My Struggle with the Bullied God

            It is not a wise thing to share struggles one has with one’s religion or one’s God, especially if one is an ordained minister, and yet, that is where I am.

            My stomach turns when I hear people say, “The Bible says…” or “Scripture says…” I find myself scowling and thinking, “Which Bible are you speaking of?” I have watched throughout my life people quoting scripture and at the same time showing hatred and disrespect for fellow human beings. It has always made my blood boil, but more now.

            I was repulsed when people who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, stopped to pray, lift up holy hands, and call on “the Lord Jesus.” Again, the question for me was, “whose Jesus?” Certainly not the Jesus of the Gospel, the Jesus who taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, the Jesus who reached out to include the marginalized and ignored. So, to whom, exactly, were they referring?

            It was probably the same Jesus that Sam Bowers, who was the co-founder and the first Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan worshiped. Bowers shared that he had a Damascus Road experience where God told him to save white supremacy. That was to be his ministry. Bowers was a church-going man who gathered murderers-in-training for prayer and fasting before they would go on their sprees to intimidate, terrorize, and murder Black people, Jews, and those whom he believed were Communists.

Bowers was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering Vernon Dahmer, a Black man who registered Black people to vote, but before that, he had spent six years in federal prison for the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. He apparently loved “the Lord Jesus.”

            God, it seems, has been remarkably amenable to being manipulated. White nationalists manipulate the deity, as do members of other dominant groups, and God seemingly is OK with it. There is no one group of people that is less likely to manipulate God. It seems that the powerful are the ones who not only define society, its rules, mores, and customs, but also God and what is required to be “holy” in the sight of their God. They make their power their god.

            The subjugation of people is not unique or new; white nationalists are part of a bloodline of those who oppress people, using violence, in order to hold onto power. Walter Wink notes in Engaging the Powers: “The Romans subjugated the Jews and attempted to destroy the Christian church. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church fought and subjugated the Gnostics, inquisitors subjugated witches, the Germans murdered the Jews and the Jews, who suffered so hideously at the hands of Hitler, now subjugate and murder the Palestinians.” That’s not a popular thing to say, but it is true.  Again according to Wink, Marc Ellis, a Jewish writer, wrote, “The tragedy of the Holocaust is indelibly ingrained in our consciousness. Contemporary Jewish theology helps us to come to grips with our suffering; it hardly recognizes that today we are powerful. It holds in tension Holocaust and the need for empowerment. Consequently, it speaks eloquently for the victims of Treblinka and Auschwitz yet can ignore Sabra and Shatila.” (pp. 200-201)

            What we worship is power and money, not God; that means that money and power are, for us, God. And it is maddening. It seems that those with power and money bully God into submission, and God acquiesces! God, the Creator of all, is silent in the face of horrendous suffering. Those who worship money and power credit God for the murderous actions they take against people who threaten or challenge them; they say God is the source of the suffering of human beings who are accosted, afflicted, and assaulted by, again, human beings. God brought Hurricane Katrina, they say, to punish members of the LGBTQIA community; God is the force behind the abject poverty of Haiti because its Black leaders dared to fight against white oppression and win. God is the author of segregation and not only created but approved of slavery. The power people say all of that and more and God, the bullied God, says and does nothing.

            The God of the powerful is not a deity that believes in mercy and love and forgiveness. No, their God is one who sanctions those who judge others based on human definitions of wickedness and sin. The Jesus of the Gospel, who said to the woman caught in the act of adultery “Go and sin no more” is absent for the powerbrokers. That Jesus is not the Jesus people in power refer to or respect. 

            The Bible doesn’t help. The Bible was written by men in power, and in this so-called sacred text, we see misogyny, sexism, toxic masculinity, racism, classism, and far too much violence. And while so many refer to the Bible as the go-to text for all they say and do, it is a tainted text that has been manipulated to support power. The Negro Bible, also called The Slave Bible was written by white people who wanted to keep enslaved Black people in their place and not get the idea that God was a deity who supported their quest for freedom and equity. Whole books of the Bible were taken out of this special text created especially for the enslaved.

            And so I struggle. The god of white nationalists is not the God of the Bible, but the Bible isn’t all that sacred, seeing as how people have willfully distorted, changed, and manipulated the words contained within its pages at will. There is a flagrant and blatant disregard of the Great Commandment – that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and our neighbors as ourselves – and there is little fear that ignoring that command will result in any consequences.  The bullied God says and does nothing, and the powers and principalities continue doing exactly what they want.

            In 1953, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King warned against the “false God of nationalism.” It is that god that is running the politics of this country, or that is at least being quiet as this country continues to run roughshod over “the least of these.” 

            “The least of these” need some victories, victories that cannot and will not be overturned by political operatives, including the US Supreme Court. Even as human beings deride, disrespect, and disregard the rights and needs of so many people, the Creator God of us all really needs to stand up and stay up and fight the good fight against those who have made bullying God their favorite pastime.

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 Search of the “Sound of the Genuine”

 The celebration of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King has come and gone, and what is troubling is that so many who are working against everything he stood for had the audacity to give tributes to the man and to his work.

 It was a sham of epic proportions. Even as the possibility of voting rights legislation being passed hangs by a thread, those who have said publicly that allowing it to pass would be a violation of the Constitution praised Dr. King, who wrote in 1965 in aNew York Times article, “Civil Right No. 1: The Right to Vote. “

 The words of these people, coupled with effusive praise of Dr. King given by corporations that are funding Republicans who are supporting the making and passage of voter suppression laws is all the evidence that one needs to understand that there was and is nothing genuine in their words.

 Howard Thurman, inThe Luminous Darkness, wrote about the “sound of the genuine” that we listen for in others. Specifically, he wrote, “There is some region in every man that listens for the sound of the genuine in other men.” When there is no fellowship between persons, however, Thurman says the “sound will not come through and the will to listen to it is not manifest.”

 There is no fellowship between “us” and “them,” teams that have been a part of the American infrastructure since the beginning of this country. There have been times, notes Thurman, when there was a sort of fellowship between Black and white people in the South, but under the terms determined and dictated by whites. As long as Black people stayed in their lane, and understood their place, the two races could communicate. But the fellowship was false because there was no agreed-upon foundation for that relationship. Black people could not offer or ask for what they needed in order to feel validated and affirmed as human beings.

 It seems that we search for the “sound of the genuine” not only in our relationships with people of other races, religions, and ethnicities but often in our relationships with each other. We know when something is amiss in our conversation with another person, someone we purport to know. Our spirits tell us. We become uneasy, and very often, we will back away from those relationships rather than do the work required to create an honest and authentic relationship, where there is, in fact, genuine caring and concern for, and understanding of, the other person.

 Searching for the sound of the genuine is difficult work in any relationship-building, but more so when it comes to the relationships between Blacks and whites in this country. Our relationship broke down hundreds of years ago – based on the acceptance of a faulty belief in white supremacy, causing the white race to believe in its superiority over Black people. The human spirit – that which is in every one of us – rejects that type of denigration, even as it struggles to find its place within it. Whites and Black people have made each other an “it” as opposed to a “thou,” and in so doing, have decreased if not eliminated the possibility for genuine fellowship and thus, a sharing of the “sound of the genuine” in each other. If we juxtapose that against the words of Jesus, who believed in and taught the Great Commandment – that we love our neighbor as ourselves, we find ourselves in a difficult position. The command of Jesus seems as unattainable as it is undesirable. We do not want a relationship with the “its” in our lives. We are content to stay far away and not even think about looking for or expecting the sound of the genuine in them. They have already shown us who they are, and, as Maya Angelou advised us, we have chosen to believe them.

 What do we do, then, when we are spiritually and morally offended by the type of dishonest “honoring” of one who worked until he died for a “beloved community,” including in it even those whom we doubt have the capacity for genuine love within them? We have to step back, away from our raw anger, bitterness, and resentment – which Thurman says becomes a residue in us that becomes “hate.” Some kind of way we have to inhale the spirit of God which says that God is greater than the hypocrisy and hatred and determination to destroy the quest for freedom of Black people and all others who are oppressed in this country. Our relationship with God has to come front and center and move us to understand that within everyone, even those whom we despise, there is a place that is human and not political, and that place can be reached but only when we are committed to the truth that God is greater than any foolish, painful, and destructive “ism” that works to destroy others.

 What words do we whisper when our very souls are cringing with resentment? What do we do when we remember the words of the Great Commandment, or the words of Jesus that we are to love those who persecute us, or worse, love our enemies? Maybe just this: that God is truth. Octavia Butler famously said “All that you touch, you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.”

 In search of the sound of the genuine, those of us who have the strength to push forward and work to “touch” the evil that hurts so bad must do it, and in so doing, show the rest of us how to move. It is only God who can water the dried-out spirits that are so dry that their capacity to release their “genuine” parts is badly limited. Maybe we who are able can work to touch those dried-out spirits, first in ourselves and then in those with whom we would rather not, for the sake of building of the Beloved Community here on earth.

 Amen and amen.

Will Racism in this Country Ever be Gone?

Someone asked me recently if racism will ever be gone from this country.

After pausing, I said, “I doubt it.”

I have watched the venom called racism bubble up and spill over into every aspect of our lives over the past four years. It was always there; its bubbling up just indicated that there had been enough holes made in the veneer of respectability and tolerance for the venom to spill out.

It has been awful and will get even worse. Those who have lived in their own quiet halls and hells stuffed with their resentment of Black people have come out. Some are calling for civil war. One teacher said to her class that if it weren’t for the U.S. Constitution, Black students would be her “field slaves. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/north-carolina-teacher-accused-telling-black-students-they-could-be-n1281164). White parents see nothing wrong with their children calling Black children “nigger,” and worry instead that if their children are taught too much Black history, it will teach them to hate their white skin. (https://www.chalkbeat.org/2021/5/18/22441106/critical-race-theory-teaching-about-racism). They put their complaints within the arguments against teaching children Critical Race Theory – which is a course taught in college – saying that they don’t want anything taught that makes white people look bad; it is divisive, they say. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/).

Meanwhile, we who are Black continue to struggle against oppressive practices and policies that have always been a barrier for us to enjoy full American citizenship.

It is difficult to accept or even to listen to these complaints; it is infuriating to hear white parents talk about how they don’t want even the story of Ruby Bridges, who integrated the William Frantz Elementary School in 1959 and was made to sit in a classroom by herself for a year – just because she was Black, or to read Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that he wrote during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

They don’t want their children to learn about how “law enforcement” lynched Black people just because they could; they don’t want their children to learn how Black people built this country; they don’t want their children to learn how Black men who fought in this country’s wars were ineligible for many of the veteran benefits afforded to white men – just because they were Black.

They have concocted a god who supports white supremacy, a god who will not condemn them for what their race has done. Many of their preachers uphold the belief that white supremacy is of god and from god, and some argued during the 60s that to fight for the civil (and human) rights of Black people was to put their own salvation in jeopardy.

Despite using the name “Christian” in their goings-on, the truth is nothing that many of these people practice and ascribe to is in alignment with what Jesus the Christ taught. Jesus’ strength, or a big part of it, was his capacity to include and embrace all people. His message was that God wanted community, not chaos, and that all people were worthy of being in community. Racism and the support of white supremacy – which includes not only racism but sexism as well – was not a part of his message, not a part of the “Good News,” so when I hear rabid racists declare that they are Christian, my very soul recoils. The late Rev. CT Vivian said it best, “You cannot be a racist and be a Christian.”

Using the name of God to rubber-stamp hatred and bigotry, and to effect policies that are so detrimental to so many people, is offensive to me. It feels like a violation of the commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Using the name of Jesus to justify racial hatred is like spreading a deadly rumor.

What I see is a group of people who are disgruntled with their own privilege; though they bristle when it is mentioned that they have privilege, the truth is that they feel like their privilege has been affected and compromised by too many Black people “getting too much.” Instead of hearts filled with the type of agape love preached by the Christ, their hearts seem to be filled with this resentment, which feeds their hatred for and paranoia about the progress that Black people have made in spite of everything that has put in place to prevent it. Their belief in their superiority has kept them afloat even when they have internally known that that claim is bogus; what they have always been able to do is fall back on their go-to “blessed assurance,” “at least I’m not Black.”

Jesus the Christ says to love those who persecute you. And forgive them. Those lessons have probably kept Black people alive in spite of the heinous treatment they/we have endured because the people who hate us have had access to friendly and biased courts, police departments, and policies. They have had – and have used – weapons of mass social destruction. Black people have held on and remained on the battlefield because the lessons of love and forgiveness work; they replace feelings of hatred with the spirit of God that the world did not give and which the world cannot take away.

But this fight is exhausting. White people want a civil war; I would guess that many want Black people – and all of the immigrants of color whom they do not like – to be put “in their place” and thus, “Make America great again.” We as Black people move and live knowing that there is no entity that protects us – not the police, not the lawmakers (who are actually lawbreakers), and certainly not the courts. We move and love knowing that the only peg on which to hang our hope is the belief that Jesus the Christ hears us and will continue to strengthen us. Our refusal to run and crumble will only feed the rabid anger and resentment of white people, whose privilege is not enough to make them whole.

Belief in their supremacy because of their race has damaged their spirits, but they are not willing to admit it and therefore, will not be healed. A problem cannot be fixed unless and until it is acknowledged, and our white brothers and sisters are unwilling to do neither.

Racism in this country will not end, then, because that unwillingness to admit the problems is blocking the healing. The whole world knows about America’s illness and has used it to get into our lives and interfere with our government. It is happening now.

And it will not end well.

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.