On Being a Sunday School Kind of Girl

When You’re a Sunday School Kind of Girl

            When I was a child, I loved Sunday School. I loved hearing about Jesus and how Jesus loved everybody and talked to everybody and healed so many people. Had Jesus not been the son of God, I probably would have said, when adults asked, as they always did, what I wanted to be when I grew up, “I want to be Jesus.”

            What I would have meant was, “I want to be like Jesus. I thought it was remarkable that Jesus cared for people that nobody else cared for, and, being a Black child in a white world, I was slowly learning what it was like to be despised, disrespected, and shunned because of who you were. 

            Even as a child, that surprised me, because so many of the white kids I knew went to Sunday School, too, and while some of them were nice, there were others who were just mean. One of my “friends” told me on a summer day when we were both playing on the monkey bars that her mother had told her she couldn’t play with me anymore because I was Black.

            “You’re Black,” she said. “Plain, old, ugly Black.”

            I wrote a children’s book about that experience, and for sure I, as have all Black people, have had my share of race-based experiences. But I confess that I am confused as to why this is the case, seeing as how there was but one Jesus and there is but one Bible that contains the teachings of Jesus.  

            That feeling of confusion arose in me again when the people who were storming the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, stopped to pray. They called on the name of Jesus. What Jesus was that? It was a Jesus with whom I have become familiar, because of all of the racism in this country, but it wasn’t my Sunday School Jesus. This Jesus was the same one who was OK with people burning crosses in the name of white supremacy, the same Jesus who seemed not to care that really religious people saw nothing wrong with praying and fasting before going out to lynch a Black person. This Jesus was one who did not care about social justice; indeed, if the Rev. John McArthur is to be believed, “social justice is nowhere included in the Bible.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ix_eHfGYuA)

            While the Jesus of my Sunday School lessons clearly had Jesus tending to “the least of these,” i.e., those who had been marginalized by society, the Jesus of McArthur and many who call themselves followers of the Christ stands for no such thing. McArthur suggested that the marginalized have made themselves victims; in the victim group, he includes women, the poor, ethnic groups, and the “sexually deviant” – his term, not mine. But …in my Sunday School lessons, Jesus attended precisely to those whom McArthur has labeled victims. 

            According to McArthur, the Gospel is the stumbling block of victims – because, he said, “victims hate the Gospel.” And, he said in the sermon cited above, “if you acknowledge that something bad has happened in history, you’ve indicted God.” 

            I keep thinking that white people are from Venus and Black people are from Mars, that there is no way there will ever be a spiritually safe intersection between those whose Sunday School lessons were apparently radically different from mine, and people like me. What did Jesus do, what did Jesus stand for, if it wasn’t for fairness and equity and dignity of all people? Apparently, there are at least two schools of thought.

            We are in the season of Lent, where we are supposed to be working on repentance – i.e., moving closer to God, but there is a problem. It seems that white and Black people are moving toward – if they are doing that at all – two different Gods. 

            And if that is the case, I shudder to think about what’s ahead for all of us.

            What all of the political and spiritual chaos has cemented in me is my resolve to remain a Sunday School kind of girl – but I also now realize that all Sunday School lessons are not the same.

            That is disturbing, as we confess that there is one Lord one faith, one baptism.

            Apparently, not so much.

A candid observation…

In Spite of Jesus, Racism

            I made an observation this week that this country is addicted to its belief in and adherence to white supremacy. It is an addiction that displays as do all addictions; the desire for the power of white supremacy is part of the political circulatory system of this country, and because of that, the country cannot just declare that they are over it. America needs to be detoxed of its poisonous, destructive tumor.

            There have been spates of time in our history where there has been a kind of remission. Following the horrifically toxic years following Reconstruction, Black Americans, and women for that matter, were allowed into the political system.

            But Black political and economic progress has almost always been followed by a white backlash. It’s the addiction, made evident. Once a person is addicted to a substance, his/her body needs it and their body is forever challenged and threatened by that need re-emerging. The blessing or evidence of healing is revelatory when the addicted person’s physiology and spirituality have risen above raw desire. America’s addiction to white supremacy is no different; when it comes to white supremacy, she simply does not want to let it go. And so she has not.

            This addiction to white supremacy exists in spite of the historical Jesus, his teachings. Some white supremacists have declared that Jesus’ mission was really to minister to and save the most wealthy, not those who suffer from political, economic, and social oppression. (https://www.salon.com/2022/02/27/jelani-cobb-on-the-anti-crt-campaigns-high-stakes-and-the-deep-roots-of-fascism-in-america/) Historian Anthea Butler says: 

White Christianity is a Christianity that is based on the following: Jesus is white. Jesus privileges white culture and white supremacy, and the political aspirations of whiteness over and against everything else. White Christianity assumes that everybody should be subsumed under whiteness in terms of culture and society.

White Christianity assumes that it does not have to look at poverty. We see this in the form of the so-called prosperity gospel, and that any blessing you get from God is because God favors you. If anybody else is out of favor, let’s say some poor kid in Northwest Philadelphia who doesn’t have enough to eat, well, that’s just too bad because they’re not blessed of God.

            If you grew up in a home where the Gospel was taught, this remaking of Jesus as the champion of white supremacy is puzzling, confusing, and troubling, but in all truth, the only way to understand what is going on, and the role of Christianity in all of it, is to understand the ethos of white Christianity – a belief system that exists North, South, East, and West.

            What, then, do Christians who believe in the Biblical Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospel, do to effectively combat a nation that is addicted to white supremacy and that justifies its actions on their re-make of Jesus and Jesus’ purposes? How does one fight a group of people who have effectively de-defied the Biblical Jesus and God, the parent of Jesus? 

It is scary, watching what is going on, but it is also a fact that a re-made Jesus has been used to justify racist violence and terror throughout our history. “The Left” has been too silent, while those who burn crosses and use fire and fear to maintain control have continued to pursue their goal to keep America white.

In the name of the historical Jesus, we should say, simply, “no.”

A candid observation…

We Who Are Black and Christian

 

We who are Black and Christian wonder why God doesn’t do something, why God won’t stop the hatred and bigotry, why God is allowing politicians to use God’s name to create, manage and perpetuate policies that will push Black people back to the starting line.

            Again.

            We struggle – or at least some of us do. I have had plenty of people remind me that “God is in control,” saying it in such a way that I understand that I’m being told to stop voicing discontent with God during this time.

            But I cannot keep silent, and I cannot stop wondering where God is!!! God wants community, not confusion. God wants us to love each other, not lynch each other, verbally, physically, or politically. Right?

            Why doesn’t God stop people who are using His/Her name to justify their hatred? 

            Are we looking for answers in the wrong way? The wrong place? We as African Americans have been calling on God to help us not only get justice but to keep it, but the same issues, undergirded by the same racism, keep coming up. Neither we, in our fight for justice, nor God have been successful in stamping racism out. 

            The believers in racism and white supremacy say God sanctions and agrees with them, that, in fact, God created the races, intending that they be separated from each other.

            So that means that white people violated the will of God when they went to Africa and brought Africans, against their will, to the white world? And that means that God saw it but God allowed it? So does that mean that God didn’t intend for the races to be separate?

            Although white nationalists say they are Christian, they are not Christian as defined and described in the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible is not a bigot. Jesus is not a soldier, looking to conquer other people and nations, by force or otherwise. The Jesus of the Bible insists on building community.

            That Jesus is not the Jesus being claimed by people who kill, maim, lynch, discriminate against, and terrorize Black people. 

            I have had conversations with many Black people – young and old – who are struggling with the lack of a smack-down by God of those who are terrorizing Black people, and they are struggling because they cannot find God in what is going on. They ask if God is a white supremacist? Or, as the late Rev. William R. Jones wrote, Is God a White Racist?” Those are not questions you can ask or even have a discussion about in the midst of “the saints.” You will be shot down and chastised for not having faith.

            But the query begs an answer. Black people have held onto God with a fury. If nothing else, God has kept us and “brought us from a mighty long way.” But, say some who are struggling, God has not made it so that the “long way” is not erased by periodic explosions of white rage and resentment. 

            One friend of mine said recently, “I just can’t do it anymore. I just can’t hold onto my hope that God will change the hearts of these people who want nothing more than to keep us in our place by any means necessary. I cannot hold onto my hope that God will produce a harvest of changed hearts in people who have lived all their lives in their whiteness, making life miserable for Black people and not caring about it, or even thinking about it, for that matter.”

            Dante Stewart, a writer, and student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology said that the historic Black Church “didn’t only save our souls. It saved our bodies.”  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/08/13/future-black-church-dancing-streets/?fbclid=IwAR1J04U9jAXpj4VCH7ysEGgmlLTx3JE3W87Vcka3At6QwvPbBJoNYsibqcM) We found comfort in the physical church from the fellowship and community. If we struggled with God’s action in the public square, we could and did struggle together in community. The problems didn’t seem so insurmountable.

            But with the pandemic having changed everything so radically, we no longer have church like we used to. And so the struggle is different. How we do and must do “church” has to be different, but we must have it. The experience of “church” has saved us even as we have struggled with wondering why God has not stopped the madness. As we have worshipped and shouted and lifted our voices in song, some of us have looked for evidence of divine intervention and even divine interest in what is going on but when we have not seen it, the thread that bound us in community, that helped us screech out the pain of being Black in this country kept us looking up and holding onto hope.

            The power of Jesus the Christ was his ability and intention to love, honor, and respect everyone, including and especially those whom society scorned and shunned. The people committing violent insurrection and passing equally as violent voter suppression laws, the people who are railing against anything and anyone who is not white, heterosexual, wealthy, and male are not calling on the Jesus of the Bible. And we who are Black and Christian, some of us, wonder why God doesn’t …do something.

In the Name of Biblical Principles

           There was a lot that was wrong and immoral about the state of Wisconsin refusing to postpone in-person voting yesterday, forcing people out of their homes while the nation is under a “shelter in place” order due to the coronavirus.

The sight of the people standing in those incredibly long lines, where they remained for hours, wearing masks and gloves and standing some distance apart so as to honor the social distancing requirement was troubling because what we have learned about this virus is that it is vicious, tenacious, and is no respecter of persons. I wondered how many people would get sick and/or die because the government forced them to make a choice between their right to vote and their health. They chose the former.

It was and is admirable that the Wisconsinites want to honor their right to vote; it was and is admirable that they decided that they weren’t going to let “nobody turn them around” when it came to taking charge of their lives.

But it was a slap in the face of Christianity, a religion which many claim but others basically ignore even as they lift up their belief in “Biblical principles.” As I looked at the images of those people, who, I later learned, stood in line even as heavy rain and hail pelted them, I suspected that it was Christian Nationalists who were responsible for their being there,  and not who I will call “traditional Christians” I wondered which “Biblical principles,”  according to Christian nationalism, were being respected or honored.

I especially wondered as the speaker of the Wisconsin General Assembly, in full protective gear, said that voting on that day, in those spaces was “perfectly safe.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/07/politics/wisconsin-robin-vos-protective-gear/index.html) If it was so safe, I wondered again, why was he completely covered?

Obviously, the insistence of the government that the primary election not be postponed was a decision made without conferring with God, right? Probably not. It is safe to assume that the Republicans – many of whom might be evangelical Conservatives, did confer with God, did pray and decided that they had heard God say “go ahead.” The god of the Christian Nationalist movement believes, supports, and pushes those issues which they believe will “return” America to her greatness; they have, according to author Katherine Stewart in her book The Power Worshippers, a “biblical worldview” which “also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders,” she says.

“The fear of Christian nationalists is that this country has strayed from the truths that made it great,” Stewart notes. Part of the truths was that everyone had his or her place – blacks, women, Native Americans, immigrants – but over time that established order has been destroyed, and one of the group’s goals is to restore America to her mythical “greatness” by concentrating the power in the hands of those who best know how to run a government.

So, yes, those who ordered that the election – the in-person voting – go on as scheduled probably felt fairly confident that they were doing the will of God. They would probably say that they were merely following a “Biblical principle,” because they believe that “legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage,” says Stewart.

When people or groups do things in the name of God – be the group American Christianity, Christian Nationalism, Islam, Judaism or Zionism – it is nearly impossible for them to consider that they may, in fact, be wrong. Neither the Wisconsin General Assembly, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, nor the United States Supreme Court saw anything wrong with exposing large numbers of people to a virus that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. So entrenched are they in their ideology – which they call religion – that they seemingly did not even have the capacity yesterday to worry or care about the people whose lives they put in danger. Christian nationalism, says Stewart, is not a religious creed, but …a political ideology. What they want is power – at the expense of anyone who is in the way, and by any means necessary.

The Biblical principle they leaned on yesterday was probably the one that says the people are to follow the directions of their elected leaders, something Paul, in the Christian Bible, did advise people to do – but somehow I don’t think the God of us all – including the Christian Nationalists – would have approved of putting all those people in physical harm for the sake of attaining a political goal.

A candid observation…

Confronting Evil Clothed in Christian Rhetoric

I was surprised to read that the approval rating for the president has moved into the positive range for the first time since his election. (https://www.npr.org/2020/03/27/822043781/trumps-approval-hits-new-high-but-a-rally-around-the-flag-effect-is-small) In light of the coronavirus, and its reign of terror throughout the world, this president has been less than admirable, expressing more concern for the stock market than for the people who are suffering and who may die because of the disease.

And yet, there are those who are throwing lavish praise on him, saying he is the best president this country has ever had. This, in spite of his downplaying the power and virulence of the virus, in spite of ignoring warnings about it as early as December 2019, in spite of calling it a “Democratic hoax,” and in spite of his promise that it would “disappear.” His concern about it seemed absent until the stock market took a fall, thrusting the country into economic chaos and heading possibly to a recession. (https://theintercept.com/2020/03/24/trump-cabinet-bible-studies-coronavirus/) 

When that happened, all bets were off. He didn’t have time to waste. The booming economy has always been his calling card for re-election. His pandering to corporations, giving them huge permanent tax cuts, reducing and/or cutting government regulations, and siding with causes championed by the Religious Right made it appear that he was untouchable.

And he may yet be, but what is really interesting is that so many of his followers are still calling him the modern-day messiah. While the president has made it an art form to blame any and everybody for things which happen and which are a poor reflection on his presidency, he has the backing of the Religious Right who now point to God as the reason for the virus.

God, says Ralph Drollinger, a favorite of conservative evangelicals, is angry at the world and is showing His wrath through the virus. “Relative to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Drollinger, this virus is evidence of a “sowing and reaping” wrath of God. People who are displeasing to God, he posits, have “infiltrated” government, education, the media, and entertainment,” says Drollinger, and God is not pleased.

Drollinger is a well-known personality in Washington. He believes that Conservative Christians, based on the words of Jesus found in the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19 are mandated to “take Christ” to political leaders. The leaders, he believes, are to use “Biblical principles” to rebuild America, which, he believes, has fallen because of the influence and presence of liberal secularists.

Drollinger has set up Bible studies in 34 states and in 24 countries. He leads the White House Cabinet Bible Study every Wednesday at 7 a.m. attended by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, among others. (His politics and his religious beliefs seem to have a symbiotic relationship (as is the case for us all,) (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/magazine/ralph-drollinger-white-house-evangelical.html) but his beliefs, clearly conservative and evangelical in tone and substance, are deeply ingrained in him as God’s will, and he views his job, his calling, as that of spreading “the Good News” according to Drollinger.

Not that he doesn’t use and refer to the Bible. He makes the case for God, through Paul, wanting political leaders to become followers of Christ. He cites verses in the Bible, in the book of Acts and in other places, primarily the Pauline epistles, where the disciples are being told to take “Christ” to the political leaders.

But the goal that Drollinger seems to embrace, and which many of his followers also believe, is the building of political power, aided and supported by capitalism. He pushes the belief that Christians need to “speak truth to power,” but their truth and that of other Christians are radically different.

The focus of Drollinger and others who are advising the president is the acquisition and the keeping of political power – the Great Commission – but not taking care of “the least of these” also stated by Jesus, the focus of the  “Great Commandment,” found in all three synoptic Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures as well.

If there is shock or dismay or concern about the president’s apparent lack of concern for people who are suffering, even as he is determined to get the economy back on its feet, it may well be because his focus is being driven by a group of religious people who say their “biblical principles” are those taught by Jesus the Christ. If some people die because of the virus, well, then it’s God’s will, a result of God’s wrath. There is no need to worry, only, work must be done to save the economy, save capitalism – for the good the country and for the children of those who die, making the supreme sacrifice.

Drollinger writes in his book, Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint, “Within the Great Commission exists the priority of reaching political leaders for Christ.”

That goal is on track, it seems, even as the nation and the world gasp for breath. The president’s actions and his words, be they true or not, are OK, it seems, because he is just doing the will of God. And the fact that so many people believe that is a scary, scary thought.

A candid observation.