Let’s Talk About “Angry Black Women”

Today we are going to talk about the “angry black woman”.

This is not to say that black women are the only ones who get angry.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  But the “angry black woman” is very much alive and well as a trope in our world, so that is what we are going to address.

I understand that a lot of you look at this and think to yourselves, and even out loud, “Why are they so angry?  Didn’t we end slavery 150 years ago?  Didn’t we have the Civil Rights Movement 60 years ago (almost)?  Didn’t we outlaw racial discrimination?  Didn’t we just elect a black president?”

Okay.  The answer is “Yes” to all of the above.  BUT:

After the Civil War was over and all the slaves were freed, some angry white people persisted in the belief that black people are less than human and should be treated accordingly.  They figured out ways to leverage the legal framework (such as it was at whatever time they were living) to ensure that black people would continue to be treated as less than fully human, less than fully American.  That is how it has been from the end of slavery up to now.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the end of slavery, 9 states passed anti-vagrancy laws.  These laws basically made being unemployed a criminal offense, and were only applied against black men.  8 of these 9 states then allowed those who had been imprisoned under the anti-vagrancy laws to be leased out to plantation owners for next to nothing.  This practice was known as “convict leasing”.  Several states also imposed laws against “mischief” and “insulting gestures”.  This added to the prison population and the convict leasing labor pool.  The end result for blacks who got caught up in this was just like slavery but worse, because under this arrangement plantation owners had no long-term interest in their workers’ well-being.

By the turn of the 20th century, every Southern state had Jim Crow laws.  The Supreme Court upheld these laws in 1896, stating that they “reflected customs and traditions” and “preserved public peace and good order”.  The Jim Crow laws imposed segregation of the races in virtually every aspect of public life, and Southern states were all trying to one-up each other on how detailed they could be in excluding black people from various aspects of public life.

In 1954 the Supreme Court reversed field on their 1896 decision via Brown v Board of Education.  But in 1956 the “Southern Manifesto” came out.  This was a production of 101 out of 128 congresspeople from Southern states who vowed to maintain Jim Crow by any means necessary.  5 states passed new laws–50 of them in total.  “Segregation academies” began to become a thing.  These were private, white-only, “Christian” schools where segregation could continue unabated.  (Think that Christian school you’re sending your kids to exists strictly for the purpose of equipping your kids with a strong faith-based education?  There’s more to it than you think.)

This was followed by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.  This was accompanied by protests, some of which were violent.  Vietnam was also happening, and public sentiment for that was very low.  There were protests for Vietnam as well, and some of those were violent.  In 1968 Richard Nixon ran for president on a predominantly law-and-order platform, the first president to do so.  (Sound familiar?)  81 percent of Americans believed that law and order had broken down.  (Sound familiar?)  A majority of these blamed “Communists” and “Negroes who start riots”.  (Sound familiar?)

Then came the War on Drugs.

To understand why this was a big deal, let’s walk it back to the 1930’s.  The FHA, in order to reduce the risk of default (their stated rationale), refused to grant loans to buy homes in certain neighborhoods that were deemed to be at high risk of default.  They would draw red lines around those areas on city maps, and for this reason the practice came to be known as “redlining”.  At the same time the suburbs were booming, with the FHA underwriting the construction of new homes and subdivisions out there.  Almost all of these communities were restricted by deed to whites only.  Up until 1950, the Realtors’ Code of Ethics strictly forbade the selling of a home in a white neighborhood to a nonwhite family.  The GI Bill came out in that era as well, giving millions of white veterans returning home after serving in World War II the opportunity to buy new homes out in the suburbs.  Black veterans, while technically eligible, were almost always passed over.

The gap in wealth between whites and blacks was already very wide.  The GI Bill dumped a truckload of nitroglycerine on that fire.

So then, factories began moving out to the white-only suburbs.  Black workers found it increasingly difficult to get to these jobs, as very few had access to cars and moving to the communities where the factories where relocating was simply not an option.  One black family in Chicago tried it and angry white people blew up the whole fucking neighborhood.

So unemployment rose in black communities.  And with it, drug use and crime.  You could have seen that shit coming from a mile away.

Our response as a society was to criminalize the problem.  Drugs were the problem, and drug users and drug dealers, the enemy.  So we criminalized drug use and militarized our response.  The Reagan administration (another law-and-order administration) passed the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which imposed stiff criminal penalties and harsh mandatory sentences for many drug-related offenses.  The Clinton administration (lest you think I’m only here to pick on Republicans) ratcheted this up several notches by cutting $17 billion from public housing and reallocating it (along with $2 billion in change) to prisons.  The black prison population exploded during the 1980s and 1990s, with the overwhelming majority of arrests being for drug possession.  We militarized the police, outfitting them with all the latest weapons and military technology.  We changed policing tactics, creating the no-knock warrant (think:  the scene towards the end of the movie ET where all the police come barging in from all directions looking for ET).  Breonna Taylor was the victim of a no-knock warrant.  We created financial incentives for drug arrests, and police departments responded accordingly.  Blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate, yet blacks are 6 times more likely to go to prison for it.  In what alternate universe is that right?

Overall, a newborn white boy has a 1 in 23 chance of going to prison at some point in his lifetime.  For a newborn black boy, the chance is 1 in 4.

In what alternate universe is that right?

So, to the stereotype of the “angry black woman”:  When your history contains three centuries of being owned by other human beings, followed by a century and a half of what I have outlined above, shit gets complicated real quick.

Wouldn’t you be angry too?

Lest you think I’m just pulling all this out of a place I could give you a tour of but you probably wouldn’t want to see, I direct your attention to this 20-ish minute video from Phil Vischer of VeggieTales fame on race in America.  I also recommend The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

It’s Not Enough To Not Be Racist

There are at least a few of you running around out there who have seen the news and heard all the conversation around race lately and who say of yourselves, “But I’m not racist!”  Today’s post goes out to all of you.

In this day and age, it’s no longer good enough to be non-racist.  (As if it ever was.  But that’s beside the point.)  In this day and age, you have to do better than that.  You have to be anti-racist.

Some of you are married and you are anti-adultery because you want your spouse to remain faithful to you.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

Some of you have children and are anti-disrespect, vehemently opposed to any disrespectful behavior toward others, but especially toward their mother.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

Some of you are teachers, professors, or school administrators.  As such you are very strongly anti-cheating, vehemently opposed to any form of academic dishonesty because of its corrosive effects on any community of learners.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

Some of you are fathers who have daughters, and are very strongly anti-rape.  Not just rape, but any other predatory and/or disrespectful behavior where some guy might attempt to take advantage of your daughter.  In the same way, you have to be anti-racist.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Why?  Because at this point, racism has worked its way into virtually every facet of our society.  It isn’t just saying the n-word (which some people still do in some places, by the way).  It exists in many pernicious forms, from the very top to the very bottom of our society:  Redlining and other predatory practices which barred the path to homeownership for many blacks.  The GI Bill, which created opportunities for many white veterans and their families to prosper in postwar America but not for black veterans.  Incarceration rates, which affect blacks out of all possible proportion to their percentage of the American population.

Let’s zoom out even further, and we see that it is whites who set the standard for what is considered rational, scientific, and objective in academia, science, the media, and virtually every other facet of culture.  In the business world, it is whites who set the standard for dress, professionalism, and overall success.  (How many Shamekas or Shantaes or Quayvons or Traevons do you see in top-level corporate boardrooms?  Told you this shit was real.)  In our own world of evangelical Christianity, it is whites who set the standard for what is considered mainstream, orthodox, systematic theology.  I will have more to say about this later.  I cannot speak for other Christian traditions, but I would guess that the situation is similar.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

That is what we are attempting to dismantle here.  Something which has woven itself into the very fabric of our society, from the very top all the way down to the very bottom.  It is going to take the efforts of an awful lot of people working together for a very long time to dismantle racism in our society.

This monster of systemic, institutionalized racism woven into the very fabric of our society affects people made in the image of God–people for whom Jesus Christ died–whose skin color is a few shades darker than yours.  Is that right?  Heads up:  It isn’t.

When you say “But I’m not racist” and leave it at that, you allow the monster to continue to operate with full force.  That isn’t right.

I am not a fan of either-or thinking.  It is patently reductionist and the vast majority of the either-ors that people put out there are false in that there are plenty of other legitimate options beyond just the proffered either-or.  But this is one of the rare situations where it truly is an either-or.  Either you are actively working to confront and dismantle racism in our world, or you are allowing it to grow unchecked.  Either you are part of the solution, or you are part of the problem.

It’s not enough to be non-racist.  You have to be anti-racist.

Why Donald Trump in Tulsa for Juneteenth is a Big Deal

Today we are going to go back to school.

Some of you were probably asleep in class the day they talked about this.  But if you are like me, and I would wager that the vast majority of you are, they didn’t even talk about it at all and this is the first you are hearing of it.

What I am talking about is one of the ugliest race riots in all of American history, except that to call it a race riot would be to suggest that blacks had at least some complicity in it and in fact they had none whatsoever.  “Massacre” would be a more appropriate term.  This incident marked the first time that bombs were ever dropped on American soil.

Greenwood was a neighborhood on the northside of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It had been the most prosperous black neighborhood in all of America, frequently referred to as “Black Wall Street”.  Then in the summer of 1921, there was an incident between a young black man and a young white woman in an elevator in downtown Tulsa.  The black man was arrested and held in the city jail.  Whites from all over the city, many of whom were involved in the local Ku Klux Klan, headed north to Greenwood where they attacked, looted, and set fire to black businesses and homes throughout the neighborhood.  Some took small aircraft from a nearby airfield and dropped homemade bombs on the neighborhood.

Virtually the entire neighborhood was razed.  All 10,000 of its residents were left homeless.  With assistance from the National Guard, 6,000 were arrested and placed in internment camps–the Brady Theater, now a popular music venue, housed one such camp–where many were starved, beaten and killed.  Property damage amounted to $1.5 million in real estate and $0.75 million in personal property–for a total of over $32 million in today’s dollars.  The death toll ranges from around 40 to 300 (depends who you ask), but mass graves are believed to exist which, if found (none have been found yet but researchers and archeologists are looking), could push the death toll much higher, to something approaching Pearl Harbor or 9/11.

Tulsa city planners sought to utilize all of this now-suddenly-available land for fresh industrial development, and in fact did take advantage of this opportunity to expand the city’s Union Station train depot.  Locals remained silent about this for decades and it was largely omitted from American history books, which is why you probably never heard about any of this in your history class.  Greenwood remains a predominantly black neighborhood but has never recovered to anything even remotely approaching what it had been before.  There has been some movement lately toward righting this injustice by adding the event to the state’s history curriculum, building a memorial park to honor the massacre victims, taking measures to encourage economic development in Greenwood, and creating some scholarships for descendants of the survivors.  But there has been no repayment or reparation for the losses incurred in the massacre; efforts to provide such reparation have stalled repeatedly for one reason or another.

This month marks the 99th anniversary of the Greenwood massacre.  And Donald Trump was planning to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth.

June 19, known frequently as “Juneteenth”, is a day commemorating the end of slavery.  It marks the anniversary of the day in 1866 when the last slaves were freed following the Civil War.  For Donald Trump to appear in Tulsa, site of the awful events described above, and put on a campaign rally for his–predominantly white–base–well, you can guess the implications.  Donald Trump walked it back after facing immense public pressure; at first he defended it, calling it a “celebration”, but later decided to postpone it by a day.

This, in a nutshell, is exactly what I have been saying about Donald Trump all along; that his campaign and his presidency are built upon a message of hatred and denigration of all who are not privileged white males, a message that was played out live and large and in excruciating detail in Tulsa in June 1921.

For this reason, Donald Trump must be defeated–and defeated soundly–in November.

To Those Of You Who Say “All Lives Matter”

Today’s post is directed toward those of you who would use the phrase “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Okay.  I know that very few if any of you will ever see this.  I am wise to how the Facebook algorithms work.  And the vast majority of you probably unfriended me a long time ago.

Still, there may be a few of you running around out there who managed to defy the Facebook algorithms and find your way here.  So here goes.

Nobody is saying that your life doesn’t matter.

Nobody has ever said that your life doesn’t matter.

When some people feel compelled to speak up and say that “Black Lives Matter”, it is in response to a society that has been sending the message loud and clear, though not in those exact words, that black lives don’t matter.

Our society has been sending that message, in one way or another, for centuries.

When you say “All Lives Matter” as a pushback to the Black Lives Matter movement, what you are really saying is “No, black lives don’t matter”.

If you truly believe that all lives matter, the way to show it in this moment is to just sit down and shut up.

No. Just No.

This has been all over the news by now but I am sure there are a few of you running around out there who haven’t heard yet.

Yesterday Donald Trump staged a photo op outside a historic church near the White House in DC.

This was after ordering law enforcement to use tear gas to disperse people who were peacefully protesting so that Donald Trump could have a clear path from the White House to the church.

This came after a brief Rose Garden speech in which Donald Trump hailed himself as the “president of law and order” and excoriated the nation’s governors to crack down on violent protesters or else he would send in the military.

Needless to say, this gesture aroused harsh criticism from religious leaders.  Mariann Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington DC, condemned the photo op as “antithetical” to the core tenets of Christianity.

No shit.

Budde stated that while the presidents are welcome to come and pray at any time, Donald Trump “is not entitled to use the spiritual symbolism of our sacred spaces and our sacred texts to promote or to justify … an entirely different message.”

Wilton Gregory, Catholic archbishop of DC, spoke thusly in reaction to a planned visit by Donald Trump to the city’s John Paul II memorial:  “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree.  Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

I have said this before and I will repeat:  Donald Trump, in his life and message, is completely opposite to anything even remotely connected to Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace.  Donald Trump is a man of war.

There is no place, in this universe or in any alternate universe that may exist, where the way of Jesus Christ and the message of Donald Trump are in any way aligned.

Donald Trump sought to align himself with the way of Jesus Christ after essentially declaring war on the American people, or at least a subset thereof.

Christians:  If you still support Donald Trump after this…

No.  Just no.

Can We Lament?

My heart is heavy today.

My heart is heavy because for the second time in the past month, a black person lies dead at the hands of white law enforcement and/or vigilante justice (which is no justice at all).  That’s just the instances we know about because the videos went viral on social media.  There are probably countless other black men and/or women who suffered a similar fate during the past month that we don’t know about.

My heart is heavy because protests in my city concerning the death of George Floyd turned violent.  I do not condone the violence but I cannot imagine what depth of suffering and injustice could push someone to the place where he/she feels that he/she has no recourse whatsoever but to riot.

A word about riots:  Riots don’t just blow up out of thin air.  Riots happen because there has been a long weight of systemic injustice bearing down heavily upon a certain people, with no movement whatsoever to resolve the injustice, and certain members of that people feel that they are left with no recourse but to take to the streets and tear shit up.

The CNN Center, the College Football Hall of Fame, Lenox, Phipps, etc. will be fine.  Given sufficient time, those places will get cleaned up and back to normal and looking like nothing ever happened.

You can’t say the same for Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd, or any of the other victims out there that we don’t know about.  They’re gone.  Their families will not be able to clean this up and get back to normal and make it like it never even happened.

And this has been going on, in some form or fashion, for decades, centuries even.  It started with slavery, continued with Jim Crow, and persists to this day via all manner of institutional injustices which continue unchecked and remain unaddressed.

Now do you begin to get a clue as to why someone might feel in this moment as if they have no recourse but to take to the streets and tear shit up?

My heart is heavy because it is my race that is responsible for that.  And there has been no movement whatsoever toward rectifying these generations-old injustices.

Oh, and there’s this:  For generations, black parents have lectured their children on how to stay safe:  Don’t talk back to police.  Stay out of bad places.  Don’t act out.  Avoid confrontations.  Be respectful.  Things like that.

Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd followed all the rules.  They did everything they were supposed to do to stay out of trouble.  And it still wasn’t enough.

What the fuck does a black parent tell her/his children now?

My heart is heavy because I am on the other side of that.  I never had to have “The Talk” when I was growing up.  That doesn’t happen when you’re white.

That ain’t right, people.

My heart is heavy because there is a FUCK ton of work to be done to make this right.  Yet from where I sit there does not seem to be much more that I can do but sit here and write angry blog posts.  Well, if that’s all I can do then so be it.  I will keep them coming.

To all my black friends out there who might happen upon this:  I’m trying.  Really I am.

Lament does not come easy to us in America, and especially in American evangelicalism.  It goes against our happy-clappy, can-do ethos.  Yet at this cultural moment, lament is right.

Don’t know what lament is?  Start with the Psalms.  There’s a shit ton of lament psalms in there, you won’t have to look too hard to find one.  Pick one and just sit with it.

Of course there is still, as noted above, a shit ton of work to be done, and lament is not going to get it done.  But it is a start.

Let us take the time to sit in lament.  And then let us get busy and do the work.

For Fuck’s Sake, Christians: Stop Spreading Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are the secular, political version of Gnosticism.

What is Gnosticism?  Gnosticism was rife during the first century or two of church history.  Much New Testament ink was devoted to countering Gnostic beliefs and claims.  Mystery cults were all over the place in ancient Rome; these cults promised their adherents inside knowledge on how things really are that was not available to the public at large.  That is the basic Gnostic premise:  that there is this secret body of knowledge available only to a chosen few, that this knowledge is reflective of how things really are, and that everyone on the outside is ignorant, perhaps to their own detriment.

Today’s conspiracy theories and theorists are essentially the same thing.  Only an enlightened few know what is really going on in the world; what everyone else believes is a huge, pervasive, insidious lie perpetrated by a top-secret cabal of like-minded actors all around the world in order to cover up their nefarious schemes and intentions.

You know what I’m talking about here.  By “conspiracy theory”, I mean anything on the same level as anti-vax, Flat-Earth, Deep State, QAnon, etc.  Shit like “9/11 was an inside job” or “NASA faked the moon landing”.  Now we have “Plandemic” and the theory that 5G cell towers are spreading coronavirus.

What is most distressing is that it is Christians, and especially evangelicals, who are driving the spread of these conspiracy theories.  It’s come to a point where Saddleback Church in Los Angeles and the Humanitarian Disaster Institute had to come together to craft a resource for pastors to quell the spread of false information in their congregations.  And when Ed Stetzer published an article in Christianity Today calling on Christians to stop spreading coronavirus-related conspiracy theories, he had to amend it to make note of the vitriol that it received in response.

As if that isn’t enough, consider the healthcare workers on the frontlines who are daily told by conspiracy theorists and social media trolls that the hospitals are really empty and coronavirus is a hoax, and then return to their jobs the next day to see that the exact opposite is true.  Think of the toll it takes on them.  Christians:  You should have no part whatsoever in propagating this toxicity.

As Christians we are called to be lovers of truth.  We are expressly forbidden from spreading false witness.  Yet that is exactly what these conspiracy theories are:  false witness.

To quote from Stetzer:

Spreading unproven speculation is bearing false witness and I still believe we need to repent when we have borne such witness. We need to spend more time in God’s Word and less time being influenced by social media trolls and clickbait.

More poignantly and to the point:

If you still insist on spreading such misinformation, would you please consider taking Christian off your bio so the rest of us don’t have to share in the embarrassment?

As Christians, we are called to be lovers of truth.  The world deserves better than Christians who are doggedly rushing to be at the front of the line in spreading outrageous conspiracy theories.

Come on, people.  You are better than that.  Christianity is better than that.

For fuck’s sake, Christians:  Stop spreading conspiracy theories.

Further reading:  Instrument of Mercy breaks down the reasons why conspiracy theories are so attractive to people, and especially Christians.

Ahmaud Arbery: What A Present-Day Lynching Looks Like

Today we are going to talk about Ahmaud Arbery.

ICYMI:  Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed back in late February while jogging through a mostly-white neighborhood in Brunswick, GA.  Brunswick is a small-ish town in coastal Georgia, about 4 1/2 hours from downtown Atlanta.  If you have ever vacationed at St. Simons Island or Jekyll Island, you have passed through Brunswick.

The case stalled for over two months as local prosecutors recused themselves due to conflicts of interest.  The shooters, Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, suspected Arbery of being involved in an earlier burglary in their neighborhood.  Gregory McMichael had served with the local police department and as a district attorney, thus causing the conflicts of interest.

Last week video footage surfaced which clearly indicated that the McMichaels initiated the incident leading to Arbery’s death.  This footage went viral and quickly drew national and world attention to the incident.  The GBI launched an investigation, and the McMichaels have been arrested and charged with murder.

Arbery was an avid jogger.  At one point he had hopes of a football career, but those had long since fizzled.  Yet that did not quell his passion for physical fitness and remaining in shape.  On this day, he was out for a run and it ended tragically.

Basically this was a case of running in a white neighborhood while being black.

For those of you who are African-American, this incident awakens painful echoes of Trayvon Martin back in 2012.

But there is hope.  One of the chief differences this time around is in the reaction from leading conservatives here in Georgia and elsewhere.  Attorney General Chris Carr took to Twitter to express deep concern.  Governor Brian Kemp offered the services of the GBI, which of course was accepted.  He also stated that he would be open to hate crimes legislation targeted toward this very type of incident.  Russell Moore, chief of the SBC’s public affairs division, weighed in as well with criticism of those who would point to Arbery’s prior background as a mitigating factor for the McMichaels:

Whatever the specifics of this case turn out to be, we do know several things. The first is that the arguments, already bandied about on social media, that “Arbery wasn’t a choirboy” are revolting. We have heard such before with Trayvon Martin and in almost every case since. For all I know, Arbery was a choirboy.

But even if he were the complete opposite (let’s suppose just for the sake of argument), that is no grounds to be chased down and shot by private citizens. There is no, under any Christian vision of justice, situation in which the mob murder of a person can be morally right. Those who claim to have a high view of Romans 13 responsibilities of the state to “wield the sword” against evildoers ought to be the first to see that vigilante justice is the repudiation not just of constitutional due process but of the Bible itself.  And, of course, the Bible tells us, from the beginning, that murder is not just an assault on the person killed but on the God whose image he or she bears.

It seems that the world may be at a tipping point.  One can only hope so.  I certainly do, for the sake of my black friends, who have lived through Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, and many other such incidents, and now this.  And for Ahmaud Arbery, who did nothing more than go out for a run in a white neighborhood while being black, and certainly did not deserve to have his run end the way it did.

A Time for Grief

News concerning coronavirus has grown unrelentingly bleak, with every day bleaker than the day before.  Things are now expected to get much worse before they get any better, if they bet better at all.

There is no good news these days.  What passes for good news is just a lesser shade of bad.

This past Sunday, New York City had almost 700 deaths.  In a single day.  I am sure that number has been well surpassed by now.

There is the expectation of almost 250,000 deaths in the US alone by mid April.

Africa is starting to feel the impact of coronavirus.  They don’t even know what’s coming.  By the time this is over, there will not be a single human being left on the entire continent of Africa.

This, about the state of affairs in Canada:

What a day. I grieved to hear an Ontario grocery store worker mourn her soulmate, only 49, who worked his last day at Superstore on March 16, just a week and a half ago! Now he’s dead. For stocking groceries. We owe our grocery store workers SO MUCH!

I ache for the fear of the airline attendants who are given no PPE and who are, in no small numbers, testing positive, including one now in ICU. We owe them SO MUCH as they work to bring home stranded Canadians from all over the world.

I grieved over that young man, a wonderful nurse, in New York City who just died. His sister is heartbroken. His last text to her was that he was coughing, and then a ❤️. We owe our scared yet BRAVE healthcare workers SO MUCH!

I grieved with the woman crying over no longer being allowed to visit her senior mother — a mom to 3 nurses! — in hospital, dying alone. So many beloved parents and grandparents, having to die alone. Yesterday, it was a veteran of World War II, adored by his grandkids… – Debra Esau Maione (March 28th)

You can’t be a decent human being, or a human being at all, for that matter, and not feel crushing, overwhelming grief right now.

Evangelicals do not do well with grief or lament.  Much discussion concerning tragedies such as this centers around:  What is God teaching us through this?  How is God using this to bring glory to Himself?  How can/do we use this to further the mission/advance the Gospel?

John Piper, never one to let a tragedy of any stripe go unused as an opportunity to pimp his theological opinions, has offered 4 ways for Christians to make sense of coronavirus.  A money quote which sums up the essence of the viewpoint being offered here:  “Jesus has all knowledge and all authority over the natural and supernatural forces of this world. He knows exactly where the virus started, and where it’s going next. He has complete power to restrain it or not.”

In essence, John Piper is providing a theological justification for nutjobs like this.

On a more fundamental level, this piece assumes that coronavirus is something to be made sense of.  It isn’t.

This is not a time for strategizing, theologizing, or even attempting to make sense out of any of this.  This is a time to just sit, to feel the crushing weight of grief and loss, to grieve with those who are actually suffering due to the virus or the economic fallout.

This is not a time for pious platitudes or theological speculation.  This is a time for grief.

Is God Saying Something To Us Right Now?

Several weeks back I opined that we as evangelicals are deathly afraid of the possibility that God might be better than we think.  So many of our most deeply cherished theological constructs are based upon God as the absolute worst possible version of Himself.  As a test case, Coronavirus has shown this to be true.  In spades.

Actually seen on social media this past week:

I have seen this picture with the highlighted verse out of 2 Chronicles floating around Facebook in a couple of different contexts lately.  You have probably seen it too.  The one I wish to draw your attention to was a poster who shall remain anonymous, who opined thusly:  “The minister in me cannot ignore this Scripture. God allows trials to come our way to get our relationship back in tune with Him in order to keep us from eternal calamity. Evidently, we need to pay attention for He knows what is ahead.”

Let me repeat that once again so it can sink in:  “God allows trials to come our way to get our relationship back in tune with Him in order to keep us from eternal calamity.”

FBC Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, one of the most vociferous and well-liked Donald Trump supporters on the planet, concurs.  He preached a sermon entitled “Is the Coronavirus a Judgment From God?” in which he stated, “All natural disasters can ultimately be traced to sin.”

But lest you think this is strictly an evangelical phenomenon, we find that it is not.  Catholic historian and author Dr. Roberto de Mattei appears in an article on LifeSite News, in which he calls the coronavirus a “scourge from God”.  De Mattei looks at the virus as an economist, a historian, and a theologian of history.  As an economist, he states that the world economy simply cannot handle the unique disruptions caused by the coronavirus and will inevitably go to shit, taking government and all the rest of human society down with it, and thereby sounding the death knell of globalization.  (Globalization is a liberal modernist construct; as a conservative Catholic pundit, de Mattei is not a fan.)  As a historian, he likens the virus to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and, looking back even further, to the Black Death of the 14th century which reduced Europe’s population by a third.  As a theologian of history, he opines that it is the Church’s role to judge history but in our modern age we have reversed that and instead see history as judging the Church.  He sees coronavirus as God’s judgment against the Church for allowing itself to become captive to the lies of modernity.  He quotes St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444), who declared thusly:  “There are three scourges with which God chastises:  war, plague, and famine.”  He concurs, stating:

The theology of history tells us that God rewards and punishes not only men but also collectivities and social groups: families, nations, civilizations. But while men have their reward or chastisement, sometimes on earth but always in heaven, nations, which do not have an eternal life, are punished or rewarded only on earth.

God is righteous and rewarding and gives to each what is his due: he not only chastises individual persons but he also sends tribulations to families, cities, and nations for the sins which they commit.

God is the author of nature with its forces and its laws, and he has the power to arrange the mechanism of the forces and laws of nature in such a way as to produce a phenomenon according to the needs of his justice or his mercy.

He ends by noting the spiritual dimension in all of this:  Due to coronavirus, all the churches in Italy, all the way up to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, are closed for the foreseeable future.  We are approaching Holy Week and the Easter season, the climax of the Church’s liturgical year, and the Church, which ought to be a light for all peoples, has gone dark.  For those who hold to the Catholic way of looking at things, the significance is inescapable.  He even goes so far as to chastise bishops who do not hold to his view of things and, in effect, accuse them of gross pastoral misconduct.  (He is not a fan of Pope Francis, but you probably figured that out already.)  Citing a vision of St. John Bosco in 1870:  “You, O priests, why do you not run to weep between the vestibule and the altar, begging for the end of the scourges? Why do you not take up the shield of faith and go over the roofs, in the houses, in the streets, in the piazzas, in every inaccessible place, to carry the seed of my word. Do you not know that this is the terrible two-edged sword that strikes down my enemies and that breaks the wrath of God and men?”

Over at Maclean’s, Michael Coren offers a dissenting view:

At a more serious or theological level, this is a reductive and banal spirituality that may satisfy the zealot but is dangerously crass and in fact profoundly ungodly. It depicts a genocidal God, sufficiently cruel to hurt indiscriminately, and too indifferent or impotent to be able to punish only those who have genuinely caused harm. It’s all the product of an ancient, fearful belief system that has nothing to do with the gentle Jewish rabbi of the 1st century who called for love and forgiveness, and so distant and different from the Gospel calls of Jesus to turn the other cheek, embrace our enemies, reach out to the most rejected and marginalized, and work for justice and peace.

If God is speaking to us in all of this, perhaps it is to say that this is our time to step up and be the people of God?  To love our neighbors, make sacrificial choices to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities, pray for wisdom for government officials and those on the frontlines of our medical system, and generally proclaim the good news of Jesus to a watching world – a Jesus who has compassion on the sick and binds up the brokenhearted – as opposed to a message of divine judgment?

Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus is God’s final and greatest word to us.  John 1 tells us that the previously unseen God is now seen in Jesus.  “War, plague and famine” are not harsh words from God to us but instead the groanings of a broken creation yearning to be put right.

Yet there are those among us who reject that view of God.  All evil in our world ultimately traces back to the work of God to punish sin, individually, corporately, and ultimately tracing back to that awful day in the garden of Eden when our ancestors ate the forbidden fruit.  God is up in Heaven, watching all of this go down, listening to our cries and pleas for mercy, and saying “Tough shit motherfuckers, you shouldn’t have eaten that forbidden fruit.”  Those who don’t hold to that way of looking at things are in effect atheists who disguise their hatred for God as hatred for those who proclaim this view of God.

To which I say:  If that is all God is, then that God deserves atheists.  If, when I show the kind of sacrificial love for others that this crisis demands of me, I am proving myself better than the God who put us in this mess in the first place because of original sin and total depravity, then that God has lost me.

Allow me to close with this.  This is a U2 song which was very poignant for me during a season much like the one we are in now, a time when my panic meter was at an all-time high (and probably yours as well), when our nation was deep in the thick of the post 9/11 war on terror and it seemed that not a day would go by without some awful news from somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other such place.