismayed that their “values” are being trounced over.

Who needs values like that, values that demean and diminish the right of all of God’s people to live with dignity? And whose God do they worship? Whose God allows such hatred and such a capacity to marginalize fellow human beings? The Rev. CT Vivian, of whom I am writing an authorized biography, posed that question in a sermon he preached. “Whose God is God?” he asks. I now understand why he asked it..

It doesn’t matter much that Donald Trump is as he is; it is troubling that people who purport to read the same Bible as do I, who talk about the “love of the Lord Jesus” are so capable of doling out that love as they wish, leaving the apparent will of God behind.

Or so it seems.

A candid observation…

Unequal Justice Under the Law

A group of faith leaders from across the country invited by Sojourners, an evangelical organization, sat spellbound this week at the Equal Justice Initiative as a man who sat on Death Row for 30 years for a crime he did not commit told his story. The room was silent except for the sniffles that resulted from tears which could not be contained.
Anthony Ray Hinton was 29 years old when, in 1985 his life changed forever. His mother had asked him to cut the lawn at their home; the two lived together in a residence near Birmingham, Alabama, and Hinton begrudgingly acquiesced to his mother’s request. As he mowed the lawn, he noticed two white men drive up to his house, park their car, and get out. It was strange; white people didn’t often just show up in the black part of town.
“They came up to me,” Hinton said to the group of faith leaders, “and asked me if I was Anthony Ray Hinton. I said, “yes, sir,” and they said I was under arrest.” Hinton recalled being surprised. He had done nothing wrong; he knew that, so although he was caught off guard at being arrested, he was fairly sure that the confusion would be cleared up shortly and he could get back to his life. He had no idea, however, of how life had just thrown him a curve ball that would shatter life as he had known it.
They took Hinton to the unmarked car in which they had driven and put him inside, handcuffed. Hinton continued to ask what he had done, and the police officer ignored him for several minutes. When he finally answered, he said that Hinton was being charged with first degree capital murder. Two people at a fast food restaurant had been shot and killed, and another injured. Hinton objected; he had done no such thing, but the officer was unmoved.
“He said I probably hadn’t done it but that he didn’t care,” Hinton said. There were a total of five charges being thrown at Hinton. In addition to the two murders, there was a charge of attempted murder (another person had been shot but had survived) and two robbery charges. “That officer turned to me and said, “You’re going to be convicted, boy. Do you know why? Because you’re black. Because you’re poor. Because the prosecutor will be white. Because the jury will be white. And because the judge will be white.”
The officer was correct. Hinton went to trial. He was appointed an attorney by the court, and, Hinton remembers, the young white man said to him upon meeting him, “I didn’t go to law school to try pro-Bono cases.” Already things were looking bad for Hinton, who, by the way, had been at work when the shootings occurred. His mother’s gun was said by the State to have been the murder weapon; a forensics “expert” had no experience in doing ballistics, did not know how to use the machine used for ballistics testing, and could not see. The all-white jury, in the court presided over by the white judge, supported the case presented by the white prosecutor who had been accused of shoddy work and unjust practices in cases involving black people in the past…and found Hinton guilty and he was sentenced to death.
At first he was too stunned to really conceptualize what had happened to him. “I kept wondering how an innocent man could be in prison sentenced to death,” he said. It didn’t make sense. What he held onto was a faith and the hope that the truth would come out. He meditated on what he said became his favorite scripture, Mark 11:24, which says, “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayers, believe that you have received it, and it shall be yours.”
And so he prayed. Fifteen years into his sentence, he heard of Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson’s organization has a legacy of unearthing injustice in the justice system which puts too many people of color, and too many children, in prison for life or sentenced to die. Stevenson had heard of Hinton’s case, and when he was contacted, decided to take the case on after talking with his newest client.
It was imperative, Hinton knew, to prove that the bullets that killed the two men could not have come from his mother’s gun. He was sure that if that case could be made, no court would deny him justice. He says he told Stevenson, “I know attorneys don’t like for clients to tell them what to do, but I want you to get a ballistics expert.”
Stevenson smiled and said he had every intention of doing that.
But Hinton stopped him. “No,” he said. “You don’t understand. I want you to get three ballistics experts. I want them to be white men. I want them to be from the South. And I want them to be for the death penalty.” Stevenson paused as he considered the brilliance and the wisdom of what Hinton was asking, and knew it was the right strategy. He agreed; he got three ballistics experts, two from Texas and one from Virginia. All three concluded that the bullets that killed the two men did not come from – could not have come from – Hinton’s mother’s gun.
Stevenson and his client thought they were in the fast lane to justice …but they were wrong. For 16 years, every court to which Stevenson presented the new and compelling evidence denied Hinton a new trial. It finally came to the fork in the road that led to the United States Supreme Court. Stevenson told Hinton that if the nation’s highest court didn’t rule in their favor, it would be rough going from then on out.
The Supreme Court did, however, rule in Hinton’s favor and overturned his conviction and granted him a new trial. The Alabama court system, however, decided not to pursue the case, and after 30 years sitting on Death Row in a tiny cell with only a bed and a toilet, cooped up for 23 hours a day, Hinton was released in April of 2015.
Finally.
We the faith leaders listened in awe. In spite of his horrific experience, Hinton made jokes (he said his sense of humor, plus his faith, helped him survive.) He talked about how he still sleeps in a fetal position, though he has purchased a king-sized bed, because for 30 years, he had to sleep like that on a bed that was too short for his 6’4” frame. He shared how he still gets up at 3 a.m. because on Death Row, breakfast is at 3 a.m. every day. He talked about how his imagination, in addition to his faith, kept him alive and lucid.
He attributed his freedom, so long coming, to God. God, he said, sent Bryan Stevenson. God knew…and God came to him.
“I am a Job,” he said, referring to the Biblical character who suffered unjustly. “I know for a fact that there is a God who sits high and looks low.”
The purpose of the retreat convened by Sojourners was to immerse faith leaders in issues of injustice inherent in mass incarceration, child sentencing, and policing. Hinton’s story was the spear thrust into preconceptions and misconceptions that many faith leaders see deal with in their work in churches and other ministries.
Hinton’s story served as a reminder that “the least of these” are in front of us, under the guise of justice. As Hinton finished his story, wiping tears from his eyes, so did we, the faith leaders, as we stood on our feet to applaud – his survival, his stubborn, crazy faith …and the reminder that their work to fight injustice is every before us.

A candid observation …