Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Forgotten Years, September 1963-1968. (August 28, 2013)
In our public celebration of the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., there is often not much said about the time between the “I Have a Dream” speech, given 50 years ago today in 1963, and the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech delivered in Memphis the night before his death in 1968. There were certainly some great successes in the civil rights movement during this time, most notably the civil rights legislation that passed into law during the Johnson administration. It was also during this period that King received the Nobel Peace Prize, but in most of the public discourse about King, there is not much said concerning the direction of King’s thought during this period of time.
It could be argued that King’s most systemic thinking occurs from 1963 to 1968, yet this is the period in which his thought was most ignored, both during and after his life. I think the reason for this may be precisely because of just how systemic King’s thinking and public discourse was during the last years of his life. He was getting closer and closer to the core structural and systemic problems that perpetuate inequality in our society. He also became one of the most vocal opponents to the Vietnam War. King was pointing to the need for systemic changes to our political and economic structures and practices, and this was all much more radical than the King we as a nation tend to celebrate with a national holiday and with special remembrance today (the day of “I Have a Dream”) and on the day of his death.
At the heart of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of civil rights was his vision for equal opportunity for all. He understood equal opportunity was not possible without civil rights, but he also knew that equal opportunity was not possible without addressing the systemic problem of poverty in our society. This is why he was so thoroughly engaged in the Poor Peoples’ Campaign at the time of his death. This latter part of King’s life and mission is often overlooked, and one could argue it is owing to the fact that he was getting to the systemic bases of inequality in our society, and this poses a threat to those who benefit the most from the economic and political status quo.
So much of King’s dream has not been realized, and in some cases such as equal opportunity, social mobility, and the criminal justice system, we have taken steps in the wrong direction.
We have not progressed as far as King dreamed because we have not addressed the systemic issues he was addressing, especially in the years between 1963 to 1968. We cannot make true and sustainable progress towards equal opportunity without making more thorough systemic change. This provides an important lesson as we address the challenges of our time. The civil rights legislation of the 1960’s addressed some of the systemic problems facing African Americans, but it did not fully address enough of the systemic issues of poverty that inhibit equal opportunity (though to President Johnson’s credit he made some significant attempts to focus on poverty).
Until we take a more systemic approach to the issue of poverty, we will likely not make much progress towards equal opportunity. Similarly, as we look at the global ecological challenges of our day, if we do not address them systemically, we will likely not make the progress necessary to avoid a major global ecological crisis in the first half of this century. A national holiday for Martin Luther King and a monument in Washington or even another March on Washington, although all good things, will by themselves not bring about equal opportunity – only systemic changes will do that. The celebration of Earth Day, curbside recycling, more efficient light bulbs, and better fuel efficiency, although all good things, will by themselves not bring about ecological sustainability – only more thorough systemic changes will do that. Currently, the calls for such systemic changes in relation to sustainability are being ignored much like King’s calls for systemic change between 1963 and 1968, with the likely result that little progress will be made, unless . . .
Ferguson and the Social Fabric (August 19, 2014)
When we pull out so many threads from our social fabric, we should not be surprised when it unravels so quickly. For decades in the United States we have created systems and structures that make the interconnections of our community more fragile: increasing income inequality, a minimum wage that never keeps up with inflation, unequal access to quality healthcare, the systemic perpetuation of racial injustices, an emphasis on militarization of our police rather than building our communities, vast inequalities in our public education system, a stronger safety net for large corporations than for those who are poor, unequal access to political power and participation, a privatized and profit driven prison system, and unsustainable practices in relation to the environment with the negative consequences being felt disproportionately by the poor – and this is not nearly an exhaustive list. The social fabric of our society is as weak as I have experienced it in my lifetime.
The solution to these challenges is the not the militarization of our families and the creation of fortress neighborhoods and segregated communities. The solution is a systemic re-weaving of our social fabric such that all persons see and experience themselves as persons-in-community; a community that works for our well being and for whose well being we all work. What is happening now in Ferguson is not just a community problem in that city, it is a community problem in our whole country – a country that has forgotten or has perhaps never completely learned what it means to be a just, participatory, and sustainable society. If we do not begin the work of re-weaving our social fabric, I fear that we will experience much more tragic unraveling in the years ahead. We cannot keep pulling out the threads that hold us together as a people and expect to live together in peace with justice.
In justifying the establishment of a curfew in Ferguson, the Governor of Missouri said that there can be no justice unless there is first peace. I think the governor and our society have this backwards – in reality there can be no lasting and sustainable peace without justice. It is incumbent upon all of us to work with urgency and nonviolence to weave a more just and sustainable social fabric for us all, and all means all. May we have the political will and the love for each other as members of the human community to do this work together.
I Follow a Middle Eastern Person Who Was Tortured and Executed by the Governing Authorities (December 27, 2014)
As an American, I live in a nation where the majority of persons now approve of the use of torture (around 59% according to an ABC/Washington Post poll). A majority of Americans also approve of state sponsored execution (around 63% according to a Gallup Poll) , although the percentage has declined significantly since the mid 1990’s when support for the death penalty peaked around 80%. The polls also show that those who identify as Christian approve of torture and executions at a significantly higher rate than most other groups in our society.
As an Oklahoman, I live in a state where an even larger majority of persons approve of the use of torture and execution. The percentage of persons in Oklahoma who identify as Christian is much higher than the national average. The vast majority of persons in Oklahoma approve of the use of capital punishment, even in the aftermath of the horrifically botched execution in April of 2014 in which an execution became torture and in spite of the fact that no other Western democracy allows capital punishment. Torture and executions are supported and defended by Oklahoma politicians who are elected with large majorities time and time again. Retiring Senator Tom Coburn says, “To me, waterboarding is not torture. That’s just me personally. I’ve seen it. You’re not going to die from it, you just think you are. It’s a psychological tool.” Long-time defender of torture Senator Jim Inhofe said in response to the atrocities at Abu Ghraib that he was “outraged by the outrage” over the torture that occurred there. In response to the Senate Torture Report released earlier this month, Senator Inhofe stated, “This over $40 million report is nothing more than a partisan attempt to discredit vital intelligence gathering techniques that have saved an untold number of lives” (Senator Inhofe’s facebook page, December 9, 2014).
Torture and execution are strongly held Oklahoma values, and self-identified Christians in Oklahoma hold these values more strongly than those who are not Christian. The self-identified Christian politicians who speak openly for and support these Oklahoma values are rewarded.
There are numerous aspects of this reality about Oklahomans’ support for torture and execution that sadden me and make me scared for our future, especially for the future of my Muslim friends and neighbors and also for persons who are in other minority groups who are more likely to be tortured or executed. As a Christian, I am especially saddened that there is such a strong correlation between being a Christian and supporting torture and executions. Perhaps we who say we follow Jesus need to be reminded that the incarnation of love we celebrated on Christmas a few days ago was a Middle Eastern person who was tortured and executed by the governing authorities and who calls us to love our neighbor and to love our enemies and at no time or in any way, shape, or form, calls us to torture or execute them. Perhaps we also need to be reminded that we are bearing false witness when we sign international treaties condemning and outlawing torture in any form but then continue to support torture. Not only are we not following the way of Jesus; we are breaking our promises to the international community. Lying to the international community and not following the way of Jesus who calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies surely cannot be Oklahoma or American values. Christians follow one who was tortured and executed, not one who calls for torture and executions.
The Dangerous Death Throes of the Empire of White Hegemony (March 16, 2016)
Apparently a large portion of the United States wants to elect a modern day Caligula to be President of the United States. This is what happens when the empire of white hegemony in the U.S. is in its death throes, but dealing with anything in its death throes can be the most dangerous moment. We will either find a way to die to white hegemony and move forward into a more diverse, just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society; or we may find ourselves falling into something akin to a fascist tyranny. There has been no moment where the choice for our future has been more stark since the Civil War.
This moment has been a long time in the making. The civil rights laws and the rejection of segregation and overt racism in the 1960’s created an opportunity for a more just and equitable society, but large swaths of white America were unwilling to give up the near monopoly of economic and political power that they had enforced throughout the history of our country. The history of America is a racist history of white supremacy, and racism is the original sin of our country. The genocide of indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans, the violently enforced segregation of our society along racial lines, the use and abuse of Latinos in our agricultural economy, the war on drugs, the mass incarceration of minorities at levels far higher than that of whites, the unequal funding of public education, unequal treatment of minorities by the police, and ongoing economic inequality are all expressions of this original sin of racism in our nation.
Overt attempts at overturning civil rights laws and desegregation in the 1960s quickly proved to be an ineffective strategy for those who wished to prolong the white hegemony in our country. Politicians like George Wallace would never gain widespread appeal, and those in the federal government at the time were intent on enforcing civil rights laws over a resistance based on an appeal to “states’ rights.” White hegemony would have to be more covert than the overt racism of the KKK and the segregationists in order for it to persist. And more covert it became, using language, symbols, and structures that perpetuated white supremacy while being less overtly racist. After a Southern democratic president oversaw the enactment of civil rights legislation, Richard Nixon’s well documented Southern strategy with his emphasis on restoring “law and order” was quite effective in shifting the Deep South towards republican control. Ronald Reagan’s support of the “moral majority,” a predominantly Southern white Christian movement, along with his perpetuation of the “welfare queen” myth to characterize African American women receiving government assistance further strengthened the Republican Party’s control of the Deep South and of the hearts of those white supremacists beyond the South as well.
Democrats have also tapped into and perpetuated the power of white hegemony for their own political purposes. For decades, many Southern democrats were openly racist and many of them were staunch segregationists. Lyndon Johnson knew what he was talking about when he said the Democratic Party would lose the South for a generation after the passage of the civil rights legislation. Bill Clinton’s “Sister Souljah” moment during his first presidential campaign and his willingness to support “Welfare Reform” and promote changes in the criminal justice system that contributed to massive increases in incarceration for minorities are also a part of the narrative of white America clinging to its place of political and economic primacy.
The racism of our political and economic processes that had been more covert for 40 years became increasingly out in the open with the election of our first African American president. His American citizenship and his religious affiliation were openly questioned; he was called a Kenyan, a Muslim, and a socialist – the main point being that President Barack Hussein Obama could not be “one of us”- understood as a white Christian American. Open racism and Islamophobia have grown throughout his presidency. This racism, coupled with an unjust and inequitable economic system that has left many white Americans with less economic opportunity, has set the stage for scapegoating non-white and non-Christian persons for our economic and political problems. This is the context in which a demagogue like Donald Trump can create an ever more openly fascist movement of angry white economically disadvantaged Americans who want to “Make America Great Again” and who want “to take their country back.”
It does not matter to his supporters that Trump does not know the difference between a communion plate and an offering plate or that he does not know that it is Second Corinthians and not Two Corinthians. It does not matter that he calls women horrible names or says they need to be treated “like shit.” It does not matter that he frequently drops the f-bomb or that he talks about the size of his penis in a presidential debate. It does not matter that he incites violence and denigrates Latinos and Muslims. It does not matter that he acts very un-Christian. It is not about making America Christian again; it is about making American white again, and in Trump, those who are clinging desperately to white hegemony see a strong and wealthy person saying he will do things for which they have yearned silently (or openly only in the presence of the like-minded) for years. As Trump himself is proud to espouse, the vast majority of his supporters will support him no matter what he does. As he says, he could walk down the street and pull out a gun and shoot someone and his supporters would stick with him. This is not about Christianity. It is not about capitalism. It is primarily about white power. The ascent of Trump is what the death throes of the empire of white hegemony look like. There is absolutely nothing entertaining or funny about it. This is a time of great danger, and every person who longs for a more diverse, just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society must do every non-violent thing we can to make sure that Mr. Trump or anyone like him comes nowhere near the Presidency of the United States of America.
When They Come to Your Door (June 24, 2016)
When a President Trump begins to call on American citizens who are non-Muslim to help identify the American citizens who are Muslim or persons who are visiting our country who are Muslim for purposes of registration or deportation, will you be one who will give over names or will you be one who will protect your Muslim neighbors? What will you say when authorities come to your door asking if you are hiding Muslims in your home?
When a President Trump begins the rounding up and deportation of the 11 million Latin@ persons who are living in our country without documentation and calls on you to help identify them, will you be reporting your Latinx neighbors to the authorities? Will you call in when you see a Latinx person about whom “you are not sure” because you have never seen their papers? Come to think about it, how many people’s papers have you actually seen? Will you report them just to be safe – just to make sure you are complying fully with President Trump’s executive order?
What if a President Trump goes back to his original position that there needs to be some kind of punishment for women who have an abortion? If he stacks the Supreme Court with justices who overturn Roe v. Wade, will you comply with his request to report women suspected of having abortions to the authorities so they can be properly punished? What if laws are created where it becomes mandatory to report women who have abortions and the physicians who perform them? What if not reporting them is considered aiding and abetting criminals and itself becomes a crime? What will you do?
Do not think that these are not questions you might have to deal with in a Trump Presidency. Banning groups of people based on religion or removing them from the country doesn’t just happen; it takes the cooperation of a willing and complicit citizenry. A mass deportation of undocumented immigrants from our country doesn’t just happen; it will entail buses and trains travelling to the border and a willing and complicity citizenry to make sure they are full. Enforcing intrusive laws and taking away reproductive choice from women doesn’t just happen; it takes a willing and complicit citizenry and it will diminish women’s health and choices for their own lives.
So, what will you do when the authorities come to your door asking for the Muslim, the Laint@, the woman? What will your response be? In a state like Oklahoma where I live, the only thing that protects us from some of these things happening right now is the presence of a judiciary unwilling to ignore the unconstitutionality of such approaches. In a Trump Presidency with a Trump stacked Supreme Court, perhaps that will no longer be a barrier.
Last week, an Oklahoma legislator, Representative Pat Ownbey, posted an article on his Facebook page that called for a “final solution” in relation to Muslims, calling for their removal from the civilized world. Final solution? Deportations? People are openly talking about things that would have been unthinkable to say publicly not long ago. This is the Trump Effect, and don’t for one second think it will not continue to escalate if good people remain silent.
This situation is extremely dangerous. This cannot be underestimated. We humans have shown ourselves over and over again to be capable of unspeakable evil, and we cannot be under the illusion that it can never happen here, because it has already happened here in our racist, slave owning, Jim Crow, lynching, and genocide of native peoples past. We just have never really admitted it fully as a country and come to terms with it. The sickness of spirit that made those evils possible is at work again today in our midst, and now is the time to stand for radical love, justice, and peace. Otherwise, in a Trump presidency, perhaps the family you hide in your secret annex will have a daughter who will keep a diary of her experience, or perhaps it will be your family who is in hiding.
Statement in Support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (September 7, 2016)
(The following remarks were made at a press conference in Oklahoma City on September 7, 2016 in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their efforts to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.)
It is my privilege to stand today in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and to support their resistance to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens both their water and their sacred historical and cultural sites.
As a child of the earth I am thankful for our Native American sisters and brothers who are protecting our common Mother from the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I am proud to stand with Standing Rock. I resonate deeply with the words of Doug Crow Ghost, the Direct of Water resources of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation who says that “Nobody wants their church to be desecrated, and the earth is our church.”
As a United Methodist Christian, I join with a myriad of voices in my church who are also standing with Standing Rock. I am thankful for the leadership and courage displayed by members of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church who have been leading the way in the United Methodist church here in the state of Oklahoma and nationally to bring attention and support to those who are protecting earth and water at Standing Rock. We have been blessed to hear from one of those leaders here today, Rev. Chebon Kernell.
I am thankful for Bishop Bruce Ough of the Minnesota and the Dakotas area who wrote these words, “I stand with my Lakota and Dakota brothers and sisters because I believe the central question of the creation story is at the heart of their lament and their protest: What will we do with the blessing of power God has given us? This is a particularly poignant God-question for those of us who have the power of privilege in our country and the world.”
I am also grateful for the witness of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and its leader, General Secretary Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe. In her call for solidarity with Standing Rock, she writes “As United Methodists continue our journey of repentance and healing with indigenous peoples, we understand that this journey is meaningful only if it leads us to action in addressing ongoing oppression and injustice. Today, that commitment leads us to stand alongside the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. To offer ourselves as partners in resistance against those who would marginalize the voices of native peoples, despoil sacred lands, endanger life-sustaining waters and prioritize profits over the health of God’s people and God’s planet.”
And so it is that I stand here today with others in the United Methodist Church to be in solidarity with our Native American sisters and brothers who are serving as protectors of the earth and water. As an Oklahoman, I am particularly aware of our need to be in solidarity with the protectors at Standing Rock, for we in Oklahoma know all too well the history of broken promises and violence against indigenous people. As Oklahomans we are also aware that much of the oil that would pass though the Dakota Access Pipeline, if it were completed, is oil that is owned by fossil fuel companies with deep connections to our state. In a state being shaken by damaging earthquakes of our own making, we know first-hand the negative consequences of an unrestrained fossil fuel industry that runs roughshod over the will of the people. We in Oklahoma have a special moral responsibility to stand with Standing Rock to protect our earth, our water, our climate, and each other.
Rev. Dr. Mark Y. A. Davies
Chair, Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Conference of Oklahoma
To My White Evangelical Christian Friends (September 30, 2016)
To My White Evangelical Christian Friends,
Since you are one of the groups most strongly supporting Trump, could you please clarify some things for me?
– Who would Jesus torture?
– Who would Jesus tell to go f*** themselves?
– What women would Jesus call fat pigs?
– What women would Jesus treat like s***?
– Who would Jesus “bomb the s*** out of?
– Which families (including children) of bad people would Jesus go after and kill?
– Where would Jesus build walls to keep people out?
– Which refugees would Jesus reject?
– Which workers would Jesus refuse to pay?
– Which people would Jesus refuse to rent apartments to?
– Which people would Jesus want to punch in the face?
– Which people would Jesus think deserve to get roughed up?
– Which women would Jesus call “Miss Piggy?”
– Which people of other religions would Jesus discriminate against?
– Which 11 million people would Jesus deport?
I know the Bible is important to you, so it would be helpful if you could please ground your answers in scripture.
Peace to you.
For Such a Time as This (November 17, 2016)
A horrible human being who promised to do horrible things has been elected president. He is now surrounding himself with horrible human beings in his administration who are talking about how it is that they will do the horrible things the president elect has promised to do. Our most vulnerable neighbors are living in fear, and the rest of the world sees clearly that we have elected a fascist government. A darkness covers the land. All good and compassionate persons will have to fight for the light of love and justice to survive this expression of sickness of the American soul.
Stand together. Register as a Muslim when they come for our Muslim neighbors. Provide sanctuary for our Latin@ sisters and brothers when they come for them. Walk hand in hand with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers when their rights and safety are threatened. Proudly shout that Black Lives Matter to the ends of the earth. Demand respect and equality for all women. When they mock persons with disabilities, lift them up. Stand with our indigenous sisters and brothers to defend their sacred lands.When they ravage the earth, block them with our bodies.
Make no mistake, this incoming administration is planning great harm to our most vulnerable neighbors and will do irreparable damage to the inclusive spirit of our nation if we do not stand together and resist them relentlessly. It is for such a time as this that we are called to reach into our inner strength and courage to walk through this deep valley of injustice together and climb back up towards Beloved Community.
Not acting for justice is acting for injustice. Not standing with the oppressed is standing with the oppressor. Silence is consent.
Benefit of the Doubt? (November 20, 2016)
I have heard people who voted for Trump and some people who did not vote for Trump say that we should give him the benefit of the doubt and take a wait and see approach to how he handles the presidency.
I might have given Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt
before he discriminated against African American renters,
before he defrauded students in his fake university,
before he did not pay numerous contractors and made them and their families suffer,
before he spread racist birther lies about our president,
before he lied relentlessly during the campaign,
before he called women fat pigs and Miss Piggy and said you have to treat women like shit,
before he bragged about sexual assault and grabbing women by the genitals,
before he referred to Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists,
before he said he wants to bring back waterboarding and much much worse,
before he brought the racist dog whistle phrase “law and order” back into our politics,
before he said he wanted to deport 11 million people including children,
before he said he planned to register Muslims and ban Muslims from entering the United States,
before he said he would consider marriage equality decisions going back to the states,
before he made up stories about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey openly celebrating the Twin Towers falling,
before he mocked a reporter with a physical disability,
before he told a made up story about General Pershing executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood,
before he insulted a Gold Star mother and father,
before he insulted a Vietnam POW,
before he threatened to jail his political opponent,
before he intimidated members of the press,
before he said Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader than our president,
before he said an African American protester at one of his rallies deserved to be roughed up,
before he said you have go after and kill the families of terrorists,
before he said he wanted to punch people in the face,
before he offered to pay the legal fees for people who beat up protesters,
before he hired a white nationalist to be his Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor in the White House,
before he selected a person deemed too racist to be confirmed as a federal judge to be his Attorney General,
before he appointed a person as Director of the CIA. who wants to bring back waterboarding,
before he assigned a climate science denier to be lead the transition process at the Environmental Protection Agency,
before he said would scrap the Paris Climate Agreement.
Yes, I might have given him the benefit of the doubt before he said and did all these things, but now I have no doubt that he simply must be resisted relentlessly as he attempts to implement the horrible things he said he would do. At this point, giving Trump the benefit of the doubt is simply giving him a head start down the road of injustice and harming the most vulnerable of our neighbors and the well being of our planet.
King’s Beloved Community vs. Trump’s Chaos (January 14, 2017)
Towards the end of his tragically shortened life caused by the bullet of a white supremacist, Martin Luther King, Jr. questioned whether our world house was headed for chaos or community. He reminded the world of the “fierce urgency of now” in relation to the global challenges that we face, and he warned that there is such a thing as “too late” when it comes to making the choice between chaos and community. King maintained that the path towards Beloved Community calls for recognizing that “[w]e have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.” King articulated that living together in peace with justice would require a “revolution of values” in order to overcome the triple evils of “racism, materialism, and militarism” (King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? 1967).
My guess is that sometime on or before Monday, Mr. Trump will tweet some obligatory generic praise for Martin Luther King, Jr., but in word and action he represents everything that King stood against. Trump is the personification of what King called “the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism.” Trump has worked diligently to divide and conquer along racial and religious lines, and he is strongly supported by the same hate-filled and racist groups and individuals who fought against everything King was working to bring into being. Trump’s life is the epitome of depersonalizing materialism, and Trump has shown no hesitancy in harming persons in his relentless drive for more wealth and status. His willingness to tolerate violence among his supporters and his irresponsible militaristic language and threats, not excluding the talk of using nuclear weapons, have the entire world on edge.
If Martin Luther King. Jr. were alive today, he would be engaged in every non-violent effort imaginable to resist Trump. If you want to know what Trump would really think of King, all you have to do is look at what Trump is currently saying on Twitter about Representative John Lewis – those are Trump’s real views about persons who are working for and living the legacy of Dr. King. Trump’s most appropriate response to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is silence, because almost anything else will be permeated with a hypocrisy that will dishonor King’s legacy, unless of course Trump would sincerely like to use the day as an opportunity for his own repentance, the likelihood of which is miniscule.
Like all of us, Dr. King was a person with flaws, but his highest aspirations were for the creation of a Beloved Community of love and justice. King lifted up a vision of a world that was more peaceful, just, participatory, and loving; and he literally put his entire life on the line in pursuit of a revolution of values to care for our world house. Trump’s highest aspirations seem always to be related to himself, and his impending presidency threatens to lead the United States and much of the world on the path to chaos rather than community. Trump’s dream is King’s nightmare.
Declaring Independence from Religious Nationalism (July 3, 2017)
As I spend Independence Day weekend in New York City, I have been reminded of the tremendous diversity of our nation in what may well be the most diverse and international city in the world. I am reminded especially of our religious diversity as I walk down the streets of Manhattan and see persons from so many of the world’s religions and persons who see themselves as being part of no religion at all.
Being in New York reminds me of the millions of persons who immigrated to America, many of whom came to Ellis Island just miles from where I am writing this, and many of whom came to escape various forms of religious oppression. In spite of this history, I have a deep concern that we as a country are on the brink of creating an American era of religious oppression if we continue down the path that our president wants to lead us in relation to our Muslim sisters and brothers, and if we continue to increase the fervor of religious nationalism that Trump has cultivated so effectively in his rise to power.
Religious nationalism is neither good for religion nor good for the nation. There is nothing more toxic to human rights and social justice than the combination of religion and nationalism. When religion and nation see each other as instruments for their survival or expansion, true freedom is in peril.
Religious nationalism is an affront to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves and a barrier to building the Beloved Community. Religious nationalism is also an affront to the ideal of equal protection of all people under the law. A nation that turns its laws against people based on their orientation to religion is no longer a nation of laws, for it is no longer basing its laws on justice and the equal dignity of all persons. As Saint Augustine and Martin Luther King Jr. have reminded us, an unjust law is no law at all.
Loving God and country is great, but if you think people must believe in God the way you do to be in our country, that’s not great, it’s just oppressive. The legacy of religious nationalism is oppression, violence, executions, wars, crusades, inquisitions, colonialism, racism, slavery, pogroms, and genocide. Do not forget this as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Donald J. Trump continue to lead the growing chorus of American religious nationalism.
As we observe the Fourth of July, may we turn away from religious nationalism and turn towards the vision of a country that strives to uphold the free exercise of religion for all people and the freedom of persons who identify with no religion as well.
Patriotism is loyalty to the highest ideals and values of our country, not loyalty to a president who upholds neither and who uses a toxic combination of religion and nationalism to manipulate large numbers of people to gain, maintain, and expand his power. Freedom from religious nationalism is a central ingredient of our country’s identity and one of the many reasons so many have been drawn to the flame of liberty that has the potential to make our country as great as we hope it can be.
Choosing Caesar over Jesus (October 11, 2017)
The response of the majority of white Christian Americans* to the trumped up outrage about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest the unjust treatment of people of color in our country has reinforced my view that the religion of the majorityd of White Christian Americans has more in common with the imperial state religion of the pre-Christian Roman Empire than it does with the religion of Jesus.
Trump/Pence are like Emperors in their Coliseums, insisting the gladiators submit to their rules or they will turn the crowds against them. It is not surprising that they would be upset by people disobeying the rules in their Coliseums. Professional sports are used by people like Trump as propaganda for their state religion of unquestioning patriotism, and they get upset when players and commentators don’t stay on script. And apparently nothing outrages Trump and Pence more than people of color and women not doing as they are told. Trump has been relentless in his calls for players and sports commentators to face professional consequences for their opposition to him, and through a series of tweet storms he has directly called for them to be disciplined or fired.
And what of the response of the majority of White American Christians? They have acted more like the Romans enforcing imperial religion than like the early Christians who refused to submit to it. In stark contrast to the majority of White Christian Americans, early Christians were executed for refusing to participate in acts of civil religion being enforced by the state.
The fact that such large numbers of White Christian Americans are supportive of enforcing symbolic acts of patriotism shows that we just don’t get Jesus. Christianity has been used to protect white privilege and to support nationalism for so long that we have forgotten who Jesus was – a person who was killed unjustly and brutally by imperial powers that were forcing an oppressed group of people to perform acts of patriotism to Rome. Jesus has much more in common with those kneeling in solidarity with the oppressed than with those who would force them to stand or face consequences.
Will the majority of white Christian Americans ever quit letting Trump, Pence, and Franklin Graham play them like a fiddle with their anthem outrage? No one dishonors the flag or national anthem more than the one who attempts to use them to divide the country for which they stand. Attempting to force others to express symbolic acts of patriotism is not patriotic, and it is certainly not Christian. It is, however, something fascists do.
Restricting nonviolent free speech and nonviolent freedom of expression that do no harm is not patriotic or Christian. Forced acts of patriotism make our country less and less like the America of our highest ideals and more and more like the many authoritarian countries that people flee for the chance of experiencing greater freedom and justice. Let this sink in: we now live in a country where the “leader” wants to force all of us to stand and make patriotic signs with our right hands or face the consequences. Sound familiar?
White Christian Americans, Trump/Pence are putting us all through a loyalty test right now, and most of us are siding with Caesar over Jesus. Now is the time for us all to take a knee in solidarity with people of color and all other persons who experience injustice in our country.
* For polls indicating the views of the majority of white Americans on the protests. see here, here, here, and here. Given that the majority of white Americans self-identify as Christian, and given the significant support of Trump among white Christians, the assertion that the majority of white American Christians disapprove of the protests is well-founded.
Rules for Protests for People of Color in the United States of America (October 13, 2017)
Sometimes when I hear white people talking about where and when people of color should protest, I am thinking maybe they want there to be “Rules for Protests for People of Color in the United States” that would go something like this:
You shall not protest on a bus, your protests shall not make a fuss
You shall not protest on the street, you shall not go where people meet
And when you protest in a town, where many white folk are around
Your protests there would sure be finer if they were not in a diner
You shall not protest at the malls, you shall not gather in the halls
You shall not protest on the highways or even block the smaller byways
You shall not protest on a ridge or do your marching on a bridge
You must protest where you belong, far away from every throng
And if you kneel upon the field, our eyes from football we shall shield
For you are there to entertain and not to protest or complain
And if you must protest at all, wear a ribbon, but keep it small
For those who fill a broadcast seat, you’ll be suspended if you tweet
You will follow all these rules in our churches and our schools
And if you don’t then we will fight to keep your protests out of sight.
Honoring King in the Age of Trumpism (January 14, 2018)
This year marks the 50th year since we lost the greatest prophet for justice and social change in the history of the United States. I would have hoped that we would have progressed much more in fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream than we have, and in many ways we have gone backwards, but it would not be a befitting honor to Dr. King to simply lament the lack of progress up to this moment. King would not want us to dwell in lament of the past and present, fear of the future, or hatred for the foes of justice. Dr. King would want us to look forward with love and hope (through the lens of realism) at what needs to be done nonviolently to move us towards the promised land of Beloved Community that he envisioned the night before his death.
I think the most fitting tribute to Dr. King on the day named in his honor is not to dwell so much on what his life and accomplishments meant during his time, but to ask what his life and accomplishments might contribute to bringing transformation for justice today and into the future. King knew he was not going to make it to the promised land with us, but he hoped to prepare the way. Honoring King means to keep preparing that way, to keep creating the road towards the Beloved Community, to keep bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
And what does bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice look like in the age of Trumpism? How do we keep King’s dream of Beloved Community alive in the Nightmare of Trump’s narcissistic chaos of racism, xenophobia, sexism, greed, exploitation of the environment, Islamophobia, and discrimination against persons who are LGBTQ+? How shall we overcome when a blatant racist holds the most powerful office in the land and perhaps the world?
One thing I think King would tell us today is that we cannot allow our work of resistance to be overly focused on only resisting Trump. Don’t get me wrong, I believe if King were alive today, he would be resisting Trump with the same energy and passion with which he resisted the prominent racists of his day. That being said, King knew that racists do not come to political power in a vacuum. Their ability to gain, maintain, and misuse power grows out of systems that perpetuate the evil that their hold on power personifies.
The primary goal must be to transform the systems that have created the context in which someone like Trump could come to power, and those systems are social, economic, cultural, and political. They are systems that have perpetuated racism, sexism, poverty, militarism, and exploitation of the environment. They are systems that have created a social and political environment in which a truly horrible person could be elected President of the United States of America. Horrible systems have paved the way for a horrible person to be president. Unjust systems have corroded the structures of our society and made it possible for Trumpism to come to power.
King knew that the evils within the world could not be overcome only through changing individual hearts and minds. He knew that revolutionary change of the systems is needed. Only then can we create the more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society that King called the Beloved Community.
If we only remove Trump, and we do not transform the systems that made a Trump presidency possible, we will be dooming future generations to different but still pernicious forms of Trumpism, and given the fierce urgency of now to address the global economic and ecological challenges facing the human community, we cannot afford not to transform our current unjust and unsustainable systems. This work of systemic transformation is a work that honors King both today and in the days to come. Dream or nightmare? The choice is ours, but we had better choose quickly, for as King was apt to remind us, there is a such thing as too late.
Please Don’t Let Me Be Silent (January 27, 2018)
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Please God, never let me be a silent white person while my brown and black siblings are living in fear and experiencing injustice and violence.
Please God, never let me be a silent citizen while Dreamers are deported and refugees are rejected.
Please God, never let me be a silent Christian while my Muslim siblings are being discriminated against and not having their religious freedom respected.
Please God, never let me be a silent man while my sisters are being abused, harassed, and assaulted.
Please God, never let me be a silent cisgender straight man while my siblings who are LGBTQIA+ are not being given equal treatment, equal opportunity, or respect.
Please God, never let me be a silent person with health insurance while my siblings experience a life and death struggle for access to healthcare.
Please God, never let me be a silent person with shelter and food while so many of my siblings are hungry and homeless.
Please God, never let me be a silent human being while my nonhuman siblings are suffering, their habitats are being destroyed, and many are being killed to extinction.
Please God, never let me be silent while the whole creation groans in travail and cries out for renewal.
Please God, never let me be silent when the world needs me to speak out.
Please God, never let it be said of me that my friends remembered my silence when they needed my voice to cry out with them for justice.
Simply Immoral (February 1, 2018)
I can see having disagreements and differences of opinion about border security, about what combination of barriers, border control personnel, and surveillance technology should be employed. I can see having disagreements about how many immigrants should be legally allowed to enter the United States each year, about what number of immigrants would be most beneficial to a flourishing society. I can see having some disagreements about under what circumstances immigrants without documentation would be deported to their countries of origin.
These disagreements are part of what it means to live in a free and democratic society. We will never all agree about public policy, and robust disagreement and debate are part of participating in our political process. Allowing for such disagreement and free exchange of ideas is part of what has enabled our country to experience progress in many aspects of our common lives together. Freedom to disagree and debate views about public policy, even though it may be uncomfortable and confrontational at times, is one of the pillars upon which our county is built.
Yes, we can disagree about immigration and border security, but if you are okay with people who have lived here since they were little kids being ripped from their homes and families and sent to countries they have not lived in since they were small children; then you just don’t care about people, you lack a basic capacity to have empathy for other human beings, and you are simply an immoral person.
Your only hope to save whatever is left of your humanity is to repent, ask forgiveness of those you are harming, seek justice for their lives, and work for their well-being. This is your only possibility for redemption.
Until then, if you identify yourself as a Christian, please stop. You can’t be for tearing these families apart and be a follower of Jesus. It is antithetical to all Jesus lived and died for.
If you are going to be a heartless, compassionless, family destroying xenophobe; then stop trying to drag Jesus, who exemplifies the way of love, justice, and compassion, into your pit of hate and fear.
Last Chance (February 4, 2018)
For many persons and groups in the United States, the Trump Administration represents their last chance – the last chance for xenophobes to keep out and deport immigrants and refugees, even those who have been living in our country since they were children; the last chance for Christian theocrats to encode their religious beliefs into public policy and law and stack the judicial system with like-minded judges; the last chance for racists and white supremacists to maintain and expand white dominance of our culture and economy; the last chance for sexists and misogynists to perpetuate patriarchal systems and practices and control the choices of women; the last chance for those clinging to fossil fuels as our primary energy source to dismantle environmental regulations and avoid any responsibility or accountability for climate change; the last chance for those pressing for more income inequality to satiate their greed by entrenching regressive tax systems and tearing apart our social safety net; and the last chance for those who want to privatize public institutions to make more money from privatizing education, prisons, and healthcare.
When people see something as their last chance, they get desperate, they do things they would not otherwise do, they support people horrible persons like Trump to be their leaders because, well, they think he is their last chance. Perhaps this is why there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their support. In fact as Trump doubles down on the worst of who he is, his support among those who see him as their last chance continues unabated and is even strengthening.
The “last chancers” do not care about collusion with Russia; they do not care about Trump’s affairs, sexual harassment, and sexual assault; they do not care about Trump’s corruption and nepotism; they do not care that he defrauds contractors and customers; they do not care about his ethics violations; they do not care about his violent rhetoric; they do not care about his blatant racism (many of them share it); they do not care about his attacks on a free press; they do not care about his denigration of the Justice Department or the FBI; they do not care that he is a threat to our democracy and to their very foundations of our republic – because he is their last chance, and when people think someone or something is their last chance, they can get desperate.
Given the attitude of the “last chancers,” those of us resisting Trump and standing against the threat his administration poses to our republic must realize that those who support Trump as their last chance will do almost anything to keep Trump in power. We have to realize that we are not dealing with the Republican party during the time of Nixon who put country over party. We are dealing with a party of last chancers, a party and supporters who are desperate to make their last chance pay off for them. Mueller is not safe, the FBI is not safe, the Justice Department is not safe, our immigrant and refugee friends and neighbors are not safe, and our country is not safe as long as the last chancers are in power. We cannot simply sit back and rest on the assumption that checks and balances and institutions will save us because we are living in the time of desperation of those who see this moment in time as their last chance.
Our institutions may yet prove resilient. We may yet make it through this constitutional crisis; but it will take significant engagement, vigilance, and an awareness of what is at stake. And what is at stake? – any hope we might have for a just, participatory, pluralistic, and sustainable society.
Outraged by the Outrage (June 9, 2018)
I will never forget when in the aftermath of the revelation of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma sanctimoniously declared in May of 2004 that he was “outraged by the outrage” being shown by persons who were denouncing the torture and abuse. It was one of the most pathetically immoral utterances in recent memory by a U.S. Senator – expressing outrage that people were actually outraged by U.S. soldiers being encouraged to torture and abuse persons even to the point of death and in clear violation of international law and all sense of human decency, and all Senator Inhofe could do was muster outrage at the outrage. Inhofe’s response was the epitome of misplaced outrage, and I was outraged by his outrage!
Today, 14 years later, in the midst of the most blatantly racist U.S. presidential administration of my lifetime (and that is saying a lot because Nixon was horrifically racist), we find ourselves with example after example of misplaced outrage in the midst of many valid reasons for outrage.
A recent Harvard study provides evidence that nearly 5000 lives were cut short in Puerto Rico owing to the inadequate response to Hurricane Maria by the president and his administration, yet people want to get upset about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest injustices experienced by people of color? Really? We should be outraged by their outrage!
We are ripping children away from their parents at our southern border and putting them in detention centers that we won’t even allow a sitting U.S. Senator to go inside unless the Senator waits two weeks, and people are getting upset about NFL players taking a knee to protest injustices experienced by people of color? We should be outraged by their outrage!
The United Nations is rightly calling out the United States for our violation of human rights when we separate children from their parents at our border. What little moral authority we may have had in the past is being destroyed by the cruelty and criminality of the president, his administration, and the Republican Party: and what is the response by our U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley? She expresses outrage over the U.N. Human Rights Council’s hypocrisy. We should be outraged by her outrage!
More than anything else, this presidential administration is racism cloaked in patriotism and religion, and 87% of Republicans approve. If this presidential administration is consistent about anything, it is racism. Even the administration’s rollback of environmental regulations by the most corrupt EPA Administrator in the agency’s history is racist in that it will have a disproportionately negative effect on persons of color.
Corporate powers have accepted the president’s blatant racism in exchange for tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks that satiate their greed but do great damage to people and the planet. They accept the blatant corruption of this presidency in exchange for being able to exploit and extract profit from the environment and workers, with little attention to the harm that is created unless it encroaches upon their own backyards. You won’t find lead in their water. You won’t find chemical and petroleum facilities in their neighborhoods; but people of color, whose lives matter just as much as theirs, will continue to suffer. Yet these corporate powers are primarily silent in the face of this president’s racism as long as it does not affect their bottom line, and if they do speak out, we have seen the president use the power of his office to try and punish them economically. For those who have spoken out, we should be thankful; but for those who have not, we should be outraged by their lack of outrage!
In our day, there is much about which to be outraged, but the current president’s dog whistle faux outrage directed at people of color who are crying out for justice is not only misplaced outrage, it is simply racist and evil – two words that pretty much sum up what our current president is; and if we are not outraged by that, then we are not only not great, we are not even good.
The Abuse of Romans 13 to Abuse People (June 15, 2018)
History is littered with horrific persons and horrific regimes who used twisted interpretations of Romans 13 as religious cover for their evil actions.
Misinterpretations of Romans 13 have been a crutch for tyrant monarchs, purveyors of human bondage, and fascist dictators.
Southern slaveholders misused Romans 13 to justify using and abusing human beings as property. Romans 13 was used to make slaveholders falsely feel their evil actions were within God’s will and as an attempt to make persons in slavery feel that it was God’s will for them to remain in slavery. Simply put, it was gross abuse of humans supported by gross abuse of the Bible.
Hitler and the Nazis misused Romans 13 to neutralize and manipulate Christians to support a government involved in atrocities that Christians should have been resisting with all of their might. German Christians who opposed this evil were persecuted, imprisoned, and in some cases executed for not submitting to Hitler’s rule that the Nazis claimed was ordained by God. Tragically, only a minority of Christians in Nazi Germany resisted the horrific evil of Hitler at a time when resistance might have kept him from absolute power. Tens of millions of people died in concentration camps and in war because self-identified Christians submitted to this genocidal tyrant.
And now in 2018, in the United States, a country that has rejected and ended slavery through a Civil War that sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Americans, a country that sacrificed hundreds of thousands of its young to bring the downfall of Nazism, in this same America, our president’s Attorney General and his Press Secretary are once again abusing Romans 13 as a way to argue that people should submit to our government that is separating children from parents at our borders and putting the children in detention camps. It is God’s will for us to obey the law they say just as slaveholders and Nazis have argued in the past.
In their abuse of Romans 13 to abuse people, Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conveniently leave out the section of Romans 13 that if read and taken to heart would lead all loving and just persons to resist the evil of separating children from their parents.
Romans 13: 8-10, the passage immediately following the passage abused by Session and Sanders reads:
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (New Revised Standard Version)
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” This includes our immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeking neighbors; and it certainly includes the innocent children being held in detention camps across our southern border.
Evil people have used the Bible to justify evil things for centuries. It is not the Bible that is evil; it is the people who use it to justify evil things who are evil.
Never “Great Again” (June 23, 2018)
One extremely painful aspect of last week (though nothing compared to the pain of separated families) is that many of us realized that people we thought we knew are not the people we thought we knew. When you discover that people you thought you knew are okay with separating children from their parents and putting them in cages, it is not like you can just say “okay, I can bracket that off and still be their friends.” When people you thought you knew accept brown babies and brown children in detention camps, it changes everything. How do you have high school reunions with people who accept ripping children away from their parents and putting them in detention camps? How do you sit in the pews with persons who are glad that our president is “fulfilling his promises and finally doing what needs to be done”? How can you share Thanksgiving meals with persons who seem to be thankful that children are being separated from their parents and who are thankful for a president who lies relentlessly about immigrants and refugees and who refers to immigrants as “animals” who are “infesting” our country? We thought we knew you, but we didn’t really know you. Now we know you, and it changes everything.
We cannot pretend, however, that the evil of the past few weeks has arisen in a vacuum. It is part of a long history of cruelty, oppression, and racism in our country. The separation of families and detention of children are perhaps causing many people to be more fully aware of a reality that has long been known by persons of color and women: America can never be “great again” because we have never been great.
Those who are enthralled with the mantra of “Make America Great Again” have taken us far down the path of making America openly and sadistically cruel again for the sake of clinging to the very white supremacy and racism that has kept us from ever being great in the first place. America has an enduring myth of greatness, but true greatness can never be built with the materials of conquest, slavery, domination, suffering, and exploitation of people and the planet that is constructed on a foundation of gross and violent injustice.
After the European conquest, America was never great for the indigenous people who were killed by the millions through genocide, displaced from their lands, separated from their families, and whose culture and people were systematically exterminated in America’s search for greatness built on violent injustice. America will never be “great again” for our indigenous sisters and brothers unless we are speaking of a greatness experienced before European contact before America was even known by that name.
America was never great for the people of African descent who were shipped here in chains, many dying on the journey, sold into slavery, separated from their families, raped by their evil slaveholders, and tortured and killed if they resisted or sought their freedom. Even after America fought a civil war and ended the institution of slavery, the law of the land still enabled the systematic oppression of African Americans through economic exploitation, incarceration, widespread and frequent lynching, and state sponsored and enforced inequality. America can never be “great again” for our African American sisters and brothers because for them it was never great.
America was never great for women who were basically treated as the property of men for much of American history, who could not even vote until 1921, who even today get paid less than men for the same work, who are exploited by men in positions of power, and who endure sexual harassment and assault and having their genitalia grabbed by a man who still becomes President of the United States even after being publicly exposed for bragging about it. America can never be “great again” for women, especially women of color, because for them it was never great.
Today persons who are LGBTQ+ are just beginning to share equal rights under the law that those who want to make America “great again” would like to see stripped away. For most of American history, persons who are LGBTQ+ have been discriminated against, bullied, shunned, mocked, and often attacked violently. America can never be “great again” for our siblings who are LGBTQ+ because for them America has never been great.
For most of American history, those who were white Protestant Christians have experienced a favored status within our society. Up until recently, Roman Catholics were often openly discriminated against by the Protestant majority. Other racial and religious minorities have been more or less tolerated depending on time and place, but we are a country that turned away ships of Jewish refugees during WWII, that put Japanese Americans in internment camps, that exploits the cheap labor of immigrants, and that elected a president who called for a ban on all Muslims and ignores violent actions of non-Muslims while beating the drum of Islamophobia by highlighting any violent act committed by a person who is Muslim. America will never be “great again” for persons who are from racial or religious minority groups or for persons who have no religion at all because for them it was never great.
In the context of American history, the evil that we have seen in the past few weeks is not an isolated incident, but rather another strand of violent injustice woven into the cruel tapestry of what America has been and continues to be. Yes, we have had some great moments in our history – we ended slavery, women gained the vote and other significant rights, civil rights legislation was passed, marriage equality was made the law of the land, and we even helped the world defeat fascism, which is ironic given that our current president and his followers are supporting the 21st Century offspring of 20th Century fascism across Europe and the United States. We have had some great moments, but we have never truly been great. For the most part we haven’t even been good.
In a time when we once again are actively building our society on a foundation of violent injustice based in hate and fear, when we are horrified by friends and neighbors supporting holding children in detention centers at our borders; it may be helpful to remember that other countries have made it through periods of intense injustice and found ways to survive and work for reconciliation, and we will likely need to learn from their experiences. It will not be easy, and it will take collective reflection and repentance. Our friends in South Africa will have something to teach us in relation to coming to terms with our truth in order to move towards some type of reconciliation.
I hope will get to a point where that will be possible some day, but it will never be possible as long as our current president is in office, and it will not happen by simply forgetting that millions of Americans support a regime that dehumanizes entire groups of people and uses the instruments of hate and fear to gain, maintain, and expand its power. Reconciliation will only be possible if we can face the truth of what we have become and the truth of what we are doing, and our president has no concern with the truth. His presidency is the Big Lie. Hopefully there will come a day of reconciliation for our country, but when millions of people are willing to support a president who separates children of all ages from their parents and puts them in cages, the focus now must be on resistance.
America can never be “great again,” but if we do not resist the current evil in our land, we may very well become openly cruel, unjust, and even genocidal again. We can never be “great again,” but if all good and decent persons work together, perhaps someday we can hope to finally be good.
Fourth of July Repentance (July 4, 2018)
We can never make right what has been done to our indigenous siblings on this land, but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that was done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for our indigenous neighbors. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the genocide upon which this nation was built and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace. and justice among all members of the human family on this stolen land.
We can never make right what has been done to our siblings from Africa who were separated from their families, forced from their homelands, shipped in shackles to this continent, and forced to work in slavery subject to the constant threat and reality of rape, torture, and execution; but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for our African American neighbors. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we fully recognize and reject the human slavery and human misery upon which our nation was built and that continues to be expressed in the systemic racism of our culture today and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice among all members of the human family within this deeply racist land
We can never make right what has been done to our sisters on this land who for much of the history of this country were treated more like the property of men than as full and whole human beings, who did not even have the right to vote until 1920, and who still experience economic, social, and political inequality; but we we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all women. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the misogyny upon which this nation was built and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice for all women within this deeply sexist land.
We can never make right was done to immigrants on this land who have been exploited for economic gain, who often work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions without basic benefits and under the constant threat of deportation; but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all persons who are immigrants. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the xenophobia upon which the nation was built and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice for all immigrants in this deeply xenophobic land.
We can never make right has been done to persons who are LGBTQ+ on this land, who for most of its existence had to hide their sexual orientation or gender orientation from the community around them, who have been ostracized and bullied, and many of whom suffer from depression because of rejection by family, friends, and churches; but we can never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all people no matter what their sexual or gender orientation might be. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject the way persons who are LGBTQ+ have been treated and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice for all in this deeply heterosexist and cisgender biased land.
We can never make right the great violence that has been done to so many people on this land. We are violent nation whose very birth came through violent revolution. We have committed the violence of genocide, the violence of slavery, the violence of a civil war and wars abroad, high rates of gun violence, and ongoing systemic violence against persons of color. We can never make it right for all who have suffered from this violence, but we will never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work to establish non-violent human community on this land. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject our over reliance on violence and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice in this deeply violent land.
We can never make right the ecological devastation that has been done to this land, the destruction of once great forests, the decimation of the great Bison, the extinction of species, the pollution of air and waterways, and now what is becoming catastrophic climate change; but we will never make it better unless we look straight into the eyes of the great evil that has been done, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for some meaningful justice for all life on this land. Maybe there could be some real greatness or at least some basic goodness in our future if we finally recognize and reject our exploitation of our ecological community and do all that can possibly be done to cultivate the bonds of love, respect, peace, and justice with all life in this deeply human centered land.
If we look straight into the eyes of the evil of our past and present, denounce it for the evil that it is, and work for meaningful justice for our human and ecological communities; we will not allow ourselves to continue to go down the path of Muslim bans, children being separated from their parents at our borders, denial of the climate crisis, and isolating ourselves from our neighbors around the world. If we do this hard work together, we will repent from what we have been and turn towards what need to become for the world today – a land of responsible freedom and justice for all. This would be a land that we could all truly celebrate together as one.
Turning Over the Tables of ‘American Christianity’ (August 2, 2018)
The reason American Christianity does not stand against the actions of our current president is because American Christianity is not Christianity properly understood as the way of Jesus. It puts a warped view of ‘American’ before Christianity. Christians who live in United States must reject this.
What we are seeing in Christianity in the United States is a battle over whether the way of Jesus will have any real practical influence in the life of churches and in the life of persons who call themselves Christian.
Christians and Christian churches who do not welcome the stranger; who do not seek justice for poor and oppressed; and who do not care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned, and all creation are living in such a way as if the life and teachings of Jesus are wholly irrelevant. They have put nationalism, and in many cases race, before the way of Jesus. They have put fear and hatred and their own desire for security before Jesus’ call to seek justice for all people, to love all of our neighbors, and be not afraid. They have exiled Jesus from their churches – churches that would make Jesus weep that his name is being associated with the very expressions of hatred, fear, and corrupt power that Jesus gave his life to resist.
The news that such Christians and such churches bring to the world is not the good news for the poor and oppressed that was the clarion call of Jesus’ work in this world, rather it is news of exclusion, control, fear, and oppression of the weak and vulnerable in our midst. It is the news of exploitation of the community of all creation rather than its care. The ‘religious freedom’ that such Christians and churches seek is a freedom to discriminate and exclude rather than a responsible freedom that seeks love and justice for all.
Jesus would set foot in such churches for only one reason, to turn over the tables of injustice and to call us all to repentance – to turn away from fear, hate, and nationalism so that we might turn our lives toward the good news of the Beloved Community. The response that such Christians and churches would make to Jesus’ message would likely be similar to the violent rejection Jesus received at the hands of the corrupt power of the empire of his day, and with so many people in our churches carrying guns, a brown man turning over tables and calling out for repentance might not even make it out of church alive.
Becoming Great (September 30, 2018)
My Dear American Christian Siblings,
This is what Mark’s Jesus said about becoming great: “But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” -Mark 10:43-45, Common English Bible
If we Christian Americans want to become great, I am pretty sure it will not happen through the way the majority of us are currently headed. Our greatness as followers of Jesus will not come from the way of “strong leader” authoritarianism, the way of turning our backs on the immigrant and the refugee, the way of separating parents from their children, the way of not hearing those who have been harmed physically and emotionally, the way of white male domination of our economics and politics, the way of increasing inequality between the rich and the poor, the way of increasing injustices against people of color, the way of decreasing access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the way of discriminating against those who orient themselves to religion differently than we do, the way of discriminating against our LGBTQIA siblings, or the way of increasing our exploitation and harm of the earth. This is not way to greatness; this is the way of hubris and hate, the way of injustice and oppression, the way that Jesus would often simply refer to as sin.
If we are to become great as followers of Jesus, our greatness will come from the way of love of all our neighbors and all our enemies, the way of humility as members of a common humanity and community of all creation, the way of working for justice with the poor and oppressed, the way of bringing affordable healing and care for all people, the way of welcoming the stranger and the refugee, the way of reuniting families instead of tearing them apart, the way of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, the way of providing homes for the homeless, the way of peacemaking and not hate-making and fear-making, the way of opening our hearts and our homes to people of different religions and no religion, the way of listening to and respecting women, the way in which the lives of people of color matter just as much as the lives of white people, the way of restorative justice rather than retributive justice, the way in which all persons are treated equally as persons of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the way of repairing and regenerating the earth as we care for all creation.
If we as followers of Jesus in the United States are to become great, we must turn over the tables of injustice in our land, we must become lovers of all humanity and all creation, we must become willing to take up our cross and actually follow the one whom we claim to follow and work sacrificially to create the Beloved Community of All Creation. if we do these things, then we have an opportunity to contribute to the goodness of our nation and the flourishing of all persons and the whole planet, and that my dear Christian American siblings would really be great.
Angry Jesus (November 3, 2018)
Typically when we think of Jesus, an angry Jesus is not what first comes to mind for the majority of Christians. Loving Jesus, meek and mild Jesus, forgiving Jesus, healing Jesus, servant Jesus, obeying the governing authorities Jesus, saving Jesus, he’s got the whole world in his hands Jesus, and coming back soon Jesus – these are the images of Jesus that tend to get more play in our culture these days, especially among self-described “evangelical” Christians.
We tend to stick with the “safe Jesus” and the “not going to rock the boat Jesus.” This Jesus isn’t going to piss off too many people. This Jesus won’t run off the wealthy donors in our churches. We can build big church buildings and create mega-churches with this Jesus. We can square this Jesus with just about any political or economic perspective we might have. This Jesus gives us a pass when it comes to climate change and the fact that we are responsible for starting the sixth great extinction event in the history of earth, because the world as we know it is going to end soon anyway, so why do anything that might radically change the status quo for nothing? This Jesus is in control, and we don’t really have to worry too much about our economic and political actions with a Jesus like this.
The problem is that this image of Jesus, although based on some truths (Jesus is loving, healing, serving, humble, and forgiving), hides the fullness of how Jesus was depicted by the Gospel writers. It ignores the justice seeking Jesus; the Jesus who spoke woe to hypocrites; the Jesus who was baptized by the one who preached repentance and warned people of the wrath to come; the Jesus who warned of the consequences of not caring for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the sick; the liberating the oppressed Jesus; the angry Jesus; the turning over tables Jesus; and the Jesus who was seen as such a threat to the governing authorities that he became the crucified Jesus.
From a variety of depictions of Jesus in the Gospels in the New Testament, we get a clear picture of the things and actions that the Gospel writers portray as making Jesus angry, and these things and actions are the very things a large segment of self-described “evangelical” Christians seem to be embracing in the United States. By embracing Trumpism with its rejection of the refugee, its wanton disregard for the well-being of the environment, its persistence in decimating access to affordable healing from healthcare, its disregard for oppressed people and people of color, its attempts to make the poor even more vulnerable than they already are, its glorification of violence, its relentless attack on the truth, and its separating of children from their parents who are seeking asylum; “evangelical” Christians are doing the very things that make for an angry Jesus, a very angry Jesus, a whip-wielding, turning-over-tables Jesus.
If Jesus were to visit what has become one of the most popular gatherings of American “evangelical” Christians, a Trump rally, to express his anger at their embracing of the idolatry of Trumpism, and if angry Jesus were to begin turning over tables at a Trump rally, Trump would want this Jesus “roughed up,” and he might say out loud that he longed for “the good old days” when angry Jesus might be “taken out on a stretcher.” Trump might want to punch this Jesus in the face or at least “look into paying the legal fees” of persons who might sucker punch angry Jesus. Trump might even tell the armed security at the rally to consider angry Jesus’ whip to be a rifle.
If angry Jesus were to make it out of an American “evangelical” Christian Trump rally alive, he might find himself met by a group of Proud Boys in the streets outside the rally, thrown to the ground and kicked and beaten mercilessly, and the next day neither Trump nor the American “evangelical” Christians at the rally who witnessed the treatment of angry Jesus would say one negative word about it, and Trump might even get on FOX News to proclaim, “Maybe he should’ve been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Normal and Patriotic People (December 14, 2018)
The vast majority of Germans who supported Nazism considered themselves to be very normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported the genocide of indigenous peoples considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported slavery considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported the segregation and oppression of Jim Crow considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who supported the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II considered themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who support travel bans and other restrictions on persons who are Muslim consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who support rejecting refugees and asylum seekers consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who support separating children from their parents at our borders and putting them in detention camps consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
The vast majority of Americans who are against taking action to address climate change and other urgent ecological challenges consider themselves to be normal and patriotic people and good Christians.
Many of the great evils in our history and our present are made possible not by persons who see themselves as being evil, but by the actions or inaction of persons who feel they are very normal and patriotic and who often also see themselves as good Christians.
Many of the greatest perpetrators of evil in our past and present count on people who see themselves as normal and patriotic people who often consider themselves to be good Christians for support.
The longer the great perpetrators of evil can convince their supporters that they are normal and patriotic people and even good Christians, the longer they can perpetrate evil.
The great perpetrators of evil in the past and present are often masters of making their evil seem normal and patriotic and “Christian” or whatever the religion of the majority might be. This is what Hannah Arendt was getting at when she described the “banality of evil.” Much of the mechanics of evil in the world are not made possible by blatantly evil monsters but rather by ordinary and seemingly very normal people.
This is why persons who have considered themselves normal and patriotic people and good Christians have often been accomplices to some of the most horrific evils ever experienced in human history.
We are, however, not without hope, for many normal and patriotic people, both Christian and those who orient themselves to religion differently, are also capable of seeing that there is nothing normal, patriotic, or “Christian” about these evils.
The time is now for these normal, patriotic, and good people to take a stand and not let the evils of our past continue to be evils of our present and future. There is not a hero out there upon which we can depend to stop this. We must become heroes of goodness justice for each other.
Matthew 25 for an American Empire Christmas 2018 (December 24, 2018)
I was a refugee child escaping violence and death, and when I was hungry, you made my family stay in towns on the other side of the border not equipped to help me, and I went without food.
I was thirsty on the journey and you poured out jugs of water onto the desert floor for me and my family to die of dehydration and exposure.
I was a stranger and you tear gassed me and my family at the border instead of allowing us to apply for asylum.
I was naked and you forced me to stay in border towns in Mexico that struggled to find resources to clothe me.
I was sick because of the long journey, unsanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical supplies; and because you separated me from my parents, they could not care for me.
I was in prison because you separated me from my parents and put me in a detention camp that the children here call “el infierno” (that means “hell” in my language), and you did not even allow my parents to come visit me.
Bad Parents (December 25, 2018)
Why did you put your child in such a dangerous situation?
Didn’t you know how dangerous it was to take your child through the desert?
Why didn’t you get permission to go into a new country before you took your child on such a long and dangerous journey?
Why were you such irresponsible parents putting your child in a situation like this?
You knew what the conditions were like in the desert when you decided to risk the life of your child with such a stupid choice.
You should have known there was a risk of being separated from your child.
You should have known that there was a risk that you and your child could have died of dehydration and exposure in the desert.
You can’t just expect a foreign country to take you and your family in.
If anything had happened to your child, you know it would have been your fault, you know that, right?
Maybe parents like you who put their child in a situation like this deserve to be separated from their children.
There should have been a wall to keep people like you out.
I’m feel really bad for children who have parents like you who would put them in a situation like this.
Maybe people like you don’t even deserve to have children.
How could you make such an irresponsible choice for you and your family?
Mary and Joseph: “Herod was trying to kill our son.”
The 1950s Without the Happy Days (January 12, 2019)
From the 1950s to the early 1970s, there were some great things about the United States – strong unions, excellent K-12 public education, outstanding and affordable higher education, strong social security, post-Depression financial laws that kept the economy rather stable, increased efforts to assist persons in poverty, a movement towards greater civil rights and more women’s rights, a movement towards establishing more affordable healthcare for more people, laws established to protect clean air and clean water and to protect the environment and endangered species, and an outstanding infrastructure made possible by much higher taxation on the wealthy in our society.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, there were also some very problematic things about the United States – the military industrial complex was gaining more power, racism was rampant, Jim Crow was the law of the South until the mid 60s, women were seen as subordinate to men and had little economic and political power, persons who did not identify themselves as Christian were discriminated against, the rights of indigenous persons were a low priority, and persons who were LGBTQ were oppressed and deemed mentally ill.
The MAGA folks (under the influence of the American oligarchy) look back on the 1950s as a time in which America was great. The problem is that they don’t see that what was putting us on the path to being great from the 1950s through the 1970s are all the things that the Republican Party from 1980 to the present has been systematically dismantling – unions, public education, social security, voting rights protections, women’s rights, assistance for those in poverty, affordable and accessible healthcare, laws protecting the environment, responsible laws governing financial institutions, and a tax system that funded the best infrastructure on earth.
If we take away these things, we are not making America great again, we are simply making America more oppressive to workers, less educated, more racist, more sexist, less safe, more unhealthy, more desperate for the most vulnerable, more poor, more theocratic, less free for persons who orient themselves to religion differently, more militaristic, and less just for persons who are LGBTQ. When you combine all of this with a crumbling infrastructure, what you get is a 1950s minus all of the things that made those years bearable and provided hope for the future. This might be great for the oligarchs, theocrats, and racists; but for the rest of us, it is not so great.
The current agenda of the Republican Party is antithetical to the greatness that has at times, though never fully, manifested itself in the highest aspirations of our republic; rather it represents a capitulation to the evils that we as a nation have been attempting to overcome to create a more perfect union – racism, sexism, poverty, greed, militarism, religious discrimination, and environmental destruction. If our republic is to have a flourishing future, we must listen “to the better angels of our nature” as the founder of a very different Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, once said, rather than regressing towards our original sins as a nation.
Racists in Office (July 17, 2019)
President Trump’s racist comments about four American persons of color in the U.S. House of Representatives in which he declared they should “go back to where they came from” and the unwillingness of the vast majority of Republican members of Congress to condemn Trump’s comments, led me to think of another time an American person of color was the target of racism in the United States Congress.
The 24th Governor of Louisiana, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, was the first black governor of a U.S. state from 1872-1873 and was selected by the Louisiana legislature to represent the state as one of its two U.S. Senators. Governor Pinchback should have become the first black U.S. Senator and was scheduled to take his seat in the Senate in March of 1873, but the racism of the majority of the senators serving at that time kept him from being seated. For three long years, Pinchback was denied the seat for which he was duly elected and the people of Louisiana were denied their constitutional right to full representation in the U.S. Senate. Racist senators attacked the legitimacy of the vote that elected him, and they attacked his character.
The window of opportunity for Governor Pinchback to take his Senate seat was closed for good in 1876 when the U.S. Senate voted 32 to 29 not to seat Pinchback – 12 senators did not even show up to vote (Matthew Lynch, Before Obama: A Reappraisal of Black Reconstruction Era Politicians, Volume 1, p. 231). The stalling game by the racist U.S. Senators was successful as by 1876 the systems of white supremacy had retaken political control of Louisiana and the rest of the South.
One U.S. Senator who was in opposition to Pinchback was particularly candid about his racist motivations when he said in an interview that he “would give that n—-r some sleepless nights before he gets his seat” (Lynch, p. 228). This particular senator from Kentucky, a person who had enslaved a number of persons before the Civil War, was serving for the second time in the U.S. Senate. The first time that he served was during the Andrew Johnson administration, a president whose racism led him to oppose the 14th Amendment and to seek the quick return of southern states to the Union without protections for black persons. When Andrew Johnson was impeached and brought before the Senate for his trial, he was acquitted by only one vote, and this particular U.S. Senator from Kentucky was one of the votes for acquittal.
The racist senator from Kentucky clearly wished that Governor Pinchback, a black man, would “go back to where he belonged.” He did not see Pinchback as an American, he simply viewed him as a “n—-r” who had no place in the U. S. Senate, and because of people like this racist senator from Kentucky, Governor Pinchback never took his rightful place in history as America’s first black U.S. Senator. That racist senator from Kentucky, Thomas Clay McCreery, was my great great great grandfather, a man I was taught to revere in my childhood, a man whose senate portrait I inherited. He would not be the last senator from Kentucky to enable racism against persons of color in Congress.
The current President of the United States sounds a lot like that racist 19th Century senator from Kentucky, and I reject the racism of both these men. Unlike Governor Pinchback and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib; President Trump and my great great great grandfather are not worthy of the offices they have held because of their racist words and their racist ways, and America will never be great under the leadership of such racist persons.
Before Nazis started killing Jewish persons, they used to say things like “Juden Raus” and “Auf nach Palästina!” The translations are “Jews out” and “off to Palestine.” They even created a board game around these slogans (See Trump’s ‘Go Home’ Invective Echoes Nazi Incitement Against Jews). These words are the functional equivalent of saying “send them back” and “go back where you came from.” The racist history of such words is long and well documented, although Trump would have us all believe that this is fake news, what the Nazis called Lügenpresse, in an attempt to make people believe the reality he wants to portray to them.
Trump is also reviving the oft used slogan “America- Love it or leave it.” In addition to being used as a slogan against Vietnam war protestors in the 1960’s and 70’s, the “love it or leave it” mantra was also a favorite of the KKK – “This is Klan Country – Love it or Leave it!” What a warped understanding of love of country to equate it with lack of dissent! In times such as these, loving America requires those who care about the most vulnerable among us to be deeply critical of the path that our country is taking. We won’t leave America, we will stay and fight for its core values of liberty and justice for all, precisely because we love America.
Today in America, some people are saying these racist things who don’t know their history. Others are saying these racist things because they know their history. Either way, these racist words and actions are unacceptable and extremely dangerous for all people of color in our country and a threat to the well being of our whole republic. All good persons must stop this ongoing march towards hate and conquer it with love and justice. Racism in America never simply goes away; it must continually be confronted and controlled through both moral authority and the law. If you have been sitting this out so far, now is the time for everyone who loves what is best about America to stand up for what is right, and if people tell you to go back to where you belong, tell them you are already there – you are already here.
‘Illegals’ (August 1, 2019)
Since the unwelcome arrival of Europeans, American history has been one long tug of war with white supremacy. Our best moments have been when we overcome white supremacy, and our worst moments have been when white supremacy has overcome us. Sadly, we are currently in a moment where it seems white supremacy is overcoming a large percentage of us, especially when it comes to our care (or lack thereof) for immigrants and refugees.
We can have disagreements on how to address challenges related to immigration and refugees, but the use of the term “illegals” as a way of classifying and thereby dehumanizing millions of persons is the kind of language that has led and continues to lead to concentration camps.
The term “illegal” used as an identifier for undocumented immigrants and refugees (as in “he or she is an illegal,” or “they are illegals,” or even simply saying “illegals” without an identifying pronoun), though currently more socially acceptable than using the n-word, is the functional equivalent to calling black people the n-word. Both identifiers are meant to dehumanize the other, thus justifying their treatment as less than human and thus not fully deserving of human rights. Both terms are deeply racist and stem from white supremacy as is evidenced by the fact that “illegals” is almost exclusively reserved by those who employ the term for black and brown immigrants and refugees.
When you think of human persons as “illegals” as opposed to full human beings, your mind can quickly go to places like “they don’t need beds, toothbrushes, and showers,” or “if they didn’t want to be separated from their children, they shouldn’t have come here” or “they don’t deserve basic medical care,” or “if coming here results in their death (even if the death occurs while in U.S. custody), then that is on them.” Describing persons as anything less than human has proven over and over again to lead to treating persons as less than human, often resulting in horrific suffering and sometimes resulting in the death of millions of persons.
In the ongoing tug of war with white supremacy, we must reject all language that dehumanizes anyone, and this means rejecting the language of referring to persons as “illegals,” thus relegating such words to the racist trash heap of history where terms like “illegals” and the “n-word” belong.
Trump’s Dependency on Racism (August 17, 2019)
There seems to be at least three forms of racism that are fueling Trump’s current hold on power:
First, you have the hardcore racist white supremacists. Not every Trump supporter is a hardcore racist white supremacist, but every hardcore racist white supremacist is a Trump supporter (these are the David Dukes, Richard Spencers, Steve Kings, and Stephen Millers of the world and their followers).
Second, you have those who primarily express their racism through a willingness to use race, racial divisions, xenophobia, and racism in general to gain power. These persons may not understand themselves to be white supremacists, but they are more than willing to use racism as a political tool to gain, maintain, and expand political power (Trump himself and McConnell are at the very least representatives of this form of racism).
Third, you have those who may reject white supremacy and who may not like Trump’s overt use of racism and xenophobia to gain and maintain power, but they have decided that Trump’s policies on taxes, regulations, abortion, and perhaps some other social issues are enough to make up for his use of racial division and unwillingness to consistently denounce white supremacy and his use of racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
Those in the third category likely do not view themselves as racist, but their continuing support of Trump and his agenda that is supported by white supremacists is in effect racist in that it perpetuates experiences of injustice and violence for immigrants, refugees, and persons of color in general. Included in this third form of racism are many corporate supporters of Trump who overlook or tolerate his racism in order to continue to reap the rewards of low taxes and fewer regulations.
These three forms of racism – the first overt, the second crassly utilitarian and Machiavellian, and the third more covert and silent, all worked together to bring Trump to power, and Trump needs all three forms of racism to remain as president. Persons who express the first two forms of racism are for the most part a lost cause in terms of potential conversion, but there may be some hope that some persons in the third group may have had too much of the overt and utilitarian forms of racism to remain silent much longer. Even if that is not the case, as long as Democrats and progressive independents stay united in their resistance to Trump, there is a path that leads us beyond Trump and his racist agenda.
What’s in a Name? (September 1, 2019)
What’s in a name? The word ‘Christian’ has lost almost all of its positive meaning for me. It used to mean something special to me before I learned that those who have called themselves ‘Christian’ used the power of the Empire to violently and murderously suppress opposing viewpoints and later during a series of Inquisitions tortured and burned persons alive who thought differently than they did; before I learned that ‘Christians’ committed atrocities and mass killings during the Crusades in the name and under the banner of Christ; before I learned that ‘Christians’ brutalized, enslaved, and murdered indigenous peoples all over the planet; before I learned that ‘Christians’ killed each other by the millions over doctrinal and political differences; before I learned that ‘Christians’ justified the slavery and dehumanization of millions of African persons; and before I learned that ‘Christians’ persecuted and murdered Jewish persons for centuries, culminating in a self-identified ‘Christian’ nation committing the most horrific atrocities in human history in the torture and extermination of 6 million Jews.
After this horrific history, it should come as no surprise that so many persons who identify as ‘Christian’ have given themselves to movements that oppress women, persons who are LGBTQIA+, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and refugees. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ would reject their LGBTQIA+ sons, daughters, and non-binary children and drive them to despair and homelessness. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ would justify putting immigrant and refugee children in cages, tearing families apart, refusing immigrants and refugees basic hygiene and medical care, and sending immigrants on special medical visas home to their deaths. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ glorify war and violence and have hardened their hearts to the poor and most vulnerable among us. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ are blocking any meaningful action for climate justice and maintaining a livable climate for all life. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ support an openly racist, misogynist, xenophobic, narcissistic, environment destroying, lying sociopath as their ‘chosen’ leader to enforce their white nationalist vision for America.
Far too often the name ‘Christian’ has come to signify the very antithesis of the way of Jesus; the very antithesis of the way of love, justice, mercy, and grace; the very antithesis of the way of peacemaking; the very antithesis of good news for the poor and liberation of the oppressed; the very antithesis of welcoming the stranger; the very antithesis of caring for the good earth, the very antithesis of everything Jesus taught, lived for, loved for, and died for.
What’s in a name? When it comes to the word ‘Christian,’ apparently not much. Give me a decent, kind, loving, compassionate human being over what has passed as ‘Christian’ for far too long. Give me the way of Jesus and keep the name ‘Christian.’ It has lost its ability to convey the goodness it was meant to possess because of the cruelty and evil practiced for centuries in its name.
If Columbus Had Been a Christian… (October 25, 2019)
If Columbus had been a Jesus follower rather than an Empire Christian, he would have respected that the lands he happened upon were inhabited and he would have engaged the indigenous persons as equal siblings in humanity rather than abuse, torture, murder, and enslave them. He and his shipmates would have conducted themselves as respectful guests in a home not their own rather than cutting off persons’ hands who did not provide them with enough gold and raping and murdering their children.
If Columbus had been a Jesus follower rather than an Empire Christian, upon his return to Europe, he would have made an impassioned plea to only have peaceful contact with his newly found friends rather than conquer them, displace them, and commit genocide against them. He would have argued that the indigenous persons’ land and freedom were not for the taking and their ways and lives should be respected and not molded into a European image.
Good people from good countries would have respected that people already lived in what we now call the Americas and would never have forcefully taken the land. They may have entered into trade agreements and some cross cultural exchange, but they would have gone back to Europe and said that the land they found is inhabited by people and that it was their sacred duty to respect these persons and not invade and destroy them.
If the European countries had been Jesus followers and not Empire Christians, loving rather than conquering the indigenous people would have been the only appropriate response to encountering new siblings on our planet. Imagine what a different world if might have been had Europeans followed the way of Jesus rather than the way of Empire! But they didn’t follow the way of Jesus and left the death and suffering of millions of persons in their wake, and Jesus wept…. uncontrollably and without consolation.
Perpetrators of Genocide, not Pioneers (January 4, 2020)
I just completed reading a book written in 1866 that I would never otherwise read if it were not written by my triple great grandfather, Thomas Clay McCreery, who later became a U.S. Senator from Kentucky from 1868 to 1871 and from 1873 to 1879.
The book is a biography about William Smothers, aka William Smeathers, who was one of the first white persons to go to what is now known as Kentucky and forcibly take away land and life from the indigenous people who had lived there for millennia. He later went to Texas to do the same.
The book is as disgusting as the person about whom it is written. It casually and approvingly recounts how Smothers hunted and murdered indigenous persons like they were animals – hunting animals one day and humans the next.
Smothers is portrayed as being relieved that he never killed an indigenous woman, but after a conversation with a friend, he is convinced that even had he done so, he actually would not have killed a “woman” but rather just a “female.”
The biography was disgusting, but it was important for me to read first and second hand accounts about what white people of that time and place believed and did, and what they believed was despicably racist and what they did was murderous and genocidal.
Two years after writing this biography, my triple great grandfather, Thomas Clay McCreery, was chosen to be a U.S. Senator from Kentucky. He owned human persons before the Civil War, was openly racist, and helped lead the effort to keep the first black man from serving in the U.S. Senate. My guess is that like so many before and after him, McCreery was chosen because of his racist views and actions rather than in spite of them.
To my triple great grandfather, shame on you for writing approvingly about the murderous Bill Smothers, for owning human beings, and for working to keep the first duly elected black man from serving in the U.S. Senate. Your desire for the approval of your racist friends to gain and maintain power for racist ends has led to your name forever being remembered in infamy.
We must never be fooled by the histories written by white men who speak of these persons as pioneers and heroes. They were murderers and perpetrators of genocide who justified their actions on the despicably racist belief that only white people, and more specifically white men, were fully human.
The Only Way Forward Is Justice (May 30, 2020)
The following are some factors that are contributing to the uprising we are seeing across the country, beginning with the specific and moving to the more general and systemic:
1. Any non-police officer would have been arrested for probable cause immediately after authorities saw the tape of the murder of George Floyd.
2. Minneapolis police contributed to the escalation of violence by using tear gas and excessive force during the first day of protests that were mainly peaceful.
3. The County Attorney in Minneapolis made a statement in a press conference on Thursday that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.” This was like throwing gasoline on a fire after the whole world watched George Floyd be murdered right before their eyes.
4. President Trump called the persons protesting George Floyd’s death “THUGS” and repeated and glorified the violent rhetoric of an extremely racist 1960s Miami police chief, tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” thus pouring more gasoline on the fire of unrest.
5. As a country we had just witnessed the fact that the only reason arrests were made in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is because the video of his killing was made public – a video that local authorities had in their possession for two months before it became public.
6. The crimes we see against persons of color by police are just the tip of the iceberg. They have been occurring throughout our country’s entire history, and we are only seeing it more clearly now because of cellphones, but it has always been there terrorizing persons of color.
7. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has made it as clear as ever that there are gross inequities and injustices in our society as persons of color experience illness, death, and other negative consequences of the pandemic at a much higher rate.
8. We have never come to terms with the fact that our country was built on genocide, slavery, centuries of racism, and racist terrorism; with systemic racism permeating almost every aspect of our society to this day.
9. When there is no justice, we cannot expect for there to be peace. For centuries, we have prioritized order over justice to protect the status quo of white privilege and white supremacy. When the voice of the oppressed is ignored and the vulnerable are marginalized, we cannot expect the social fabric to hold together.
10. We have the worst leader at one of the most difficult and challenging times in our history. He has spent his whole presidency dividing us against one another, enacting racist and xenophobic policies, separating families of color, putting children in cages, turning away refugees, and scapegoating others rather than working to bring us together as a community. We cannot be surprised that these deep divisions and injustices are manifesting themselves in violent ways.
The only way out of our quagmire is to address the systemic injustice and racism that continue to oppress persons of color in our society. It is the only way to a peaceful future with justice – the only way.
Send Them Back to Herod (December 25, 2020)
Imagine if the Roman authorities governing Egypt had found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus after they climbed a Roman wall to get into Egypt and that they almost died of thirst because the Romans had emptied containers of water left behind in the desert for persons fleeing King Herod…
Then imagine that after the Roman authorities found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus on the verge of death in the desert that they separated Jesus from his parents and detained him with other children whose families were lucky enough to escape King Herod’s massacre…
Imagine that some of these children would never see their parents again because of poor Roman record keeping, but after some number of months Jesus was finally reunited with his parents…
But then imagine that the Roman authorities governing Egypt had only reunited Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to deport them back to their home country even though Mary and Joseph pleaded with the authorities not to send them back because the child’s life would be in grave danger…
Imagine the Roman authorities ignoring the pleas of Mary and Joseph and sending them back to the region controlled by King Herod where Herod’s soldiers immediately arrested them and killed the young Jesus…
Imagine that “a voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, [Mary] weeping for her [son]; she refused to be comforted, because [he] is no more.”
You have now imagined how Trump’s America would have treated Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had they fled to the United States to escape a murderous king – but at least we won the war on Christmas and feel good about saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.
Dreams and Nightmares (January 17, 2021)
Trump’s vision and King’s vision are both part of America. One represents our national nightmare; the other our national dream. One is the original sin of America from which we must repent; the other is the path of redemption towards Beloved Community to which justice loving persons aspire. One leads to a violent insurrectionist “March on the Capitol” that will live forever in infamy; the other leads to MLK’s “March on Washington” that will forever inspire love and justice. One is a path backwards to the big lie of white supremacy, division, and hate; the other is the path forward to truth and reconciliation.
As I write this for Martin Luther King Day 2021, I am aware there will rightly be numerous tributes to King on MLK Day; including many quotations from King’s speeches, sermons, and writings. King’s eloquent declarations of his vision for the creation of a beloved community in this our one world house continue to remind us of what we can become if we build a society based on love and justice rather than hate and the perpetuation of gross inequities.
I am also aware that some of the persons who perpetuate America’s nightmare of injustice and continued systemic racism will use MLK Day to usurp King’s words in their attempt to “promote unity and healing” and to “put the dark day of January 6 behind us” in an effort to avoid accountability for their actions.
To them I say: If your words and actions incited insurrection day, don’t be quoting MLK on MLK Day.
If you supported throwing out the votes of millions of people of color to overturn a free and fair election, don’t be quoting MLK on MLK Day.
If you vilify Black Lives Matter and cannot see that MLK’s whole life was about Black Lives Mattering, then don’t be quoting MLK on MLK Day.
If you call BLM a socialist or communist organization, perhaps you may know that the Trumps of MLK’s time also called him a communist and much worse, and you should keep your MLK quotes to yourself on MLK day.
If you think being anti-racist is simply about having some persons of color who are friends or about sharing videos or social media posts of persons of color because they agree with your political point of you, don’t be quoting MLK on MLK day.
As we celebrate the life and work of our national hero of civil rights and social justice, may we all be reminded of his vision that being anti-racist is about actively and relentlessly working to transform the systems that perpetuate social, economic, educational, and justice inequities within our communities and society as a whole. Quotes and tributes can inspire us in this work, but we must repent from the national nightmare of systemic racism before we make our way towards the dream of justice and reconciliation in Beloved Community.
White Supremacy and Unequal Representation (July 5, 2021)
The successful attempts by white supremacists in the United States to gain and maintain more political power than their actual numbers warrant goes all the way back to the Constituton of the United States in which southern states gained disproportionate representation by counting enslaved persons as three fifths of a person while giving the enslaved persons zero fifths of a vote. Given that 40% of the persons in southern states were enslaved at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, this three fifths clause gave the South much more political power than its voting population should have had.
After the Civil War, white supremacists quickly gained disproportionate representation again by successfully suppressing the votes of black persons through refusing to seat elected black officials, poll taxes, poll tests, violence, intimidation, and the murder of thousands of black persons.
After the Voting Rights act of 1965 (a century after the end of the Civil War), white supremacists had to get more creative to hold on to disproportionate representation through the process of gerrymandering, campaign financing, and the implementation of election practices that had a disproportionately negative effect on persons of color.
Now white supremacists are creating new voter suppression laws based on the Big Lie of election fraud during the 2020 election, and they have 6 allies on the highest court in the land who are gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and once again allowing white supremacists to accelerate voter suppression to maintain the disproportionate representation of white people in government.
Disproportionate political representation for white people contributes to the creation and maintenance of systems that provide greater economic opportunities for white people, better access to quality education for white people, better healthcare outcomes for white people, better access to clean water and clean air for white people, and better outcomes in the criminal justice system for white people.
Systemic racism is the original sin of the United States of America and continues to plague our society to this very day. We will never create a truly just and diverse society unless we address systemic racism honestly and commit to building political and economic systems that are conducive to realizing our highest aspirations of a society with liberty and justice for all. If we affirm that all persons are created equal, then we must create systems in which all persons have equal representation in our political and economic processes.
If All Persons Are Created Equal… (July 19, 2021)
If all persons truly are created equal, then we all deserve equal access to healthcare because each life is as important as the next and healthcare should be considered a human right. We can no longer tolerate a system in which quality healthcare is only accessible to those who can pay.
If all persons truly are created equal, then we all deserve equal access to education so that all persons can develop their abilities for their own self realization and for the good of the community. We can no longer tolerate the ongoing economic segregation in our education system. We can no longer tolerate the unjust funding of public schools based on property taxes and other factors that perpetuate inequality.
If all persons truly are created equal, then all persons deserve a living wage for their work. We can no longer tolerate the lie being told to us by CEOs being paid 299 times more than the average worker’s salary that our economy will be harmed by paying people a living wage.
If all persons truly are created equal, then we all deserve access to a safe environment, clean air, clean water, and a livable climate. We can no longer tolerate environmental injustice and environmental racism that makes the poor and persons color bear the brunt of the negative consequences of our ecologically irresponsible systems and practices. We can no longer tolerate a fossil fueled economy that is forfeiting a livable climate and contributing to the sixth great extinction in the history of our planet.
If all persons truly are created equal, then we all deserve equal access to the ballot and to equitable political participation. We can no longer tolerate efforts to suppress the votes of persons of color in the desperate attempt by so many to cling to white supremacy and systemic racism. We can no longer tolerate systems that allow the rich to control political processes through their wealth and alienate persons from fair and equal representation.
If all persons truly are created equal as we affirm them to be in our founding documents and in the amendments we have passed during our country’s history to more explicitly recognize this fact, then it is time that we fully live into a reality of equal opportunity based on our highest ideals rather than perpetuating the racist and unjust sins of our past. It is time we we all have equal access to healthcare, a living wage, a safe and livable environment, and political participation. It is time we create a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society for all. It is time we become what we say we are – a society of persons who are all created equal.
No Place for Apathy (August 8, 2021)
Let’s face it. The last year and a half have been really difficult. And it is is not like the years before that were a walk in the park. It is okay to not be okay in relation to the challenging experiences that seem to keep coming our way. It is okay to take some time to retreat for our own mental health and to focus some on our own well-being. Each one of us is a person of inherent worth who is worthy of love and grace, and it is important that we love ourselves and take care of ourselves.
As we are reminded anytime we fly in an airplane, when the cabin is deprived of oxygen, one must put the oxygen mask on themselves first before they can be of proper assistance to others. Having experienced a flight once where the use of oxygen masks were required, this is not an experience I wish on anyone, but it does illustrate that self care is necessary for the proper care of others.
This of course does not mean that we focus so much on the care of ourselves that we don’t care about others or become apathetic about their needs and the challenges they are facing. Once we have the oxygen mask securely over our own face, we have a moral responsibility to help those who are struggling to breathe.
As we look at all the challenges and struggles we are currently facing, this is not the time or place for simply focusing on our own comfort while ignoring the plight of others. As we experience an ongoing public health emergency, we must recognize that the very nature of a public health emergency means that it is not simply about what is good for ourselves or only about our personal decisions and personal responsibility. It is also, and more importantly, about our responsibility to each other as we work together for the health and common good of all.
Our responsibility to each other means that we ought to get vaccinated for the sake of ourselves and others, and given what we know about the Delta variant of COVID-19, our responsibility to each other also means that we should all be wearing masks in indoor public spaces according to CDC and World Health Organization guidance. We cannot allow ourselves to become apathetic about our current health emergency because the virus feeds off of our apathy.
It is not only literal viruses that feed on our apathy and lack of commitment to social responsibility and the common good. Apathy is the enemy of justice and allows the virus of injustice to run rampant in our world. Apathy is giving in to the lie that things cannot get better or at the very least less bad, and this is precisely what the purveyors of social and ecological injustice and its profiteers want.
The corporations and persons who are profiting off of the sixth great extinction on our planet don’t need us to support what they are doing. They just need us to think there is nothing we can really do about it.
Those working to suppress access to voting don’t have to convince the majority of us that they are right to do so. They simply have to keep us apathetic enough to do nothing meaningful about it.
Fossil fuel companies don’t have to convince us that climate change is not real (though they have certainly attempted to do that). They just have to convince us to be apathetic about it. Our apathy translates into their profits.
An effective way to cultivate apathy by those who desire to do so is to create a sense of unsolvable chaos and a world of “alternative facts” through misinformation and propaganda. Take apathy about systemic racism as an example. One way to keep people apathetic about the injustices of systemic racism of the present is to keep them from learning about the reality of the injustices of systemic racism in our past and to falsely portray any significant and sustained resistance to systemic racism as disorder. The effect is the perpetuation of the injustices of systemic racism into our future.
We see this with the current attack on the teaching of Critical Race Theory by numerous state legislatures. This is analogous to the rewriting of the history of the Confederacy by white supremacists who perpetuated the myth of the Lost Cause of the South to deny the real reasons behind the Civil War. The virus of systemic racism feeds on the apathy cultivated by such propaganda.
It is critical to recognize that apathy is often an expression of privilege whereby those who are apathetic are not made more vulnerable by their inaction yet contribute to greater vulnerability of others. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized the danger and privilege of apathy in his criticisms of the silence of white moderates in relation to the fierce urgency of the civil rights movement. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King lamented: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the… great stumbling block in [our]stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another [person’s] freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises [persons who are black] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
A year before his assassination, King warned that “there is such a thing as being too late” and that “[t]his is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” (King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?).
Who would have thought that 56 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed that these rights would be threatened by a Supreme Court wallowing in its own privilege and by state legislatures hell-bent on turning back the hands of time to an America that was much less diverse, much less just, much less participatory, and much less free.
This current Congress is potentially the last best chance for new comprehensive voting rights legislation. If this opportunity is squandered by the apathy of a couple of white Democratic senators, it could very well be a mortal wound to our democratic republic.
May we truly heed Martin Luther King’s warning and exhortation. “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” May it be so and may we work together to make it so with a common commitment for love and justice before it is too late.