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…

Listening for a Silent God

 For a while, I have been listening with interest to the claims by some that God made Donald Trump president of the United States. (https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2019/02/01/sarah-sanders-god-wanted-trump-to-be-president-peter-guthrie)

This week, Mark Lindell, the  “My Pillow” guy, repeated the claim at the CPAC event. (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/mar/1/mike-lindell-my-pillow-founder-says-donald-trump-w/)

The claims make me shudder.

The God that I was taught was not a God who approved of hatred and bigotry; my Sunday School God was one who demanded that we love God with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls – and our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-34) My Sunday School God said I had to love the white people who were hosing little kids in Birmingham and church deacons who were lynching black people just because they could – lynching them for things like registering people to vote, for example.

My Sunday School God said I had to forgive any and everyone who offended me. No doubt it was that Sunday School God who empowered the survivors of the mass shooting by Dylann Roof of people attending Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church to say they forgave him.

My Sunday School God wanted all people to be free; my Sunday School God supported liberation and dignity and justice for all humans – and my Sunday School God had no favorites. It would have seemed preposterous for the God who created everything and everyone to hate everything He/She created.

So, I have long been puzzled by the God of white people who seems to support racism and sexism and all of the other “isms.” I have long been troubled that my Sunday School God seemed cut out of the story by some white people, who saw nothing wrong with lynching someone on a Saturday night and going to church on Sunday morning.

I have been puzzled by the silence of my Sunday School God who has allowed so many people to suffer from the oppression – economic, social, cultural, emotional and psychological – levied on some people by another group of people who have decided that they are better than everyone else.

If God put Donald Trump in office, what does that say about who God is, ultimately?

This man and his administration are waging war against the concepts of “liberty and justice for all.” They are practicing selective immigration, calling people of color by horrific names and being willing to spend literally billions of dollars for a border wall on the US southern border, while leaving the northern border virtually alone. It is not a new thing; white people in this country have sought to control the number of people of color coming into this country for hundreds of years, but by virtue of being alive, I am experiencing this latest assault.

This God is allowing policies to be passed which will adversely affect “the least of these” for generations; this God continues to allow unarmed black and brown people to be shot by law enforcement officers and get away with it.

This same God allowed “good, God-fearing Christians” to participate in mass murders of black people without having to answer for it. (https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/tulsa-race-riot) (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/) . This God said and did nothing when black people and white allies tried to integrate churches during the 60s.

And just this week, this God allowed the United Methodist Church to pass a discriminatory judgment against the LGBTQA community. (https://www.npr.org/2019/03/02/699506797/united-methodists-face-fractured-future)

Why is God silent when people hurt and are discriminated against? Why does God apparently support racism and sexism and all of the other “isms” that cause so many people to suffer?

We don’t have answers, or at least I don’t. Black theologians have struggled with this question for the longest time. The late Rev. Dr. James Cone wrote extensively about it in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

The challenge for pastors and preachers is to keep people believing in this silent God, elevating God above the stench of oppression wielded by white supremacy which is practiced all over the world.

Benito Mussolini, an adherent to and believer in white supremacy, said, “God does not exist. Religion in science is an absurdity.” I can’t go to that place; belief in a just God is the only thing that keeps oppressed people sane.

But if God wanted Donald Trump to be president, what does that say to the masses who are being oppressed and denied equality, justice, and fairness?

It would be nice if God would step up and put oppression in its place and exact from all who say they are believers …a command to stop throwing their whiteness around and treat all people with the dignity and respect all of God’s people deserve.

A candid observation …