Trump, God and White Anger

White people are mad.

A significant swath of white Americans have been angry since Barack Obama won the White House. Winning it once ws bad enough; winning it  second time was a brutal kick in teeth.

The anger of this so-called “silent majority” has been and is consistently honored on Fox News, but politicians in major elections have voiced this anger in different venues. Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann drew pretty significant support in their political aspirations largely because they voiced the passion and the pain of white Americans who believed then and still believe that America was created for white people. Rand Paul, running in this 2016 race, said unashamedly as be began the  trek toward the presidency, “We’ve come to take our country back.” His statement drew wild applause. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/04/07/rand-paul-set-to-announce-presidential-run/).  He then gave a nice political ditty, outlining all the ways in which he believes America lost her way, but the passion is in the undercurrent, the things nobody really wants to say: many white Americans think too many people of color – beginning with black people and now being compounded by the immigrants coming to America in droves …are in this land compromising and changing not only the character and flavor of the land but in fact its very purpose –  and they are mad.

Donald Trump is gaining in the polls because he is saying publicly what so many white people say in private. The legacy of America – which is not democracy and egalitarianism, but which is, instead, oligarchy and inequality – is being tampered with. The Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Majority Movement in North Carolina, says America doesn’t have a Republican or Democrat problem, it doesn’t have a Liberal or Conservative problem…but it has, instead, a “heart problem.” And the heart of America, in spite of those who might argue against it, is one of white supremacy.

Perhaps the depth of this anger – this unspoken, for the most part – is illustrated by the fact that some Evangelicals are speaking support for Trump in spite of the fact that he has said publicly that he has never sought forgiveness  from God. He said when he does something wrong he just tries to do something good or right. ( http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/)  Fair enough, but this nation has made a big deal out of being Christian, and one of the central tenets of Christianity is seeking and giving forgiveness. What does that say about the religion of Conservatives? Have they somehow compromised the requirements of God and Jesus the Christ? Can you trust, theologically and religiously, anyone who blatantly and arrogantly says he purposely ignores the commands of the Christ?

White anger is not new. That anger rose up after Reconstruction when whites fought to undo every gain that was made during that period of time. Whites fought a “new civil war,” determined to win, not with guns, but with government. They pushed blacks out of political office, compromised and/or took away their right to vote, created policies which in effect created ghettos, and kept blacks basically subservient to whites in all the ways they could. They were angry that they lost the war; they were angry that new policies made the ground between blacks and whites more level, and they were not going to have it. The creation of Jim Crow made it virtually impossible for blacks to be treated as equal human beings, but tht wsa the plan. Whites wanted their country back, and that country did not include black people doing what they felt was saved and relegated for whites only.

Donald Trump knows that sentiment; he obviously feels it and it is clear that many, many Americans feel it, too. Whites are angry that Barack Obama won the White House – twice. They are mad that laws have been created to protect the LGBT community, going so far as to allow same sex couples to marry. They are angry that illegal immigrants – many of whom they use to keep their lawns kept up and their houses clean – keep coming into this nation. They are fighting to take America back to the “good old days” when white people operated and protected a land which did not provide “liberty and justice for all,” but instead kept folks under control, using the law and the courts. Their idea of democracy was a land where whites were in control and everyone else was under their thumb.

It feels like Trump and this “silent majority” are acting rather like spoiled children. They cannot get their way as easily as they once could, and they are angry about it. It feels like they will do all they can, in whatever way they can, to get things “back to normal.” When even the Evangelicals are willing to give a presidential a pass when he has said publicly that he ignores the command of God the Father and Jesus the Christ to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, you know that the anger is real.

It is very real. And it is very dangerous…

A candid observation …

On Forgiveness

It seemed that those covering the horrific murders of nine innocent people last week in Charleston, South Carolina, breathed a collective sigh of relief when surviving members of the families of the slain said, “I forgive” the man responsible for their pain.

It was noble for them to say that, but I don’t for a moment believe it.

It’s too soon. They are in the throes of the deepest pain ever. They are aching and are in shock. The reality and the full implications of how their lives have been forever changed because of this tragedy has not yet set in.

Whenever a person dies, there is a period where the survivors just get into work mode: they have to work to deal with the funeral home and the funeral/memorial service. They have to pick out caskets and decide what their loved one will wear. Some have to scuffle to find money to bury their loved ones. The time immediately after the loss of a loved one is probably the easiest, because those left behind are just too busy to deal with their pain.

But after everyone goes home, after there are no more donations of food, after the arrangements have been done and the funeral and burial are done, the real work of grief begins.

It is not easy.

And forgiveness, if it is to come, does not come immediately.

Forgiveness is a process. Sometimes it takes years for people to get to the place where it “kicks in.” Before that moment, though, the emotional pain pushes against even the thought of forgiveness. Christians are confounded (some of them) and pressured by the commandment of Jesus that we should forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  It seems dastardly and grossly unfair that the survivors of extreme circumstances that resulted in the death of their loved ones are supposed to forgive, and Christians struggle with that. We are reminded that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We reject Jesus’ own words and the theology Jesus gives us. We are angry and hurt and resentful and we hurt. Some of us simply do not win the struggle.

Black people have struggled with having to forgive white people for all the atrocities that have been done over the years. I daresay that there has been some forgiveness or else black people as a cultural group in this nation would not have survived to the present day. It was slavery, yes, but it has also been Jim Crow and lynching and injustice via the justice system and discrimination in education and housing and employment. In spite of it, black people have not been eradicated, either physically or spiritually. Forgiveness has to be credited with the survival of black people because forgiveness is for the one who forgives, not for the one being forgiven.

But it has been and continues to be a struggle. Forgiveness is a process.

Only time will tell how and if the survivors of those slain in Charleston will be able to forgive Dylann Roof; only time will tell if the African-American community will be able to forgive yet one more assault on our collective presence in this nation.

But this much is a sure thing: forgiveness for these horrific murders has not come to be yet. We need all be in prayer for those who are working to put their Christian faith into action. The words and commands of Jesus are not easy. Those confronted with this kind of pain know that all too well.

A candid observation …

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Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest frustrations I have about being a Christian and using the Bible as my text of reference is that there is no ONE interpretation of the words written in our sacred book.

Peter Gomes, the late chaplain of Harvard University, writes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart, writes: One of the greatest ironies available to people who take the Bible seriously is that they may be tempted to take it, and themselves, so seriously that God and the truths of God to which the Bible points may be obscured, perverted, or lost entirely.” (p. 35)

He continues by saying that there is a temptation to see, in the Bible, no further understanding of what we see which leads to an “idolatry of scripture.

I thought about that as I read an article this morning on the CNN Belief blog about the religion of President Barack Obama. It seems that there are a fair number of people “out there” who do not think he is a real Christian. They are troubled by what he has said and done and by what he has not said and done. Author John Blake says in the article that many say that the president is the “wrong kind” of Christian.

Talk like that drives me nuts, because I don’t understand what the “right kind” of Christian is. Is the “right” kind of Christian the one who believes that the poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps even if they have no boots?

Blake says that the president is a “religious pioneer,” who is “challenging the Religious Right‘s “domination of the national stage.” (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/21/to-some-obama-is-the-wrong-kind-of-christian/?hpt=hp_c1)  The president is called a “progressive,” but according to clerics quoted in Blake’s piece, many believe that one cannot be Progressive and be a Christian.

The president apparently interprets the scriptures to mean that believers in Jesus are proponents of the social gospel, which compels the  “haves” to assist “the least of these.” But many from the Religious Right think that such a stand is not supported by the Bible and say that interpreting the Gospel to mean that government should help the poor smacks of socialism.

It is mind-boggling to me that all of us who read the Bible can and do walk away with such different and diverse interpretations of the words written, but that’s because I believe that since there’s one God, there is one way of doing things. Since God is love and God has no favorites, then this God would want those who have to help the least of these. That’s social gospel talking, through and through …but it is my interpretation. The Bible is not a mathematical formula; there is no quaint equation that mandates that everyone believe and interpret the same way.

That, for me, is a problem. How can there be one God and so many different ways of interpreting what God requires? And, even bigger than that, why doesn’t God step in and do something so that all the different interpretations will fall to the wayside?

For me, the way the Religious Right has tended to interpret the Bible is not acceptable. The Religious Right’s interpretation of scripture has left too many people out, left too many people marginalized.  That cannot be my conception of God; I could not worship a God who condoned racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism …God has to be better than that, has to demand better than that.

The CNN article says that the president’s article focuses more on community betterment than individual attainment. That, to me, sounds about right, but the people quoted in the article disagree. The attention paid to community and, more specifically, the “beloved community” talked about by Martin Luther King, has a socialist slant.

At the end of the day, though the president has a concern for the masses, and the communities of God’s people, he is still criticized by even those who believe more in the social gospel than in the fundamentalist way of the Religious Right. Many have criticized him for not doing enough for African-Americans, though he would argue that the Affordable Care Act really does address the needs of that community and other marginalized communities by providing them a way to get health care.

Some who have criticized the president for being the “wrong” kind of Christian say that they haven’t heard him say important things, like, for instance, that he was “born again.” They are suspicious of his Christianity because it is informed and influenced by all of the different religions to which he has been exposed.

But I shake my head. The “right” kind of Christian does and says what? The evangelicals I’ve read have not been very kind, not very merciful and certainly not very inclusive. The God I find in the Bible is all of that, and more.

At the heart of the discontent about the president’s religion, again, is the Bible, that marvelous yet troubling text which leaves so much open to individual interpretation. Gomes says in his book that people say “the Bible says what it means and means what it says.”  He quotes Matthew 8:12, where it says the wicked will be cast into outer darkness where “men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” Writes Gomes: “A toothless reprobate asked his hellfire-preaching pastor what would happen to those who had no teeth to gnash: ‘Teeth will be provided,'” was the answer.

The problem is that all of us put our own human, individual interpretations on words that I wish left no room for variable takes. Those who criticize the president for his take on the Bible have their take too. So, who decides who is “right” and who is “wrong?”

There is no answer…there never has been …and there will never be. But I think it’s wrong for any of us to make a judgment call on who is right and who is wrong. At the end of the day, none of us really know.  We can all think we are “right,” but at the end of the day, I have to believe that the God of the Bible is a God of love, mercy, forgiveness, inclusion and kindness, in addition to being an exacting God who demands that we do as S/He has asked us to do.

Just saying ….

A candid observation

The Beauty and Power of Forgiveness

Deutsch: Desmond Tutu beim Evangelischen Kirch...
Image via Wikipedia

Once, not long ago, I listened to a white woman say that she was not interested in learning African-American history. “It’ll just make us mad,” she said, explaining that she knew the history was not good. She would rather just not know about it.

I thought her sentiments rather unfortunate. The only way America will heal of her horrid racism is by embracing the history that is hers. The embracing would be for knowledge, for understanding, not for criticism or blame. Both whites and blacks in America run from our racial history, to the detriment of our nation.

Krista Tippet, in her NPR program, On Being, recently interviewed Bishop Desmond Tutu. He said in that interview, “If these white people had wanted to keep us in bondage, they shouldn’t have given us the Bible!” The Bible, Bishop Tutu said, is “dynamite.” The “scriptures say that we are created in the image of God; each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter the color of our skin,” Tutu continued, “it does not take away our intrinsic worth.”

In Tutu’s South Africa, most  black African women were called “Annie,” and most black men were called “boy,” because, the white people said, their African names were too difficult to pronounce. It was humiliating for the blacks, and yet, Tutu said, there was a need to forgive.

The scriptures demand it.

Interfaith cooperation helped make forgiveness the goal in South Africa. “God faith inspired people to great acts of courage,” he said. God faith made people to want to fall into the arms of forgiveness instead of the arms of revenge and enmity.

In the 1990s, there was, according to Tippet, a “heart-felt apology” on the parts of some in South Africa. “Just as we were recovering our breath, the God of surprises” revealed himself, said Tutu. Apartheid could not be justified scripturally. Those white clergy who said that suffered expulsion from their churches. No matter. What they stood for was right, and they were involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Tutu chaired. People who had been damaged by apartheid came forward and told their stories. For many, it was the first time they realized how horrible apartheid had been.

Tutu said, “I was amazed at how powerful it was to be able to tell your story.  You could see in the number of people who for so long had been faceless…there was something to rehabilitate them. It was a healing thing.”

Tutu related the story of a young black man who had been blinded by police officers. After he told his story, a member of the Commission asked him, “How do you feel?” and the young man said, “You have given me back my eyes.”

When victims meet the perpetrator, Tutu said, they have a chance to drain the bitterness and anger out. Healing becomes possible, for victim and for oppressor. “We discovered…despite the fact that it was not a requirement…those who heard would turn to the victims, and say, “Please, forgive us,” and almost always, the victims would.”

What would happen if such commissions were held in America? We continually sweep the horrors of racism under the rug, all of us, black and white, and as long as we do that, there can be no forgiveness, no healing.

Tutu says that when he is asked if South Africa has achieved reconciliation, he asks them to look at Germany. “In Germany…where there are people who are speaking the same language, they are still alienated.”

Forgiveness…works.

In South Africa, in spite of many different ethnic groups, with people speaking many different languages, reconciliation has been achieved. “The promotion of national unity, reconciliation, has been set in place.” It is not complete, but reconciliation is a “national project.” It is a process, he says, a process which America has never engaged in.

Tutu says the world in general and South Africa in particular, has underestimated the damage apartheid has imposed on the psyches of the people, both black and white. The same can be said for what American racism has done  in our country. The cloud of white supremacy and the underlying belief of black inferiority has taken its toll. It has done much damage.

America has not dealt with racism; she has not dealt with the damage done to a nation which has made one race think it is superior, and the other, grossly inferior. Tutu says South Africans are damaged. So are Americans.

It took a lot of courage for Bishop Tutu and others to call for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Forgiveness is a process, not an event. The first step, it seems is for the victims of horrid racism to be given a chance to tell their stories. Amazingly, anger dissipates. There is room for God, who, ultimately, is in charge.

It would be a wonderful thing if America had, long ago, made room for the God of surprises. God wants his people to live together. God wants forgiveness, wants us to give and to receive forgiveness. There is a beauty and a power in forgiveness.

The problem is not God. It is us…

A candid observation …