Deciphering the Meaning of Christianity

Following the announcement that his wife would be working at a school which bans homosexual teachers and students, Vice President Mike Pence said that the found the resulting criticism “deeply offensive.”

In an interview which aired on NBC, the vice president said: “…to see major networks attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.” ( https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/mike-pence-calls-criticism-wife-s-job-anti-lgbtq-school-n960091) He continued, saying, “this attack on Christian education should stop.”

Pence’s remarks are a reminder that there apparently is no standard definition of what Christianity is and what Christians should do. While Christians throw around the words “love” and “mercy,” claiming them as the nucleus of what Jesus the Christ taught, in reality, many Christians practice neither – at least not in an undiscriminating manner.

Some of the most devout Christians are also the most rabid racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. In spite of there being one Bible, in which the Gospels are fairly clear about the requirement that those who follow Jesus the Christ treat all people with dignity and love them as siblings, many Christians ignore that requirement and defend their right to do so.

In her book Mississippi Praying, author Carolyn Renee Dupont concludes that “the racial crisis precipitated conflict of the meaning of Christianity.” As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King noted over 50 years ago that the “most segregated hour of the week” happens on Sunday mornings, Christians are known to exclude people of different races, colors, and ethnicities.

In Mississippi and all over the South during the 60s, activists sought to integrate worship services at white churches, only to be turned away at the doors. Mahatma Gandhi tells the story of how he was once carried down the stairs of a Christian church he tried to enter. (https://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article18756585.html)  “Were it not for Christians,” he is reported to have said, “I might have become Christian.”

Racism sparked bitter debate about what Christians should do and how they should act, with Christian ministers preaching the “rightness” of racism from their pulpits. The records of what they preached are troubling; one pastor preached that “Liberals delight in talk about making God relevant for our day and his idea of making the Gospel relevant is finding in it the social messages for the issues of the day.”

It is clear that people read the same words read by “Christians” are read in entirely different ways, depending on one’s race, culture and political proclivity. To some, a Christian teaching in a school which openly discriminates on the basis of one’s sexuality is a bold obfuscation of the meaning of Christianity. Some believe Jesus said to love everyone; others believe that the Gospel gives Christians the right to practice bigotry. There is still, as Dupont noted, “a crisis in the meaning of Christianity.”

There is likewise no agreement about the meaning of the cross. For many black people, the cross is the symbol of victory over death and injustice, but for many whites, including members of the Ku Klux Klan the cross is a symbol of hatred.

Methodist Minister Joseph Simmons initiated the practice of burning crosses in this country in 1915 on Stone Mountain, Ga. The Ku Klux Klan would wear white as a sign of purity and would burn crosses to signify the “Light of Christ.” They would also use the Bible as a weapon to justify and support the practice of white supremacy. (https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2018/04/10/revisiting-the-preacher-who-used-christianity-to-revive-the-ku-klux-klan/)

Clearly, those who have been oppressed by the white supremacist system would not, have not and did not view the Christ in the same way. To them, Jesus the Christ was and is the sign of hope, one who urged love, respect and service to and for “the least of these.” Jesus was the one who showed us how to live, according to those who are oppressed, and that “way” is not the way that Pence and his wife – and countless others – have chosen to practice Christianity.

The crisis was precipitated by racism but has been fed by the other phobias which exist in human society. Jesus loved and talked to the misfits – from women who had committed adultery to lepers. It was his unconditional love for all that helped Christianity become the world religion that it has become, but those who practice bigotry in the name of Jesus would challenge this argument vociferously.

It is disappointing that the wife of the vice president is willing to participate in bigotry based on sexual orientation and gender; it makes one think that both she and her husband probably practice bigotry in other areas as well, comforted by the way they believe in Jesus the Christ and what he stood for.

If Christian education promotes bigotry, something is deeply wrong – but one feels that way if one reads the Bible with a certain set of eyes. Apparently, the Pence’s eyes and my own are as far apart as the east is from the west.

A candid observation…

The God of the Religious Right a Divine Fraud?

Whenever there has been a tragedy or natural disaster which affects people of color especially, but others as well, I have held my breath, waiting for the Religious Right to give its pronouncement on why said disaster or tragedy happened. When Hurricane Katrina hit, some religious fundamentalists said the storm was the wrath of God, who was displeased with the lifestyle of people in New Orleans and in this country in general; some said the God’s wrath had come because of abortion and homosexuality.

When the earthquake hit Haiti, killing more than 100,000 people, Pat Robertson said it had come from God as retribution, because the Haitian people had “made a pact with the devil” when they fought the French for their freedom in 1804, and won. When the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook happened, the religious right said it was a judgement from God who was angry that “America had turned its back on God.” Alabama Judge Roy Moore and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson said the shooter had killed little children because of abortion and the tolerance of gay marriage.

The recent shooting in Las Vegas happened, said the religious right, because America is a wicked nation. (http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/dave-daubenmire-vegas-shooting-was-the-wrath-of-god-being-revealed-on-a-wicked-nation/ )

Strangely, the religious right sees evil and wickedness in homosexuality and in the fact that abortion is legal, but their God sees nothing wrong with sexism and racism. Their God has been silent through the years as white supremacy has wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion and their sex and sexual preference.

Wealthy white people, including men who have molested children, never get “the pronouncement.” I have never heard anyone from the Right say that God has been displeased with what members of the white elite have done over time.

While before this president, accusations of acts of sexual impropriety would have been the end for any political run, the religious Right is actually urging support of him, lifting up the Christian principles of love and forgiveness, as reasons to give him a pass. Conservatives are saying that what the president said about Haiti, El Salvador and many African nations was true and that he should be defended. (https://www.advocate.com/media/2018/1/12/right-wing-pundits-defend-trumps-shithole-countries-remark )

They have been virtually silent about the wildfires, excessive rain and mudslides in an affluent part of California; I have heard no statement about the suffering of those people happening because of America being a wicked nation.

The god of the religious Right is an elite deity. Their god causes people to suffer for only the things the Right have deemed to be wrong; their god is a god of culture, not needing for people to be “righteous,” i.e.. “in right relationship with God.” Their god has allowed injustice to be meted out to black people for literally generations; their god has sanctioned lynching and the lack of “due process” for people of color. Their god allows horrific poverty in this, the most wealthy nation in the world. Their god has allowed domestic terrorism in this country, while allowing them to denounce foreign terrorism. Their god thinks nothing of the effort now to deport illegal immigrants, destroying their families like phenomenon of slavery allowed and in fact pushed during that period of time. Their god apparently does not think that poverty caused by unjust economic policies is a bad thing; their god thinks that the sexual harassment of women is acceptable.

Their god has celebrated the “rightness” of white supremacy. It is said that when the very racist film The Birth of  Nation  came out that President Woodrow Wilson said watching it was a “religious experience.” Their god apparently turns his head (and I am sure their god is only masculine) on racial violence; their god allowed police officers to pick up the known white assassin of innocent people shot in a church in South Carolina without incident, though they knew he was armed and had been the lone shooter in that massacred, and take him to get something to eat at a Burger King before taking him in to be processed for his crime. This is the same god that apparently thinks it’s ok for police officers to gun down innocent and unarmed black youth like Tamir Rice and Ty’re King.

It is only abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage that their god is concerned about. Their god is fully all right with racism and sexism and any violence that comes with those “isms.”

Who is this god?  It is a god of an elite few. It is a god who I, for one, cannot and do not respect. This god seems to be a fraud, a cultural but not biblical deity which exists to support bias, bigotry, hatred and racial violence. This god is not my god, nor is it the god of the masses. It cannot be, not according to the God we have learned about in the Bible.

A candid observation …

What is a Racist?

Donald Sterling swears in interviews that he is not a racist.

His estranged wife says the same, as does the young woman who was heard talking with him in those now infamous tapes where Sterling said he didn’t want her to bring blacks to “his” basketball games, among other things.

He said in an interview with Anderson Cooper that he made a mistake, that it was the first time in 35 years he’d said such things.

Why does that sound like a crock?

Everyone knows by now that Sterling refused to rent property to black and brown Americans, saying disparaging things about them. He said that Hispanics “smoke, drink and just hang around the property,” and that blacks “smell and attract vermin.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/12/donald-sterling-apologizes-for-racist-comments-blames-woman-for-baiting-him/?tid=hp_mm)

What is amazing is that Sterling and others say Sterling is not a racist. If that is the case, what is a racist? Is everyone who says racist things racist, or are they just ignorant, insensitive and bigoted?

A definition of  bigotry is ” intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.”  Another definition of a bigot is one who is stubbornly intolerant against any belief that is different from his (her) own.

Racism, though, goes a little deeper. A definition of racism says that racism is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. That definition also says that racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. (https://www.google.com/search?q=definition+of+racism&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb)

In other words, racism includes the belief that one race is superior to another …and a racist has the power to discriminate against a group or individual in a way that exercises power over that group or person. Racism includes the belief that one race is supreme…and that it has the right to oppress another group or individual based on the belief in that supremacy.

Can we say that we are all bigots on some level? Probably. But racism implies systemically provided and sanctioned power to oppress another group of people. From the beginning of this nation, even in the writing of our Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, racism has been a bedfellow.

If Sterling isn’t a racist, I don’t know what a racist is. Kareem Abdul Jabbar said last week that more people believe in ghosts than believe in racism. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/04/kareem-abdul-jabbar_n_5263235.html) White people don’t want to “own up” to the fact that racist exists, that it is an American problem which goes largely unchecked and ignored. Americans seem to want to wish racism away. It is too ugly to face…

And yet it exists.

Donald Sterling is a racist. He believes in the supremacy of the white race, and he has the economic means and power to keep other races “in their place.”

He’s not the only one. He’s just one who got caught.

A candid observation …

 

 

Abigail Thernstrom Wrong on “Obama’s Mistake in Trayvon Martin Case”

Abigail Thernstrom, vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article for CNN.com that shows a remarkable ignorance and insensitivity about the problem of race for African-Americans in this country. (http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/15/opinion/thernstrom-trayvon-martin-obama/index.html?hpt=hp_t4)

The author of Voting Rights – and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections, faulted President Obama for his statement on March 12, 2012, shortly after Trayvon Martin was shot, for saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon…When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”

Whatever criticism one might have about President Obama, one cannot say that he has gone out of his way to “lean in” toward black people. In fact, as Thernstrom herself acknowledges in her article, the president effectively distanced himself from race and from “agitators” in his speech, “A More Perfect Union,” delivered in March, 2008.  “The president’s role is not to be a racial agitator,” Thernstrom writes, “and the mark of a great civil rights leader has been a determination to reject the temptations of that approach…People such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson see white racism as endemic and elevate what’s wrong with America over all that is remarkably right,” she continues.

She praised Obama for “once again” separating himself from the voices of anger on Sunday, speaking after George Zimmerman had been found “not guilty” of second degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin. “But if his Justice Department brings civil rights charges against Zimmerman, as the NAACP has urged, and which it is reportedly still considering, the ugly racial politics of this prosecution will be undeniable.”

Thernstrom says that if President Obama had a son, “he would have been born to extraordinary privilege and raised with all of the advantages of two very affluent and highly educated parents. He would have gone to private schools. His path in life would have been almost as dissimilar from Trayvon’s as one could imagine.”

All that is true…but what Ms. Thernstrom does not seem to understand is that African-Americans, no matter how affluent or well-educated, are profiled all of the time. If the president had a son, he would have been subject to such profiling, and anyone who is African-American knows that. Many prominent and well-educated African-Americans have been profiled and treated quite poorly by law enforcement officers. It is a sore spot, a blazing fire in the lives of African-Americans, and time has not made it any better.

Just because Mr. Obama is president does not mean that he has forgotten what it is to be black in America. Thernstrom says that “the president …wants disadvantages Americans to believe that he and his family are one of them…despite their life of unparalleled privilege.” The bottom line is, Ms. Thernstrom, is that at the end of the day, Obama IS one of them, and he knows it.

A couple of weeks ago in New Albany, Ohio, a young black man was walking in his neighborhood. Sixteen-year old Xvavier Brandon, an honor student, was walking to school, when, out of nowhere, he found himself confronted by  police. “A gun was pointed at me and handcuffs were put on me, and that’s everything that’s done to a criminal,” Brandon said.

This kid was exempt from final exams, said an article in The Columbus Dispatch, because of good test scores at his high school.  He was minding his own business, in a neighborhood where he had every right to be, walking to football practice. There had been in that neighborhood, however, some break-ins. Some residents were wary and nervous. So when a resident saw Brandon walking down his street, he got nervous and called the police, telling them that there was someone walking down the street who might have something to do with the break-ins.

Brandon was unaware that he had been viewed as suspicious, profiled, one might say. He continued to walk down the street, listening to music with his headphones in his ears. He didn’t know anything was wrong until he heard a loud shout and turned around to see a gun pulled and pointed at him.

He was told to drop to the ground and was handcuffed; he was asked if he had any jewelry on him or in his backpack. The young man, on the ground and completely humiliated, says he tried to turn his face so that if anyone saw him and the police officer, they wouldn’t recognize him. It was only after another officer turned up about 15 minutes later and recognized Brandon as a teammate of his son’s on the football team that the youth was released.

Brandon was not disadvantaged. New Albany is one of the most prominent neighborhoods in the Columbus metropolitan area. One might say that Brandon is privileged and well-educated, and yet, that did not keep him from being suspected of being someone a problem in that neighborhood, and accosted by police.

Because of preconceived ideas about black people, many, many African-Americans are profiled daily. Ms. Thernstrom said that “Obama’s hypothetical son and Trayvon would have shared the same brown skin. Would that have made them interchangeable?” The answer is, unfortunately, that in many cases, the answer is “yes.”

The president’s comment or observation that had he a son he would look like Trayvon was not, therefore, out of line, or indicative of a president who “surrendered to his political instincts.”  He was speaking the truth as it is for African-Americans in this country. To be sure, there are a host of problems in the African-American community; the fact that African-American youth shoot each other at alarming rates, with hardly a whimper from the larger society – is a major issue, but that does not negate the fact that African-Americans are profiled daily and that yes, if the president had a son, he would be in danger of being profiled just because of the color of his skin.

The sad truth is that white racism is endemic, and it is something that nobody really wants to deal with or talk about.  The result is that bad behavior keeps on happening. George Zimmerman profiled Trayvon and, regardless of what happened afterward, Trayvon is now dead. It’s nothing new, Ms. Thernstrom. It is part of the way African-Americans live…

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 …