Rape Culture: No Justice in the Courts or Anywhere Else

The grandson of former Virginia governor John Dalton received five years probation and no jail time in his rape trial in Charlottesville last week.  Stephen Dalton Baril’s felony rape and felony sodomy charges were reduced to misdemeanor sexual battery and felony unlawful wounding as part of his Alford plea. Alford Plea defined 

The plea agreement was hailed as a victory by deputy commonwealth attorney Areshini Pather. She thanked the victim for her courage and said she hoped the plea agreement would help bring closure.

What planet is this woman from?  In whose feeble brain does this plea deal encourage healing or “closure”?  This is a deal that benefits the rapist and the rapist alone.  He escapes any accountability and does not have to register as a sex offender.  Five years probation is the equivalent of getting off scott-free.  He is able to continue raping and violating women with no consequence (unless he is charged again).

The victim was able to speak to Baril in court and said, in part, “You raped me whether you want to deal with that or not, it is the truth.”  While there is power in facing her attacker and speaking the truth, his accountability ended there. The young woman agreed to the deal to avoid the re-traumatization of a trial.   Let’s be clear; agreeing to the deal is not the same as getting justice.  There is no justice in this for her. Rape trials are notoriously difficult for survivors of sexual trauma. The conviction rates are pathetically low.

The compromise dodges a larger truth.  It communicates that the experience of women who are sexually violated is of no consequence and that wealthy, connected, and (usually) white rapists with better lawyers and better resources will prevail.  Justice is not blind when it comes to sexual violence against women; it unequivocally favors the perpetrator.

This is a clear example of Rape Culture which is a complex social phenomenon that accepts sexual violence towards women, LGBTQ and non-gender conforming individuals as normative and part of life, despite protestations to the contrary. Further, it excuses men and normalizes their behavior. As one man said to me not long ago, “Hey, it happens”.  It doesn’t just “happen”.  Men choose to rape women. Period.

Rape Culture allows both women and men to blame the victim. Commonly heard comments are: “Well, she was drunk, what did she expect?” “Look at how she was dressed.” “What did she expect walking home alone at that hour?” Read common victim blaming statements

In no other instance is a victim blamed as vehemently as women are blamed for their own rapes.  If only we spent as much time talking about rapists as we do talking about women who are raped.

Traditional interpretation of scripture is a powerful reinforcement of cultural norms of violence against women.  The patriarchal interpretation of scripture adds a “pseudo-holy” interpretation that further blames victims and normalizes violent behavior. 

For example, everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve. In the story Eve is portrayed as tempting Adam into eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It reinforces that women are responsible for the behavior of men.  Nothing in the story indicates that Adam’s moral agency was compromised; he could have said no as easily as he said yes.  Yet we have blamed Eve for centuries.

Cherry-picking favorite scripture out of context is another way patriarchal interpretation undergirds Rape Culture. Perhaps most famously, “Wives be subject to your husbands“(Ephesians 5:22) Read Ephesians 5 here is quoted out of context as a way of underscoring male domination in marital relationships.  The larger context, usually ignored, is: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives be subject to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is hardly a message supporting male domination. 

There are accounts of rape in the bible; Tamar and Dinah are two cases in point. In Genesis 34 Read Genesis 34 here Dinah is raped by Schechem, but the rape is covered over by Shechem who said he was “in love” with Dinah and wanted to marry her.  A marriage proposal does not undo the trauma of rape. Rightly, Dinah’s brothers did not trust Schechem and they shielded her from him. In commentaries the rape is obliterated by the complex story that unfolds after it. 

In 2 Samuel 13: 1-22,Read Here Tamar, daughter of David, sister of Absalom, is raped by her half- brother Amnon. Tamar pleaded with him not to violate her, but he did and continued to shame her by sending her away from his house.  Absalom guessed the cause of her despair and took her into his house.  She was not heard from again; she withered away in her brother’s house. There was no justice for Tamar.

The history of interpretation of the bible is a history of power and control; the “real” meaning always supports purposes determined by ecclesial, socio-political, ethical, nationalistic, or other such concerns.

Thanks to feminist biblical scholarship, these verses are being examined in a new light that validates the experience of women. There is no pseudo-holy interpretation of scripture that supports or validates violence against women. 

Looking at the bible as a whole is the task. It alone will provide a firm theological foundation to undo centuries of patriarchal interpretation that has done untold damage to generations of women who have been blamed and shamed for the violence done to them.  Amplifying women’s voices through careful exploration of the texts is an important thread in unraveling Rape Culture.


See book of the week recommendation here

Showing Up; Giving the Gift of Presenced

This essay originally aired on Rhode Island Public Radio as part of their “This I Believe” series.

I believe showing up is one of the most important things we do in life.  Woody Allen says it is half of success.  I say it lies close to the heart of what it means to be human.

Sometimes it’s easy to show up. I look forward to time with friends, University of Rhode Island basketball games and seeing my marina family in the summer.

It’s harder to show up when someone I love has the rug pulled out from under their life and they land hard. I am at the age when some of my friends are facing serious health issues. Other friends are facing the death of a spouse or the end of their 35 year marriage. My grandmother was right when she told me growing old isn’t for sissies. It seems there is no end to the ways those I love end up in unimaginable emotional, spiritual, mental and physical pain.  And it is then I most need to show up.

Showing up means I willingly enter the land of no answers, few words and the ever present possibility that I will stick my foot in my mouth and say something really dumb. I show up with my bare face hanging out and try hard to trust that this is enough, even if I do open my mouth just long enough to change feet. Sometimes I bring a meatloaf.

I believe showing up means being present, listening without judgment or advice and letting the silences sit between us like the love that connects us.  It means shouldering some of the burden of what can’t be fixed.  It means sharing the loneliness and powerlessness that comes when life unravels at the seam.

Showing up means opening myself to their pain and willingly going where it leads them; this is not easy for me. Like many people, l live under the illusion that I am in control of a lot of things.  In truth my only control is over things like whether to have chicken or fish for dinner or to do laundry today or when I run out of socks. 

Yet, I believe in showing up even with all my fears and anxieties. I believe there is value in showing up with my own broken heart and my own powerlessness. I believe there is healing in the silence and going together into the land of no answers.  It is one of the best gifts we can give to one another.  And, from time to time maybe a meatloaf.


Living With Chronic Illness: What I Wish People Knew

One hundred and fifty million Americans live with chronic illness.  One hundred million Americans live with more than one chronic illness. The number is on the rise, with immune disorders leading the statistic. I am among their number. Here are a few things I wish people knew.

Chronic illnesses are more than the sum of their parts.  There is a weird math to chronic illness; one plus one equals at least three. 

Chronic fatigue often accompanies chronic illness.  It is not the kind of fatigue that goes away with a nap or a good night’s sleep. It is a fatigue that clings like a second skin.  Diseases sap strength. Having to cancel plans at (almost) the last minute is common, and going beyond personal limits has consequences.

Most chronically ill people are not independently wealthy. Money is a constant worry.  The ever changing health care scenario creates worry about drug coverage and being able to see specialists who may not be in one’s insurance network. Potential cuts to benefits raise questions about meeting regular expenses. As the Occupant and his cronies try to raid Social Security and Medicare, there are many questions and concerns.

Depression is very much a part of chronic illness. It is chronic and deep. While it does wax and wane it is never fully gone. Depression is not a sadness that one can snap out of. It is not quelled by happy experiences or good times.  It is a chemical consequence of living with chronic diseases and is itself a chronic disease.

Brain fog is a real part of chronic illness.  Multiple medications are often part of chronic illness. How these medications interact with each other is often not known.  The result is an inability to concentrate on conversations, books, movies etc. What days will be brain fog days is not predictable. 

Chronic grief is part of chronic illness.  The losses that go with illness are too many to list and they surface at unexpected times.  The losses are not grieved once and put away, but return again and again as the limits of new life are accepted. The world gets smaller and a lot of things are lost along the way.   

Chronically ill people often don’t look sick.  It’s a mixed blessing. This means it’s easy for people to dismiss the chronic pain, exhaustion and brain fog that goes with chronic illness. On the other hand, passing for some semblance of normal from time to time is a plus.   

These diseases will not go away.  There is no magic potion to restore the health known in the past.  That said; there are unexpected gifts and graces…it’s not all bad. Taking fewer things for granted and learning to be grateful for every day top the list. Learning to be present to the moment, even when the moment is hard is an ongoing process, and it brings its own unique insights.

There is no question that my life has not turned out as I planned. After four years of figuring it out, I can honestly say it’s okay.  Sure, I miss my old life but my new life is pretty good.  This is not some Polly-Anna BS.  It is the hard won fruit of honest emotional and spiritual work, the companionship of a small group who hold me together when I am falling apart, and the graciousness of God whose presence affirms my worth even when I feel worthless.

Chronic illness comes like a thief in the night and takes a lot.  I am learning that beyond the profession by which I largely defined myself, there are other realities that add richness to life. I continue to reinvent myself and while the new me is far from improved, it’s okay.

If you live with chronic illness or are a caregiver for someone with chronic illness, what are the things you wish people knew?

Leave a comment. And be sure to check the new music and book suggestions!


The Place of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness in the Social Order

The treasonous, treacherous Occupant is busy walking back statements he made on July 16, 2018 that cast dispersion on the US Intelligence community. He also makes lots of people question his loyalty to the US.  All the while congress and his cabinet can’t call this despot to accountability, because their loyalty to party is greater than their loyalty to country.  They continue their ruthless agenda of aligning with the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and the needy.

This behavior is evil.  This is not a word I use easily or readily. The Miriam Webster dictionary defines evil as “morally reprehensible, dishonorable, depraved, corrupt, malevolent, immoral, vicious and malicious.”  When the sum total of this administration’s actions is taken into account all the descriptions of evil are met.

The Occupant has set a low bar for human interaction.  It allows the hate that is always lurking under the surface to rise unchecked.  There is an increase in hate groups, hate speech and a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment. The abandonment of socially acceptable speech permits individuals to judge groups of people, make fun of them and dispose of all the filters for compassionate social discourse.

These behaviors are invited from below the surface where they languish when a commitment to decency and compassion is the norm.  The Occupant normalizes behavior that should never be normalized. Our decency is fast disappearing.

In Matthew 23:13-26 Jesus articulated three qualities from his Jewish heritage that are necessary for a sustainable society:

  • Justice is the conviction that everyone is entitled, by their presence in the community, to a viable and secure life. Injustice permits the strong to confiscate what the vulnerable have.
  • Mercy is the capacity for active empathy and solidarity with those in need. A lack of such solidarity permits one to treat vulnerable neighbors according to one’s own desire (or prejudice of fear).
  • Faithfulness is the practice of reliable companionship with neighbors. Faithlessness is to live as if one had no such obligation (summarized from Gift and Task by Walter Brueggemann, page 235).

We who claim the name and the path of Jesus do well to consider his imperatives for the social order.  It is ours to challenge the rising tide of bigotry and hatred.  It is ours to look at our own privilege and choose the side of the dispossessed, downtrodden and poor.  It is ours to speak because remaining silent is to always side with the oppressor.

Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran pastor, penned these words in 1946:

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,

There was no one left to speak out.

Following Jesus means joining Jesus in the move toward loving one another in words, in actions of compassion, justice, mercy and faithfulness. A thousand Mexican children are counting on us. Refugees from around the world are counting on us. Our country and our world are depending on us to not be silent.



Flying the Flag; Patriotism, Protest and Reframing

Whenever my boat, Genesis, leaves port she flies the American flag off the stern rail.  It’s a Coast Guard regulation and I have never thought much about it.  I just do it. But as the fourth of July rolled around this year I wasn’t feeling terribly patriotic. Being proud of America is not high on my list right now. And as I mused on that, I got to thinking about what it means to fly the flag.

When I fly the flag I am not applauding the country, I am protesting.  I am protesting the policies of the current administration and the general direction in which our country is moving.  I am protesting the rising tide of nationalism that holds a philosophy of “my country right or wrong”.  I am protesting the cuts (proposed and enacted) to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, SNAP benefits and more.  I am protesting the potential appointment of a conservative judge that may put Roe v. Wade on the chopping block.  I am protesting a government that is waging war on the poor.  I am protesting the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that separate children from their parents.  I am protesting the gerrymandering of voting districts in ways that benefit political parties and undermine the voting system of our nation.  I am protesting a president whose primary agenda is undoing everything his predecessor did out of spite.

When I fly the flag I am re-framing the dominant cultural message and seeking a pathway of patriotism that loves my country and doesn’t take its crap lying down. I am mindful of the first commandment to have no other gods and I am trying to keep my priorities and my allegiances in proper order.

This means the prophetic task is crucial for our time.  It is about speaking truth to power.  It is about bringing basic human decency to bear on the most vulnerable members of society and assuring they are cared for.  It is about the rights of all people and the need for justice in a system that increasingly marginalizes people of color.  It is about the wholesale slaughter of innocent bystanders and children because our legislators can’t get out of the NRA’s pocket long enough to pass meaningful gun legislation. It is about this country going off the rails and needing voices of reason, compassion and accountability to get it back on track before it is too late.

I am seeking a way to speak truth to power, to find others who are of similar mind and to raise our voices as one in opposition to growing tyranny.  The White House occupant is a dangerous man who is playing fast and loose with our country, its people and its resources. 

I fly the flag in part because I have to, but mostly because I am protesting and reframing what it means to be a patriot in times of growing nationalism. I won’t be silenced; I won’t be bullied; I will not stop loving my country; and because I love my country, I will not stop criticizing and speaking against what is wrong.



July 4th: What History Class Didn’t Teach You

In celebration of the Fourth of July here are some forgotten or little known historic facts.

The pledge of allegiance was written by socialist minister  Francis Bellamy (1855-1931).  In its original form it read,

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1923 the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. In 1954, the words “under God,” were added by President Eisenhower.

The United States has a history of suppressing free speech and separating families for political purposes.  The Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 was a series of four laws passed by Federalists who believed that Democratic-Republican criticism of Federalist policies was disloyal.  They feared “aliens” living in the US would sympathize with the French during a war.  It was one of the first tests of freedom of speech.  It permitted the deportation, fine, or imprisonment of anyone deemed a threat or publishing “false, scandalous, or malicious writing” against the government of the United States.  Makes me wonder how Fox news as a whole hasn’t ended up in prison.

The Mexican war of 1846-1848 was an illegal act of aggression (not unlike Russia and the Ukraine) in which a militarily unprepared Mexico was pitted against the expansionist administration of James Polk.  When the war was over, Mexico had lost the territory that is now California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.

During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus citing national security.  The writ was a first line of defense against tyranny. It stated that any judge or court may compel those holding a prisoner to produce that prisoner and prove that the individual was legally incarcerated.  The suspension was invoked against John Merryman, a Maryland state legislator, arrested for attempting to hinder Union troops from moving from Baltimore to Washington.  He was held at Fort McHenry by Union military officials.

The Palmer Raids of 1919-1920 were fueled by anti-immigrant hysteria and fears that “foreigners” would start a worker’s revolution.  No doubt this revolution would be for things like living wages, humane working conditions and the abolition of child labor.

During World War II, 120,000 Japanese American citizens were held in internment camps as a reaction to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  It was widely recognized as the most atrocious human rights violation ever committed by our government.  Until now.

The US has a history of taking what it wants and suppressing what it doesn’t like, all in the name of national security.  Then we wrap it all up in the flag, call it patriotism and celebrate our freedom of speech.  At least until we say something that annoys the government.

I love my country but I am ashamed and embarrassed to be an American at this moment in time.  The amoral  occupant of the White House is systematically dismantling much of what has made this country great and replacing it with fear and hatred. He is alienating our allies with his “America First” rhetoric. All the while tax cuts to the rich are spurring record profits for corporations, manufacturing jobs are moving overseas for cheap labor and the national debt is skyrocketing. History is repeated with anti-immigrant rhetoric and all-out war on human rights, women’s rights and civil rights.  He is polarizing political camps and feeding the gridlock that happens all too easily when party loyalty comes before loyalty to country.

The lines between patriotism and nationalism are dangerously thin. This is a time for true patriotism. It is a time for those who truly love our country to not be afraid to stand up to tyranny and the rule of the rich by the rich and for the rich. Sydney J. Harris clearly differentiated patriotism and nationalism:

“The patriot is proud of his country for what it does.  The nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does.  The first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.”

Dear Attorney General Sessions, I’m Still Waiting for Your Call

It is clear that the Administration has no moral compass.  Despite being the party that claims to have an affinity to (white) Evangelical Christians, it is painfully clear that no biblical faith-based foundation is anywhere to be found.  So I continue my primer in basic biblical tenets of the Judeo-Christian faith.  Much of what you will read doubles as simply being a human being and having some compassion and common sense.  Y’all might want to try it sometime. 

 The First Lady thought it would be too difficult for her son to make the move to Washington in the middle of the school year. How is it that there is no consideration for the lifelong trauma caused to immigrant children by separating them from their parents?  To make this mess worse, there is no plan to reunite children with their parents.  

Scripture repeatedly gives us a choice to respond to God’s initiative. The ways of life and death are set before us and we are invited to choose life. When we say no, it doesn’t change God; it breaks God’s heart. Hearts that are bound by greed and power deny justice to God’s people. The command of scripture is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. It is a central theme of both testaments.

The basic thing that you continue to miss is that God has an eternal love affair with creation and humanity.  God’s love for all God made is unconditional, eternal and unfailing.  I suggest you read the book of Psalms and see how many times the phrase, “steadfast love,” appears as a description of God.  You can get back to me with your answer.  And yes, Mr. Sessions that love extends to you too.  We are all created in divine image for holy purpose. To say this administration breaks God’s heart is an understatement.

There’s another part that you miss by a country mile. When God’s love is deeply internalized, life is lived in obedience and gratitude. As God’s workers in the world, we embody the love that God has for creation and for all people. Obedience to God’s dream for creation is our first and final vocation. As the ­old hymn goes, “Love so amazing so divine, demands my soul my life my all.”  (Listen here) Perhaps you know it, even though it was penned by a congregational minister (the tradition I proudly claim as my own).

Another central biblical theme is hospitality to strangers, aliens and travelers. We are admonished to care for them as we care for our own families.  Perhaps you might like to send your children/grandchildren to the great “summer camp” tent city. They can join several thousand children sitting in blistering heat detained in cages and separated from their families.  Sounds like a rocking good time, eh?

This leads to another central theme of Scripture: grace and mercy.  In a nutshell it means that we don’t get what we deserve.  I think that should come as mighty good news to you.  More importantly, the families that came here for refuge and safety don’t deserve what they are getting either.  They were described by the Occupant as “invading our country” making them sound like vermin.  They were called animals.  While you are studying scripture you might also want to look at a few history books.  Dehumanizing an entire population is a dangerous step toward fascism, one that was taken early on by the Nazis as they began their pogrom against the Jews.

To faithfully interpret scripture, it must be read as a whole.  Cherry picking verses that fit a point of view skew the biblical message of love, justice, mercy and grace.  There is nothing biblically justifiable about doing what this administration’s treatment of immigrants.

Mr. Sessions, I admonish you to read the book you claim as holy and seek the guidance found there. My offer to you for private bible study lessons stands. Call me when you’re ready.

In the mean time I offer a verse from a great hymn of the church: “Christian rise and act your creed. Let your prayer be in your deed. Seek the right, perform the true. Raise your work and life anew.” (Listen Here)

PS: Be sure to check the “Photo of the Moment” It is said that everyone has a double; this photo shows yours.

Attorney General Sessions, Call Me

It seems your knowledge of Scripture is limited. Please call me. I can help. Using Romans 13 to justify the abusive policy of separating parents and children shows a completely misguided understanding of the text.

The early church was oppressed by Roman Occupation and fledgling communities needed to keep a low profile or risk becoming snacks for hungry lions. The counsel to obey the law was a practical piece of advice to believers in order to avoid imprisonment and certain death. Using it to justify imprisonment is just plain wrong. Please go back and read all of Romans 13. Cherry picking Scripture to justify this outrageous behavior is insulting to people of faith everywhere who have a working knowledge of Scripture. It is insulting to God and all that is holy. You should be ashamed of yourself.

In the future, if you must quote Scripture (which is totally inappropriate anyway), I recommend you thoroughly study the text and read the surrounding verses and chapters. A good commentary is helpful.

When the Bible is read as a whole book there are several themes that are evident throughout. I suggest you read the Bible until you see and begin to understand these themes. Then you can go to your prayer closet and confess your misuse of the sacred text.

The Bible clearly states that we are to care for the poor, the orphan, the alien in our land, the widow and the oppressed. It is part of the covenant we share with God, a covenant that began in Genesis and runs throughout the Second Testament. Scripture always points toward a preferential option for the poor.

A second theme is God’s relentless Justice. God has an agenda for the creation pronounced “good”. Live in right relationship with God, others and all of creation. This country is on a dangerous path of isolationism. Alienating our allies has, throughout history, brought ruin. A study of the fall of Israel and Judah could be quite informative for you. History does repeat itself.

The call to right relationship is essentially a call to discipleship. It is impossible to be a follower of Jesus and ignore the teachings of Jesus. Being Christian means seeing the face of Christ in the children and parents being wrenched apart.

It is wholly appropriate to quote:

“And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will tell them, ‘Truly I say to yo, just as you did it to one of the least of those who are members of my family (and this means all people) you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand ‘You that are accursed depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, I was naked and you did not give me clothing, and in prison and you did not visit me.’ ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘truly I tell you, JUST AS YOU DID NOT DO IT TO THE LEAST OF THESE, YOU DID NOT DO IT TO ME.” ( Matthew 25:39-46)

Mr. Sessions, I suggest you read this passage until you get it. I remind you that you are not a servant of the administration or your political party, you are a servant of the people.

And lots of your people are outraged. This country has a long history of ripping parents and children apart and it is not a partisan issue. I get that. There is plenty of blame to go around. There is also plenty of opportunity here to do something different; something just, something compassionate. Just because it is legal does not mean it is moral.

Please return to my blog next week as I continue with central themes of Scripture including love, grace and the prophetic task. Mr. Sessions, if you are interested in private Bible Study lessons call me.





If You Are Outside of Love You are Outside of God’s Desire

I am troubled and I am angry.  “Christians” are using their notoriety (or infamy) to spew a message of hate, oppression and judgement toward blacks, gays, women, immigrants and the disabled.  Franklin Graham has me hopping mad as he spewed his hate filled rhetoric to influence the California elections.

Here’s the bottom line: if you are hating or oppressing any group of people you are outside the way of God teachings. The name by which you call God is irrelevant.  It’s just that simple.

We all harbor prejudice.  We all have some fear of the other. We all place blame on those whom we perceive to be the “problem”. If we are white, we have privilege whether we recognize it or not. We are all outside of love in some way. 

Jesus hated no one. He worked to free those who were oppressed by a predatory Roman economy. He reached out to those who were socially outcast and rejected because of disease or disability.

In stopping a woman’s twelve-year flow of blood (Luke 8:43-48) he did more than cure her disease.  He restored her to her community by removing the ritual uncleanness caused by the issue of blood.

Jesus healed a leper (Mark 1:40-45) and restored him to his community because he was no longer a danger to those around him.

Jesus refused to let a woman caught in adultery be stoned, saying the one who had no sin could toss the first one (John 8:1-11).  Funny how the man was nowhere to be found, but even if he was he wouldn’t have been stoned either.

The only people Jesus ever called out were the religious leaders colluding with the Roman occupation.  It was an unjust and predatory economy in cahoots with religious leaders and it hurt the poor.  Jesus didn’t hate them, he called them to accountability.

Claiming the name of Jesus means claiming the way of Jesus.  The very people Jesus would be calling out are the ones Franklin Graham is trying to get elected in California.

Our economy and indeed the global economy has created a permanent underclass of poverty.  There is less and less tolerance for dissenting voices, either religious or political. The public narrative increasingly co-opts religious language in a way supports an unjust political and social agenda.

At the heart of every great religious tradition is love. It is time we harnessed the love that unites us to let us unite us. 

As protestants it means we put the protest back in Protestant.  Protestants have a strong history of standing against oppression and hatred, working for the poor and the outcast, and putting forward loving justice that excludes no one. 

The Catholic worker movement brought justice and relief to marginalized populations in rural areas around the country in the war torn 1930’s.

Muslims for Social Justice and other organizations like it are working to put forward the true message of Islam which is love, justice and human rights for all.  It commits to fighting racism, white supremacy and sexism within as well as beyond the Muslim community. 

We are in need of a public social narrative that acts as a corrective to the thinly veiled hatred in much of the religious speech in our day.  It begins simply:  if you are outside of love, you are outside the way of God.

Apologies and Other Disingenuous Gestures

I believe that words have power. I believe that what we say and how we say it matters.  It is partly because I have been a preacher all my life. I count on words to have some effect on people for better or worse. It’s also partly because I hear my mother’s words in my ears, “It’s not just what you said, it’s the way you said it”.

At a deep level we all know that words matter. So, I listen as words come out of someone’s mouth.  Usually the FIRST words are the real message regardless of what comes next.  Here are some first words spoken recently:

  • I was embarrassed and ashamed (Starbucks founder Howard Schultz in an interview about the arrest of two black men in a Pennsylvania Starbucks).
  • I’m sorry you feel that way (Sarah Sanders in response to a young boy’s comment that he didn’t feel safe in school and wondered what the administration was doing about gun control).
  • I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career (Tom Brokaw responding to allegations of sexual misconduct from a former colleague).
  • I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using an expletive on my show to describe her last night (Samantha Bee in a tweet aired on May 31, 2018).
  • I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans (Roseanne Barr in a tweet aired on May 29, 2018).

So, Howard Schultz is embarrassed, Sarah Sanders feels the need to apologize FOR someone else’s feelings, Tom Brokaw is concerned about his legacy, Samantha Bee “sincerely” apologizes and Roseanne Barr apologizes to all Americans for making a “bad joke”.  Is there some common denominator of BS and self interest here or am I mistaken?

Someone should tell Mr. Schultz that embarrassment is not an appropriate response to racism. Embarrassment seems more like it’s all about him. I would much rather have heard, “We have fired that store manager and will continue to replace staff who embody racist actions toward our customers.  We are taking small first steps toward addressing racism and will continue to educate our staff.” Or something like that.

Someone should tell Ms. Sanders’ that one does not apologize for another’s feelings; they are another’s feelings. I would much rather have heard, “Gun control legislation is a priority for our administration even though half our elected officials are in the pocket of the NRA.  We will make every effort to act with some integrity though our track record so far is pretty bad.” Or something to that effect.

Mr. Brokaw’s response of being concerned about his legacy before anything else is pretty shallow. He later calls her a character assassin and essentially a failure in her career.  Like many men, he insists he is the real victim.  Men hate it when they lose their privilege and are called to account for past behavior.  He may well be a man of integrity now and act out of his better self.  It doesn’t mean the allegations of three women from an earlier time in his career are necessarily false. I am more inclined to believe the women because of his denial.

 Ms. Bee’s “sincere” apology makes me wonder if there is any other kind? It makes the whole apology seem disingenuous. Is she sorry she said it or sorry she got called to account? Name calling is juvenile and it isn’t funny. As women we need to stand together against such sexist, insulting and belittling name calling. There are many ways to be funny and political without resorting to name calling. 

Ms. Barr did not make a bad joke.  It was racist, insulting and not even remotely funny.  Instead of apologizing for one comment, maybe she could work at not being a racist. Then these names and so-called jokes wouldn’t even enter her mind, let alone come out of her mouth.

Words matter.  First words matter most.  They are the unguarded revealing of priority and perspective. 

The late Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”