What We Have Forgotten

Religious bigotry, specifically anti-Islam religious bigotry, has been on the rise since the terrorist attacks of 2011. The recent election of the first two Muslim women to the House of Representatives has further kindled American prejudice toward the religion of Islam and its adherents.

From the outset it is important to say that the small group of well-organized, well-heeled terrorists responsible for the attacks on our country is not representative of the Islamic tradition.  As I have said before, these extremists no more represent Islam than the Ku Klux Clan represents Christianity.  It is just that simple.  Read the Koran and get back to me.  If you think the Koran is only about violence, read the Old Testament and get back to me. The Bible is no more or less violent than the Koran. There are religious extremists in every tradition and they do not speak the truth and essence of that tradition.  Get educated.  Until then, don’t contribute to the bigotry and misunderstanding.  Don’t fan the flames of intolerance and ignorance.

Ilhan Omar (Representative from Minnesota’s fifth district) is facing ongoing criticism for her comments about Israel.  It is all but impossible for anyone to say anything even remotely critical about Israel without all kinds of people climbing down their throats.  Her comments were not anti-Semitic, they were critical.  Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews.  There is a vast difference between being critical and being anti-Semitic.

In the state of West Virginia a poster appeared in the state house depicting Ilhan Omar superimposed on a picture of the burning Twin Towers.  The caption read, “We have forgotten.” Most Republicans and many Democrats have remained silent. It is reprehensible.  Religious bigotry is alive and well in West Virginia.

Yes, we have forgotten.  We have forgotten:

  • Freedom of religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right.
  • Ilhan Omar was legitimately elected as a representative from the state of Minnesota.
  • Bigotry is a pernicious and divisive reality wherever it raises its ugly head.
  • Our representatives must be held to a higher standard and not fall prey to the lowest fears and prejudices of a minority.
  • It is the responsibility of each and every resident of this country and the leaders who represent them to stand against the rising tide of intolerance or blind loyalty.
  • The religious right is neither religious nor right. They do not follow the tenets of Christianity and there is nothing right about their positions of hatred and bigotry.

It is troubling to see the social media posts that depict these Muslim representatives as some sort of predictor of the failure of our Republic.  Truth be told, we are in far more danger from the occupant and his anti-America rhetoric wrapped up in the flag with a side of apple pie.

We are in far more danger from the fear mongering in which some of our government representatives traffic. It undermines the very fabric of our culture. 

The risk of creating constant win/lose propositions weakens our ability to deal with the complicated nature of our social, political and religious reality.  We are desperately in need of peacemakers and bridge builders who can reach across divergent perspectives and create common ground.

The deep divisions of our nation create a social and political brittleness that will not withstand the ridiculous foreign policy of the occupant. Nor will it withstand his corrupt business dealings which line the pockets of his associates. There are many things that are legal, but are not moral or ethical.

By fanning the flames of intolerance in any arena, not just religious, this nation builds a platform on rotted timber.  It is hard to say what it will look like when our nation collapses under the weight of its own institutional evil, but it will not be pretty.  What is guaranteed is that the poor, those most in need and those in minority religious traditions will pay the greatest price.  What is a surety is that fear and hatred will lead the way as this country tries desperately to remain “white” to the exclusion of all others.

We are a fast declining society.  Threats against our increasingly diverse Representatives in Congress are at the top of a very slippery slope.

The Cutting Edge of Obsolescence

In a devastating vote, The United Methodist Church tightened its ban on LGBTQ clergy and upheld a ban on clergy officiating at same sex weddings.  It has left a deeply divided and deeply wounded church. In a 438-384 vote the “traditional plan” won. Fifty-four people decided the fate of an entire denomination.

The traditional plan is the most restrictive of all the options.  It requires strict adherence to the Book of Discipline, the guiding document in all things United Methodist. It states the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  First infractions would result in a year suspension without salary and a second infraction would mean surrendering credentials.  Bishops are now required to certify their adherence to the Discipline.  Those who do not comply will no longer receive compensation after 2021.  Annual Conferences that do not comply will be prohibited from using the United Methodist Logo and identifying as United Methodist after 2020.  This plan doesn’t mince words. 

On the heels of the vote, no one was celebrating.  By all accounts, the “winners” were gracious.  It is little consolation.  I wonder if there was some gloating masquerading as piety and prejudice masquerading as religious moralism. One African leader commented that he could go home to the churches and report that the bible hasn’t changed. 

Yes, it’s true the bible hasn’t changed.  It is still the most radical and loving document Christians have to guide their behavior. The bible is the book where the truth of Jesus is most fully recorded.  He never turned anyone away.  He ate with sinners and tax collectors (code language for the worst of the worst).  He touched lepers and healed the woman with the flow of blood.  These were acts of radical restoration to community. Their status as outcasts was ended and they were welcomed back into their own folds. 

The bible hasn’t changed.  It still demands that we read it and read it whole.  We cannot ignore the parts we don’t like and cherry pick verses that happen to support our particular position.  This is something every permutation of Christianity does, and it is not helpful.  The bible, in its entirety is the story of God’s eternal love affair with creation and all things human.  Through all the ups and downs of the stories related between its covers, the unrelenting love and grace of God remains unchanged and unchangeable.    

In the aftermath of the vote there is much talk of schism (a church split) and people taking their exit from the church.  These are people who have been in this fight for a long time and are finally giving up, feeling their church has betrayed them or is betraying the gospel.

It is a thorny issue faced by the Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians before them. Welcoming LGBTQ clergy and members is the most divisive issue in all of Christianity.  As mainline churches across the country are losing members and influence, the issue becomes even more charged.  Conservatives say openness will not attract new worshippers. Progressives say it will. In the midst of it all, more and more Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Many cite the hypocrisy of the church as a turn off to participation.  As churches struggle to attract younger members, a specifically anti LGBTQ stance won’t help. Young Americans who increasingly support LGBTQ rights are unlikely to affiliate with a church that so vehemently rejects this population. 

Mainline churches cannot afford to become any more anachronistic than they already are.  By voting to exclude this population the United Methodist church has placed itself on the cutting edge of obsolescence.  By catering to an aging population and a “traditional” approach to “doing church,” their narrowness and bigotry has become enshrined for all the world to see. 

There is nothing traditional about rejecting an entire population, oppressing those who are already oppressed and turning a blind eye to the injustice of it all. It surely does not stand in the tradition of Jesus.  And isn’t this what the Christian church is supposed to be about? 

Southern Baptist, Roman Catholics, Sexual Abuse and More Cover Up

I wish I could say I am surprised about the revelations of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Church (SBC) and Roman Catholic churches, but I am not. I worked in the field of clergy sexual abuse for many years and I had victim/survivors from the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic churches (including women religious), who had gone to leaders only to be ignored, re-victimized, and blamed, regardless of their age. It is the one interfaith thing denominations share. In both traditions, some clergy continue to serve in positions of authority. In both churches there was failure to alert authorities when the victims were children.

The number of victims is staggering. The stories are horrific.  Some of the abusers were male leaders with male child/teenage victims.  This leaves victims wondering about their sexual identity at a formative time. It is important to say that the offenders who abuse same sex victims are not gay. The bishop’s gathering in Rome last week perpetuated that terrible myth.  It simply is not true. Roman Catholic priests do not offend because they are celibate.  All clergy offend because they choose to misuse the power and authority of their role in a sexual way.

Adult victims are universally judged without an understanding of the compromise of moral agency. For all victim/survivors it is an act of violence to the soul that leaves profound and lasting pain. Some adolescent girls and adult women became pregnant and were told to get abortions. Given the stance on abortion in both the SBC and the Roman Catholic church, this is unspeakable hypocrisy.  Excuse me while I vomit.

Leadership in the SBC is trying to hide behind the polity (organizational structure) of the denomination.  Stating that each church is independent and voluntarily associates with the greater organization, they have distanced themselves from the offending leaders, churches in crisis and victims. Like the families of school shooting victims, they offer “thoughts and prayers”.  It is cowardice of the first order. It is also profound institutional evil.

The Roman Catholic Church talks about education, policies and procedures that will reduce abuse by priests. They talk about institutional change.  At the Pope’s conference of bishops last week the focus was on education. Why do they need a whole week of church poohbahs in one room for a week? I can sum up the lesson needed in two words, “it’s wrong”.  Class dismissed.

One thing I learned working in the field of clergy sexual abuse is that regardless of the denomination, institutions keep the secret, blame the victims and leave the churches with few resources to heal. Meanwhile, abuse continues, victims are left abandoned and the major thing church judicatories learn is how to cover their corporate asses.

The biggest thing leaders can do is stop keeping the secret.  Timely, appropriate and ongoing disclosure shines the light of day on the church’s dirty little secret. Let’s be clear, victims do not come forward for the fame and glamour of it all.  They are blamed, shamed, threatened with death, driven to the brink of suicide, isolated from their faith communities and have their souls shattered in ways that are unimaginable.  In the twenty years of doing clergy sexual abuse work, with over 1500 cases, I had one false allegation. It is a myth that victims make false allegations. Churches should create a universal policy of “one and done”.  One credible allegation of abuse and clerical orders and privilege are revoked, whether or not there is civil or criminal litigation.

 The second thing churches can do is stop blaming victims. Offering victim/survivors the resources they need to heal is crucial. Money for counseling and understanding of the arduousness of the healing journey are good places to begin. Recognizing the healing journey takes YEARS and not abandoning the victim are key aspects of healing. So is respecting what the victims need.  In other words, denominational leaders can be the church.  What a concept.

Here is an excerpt of one survivor’s account of the pain of her abuse.

Stolen Not Lost

Marian Lovelace

“I learned a valuable lesson today about responsibility.

I now know where to leave the shame and blame.

I am beginning to discover the truth.

Many of my precious gifts were stolen, not lost.

You stole my unquestioned belief in my Heavenly Father’s love;

You stole the preciousness of solitude in God’s presence.

You stole the joy of coming together to share Eucharist.

You stole my reverence for the deep meaning of a church family.

You stole my ability to be quiet and hear God’s voice.

You stole my belief in the phrase “God answers prayers”.

You stole the joy I felt in calling myself Christian.

You stole my ability to find comfort in going to confession.

You stole my innocence and twisted my trust in mankind.

You stole my hope for a better tomorrow and instilled doubt.

You stole my love of life and wanting to live.

You stole my belief in the basic goodness of people.

You stole a significant part of my childhood and adolescence.

You stole my desire to become a loving adult woman.

You stole my voice and my actions that screamed a loud NO.

You stole my right to claim my justifiable anger at abuse.

You stole my right to easily risk counsel without suspicion.

You stole the inner peace I experienced entering God’s house.

You stole my many treasures and the blame and guilt is yours.

Someday you will answer to God for your many thefts.

Someday justice will be based on the evilness of your actions.

Today I leave the responsibility at your feet, where it belongs.”*


May church leaders and people of faith hear her witness and act with compassion and justice.

*Responding to Clergy Misconduct by Marie Fortune, pp12-13.

Religious Liberty and Civil Rights in Peril

Last week the Supreme Court dealt a stunning blow to religious liberty and the separation of church and state.  In a predictable 5-4 division, they voted to deny a death row inmate access to an Imam prior to his execution in Alabama.  The Alabama prison would only allow a Christian chaplain to offer solace from inside the execution chamber, citing a security risk to let someone into the room who was not an employee of the corrections department. The Inmate, Domenique Ray, declined the Christian chaplain.

Ray’s attorney then challenged the denial of his right to spiritual care. A federal court granted a stay of execution until it was determined whether the prison had violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states:

               “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of their grievances.”

The Supreme Court vacated the stay of execution and allowed it to proceed. The court tried to hide behind a technicality, stating that the appeal for spiritual counsel for Mr. Ray was not filed in a timely fashion and was therefore not relevant.  The dissenting Justices, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotamayor called the decision “profoundly wrong.”

Prison officials cited the special training Christian chaplains (the only chaplains) at the prison receive.  There was nothing to prohibit the Imam from receiving the same training the Christian chaplains received, except he was not given the option. Instead the Imam was only allowed to witness the execution from the viewing room, behind glass.

Anyone concerned about the separation of church and state has reason to be alarmed.  Alabama state law explicitly states that the inmate’s spiritual adviser of choice may be present at an execution. It does not elaborate what “present” means. Priests are allowed to administer the Sacrament of the Sick, formerly known as Last Rights, in the execution chamber.  Since all the chaplains are Christian, there is already a violation of the Establishment Clause in the prison’s failure to provide appropriately trained clergy of all traditions to meet the spiritual needs of their population. In this failure they favor Christianity over all other religious traditions.

A second blow to the separation of church and state was dealt by the occupant in a May 2018 executive order, cloyingly called The Religious Freedom Act. It flew in under the radar.  It establishes a White House Faith and Opportunity initiative in order to provide recommendations on the administration’s policy agenda. Given the occupant’s connection to conservative white evangelicals this does not bode well for anyone.

Beneath the thin veneer of language appearing to support religious liberty is a clear diminishment of the separation between church and state.  It allows churches to advocate for political candidates.  This effectively makes the church a campaign arm of whatever party they support. When church and state are muddled together, the gospel always loses.

The Johnson Amendment, as the 1954 law is often called, is a U.S. tax code rule preventing tax-exempt organizations, such as churches and educational institutions, from endorsing political candidates. Opponents have argued the amendment served to stop black churches from organizing in the civil rights movement. However, endorsing political candidates and advocating/organizing for social justice issues are two different things.  The church has always had a prophetic ministry, pointing out injustice and working to redress it. 

The occupant said, “The Religious Freedom act will help ensure that faith based organizations have equal access to government funding and equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs.” It’s those last three words that are problematic.  They are often used to justify anti LGBTQ legislation in the name of “religious freedom.”  The case of a Colorado baker refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple was settled by the Supreme Court in a 7-2 vote in favor of the baker.  The court voted that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the baker’s rights under the first Amendment. Colorado’s anti-discrimination law was trumped by a business owner’s religious conviction.  What will happen when healthcare providers refuse to treat LGBTQ persons, Muslims, Buddhists and any other religious community based on “religious conviction”? It is a frightening and slippery slope.

The Religious Freedom Act will open the door to legalized discrimination in the name of religious conviction, inappropriate endorsement of political candidates and a muddling of civil rights.  We have only begun to see the nightmare this will create.  We can expect to see social norms replaced by religious “piety”.  We will see women’s rights rolled back and a possible overturn of Roe v. Wade, or at the very least, the severe limiting of reproductive services especially to poor women.

Events such as these two are the canary in the coal mine of our religious freedom and the separation of church and state.  Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a press release that the order was “one more attempt by Trump, cheered by his Evangelical Advisory Board, to redefine religious freedom to mean the freedom to discriminate against those who do not share your religious beliefs.” 

Racism, Agenda and Repentance

The l984 yearbook photo of Governor Northam and the first allegation of sexual assault against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax were both broken by Big League Politics, a right wing outlet that makes Breitbart look like the New York Times. It is widely viewed as a propaganda arm for the occupant and has little journalistic integrity in the news media community. The Washington Times reports that a “concerned citizen,” upset at Governor Northam for recent comments on abortion, tipped off Big League Politics to the photo.  It begs the question, why now?  What is the political agenda behind this coming forward now?

Virginia limits governors to one term.  Revealing this photo now may cripple the rest of Northam’s governorship and put the recent Democratic leaning tendency of the state at risk.  Virginia voted for Barack Obama in 2008, after backing Republican candidates for the previous ten presidential elections.  Virginia is becoming a swing state, which may explain the timing and motivation of the story. By besmirching Democratic leaders, it may give Republicans an advantage in 2020, even if it is dirty pool. We live in an age where little can be taken at face value and we must always question motives in politics.

Justin Fairfax stands accused by two women of sexual assault.  He may face criminal charges as the investigation unfolds, though he has vehemently denied the charges, stating the sexual encounters were entirely consensual.  It is troubling that a black Democratic leader may face articles of impeachment before an investigation and before any potential charges, while a white Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused during his confirmation hearing and was confirmed anyway.  And let’s not forget the occupant and his alley cat morals. Again, one has to question the role of race and the motivation on the part of the Virginia Legislator anxious to bring articles of impeachment.

The attorney general, Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface in imitation of rap legend Kurtis Blow at a costume party in 1980, when he was 19.  His behavior is no less reprehensible than Northam’s and he has hinted that he may resign. Meanwhile Northam has, for the most part, stood firm in his refusal to resign even amid mounting calls for him to do so. One has to wonder if the call for his resignation by other political leaders and presidential hopefuls is self-righteousness masquerading as righteous indignation.  After all, racism is an equal opportunity white person’s offense. 

Initially Northam profusely apologized for his behavior and the photo and stated it was not reflective of who he is today.  A day later he denied that it was he in the photo.  Such flip-flopping burns a lot of relational capital. A few days ago, he said he was reading Alex Haley’s Roots and Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations, to try and understand the black experience.  I am less than impressed.

Conversely, Herring came forward with the information of his own accord and has publicly stated that the harm he caused is “his greatest shame.”  Further, he hoped this could be a teachable moment and stated a willingness to engage in a reconciliation process.  This makes me hopeful.

While both of their political futures remain uncertain, the people who are in a position to call it one way or the other are the members of the black community.  Northam and Herring have done nothing to me personally, except offend my sensibilities and remind me that my own racism continues to be a cause for repentance.  The real wounds are the betrayal felt by those who worked hard for their election, trusted their promises and believed what they said.  I imagine it must feel like a bit of a sucker punch.  Still, the community wounded is the best decision maker about their political future.

The mark of true repentance is always changed behavior.  It is never enough to apologize and continue to engage in the same hurtful behavior.  Another sign of repentance is accountability for past behavior and absence of defensiveness when a revelation about the past is made.  Herring has it all over Northam in this regard.  There is a marked lack of defensiveness and openness to dialogue on Herring’s part. Not so much on Northam’s part.  He is still overly concerned with his political future, stating he can do more good if he stays in office.  Again, I am less than impressed. 

People are already talking about forgiveness and reconciliation in this situation. Moving on is the luxury of those not wounded.  At best, it is premature. Forgiveness and reconciliation is not the same thing and they are both a process. True reconciliation does not minimize the wrong done. The individual takes responsibility for his/her behavior and listens to those to whom harm was done.  It is a long process and hopefully results in the restoration of relationship.  At the beginning of the process there is no guarantee of forgiveness or restoration.  One has to trust the process.  One has to enter into the process honestly and openly, with both sides willing to hear what is said.

If a new relationship is to come out of the process, it is built on the ashes of the old relationship.  Both sides acknowledging the wrong and the pain and indicating an ability and willingness to move on, having experienced a sufficient amount of healing and accountability. It’s too early to say, and when the time comes to say, the word doesn’t belong to us.

Being Kind and Grateful in a World That is Neither

Truth be told, I can be pretty snarky and judgmental.  I’m not proud of it, but there it is.  Sometimes the filter between what I am thinking and what comes out of my mouth is out of order. This is rarely a good thing. As the bar for human interaction sinks lower and lower, I find my own behavior changing as well, and it is alarming. When it comes to being kind, I can only do so much on my own.  After a while my own volition is exhausted and I am right back to being snarky and judgmental.

Abraham Lincoln wisely noted that at such times we need to summon “the better angels of our nature.”  The “better angels of our nature” are at the bedrock of our being where we are reminded of what is important, what is good, what is right and what is expected of us in the human community.

I believe those “better angels of our nature” teach us gratitude.  Like kindness, it is not something we can manufacture on our own; but we can till the ground in which gratitude grows and we can let it inform the stance we assume in the world.  Such a stance shifts our perspective from entitlement, hostility, fear, and over attachment to the commodities of modernity to a renewed sense of wonder at what it means to be alive. A stance of gratitude calls us to be present to life in a different way.

Gratitude is called forth when we are silenced by the wonder of sunrise and sunset following one another in a loop of time that brings the seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter- each with its own rhythm and blessing.

Gratitude is nurtured when we open our eyes in the morning and see light and shadow and color and texture.  It grows when we are reminded of the wonder of the senses: taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell.

Gratitude is planted when we ponder the number of people who work for just outcomes for injured populations, advocate for those with no voice and speak truth to power.  They are our role models and reminders of what it means to live in the human community.

Gratitude is the only response to the wonder that each and every human being on this planet is a unique and unrepeatable human being. Each is beloved by the Holy One.

Gratitude reminds us that time is precious; tomorrow is promised to no one and how we live today matters. 

Gratitude is a spiritual practice that helps us balance all that is awful in the world with what is right and beautiful and holy.  It builds compassion for others and for the creation in ways that change how we are in the world.

Carrie Newcomer, one of my favorite singer/songwriters says, “I can’t change the world but I can change what is happening three feet around me.” If we all changed what is three feet around us the world would be a very different place.  Gratitude teaches us that we are not powerless.

Gratitude also comes with a warning label: causes vulnerability, increased compassion, a desire to change what is three feet around you and an unwillingness to settle for the status quo.

When we are amazed by sunrise and sunset and the movement of the seasons, it is impossible to be indifferent to melting polar ice caps and global climate change.

When we are awakened to see light and shadows in a new way, they become metaphors for human behavior and we can no longer hide in the shadows.

When we are rendered silent by the great miracle and mystery of human life in all its shapes and sizes and colors, it is impossible to hate and our fear is diminished.  It also makes me less snarky.

When we realize that many of us have lived more of our lives than we have left to live, what is important in this life shifts; what we have is no longer as important as who we are.

Gratitude is close to the heart of what it means to be human.  It calls forth our better angels at a time when the world is desperately in need of kindness. 

A Cherokee grandfather was teaching his grandson.  He said, “Inside each of us is a fight between two wolves. One is kind, filled with hope, generosity, truth and compassion and the other is filled with anger, greed and arrogance, self-pity and resentment.  The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”

The Road to Perdition

Perdition: noun. Utter destruction, from the fourteenth century Anglo-French perdicium. Ultimately derives from the Latin verb perdere, meaning “to destroy.

That we are on the road to perdition seems patently and painfully obvious:

  • Our legislators were perfectly willing to pay themselves while 800,000 of some of the lowest paid federal workers went over a month without a paycheck.
  • Our government approved separating 2,342 children from their families. Several have died in US custody.
  • Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency with financial ties to Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, was and remains the primary housing provider for immigrant children in detention centers. The cost is $700.00 per night per child.
  • It is unclear how many children are still separated from their families. Numbers range from 300-500.
  • The worst year for mass shootings was 2018, with one about every eight days.
  • So far this year over 1,000 people have died from gun violence.
  • This past week three 21 year old males killed 13 people.
  • Last year was the deadliest on record for non-binary, gender nonconforming and transgender persons.
  • For the second year in a row the government will borrow one trillion dollars to finance the occupant’s tax cuts.
  • Environmental protections are being rolled back at an alarming rate. For example, logging on federal land will be increased to produce more than four billion board feet of timber this year. It represents a 31% increase.
  • The permanent director of the EPA is a former coal lobbyist.
  • The Supreme Court is becoming increasingly partisan, a trend that is expected to continue with new nominations. Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider president Obama’s nominee for the court represents an over reach of government authority and puts yet another nail in the coffin of democracy.
  • There are 954 identifiable hate groups in the US. The largest increases were seen in neo-Nazi, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ (to see a complete list click here).
  • Twenty hate groups outwardly identify as “Christian.”
  • There was a 66% increase in violence against disabled persons in 2017, the last year for which data are available.
  • Anti-religious bias was up 23% due to increased anti-Semitic violence.
  • One third of all Americans doubt that the Holocaust happened.
  • 48% of all hate crimes are gender biased. Since reporting of hate crimes is not uniformly mandated, the number is likely much higher.
  • Gerrymandering and voter suppression make it entirely possible we will have four more years of the occupant, a malignant narcissist and pathological liar with the emotional intelligence of a rock.
  • The occupant has retrieved xenophobia from the sewer of human interaction and set it on a course to acceptability.

There are frightening parallels to the post World War I world in Europe and the United States.  In the 1920’s the US pursued an “America first” type ideology that was isolationist, imposed hefty trade tariffs, and increased income disparity between those at the top and the rest of the country.  There was also immigration restriction that, at the root, was about keeping America white.

In Germany, Paul von Hindenburg was elected president and given broad executive power to defend Germany against foreign threats. He began using his powers to rule by decree and not by parliamentary process.  Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble and abolition of the parliamentary government were among the things that were abolished in that time.  Further, there was demolition of unions and widespread dismissal of civil servants.  There was a direct connection to this series of actions and the subsequent installation of Hitler as chancellor.

Crucial to the rise of totalitarian regimes is controlling the news media.  In the US the function is well served by Fox News and the Breitbart organization, among others.  By calling anything that doesn’t agree with the occupant’s perspective “fake news,” he is subtly and surely eroding the power of the free press to the point where truth soon will be irrelevant.

It is likely that many of the social rights instituted in the last fifty years will be severely curtailed as the Supreme Court becomes more conservative and more partisan.  By choosing which cases they will hear, they can effectively shape public policy that limits access to birth control, protects businesses that discriminate against LGBTQ persons, undermines affirmative action and increases voter suppression and gerrymandering.

It is said that those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.  And while the period between World War I and World War II will never be exactly replicated, there are disturbing similarities that will likely have far reaching consequences for individuals, communities and the environment.

When hate is spoken into the world and meets nothing but its own echo, it rises unchecked.  When hate is spoken into the world and it is met with resistance and push back there is some hope that its destruction can be curbed.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The only thing necessary for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.”


Sources: National Geographic, Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign, BBC, The New York Review of Books, Christopher R. Browning, the Suffocation of Democracy

Privilege Pushes Back

What’s true, what’s not and what needs context?  There are several perspectives on the viral video that came from protests in Washington over the weekend. They add a needed voice to balance in the conversation.

It’s true that the Hebrew Israelites said hateful things to everyone.  It’s also true that Nathan Phillips, Native American elder and Vietnam veteran, willingly inserted himself into a situation that was inherently risky. It is true that the Covington Catholic high school students were temporarily successful at drowning out the hateful rhetoric of the Hebrew Israelites. Furthermore, it is true that there was something of a standoff between Mr. Phillips and Nick Sandman, the young person in the viral video. 

I watched the one hour and forty six minutes video online.  There was indeed hateful and inflammatory speech by the Hebrew Israelites.  While it is not clear that their intention was to incite the crowd, it certainly had that affect. From the video it seems to me they would have engaged a telephone pole if they thought they could get a rise.  Watching the video has changed my perspective somewhat, but I don’t buy Nick Sandman’s innocent teenager routine for one minute.

Several points are worth noting.  If Nick Sandman was trying to de-escalate the situation, why did he continue to stand in Mr. Phillips’ personal space?  If de-escalation was indeed the goal, why was he not facing his classmates and encouraging them to disperse? Was he in a leadership role prior to that time, that students should imitate him or listen to him?  His insolent smile is as much a smirk as it is anything else. It is the one thing that kept me from believing his story. Hiding behind the “teenager” moniker, though indeed they are teenagers, implies less responsibility for their own behavior.  They are old enough to know right from wrong.  They are old enough to attend a right to life rally to protest the law of the land.   

What is familiar about this situation is white privilege rearing its ugly head.  Our culture is raising another generation of patriarchal men who are used to getting their own way.  What religious bow they put on the package is irrelevant.  What is familiar is a Native American being marginalized and taunted.  That Mr. Phillips willingly inserted himself into the situation does not excuse the sneering smile and defiant eyes of Nick Sandman.

This is not the first time a racist event took place at Covington Catholic high school.  Several years ago, though the video has been deleted from YouTube, a group of students dressed up in black face to go to a basketball game featuring a predominantly black team.  There is no bow that makes this an acceptable package.  It suggests there are deeper issues to address.  I wonder how many people of color are students at the school and how they are treated. 

And, all this from a Catholic school; this is the most problematic. I am trying to think of a bible verse or a Catholic doctrine that covers this situation and I am coming up empty.  I am not a doctrinal scholar, so maybe I am missing something but I doubt it.  It is important to not paint all Catholics with the same brush; many faithful and loving people find their anchor in the embrace of the Catholic Church.  The Catholic social justice workers were some of the earliest champions of human rights.  No one religion is all bad or all good.        

The church in America, regardless of denomination or tradition, is a hostage to the culture.  We no longer see a line between what is Christian and what is American.  This is not a new problem.  American civil religion has been around a long time. It reinforces power structures that favor white skin over dark skin, the educated over the less educated, and the rich over the poor, the few over the many. And what is maintained in the midst of it all is the status quo.

We Should Give France Back Their Statue

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

We are a nation of immigrants.  You are either an immigrant, the child of immigrants or a Native American.  There are no other options.  That said, in our contemporary anti-immigrant stance, it occurs to me we should give the Statue of Liberty back to France. 

Before 1965 there were four major waves of immigration to the United States.  From 1790-1820 a wave of English, Scots, Irish, Germans, French and Spanish came to the US.  From 1820-1860 more Germans, Scots and Irish arrived. From 1880-1914 the Chinese, Japanese and Asians comprised the largest group of immigrants.  A significant number of Jews fleeing religious persecution also came here the later part of this third wave. From then until now the largest group of immigrants is Hispanics and Asians from multiple countries. I find it interesting that none of the sites I visited in my research for this blog included the millions of slaves brought here from West Africa against their will.

What these waves of immigrants have in common is that they faced discrimination and exclusion.  As the “other,” the “different,” the primarily Anglo-Saxon white population marginalized those who spoke different languages and looked different than they. 

We are seeing a repeat of history as waves of anti-immigrant sentiment grow stronger and more vocal.

Tarrant County in Texas is voting on whether Shaid Shafi, who was appointed vice chair of the county GOP in July, should be dismissed because he is a practicing Muslim.  The argument is that he could not accurately represent the GOP because his beliefs are different from the majority.  See last week’s blog for all the reasons this is so off base.

A group of white evangelicals called the Liberty Counsel, which opposes gay rights, wants gays removed from the anti-lynching bill passed unanimously by the Senate last month. A few things about this are notable. First, it took until 2019 to pass a federal law making lynching illegal.  This is mind boggling. Second, if these folks get their way it would be okay to lynch gays.  Seems some folks just aren’t happy unless they have someone to lynch. Finally, that anything passed the Senate unanimously these days is nothing short of a miracle.  Good to know they have some standards even though they don’t, for the most part, have a moral backbone.    

Of course all this comes in the midst of the hoo-ha about building a wall along the Mexico US border.  I’m all for appropriate border security but this just isn’t it. I’m all for people coming to this country legally, and escaping persecution and fearing for their lives are legal reasons. If we took the bazillion dollars the Occupant wants to spend on this damn wall, we could process every single person who is trying to come into this country and set them up in legal channels and actually HELP them.  There would be money to spare.

This isn’t just a social issue, it is a faith issue.  Jesus was all about knocking down the walls that separated people. He touched the woman with an issue of blood and restored her to community. He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, touched lepers and those possessed by “demons.”  Today we would probably say they have a mental disorder, and this is a whole other group of people who face big time discrimination. But I digress. There was no person Jesus walked away from as not worthy. There was no person Jesus excluded because of their profession, their social standing or their marital status.  Jesus was the Great Includer. 

A theology that builds walls instead of bridges is one that escapes the essential messiness of life.  It divides the world into “us” and “them.”  But the world is far more complicated than that.  Political regimes make pawns out of groups THEY want to exclude; sometimes religious groups become targets for persecution; ethnic minorities become targets for “ethnic “cleansing;” and people who speak out against oppressive regimes often become targets for execution. Some people fear for their lives because of gang violence. Others flee persecution because of their position on unpopular social issues, i.e. women’s rights, reproductive health care or LGBTQ rights. Corrupt leaders hoard resources for their own gain, creating widespread poverty and privation.  I hope people trying to get into our country don’t expect THAT to be any different here. 

Immigration, like life, is messy. A one size fits all wall is both idolatrous and immoral.  Sadly, we repeat history, rather than learn from it. We ignore an essential gospel teaching when we build walls instead of bridges.

F-Bombs, Sexism and Leadership

Rashida Tlaib, a newly elected Democratic representative from Michigan, dropped the F-bomb while hanging out with her constituents in a bar. So what?  It is no worse than what the Occupant said when he suggested that men “grab them by the p***y.”  To get into a linguistic pissing contest is a waste of time and a distraction from what is really going on.

First, it is a distraction from the issues that need the government’s immediate attention.  They are too numerous to list but include the unnecessary government shut down, that idiotic wall, and the disastrous foreign policy the Occupant likes to Tweet about at 2:00 in the morning. 

Second, it shows that women are judged more harshly than men.  This should not come as a surprise. Men are forgiven more quickly for bad language and bad behavior than women.  It takes longer for a woman to regain her position and authority after an unexpected candid moment or a misstep. When Tlaib dropped the F-bomb, suddenly the world went all puritanical about language and leadership and her suitability for office. Please, give me a break. 

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a newly elected Representative from New York, has been widely criticized for wearing an expensive suit and shoes. Fortunately for men, it is not as easy to tell when they are wearing custom made suits that cost as much as a used car. However, the larger point is that no one is questioning what men wear and no one is looking at their shoes and asking how much they cost. How women look and dress is an issue for public scrutiny when in the public eye.  

This is familiar to me as a woman pastor.  In the early years of ministry, when I was still in seminary, I served a small church as pastor.  Like most graduate students I had little money. Also, I was not yet ordained.  I did not own a pastoral robe.  One Sunday after service I was approached by a deacon and told to get a robe “because my legs were distracting men in the congregation.” Forty plus years later and I have yet to see how this is my problem.

Yet, as women, such judgments are always our problem. It is a blatant symbol of the misogyny and sexism that still dominates our cultural landscape.   The criticism comes from both women and men. In a recent PBS News Hour broadcast several women bemoaned the “likability” factor of some of the women newly elected to congress.  They also questioned Elizabeth Warren’s “likability” as she announced her intention to run for president in 2020.

The “likability” factor is pure sexism.  It says that the very qualities men possess that make them good leaders are undesirable when manifested in a woman. Being strong, decisive and vocal is all well and good if you are a man. Women who are strong, decisive and vocal are often called “bitchy.” Women who are collaborative, open, flexible, caring and sensitive are often viewed as weak.

If I had a nickel for every time someone called me a bitch, I would be rich. Truth be told, I would be even richer if I had a nickel for every time someone thought I was a bitch but didn’t have the nerve to say it to my face.  It is a criticism leveled when women are decisive, assertive and definitive, or when women assert their authority. The same qualities in a man are celebrated.    

Lest we think this cultural judgement of women emerged in a vacuum, we do well to remember the role of religion and misuse of Scripture. Verses like, “Women be subject to your husbands,” and “Women must keep silent in the church” have been widely quoted as the way women should be treated.

Those who claim to read scripture “literally” do well to remember that Miriam was a leader beside Moses and Deborah was a judge. In the New Testament there are women, named and unnamed who had leadership roles. Jesus included women in his inner circle, which elevated the role of women in his time. Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Mary, Junia and Olympus are all mentioned in Romans 16. Philip’s four daughters are prophets named in Acts 2. Eudia and Syntiche of Phillipi are named in Ephesians 4:11. Lydia is named in Acts 16:14-15 and Nympha is named in Colossians 4:15. They all had leadership roles in the early church.

There are countless examples of women’s leadership throughout Scripture. The Gospels and the New Testament usher in a radical view of women rooted in equality and mutuality. Those who claim connection to the Christian tradition do well to read Scripture and read it as a whole book made of smaller books.  The overarching message of Scripture is that God has an eternal love for all people and all creation.  In God and through God we are called to loving, respectful, equal and mutual relationships. 

The cultural bias against women will not go away quietly. It is too ingrained in our social fabric to be easily routed out.  However, the quiet rising tide of women and men who refuse to bear the stereotypes, biases and judgments that perpetuate inequality will, with time, reach critical mass and create a new way of being people of faith and culture in the world.