Struggling in the Presence of Hate

         Sometimes, I find myself apologizing to God.

My mother drilled into us that Jesus said  we are supposed to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” She was being Biblical. We all know the Great Commandment that appears in both the Hebrew scriptures and is quoted by Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            It is one of what I call the “ridiculous” and distasteful commands we are supposed to know and follow. It is as problematic for human beings as is the command to forgive. If we do not forgive those who hurt us, God will not forgive us, we are told, but everyone knows that forgiving those who have caused our souls mortal pain is not only distasteful but extremely difficult.

            The first theologian in my life, my mother, was the one who drilled into me and my siblings “what Jesus said” to do. She said it as we watched images on television of firemen spray children and women with their firehoses and police officers used dogs to attack people who were peacefully protesting against the practice of segregation. “Jesus said you have to love them and forgive them!” my mother called out to us from the kitchen.

            Even as a child I wrestled with what my mother said Jesus commanded, and I wondered if the white folks who were putting vicious dogs on innocent people had to forgive and love everyone, too? As I got older and began to study the history of racism in this country, I wondered even more.

            And I still do.

            Because white people are desperate to hold onto their whiteness, they are acting in desperation, doing all they can to “preserve” the status of their race because they are afraid of this country becoming too brown. The reports that indicate that by 2034 white people will no longer be the majority in this country has them mortified, and so they are working as hard as they can to establish a minority-run government – a government not like that of South Africa. 

            They believe in apartheid. 

            There are people who, no doubt, would say that I am being hyperbolic, but I am not concerned about their rants. What I am concerned about is my own struggle to do what Jesus said for us to do as I watch them run roughshod over this country that Black, brown, Asian, poor, and Native American people built. 

            They have always done that. There are a fair amount of white people who will openly admit that they believe that this country was “built for white people by white people,” and others who gasp and protest at such a suggestion.

            But it is true, and it is also true that far too many white people, even while they are declaring that they are not racist, live in the comfort of being white and do not think much about how white supremacy has poisoned the world. Kehinde Andrews, in his book The New Age of Empire, says that this country “is the most extreme expression of the racist world order.” He also says that America’s “entire existence is based on the logic of Western empire,” and that it became “a Garden of Eden for Europeans looking for wealth and opportunity.” Finally, he says this country “likes to present itself as a victim of British colonialism which freed itself from tyranny and now looks to do the same for the rest of the world.” This, he says, “is a delusional fantasy.”

            But because America lives in the myth of its own moral superiority, it cannot, has not, and will not admit its racism. The powers that be continue to try to keep the truth of this country’s heinous history of racism away from white children, who grow up to unaware white adults.

            And as they continue to walk over Black, brown, Asian, Native American, Muslims…and so many other groups, they perpetrate and engage in behaviors and make policies that hurt and hold back people whom they do not believe are fully human and thus worthy of being treated as such.

            Those are the people we are supposed to love and forgive, even as they refuse to love us back. If they must think of forgiving us, I suppose they would think that they have to forgive us for encroaching upon their privilege.

            Here is the struggle, though. I don’t want to love them. And I am struggling to forgive them for all of the pain they have caused so many. I am angry at them for their lack of concern at what they do to non-white people, and for their arrogance that comes from knowing they can do pretty much what they want to non-white people and get away with it. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who participated in the January 6 insurrection. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who have made wearing a mask to help keep other people from getting COVID-19 a political issue. I don’t want to love and forgive lawmakers who have shown they have no spine or strength, and who are helping to usher this country ruination. I just don’t want to do it.

            The human part of all of us wants “justice.” When we are wronged we want the wronged person to “get his” or “hers.” We want them to suffer as they have made us suffer. If we try to follow the dictates of the Bible, we know that we are supposed to let God do the “getting.” 

            But God moves too slowly. And too often, God seems to be on the side of the oppressor. God has allowed white people to oppress people in this country for over 400 years, and has allowed them to attack Black and brown people for literally generations. In the name of God, white Christians have massacred people of color and taken their land from them here and globally. In this country, they slaughtered Native Americans and took their land, unafraid of divine repercussions because they believed God had commissioned them to do so.

            White people, filled with hate and their God, have committed acts of violence against people in this country from the beginning. Sam Bowers, once the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was convicted of murdering Vernon Dahmer because he dared help register Black people to vote,, believed that he had been called by God to save white people and white supremacy. He would lead his “soldiers” in fasting and praying before they went out to terrorize and slaughter Black people. White preachers and pastors have taught that racism is of and from God.

            We are supposed to love and forgive people who have been absolutely evil in our lives, and I, for one, struggle with that. I struggle because it’s difficult and I also struggle because I wonder what good it does in the end. I struggle because I am fairly sure that those who would kill and terrorize others don’t give loving and forgiving others a milli-second of thought. These people will never change.

            Years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive Who? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. I think I need to do a second edition. Maybe, through writing out my frustrations with God I can move from frustration to freedom from my frustration and do what God commands, even as I continue to push for the freedom, justice, and dignity for all people, even those who flout their racially-based hatred and work for the demise of me and people like me who they have decided are not fully human and therefore not worthy of equity.

            It is most distasteful, and a horrific struggle …

            A candid observation…

Coming to Grips with Christian Nationalism

The scriptures say that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. Specifically, Ephesians 6:12 says, (in the King James Version KJV) of the Bible): For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

It never occurred to me that different groups of people who call themselves Christian interpret not only this verse differently, but words in the entire Bible. What some groups of Christians call “truth,” another totally dismisses as being against the will of God.

As I grew up, I came to realize that not everyone who reads the words of Jesus interprets them in the way I was taught. I was stunned, still, though, when I read that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), questioned about his belief in the Bible, and in the words of Jesus the Christ, said upon being asked if he understood the story of the Good Samaritan, and the “Great Commandment,” that says we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves” said, “Of course I know the scriptures! But nowhere do the scriptures say that we do not get to choose our neighbor!”

That interview stunned me. I grew up believing the words of Jesus, found in the Gospels, could only be interpreted one way. In fact, I grew up believing that the Bible could likewise be interpreted only one way. The words ..were the words, not at all difficult to read and understand. In my way of thinking, there was no question as to how they should be interpreted.

But there is and there have been vastly different ways of interpreting words which have given life to oppressed people. In her book, The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart notes that Christian Nationalists have a very different worldview – based on their interpretation of the Bible. First of all, many believe that the New International Version (NIV) Bible is sacrilege – that it “perverts Jesus Christ into Lucifer.” She also notes that this group of people believe that “scripture opposes public assistance for the poor unless it passes through church coffers, that it votes against environmentalism, that it opposes gun regulations, favors privatization of schools through vouchers, and tells us that same-sex relationships are an abomination and emphatically does not want women to have access to comprehensive, twenty-first-century reproductive medical care.” (pp.16-17)

This group also believes that “true Christians” are supposed to exercise dominion over the “seven mountains” of culture: government, business, education, the media, arts and entertainment, family, and religion.”(p. 25)

This is a movement that is not dying but instead is growing and has been for some time. It is a group that would have approved of the late Bob Jones, founder, and president of the Bob Jones University, who said in an Easter Sunday morning broadcast in 1960 that “God is the author of segregation.”

These ways of looking at the Bible are totally anathema to me, and I suppose to many others, but the truth is, those Christians who are not a part of the Christian Nationalist movement need to be aware and actively engaged to making sure a different interpretation of scripture is being taught. The Bible’s directives to believe in justice, to take care of those who are hungry and thirsty and naked and lost seem clear to me, as does the meaning of the Great Commandment, but what is clear to me is almost considered blasphemous to members of the Christian Nationalist movement.

In my work studying how black and white people see God, I already determined that there are two different gods for each ethnic group. I am not the first person to decide this; white theologians in history decided the same thing, some deciding that their God could not possibly have created black people. But the fact that “the Bible” can be and is the object of such disparate interpretations is rattling, to say the least.

Stewart notes in her book that many Christian nationalists feel persecuted; that feeling is behind their cry for “religious freedom.” Progressive Christians, she says, have been way behind in getting their message out. She says “progressive religious voices have figured out only how to grab a headline here or there for the benefit of sympathetic audiences. They do not know how to seize the reins of political power.”

It seems that if ever there was a time for “progressive religious voices” to make themselves heard, it is now, because the Christian nationalists are on a mission to seize political power by using their version of the meaning of God, Jesus, and the Bible.” Living in denial of what we are facing seems not only troubling but an indication of a lack of awareness of what is going on. People tend not to believe that “the worst” can happen to them: not in their neighborhoods, their schools, their country …and in their religion. That is a way of thinking which always proves to be wrong.

In this time of transition, those who disagree with the Christian nationalists need to step up and speak out …or be forever forced to hold their peace.

A candid observation …

On Pseudo-Christianity

I have long said that if a person cannot, will not, or does not follow the words of Jesus, then that person cannot call oneself a Christian. As Christians, we are called to imitate the way Jesus lived and to follow his words. Short of doing that, a “religious” person who attends a Christian church cannot claim to be a Christian. At best, he or she is a church-goer.

The president this week “disagreed” with Jesus’ lesson to us to “love our enemies,” and he doubted the faith of those who say they pray for their enemies. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-politicization-of-the-national-prayer-breakfast-is-unholy-and-immoral/2020/02/06/529518e4-4931-11ea-bdbf-1dfb23249293_story.html) Jesus said for us to do that, most starkly in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the president rejected the words and teaching of Jesus as his “enemies” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney listened,

It has been interesting to listen to people marvel at African Americans voice forgiveness for the persons who have killed their loved ones. The most recent example of a black person forgiving someone was Brandt Jean, who publicly forgave the white police officer who shot and killed his brother as he sat in his own apartment. (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi) His act did not endear him to many; in fact, many Christians – black especially but others as well – have scoffed at Jesus’ directives to forgive, to “turn the other cheek,” and to treat enemies with respect.

But if the truth be told, had not the words of Jesus been pounded into the psyches of black people, we as a people would have been long gone. We did not have any support for our lives and our rights – not from white people, not from the system, including Congress and the US Supreme Court, and we did not have the same access to weapons as did white people. Nonviolence saved protesters on the street; struggling to “do” the words of Jesus saved the souls and spirits of protesters as they continued to fight their enemies on a daily basis.

In a book I wrote some years ago, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command, I examined this directive given to us by Jesus. It is as distasteful as it is difficult. It makes one feel weak because the natural human inclination is to fight stones with stones, and yet when the playing field is so uneven, it is a given that the powerful have more stones they can access, and therefore to wipe out their opposition.

The power of Jesus’ words is their ability to empower and strengthen people, who show a weird love – the love of God – and stand in front of their oppressors in spite of their pain and anger. It is doubtful that anyone “forgives” his or her enemies right away; that seems humanly impossible, but the words of Jesus become seeds in bruised souls and begin to sprout even as the victim of evil works to breathe through their pain. The act of forgiving first helps the one who has suffered an attack or affront from any number of sources. It is the highest, most supreme show of strength one can exhibit.

Those who do not, cannot, or will not forgive display what hatred and anger and resentment does to one’s spirit. The president is an example. He only wants revenge; the desire is eating at him, so intense that even in a “prayer breakfast,” where supposedly devout Christians have gathered to honor God, he cannot hold his pain within him, and he openly disavowed the words of Jesus the Christ.

And the Christians-in-name-only applauded him and laughed, which says at least to me that something is awry in their souls as well.

There is much confusion about forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean you become best friends with the one who hurt you (no need to set up a time for “tea and crumpets), but it does mean that you lose the visceral reaction you experience when you even think of what the person has done to you. It frees you even as your abuser drowns in bitterness and anger.

What we have seen this week in this president and in the religious nationalists is a love of power, not of Jesus. We have heard – and will continue to hear and see – his words of anger and contempt for those who he deems as being his enemies, and he will spew his venom all over this country and everything he touches.

He and others might claim to be “Christian,” but they cannot be. They adhere to something that can only be called “pseudo Christianity,” something which has no foundation and teaches nothing about how to be one’s best self in the face of abject evil and attacks.

Those who fight with fists claim that they are strong. Dictators, who cannot stand to be criticized or challenged, and who kill and/or destroy anyone who does either, also claim to be strong,  But their quest for absolute power, and their willingness to put God and the instructions for life given by Jesus the Christ on the periphery of their lives, makes them the weakest people of all.

A  candid observation.

Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump

In spite of all of the bad news – morally, economically, and politically – which has come out about Donald Trump from the moment he announced his intention to run for the presidency, nothing has been bad enough for his “base,” – which includes a wide swath of white evangelicals- to desert him. Continue reading “Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump”

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…