The Slave Bible: The Unfortunate Reality of Competing Theologies

             As a “person of faith,” I have long struggled with trying to understand why racism persists and why God, whom I call “good,” allows it. I am angry at those who adhere to, believe in and practice white supremacy. I find myself angry when I walk around and see white people who don’t have to worry about their safety just because of their color; I envy the white mothers who do not have to worry about their sons being shot by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later. I am angry that white supremacy includes discrimination not only against blacks, but for all people of color, women, and people of different sexualities. I am angry that the outrage from this president was very subdued following the mass murder at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and that he said nothing at all about the two black people, one man, one woman, shot and killed by a crazed white man, who had such disregard for black people that he thought nothing of killing the man in front of his 12-year-old grandson. I am angry that so many white people don’t have a clue as to what people of color have to think about on a daily basis.

In my anger, I still struggle. I think it shows the insensitivity of white people when they say things that are offensive to black people and immediately scoff at the notion that they might be racist, and call their statements a “joke.” What they say is not funny, and worse, they know exactly what they are doing and saying. (https://www.nbcnews.com/video/hyde-smith-defends-public-hanging-comment-in-mississippi-senate-debate-1376441923880?v=raila&) I am offended that the Brian Kemp, the newly-elected governor of Georgia, won through a calculated strategy of voter suppression, and I am angry that not only is he not repentant about it but that few members of the GOP spoke against what he was doing. He says he’s “moving on,” which can’t be hard to do in that he accomplished his goal of basically manipulating the governorship from Stacey Abrams by using his power as the Georgia Secretary of State.

I am angry that African American people continue to bear the brunt of unequal treatment; I am angry that the bulk of people in prison are African American, largely because of the “war on drugs,” and I am angry that so many white people are “afraid” of who they believe to be “bad” people while concurrently are supportive of whites who now have permission to sell marijuana, the “crime” for which so many African Americans wound up in prison.

There’s more …but my point is that I have struggled with trying to find God in all of this. I wonder why God allows evil to exist, yes, but I especially wonder why God has allowed white supremacy to linger as a force in this world. I wonder why God does not and has not shut this ideology down, which is a travesty to the cause of the “beloved community.” Oppressed people all over the world wonder about God and suffering; I remember a little girl who, when Pope Francis visited her country, cried as she asked the pope why God allowed children to suffer? (http://www.catholicdigest.com/from-the-magazine/ask-father/201611-07why-does-god-permit-innocent-children-to-suffer/)

I struggle because there is a Bible which supposedly we all use – but I learned last week that in the 1800s, white slaveowners developed what they called “The Slave Bible.” (https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2018/february/freedom-in-christ-how-this-bible-was-used-to-manipulate) It was brought to the attention of a group of us sitting in a session of a conference on poverty, led by Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the co-chair of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival. It was she who pointed out that this Bible, on display at the National Bible Museum in Washington, D.C., was carefully constructed by whites who wanted enslaved blacks to remain “in their place.” This bible omits the story of the Exodus. It eliminates many of the prophets and in the book of Revelation, it has no mention of freedom or a “new heaven and new earth.” Their object, said Theoharis, was to make sure black people didn’t get the notion that God was on their side, that God was a supporter of freedom for all.

There were a couple of issues for me. First, I felt betrayed for some reason. The Bible, I was taught, was a holy book. I have often said that it would never happen that the Bible could be re-written, because of its holiness – but clearly, that was not the case. White supremacists, for all of their twisted beliefs in what God allows, are very insecure and will do (and have done) all they could to maintain their power. But to learn that they changed the Bible to support their ideology was a shock, and I don’t really know why.

This new nugget of knowledge made me disrespect even more the white evangelical subset of this society. As they have ostensible ignored their so-called commitment to “family values” in supporting a president who lies, who disrespects women and the Constitution of this country, I have been bothered and troubled. I have long wondered how they and anyone who oppresses others can justify their actions in that we (I thought) have one Bible with one set of rules and laws for us all. But that has not historically been the case, and those who were taught from the Slave Bible learned “scriptures” in a different way than I could ever have imagined. The bible of the slaveowners was meant for enslaved Africans, but clearly, it was familiar to white people and used by them as well. Enslaved Africans, it should be noted, rejected what this bible taught them as they 1) heard sermons delivered by abolitionists who preached that God was good, that he believed in freedom for all, and that slavery was wrong, and 2) enslaved Africans learned to read, and they were able to learn themselves what was in the untampered “holy book.”

We are all products of our upbringing and whites who believe in white supremacy were raised to believe that way. They have not disappeared and will not any time soon, but wouldn’t it be great if God would just put a holy hand on the earth and push this horrendous ideology out of existence?

Competing theologies have contributed to the national and international disgrace called white supremacy. The people who believe in and practice white supremacy believe they are right and they believe that God ordains and sanctions their actions. Apparently, the Slave Bible helped them get to where they are, and that is troubling.

A candid observation …

Big Government Be Damned?

OK. So Nancy Pelosi says Republicans are anti-government ideologues. My question: So why do they run for office?

If one does not believe in government, then what do such political candidates believe in? Why spend literally millions of dollars to be elected to office? Why are they there?

What do these anti-government ideologues want? They don’t want the government to do anything for the underdogs of our society.  They prefer for the private sector to do that, some kind of way. But doesn’t the private sector, businesses, want to make money most of all, and are pretty much not concerned with the well-being of those who do the work?

President Calvin Coolidge said that the business of government is business. Some have said that democracy and capitalism, as two belief sets, are not compatible. Democracy as we have come to understand it, or the way many interpret it, is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We who believe in democracy have internalized that to mean ALL people.

But capitalism is different. Capitalism seems to adhere more to the line of thought which promotes the “survival of the fittest.” Capitalists scorn those who cannot “make it,” and do not believe that democracy is supposed to mean that everybody can and should get the same benefits. Capitalists promote the thought that the only reason some people don’t make it is because they do not try, especially in America.

True, there are more opportunities for attaining the so-called “American Dream” in these United States, but some people really try to make it and just cannot. Maybe it’s because of extenuating circumstances or personality flaws, but maybe it’s because of something called discrimination. Surely that cannot be ruled out, no?

If it were not for government, people who have dealt with discrimination wouldn’t have had any protection, it seems. Blacks, browns, women …have all had to call on government for help and fairness when business and/or society would not budge. Government acted …albeit slowly …to insure a more level playing field for those who had been essentially pushed off to the sidelines.

So, there IS a need for government.

So, if there was no “big government,” what would happen to those who are making their way to center field now? Would there be a repeat of post-Reconstruction, when blacks, who had made political and economic gains were essentially pushed back into legalized slavery in the system known as “convict leasing?”

The federal government really stayed out of the Southern states after Reconstruction got underway, and slowly, state governments began to return their society to the way it had been before. The powers that be didn’t want blacks, and certainly not women, to have the opportunities that white men had. They didn’t even think blacks should have been freed from slavery.

Big government, then, has its place, it would seem. When people are trying to make money, they want to make money, not babysit or placate people who are having a hard time making it. They want the most work for the least buck, period. Without a big government that cares about people, many ordinary folks would just be out of luck.

That’s not to take away the fact that some people are extremely skillful at pushing against the resistance that comes with pursuing any dream. Some people just will not quit, and they deserve to move ahead. Vince Lombardi once said “winning isn’t everything but it is the only thing.” That is the mantra for many people and it works.

But some people with a little less chutzpah, or a whole lot more discrimination working against them, need help. Heck, even the most tenacious people need help. So if that help comes from big government, that should be OK.

Of course, this conversation is kind of superfluous. Everybody calls on government once in a while, whether or not one is pro or anti-big government. Everyone has a sense of entitlement when something catastrophic happens; then we want our government to kick into gear, and be BIG.  If the government does not, we get indignant.

But we tend to only understand, as human beings, our own needs, and cast the needs of others aside. We don’t even want to think about the “have-nots” too much; we avoid really getting to know why they are where they are, because to see their suffering makes us uncomfortable. That’s human nature. Nobody wants to see suffering.

So we work hard to make sure we are comfortable, and criticize big government it attempts to do things that will make the lives of some legitimately suffering people a little easier. We shut our eyes to the real barriers which spring up in a capitalistic world and society and instead blame those who struggle for the situations in which they find themselves. We regard those who cannot make it as moochers.

Some of them are, and some of them are not. We just don’t want to take the time to make the distinctions and give help where it is needed. We are content to charge the poor and blame the poor for being poor, thus helping to keep them poor, and we defy the government to try to change that reality. We in America have little regard, it seems, for the burgeoning population of older Americans who barely have enough to live on once they can no longer work. And so, many older Americans are living in deplorable conditions, and we will not look that harsh reality in the face.

What does it take to make people in a democracy do what democracy purports to do – to make a society where all people are created equal? Those who do not like such a notion say that to want that is to be socialist. OK, but really, that’s what our United States Constitution says – all men (people) are created equal.

We have a problem in our formative ideology. It seems that there is an untenable tension between capitalism and democracy, and capitalists are criticizing the very political system which has made their wealth acquisition a reality.

A candid observation …

 

The Weird Peace of Faith

I wrote a book called Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives, in which I describe how “crazy faith” can and does propel people to do amazing things.  Faith doesn’t make sense, it is not logical, but it brings stability to unstable situations and gives sight where the circumstances at hand would beg blindness.

Then, this morning, I heard Rev. Lance Watson describe “courageous faith,” a faith that made the Biblical character Joshua tell the sun to stand still so that the Israelites could face their enemies. Whoever heard of such? And yet, courageous (crazy) faith makes people staunchly believe in something greater than themselves, and in standing on that belief, beat incredible odds.

Faith, it seems, gives people courage, the “courage to be,” as Paul Tillich describes. The very last line of his book, The Courage to Be, reads: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

The anxiety of doubt comes when we are in the midst of the most scary, the most traumatic situations of our lives. We wonder where God is, if God hears, if God cares …I imagine the slaves in America wondered about the presence and goodness  of God as they endured that horrible institution; I imagine, as well, that Jews, suffering under the brutality and insanity of Adolph Hitler during the Holocaust, wondered the same thing…”Would God allow such evil?”

And yet, it seems, God does allow evil, and the courage to be means that one is able to hold onto his or her belief in God “in spite of” one’s situation.

As a pastor, I have seen many a person struggle with the whole notion of the goodness of God, the presence of God, and the purposes of God. Why would God allow an innocent child to die of brain cancer, or a beloved mother to die an early and brutal death? Years ago, I watched a young mother struggle with her idea of God as she mourned, in excruciating pain, the death of her teen son who was murdered in a drive-by shooting. In the recent unrest in the Middle East, I can imagine mothers and fathers both in Gaza and in Israel wondering why God would allow such evil – the evil of war caused by people who will not listen to each other – to exist and to flourish.

God does allow evil.  That is a bitter pill to swallow.

But there is something weird about faith, because even in the midst of going through and suffering through abject evil, those who have faith experience a “weird” peace, the “peace that passes all understanding.”  After a while, the person filled with faith has an ability to surrender doubt into the unknown. He or she is not aware of where the anxiety of doubt is going; one only knows that yesterday, he or she was upset and worried, and today, the worry, the anxiety, is gone.

And that is in spite of the fact that God allows evil to be.

We might feel better if God put a hand in front of all evil and all discomfort that confronts us, but God doing that would not necessarily increase our faith. Faith actually comes in the enduring and survival of, evil in our lives. Evil comes at us like a giant Tsunami, sometimes stunning us in its ferocity and intensity, and if we can find ourselves standing when the giant wave of evil passes back into the sea, we find that our faith in God increases. Somewhere in the midst of the fury of the evil that sometimes boxes our spirits, if we get to that place of weird peace, we are able to ride the evil and not allow ourselves to be consumed by it.

Evil is strong and distasteful, but God is greater than any evil. That does not mean that God prevents evil; we have already established that God allows evil, and we may never understand why …but in the end, God really is greater than evil.

Maybe that’s why faith is so perplexing. Anyone who has experienced a weird peace in the midst of adversity knows exactly what I am talking about …

A candid observation …