Reimagining Community Protection Post George Floyd

In the wake of George Floyd, I am now firmly convinced that police/law enforcement must at the very least be transformed into something completely unrecognizable relative to what it is today.  What might it look like going forward?  Today I direct your attention to the Metta Center for Nonviolence, which has a feature on “Re-Imagining Community Protection“.  This lists several examples of existing and potential initiatives that could transform law enforcement and community protection going forward.

Racial Reconciliation or White Supremacy?

Today I bring you a piece from Inheritance Magazine about the concept of racial reconciliation in evangelical circles.  The piece is entitled “Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy“.

When I came up in evangelicalism, “racial reconciliation” was just becoming a thing.  I remember a collegiate ministry gathering where at one point we were encouraged to find a black person in the room and hug them.  (The college ministry I belonged to was very diverse back then and remains so to this day.)

It felt special.  It felt holy.  But it was only a first step.  And not a very good one at that.

You see, the problem with racial reconciliation, as this article brings out, is that it puts an awful lot on the shoulders of black people.  Too much.  In evangelical organizations, the onus is on black people to not only do their jobs but also to educate everyone all the way up the chain of leadership on their experience of racial oppression, without any hope of being able to look up and see themselves represented at any higher levels of the organization.  Under racial reconciliation, there is no burden upon white people to dismantle the structures of systemic racial oppression that got us to where we are today, or even to admit that any of this is in any way wrong or unjust.  But when we move away from a “racial reconciliation” mindset and start thinking of things in terms of “white privilege” or “white supremacy”, as the article insists, we begin to see things as they really are in our present world.

Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

As today is the Fourth of July, I think it appropriate to direct your attention to this speech by Frederick Douglass:  “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?“.  I believe that it is especially timely and poignant in the cultural moment we are presently in.

There is also a video rendition of the speech available, read aloud by direct descendants of Frederick Douglass.  Watch and enjoy.  Or more appropriately, watch and reflect.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

…I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?

…At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

…You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

…I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference… Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic, are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

On Defunding the Police as a First Step Toward Abolition

Defunding the police is a controversial idea that has come up in the wake of the George Floyd protests.  Some say “No Way!!!!!” while others say it can’t possibly happen soon enough.  Today I give you a piece by Lidia Abraha, a Toronto-based journalist who offers a vision of how defunding the police could lead to real change in our communities.

The biggest problem Abraha sees with law enforcement is that it is essentially an institution, and institutions exist only to preserve themselves.  This can, and frequently does, get in the way of their being able to fulfill the mission for which they were created in the first place.  For this reason, things like body cameras and the banning of chokeholds are only piecemeal solutions that will ultimately not address any of the root causes that got us to where we currently are as a society.  The true solution lies in overhauling our law enforcement system and replacing it with decentralized, community-based structures where offenders remain in their community networks with access to the care and help they need.

Trevor Noah on Being Black in the American Workplace

Today I direct your attention to a 10-minute video in which Trevor Noah unpacks the struggles that black people face in the world of corporate America.  First of all, anyone who submits a resume to a company for a job is a whopping 50 percent less likely to get called back for an interview if the name on the resume sounds black.  Next, the percentage of blacks in leadership at large corporations is so small as to be statistically insignificant.  In other words, it might as well be zero.

Finally, and this is the most insidious piece:  Blacks who do make it into corporate America are not free to be their true, authentic selves because the white people who dominate these spaces would feel threatened.  They have to learn white ways of presenting themselves and engaging with the world, and project that false self for eight hours a day, five days a week.  Black people in the workplace are not focused on doing their jobs; they are focused on projecting and maintaining this false self that won’t threaten the white power structures that are firmly in place in corporate America.

I ask you, friends:  Is that right?

And now I will answer you:  No.

Read and watch:  Trevor Noah discusses the discrimination Black people face at work

Danielle Brown on Racism in Music Education

Today we are going to look at racism in the world of music education.

Danielle Brown is a former music professor at Syracuse University and a graduate in ethnomusicology from New York University.  In this piece she relates her struggles in the field of music education and ethnomusicology:  first, that she was one of a very few black people in the field that she would wee at professional seminars and other such places; second and even more important, that the white people in the field acted as if they knew everything there was to know about ethnomusicology.

This is systemic racism par excellence:  The very field of ethnomusicology is all about white people studying African music and then convincing themselves and everyone else that they know everything there is to know about it and that everyone else must bow to their superior understanding and expertise.  If that isn’t systemic racism, then I don’t know what is.

Read:  An Open Letter on Racism in Music Studies by Danielle Brown

John Pavlovitz on the Privilege of Ignoring the News

Today I direct your attention to a post by John Pavlovitz on a certain aspect of white privilege you may not have considered.

We are living in a very crazy time right now.  Between the coronavirus, the racial justice protests, and everything else going on, it can get very overwhelming.  I get that.  But some people respond to this by just not paying any attention to the news.  “I just don’t pay any attention to all that political stuff,” they say.  But tucked into that response is a massive dose of privilege.  You see, there are lots of people for whom the awful stories you hear about on the news–that is their lived reality.  It hits them on the head, day in and day out.  Even when it’s not splashed across our front pages from coast to coast, they’re still having to deal with it in their daily lives.  They don’t get to disengage just because times are rough.  They don’t get to “not pay attention to all that political stuff” because all that political stuff is right there in their faces day in and day out.  Having the luxury of disengaging from “all that political stuff”–that’s a massive hit of privilege.  That you can disappear into spaces where all the troubles and tribulations of the outside world don’t touch you–that’s privilege.  That you would disappear into those spaces and stay there for any sustained length of time–that’s not human.  Because you’re opting out of the humanity you share with people who don’t have that option.

Read:  The White Privilege of Ignoring the News by John Pavlovitz

Cliff Goins on “Black Privilege”

Today I direct your attention to an article by Cliff Goins IV at Medium entitled “Black Privilege:  Seven Phrases I Wish I Didn’t Have to Hear“.

Goins, who is black, walks us through seven phrases which are routinely uttered by well-meaning individuals but which are patently wrong.  At the top of the list:  “I don’t understand why they are so mad”.  When your history includes three centuries of being owned by other human beings, shit gets complicated real quick.  That’s why they are so mad.  If that was you, wouldn’t you be mad?  If not, then why not?

Other key phrases:  “All lives matter”.  I already addressed this one a few posts back.  When said in response to “Black lives matter”:  Bullshit.  “We’ve made so much progress”.  Goins brings the receipts to show that we haven’t made jack shit in the way of progress.  “But I’m not a racist”.  In this day and age, that’s not good enough (as if it ever was).  In this day and age, you have to be anti-racist.  We will unpack this in greater detail later.

More key phrases:  “Our nation needs to heal” and “This is so complex; it’s going to take some time”.  Right about both of those.  But neither is any excuse or justification for sitting back and doing nothing.  It took us over four hundred years to get to where we are; it’s going to take a very long time to fix this.  But you can, and should, do something at least to get things started in the right direction.

Randall Balmer: The Real Origins of the Religious Right

Today I direct your attention to a piece by Randall Balmer at Politico entitled “The Real Origins of the Religious Right“.  It is a few years old yet it bears attention nowadays.

You thought the rise of the Religious Right was all about abortion?  If so, then you would be wrong.  In reality, as noted in my prior post, the rise of the Religious Right was a reaction to the federal government ordering desegregation of key evangelical institutions such as Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Academy, now known as Liberty University.

In light of this, as noted yesterday, I am now quite skeptical of evangelical emphasis on anti-abortion as an attempt to steer the conversation away from the pernicious racism that is staring us right in the face.

If that makes me a baby-killer then I’ll be a baby-killer.  I seriously doubt that abortion is as near and dear to the heart of God as evangelicals make it out to be–when there are centuries of systemic racism that we need to face and we are using abortion as a smokescreen and a distraction.

John Fea on White Evangelical Racism

Today I direct your attention to a piece by John Fea on white evangelical racism and how it has paved the way for the rise of Donald Trump.  Fea is professor of American history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania.  His current book is entitled “Believe Me:  The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump“.

The piece is entitled:  “How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency“.

Fea walks us through some history:  White evangelicalism as we know it today arose out of the slave rebellions of the 1830s, chiefly Nat Turner’s Rebellion.  These revolts led whites at that time to push for slavery to be expanded to the western states; if slaves could be dispersed over a wider area then future slave revolts would be less likely.  Theologically, white ministers developed a biblical defense of slavery, arguing that anyone reading the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would come to the conclusion that God ordained slavery and approved of it.  Commonsense interpretations of passages on slavery such as Paul’s exhortations to servants to obey their masters or for the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his master Philemon were difficult to argue with.

That evangelical insistence upon inerrancy and a literal reading of the Bible–it didn’t just come up out of thin air, people.

The Confederacy came to see itself as a Christian society worthy of God’s blessing because they had a proper understanding of the Bible–which was all tied up with slavery and their view of how the Bible upheld slavery.  Abolitionist arguments against slavery were viewed as heretical because they went against the plain teaching of Scripture (in their view) and also because they jeopardized the US’s character as a Christian nation worthy of God’s blessing because they upheld the plain teaching of the Bible which upheld slavery.  The notion that slaves–or any Africans, for that matter–were human beings deserving of rights and freedom was viewed as godless liberal Enlightenment modernist hokum and contrary to sound Biblical teaching.  James Henley Thornwell, a white theologian who staunchly supported slavery, characterized the essential conflict in the Civil War thusly:  “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other.”

Any God who ordains a system where some humans are subject to others simply because their skin is a few shades darker, deserves atheists.

Southern evangelicals feared the mixing of the white and black races and thus staunchly opposed racial intermarriage.  Check out these choice words from South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who stated that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” and that abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.”  Of course this mixing of races was already happening via the practice of masters raping slaves, but that was beside the point.

Racial fears did not fade away with the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  If anything, these racial fears were reinforced.  A prime example was Rev. Robert Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of black freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church.  In an 1867 speech, Dabney stated that ordaining black ministers would “threaten the very existence of civil society”.  Because God created racial difference, in Dabney’s view, it was “plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification”.  Dabney predicted a sort of theological “white flight” from Presbyterian churches if blacks were ordained it would “bring a mischievous element into our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.”  Dabney was not about to sit back and let “the race of Washington, and Lee, and Jackson” to be mixed “with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa”.

Yep, this stereotype of blacks as troublemakers and “a mischievous element” has been around for awhile.

Northern Protestant fundamentalists were aware of the evils of racism, yet did precious little about it.  If anything their views about a literal understanding of Scripture only served to perpetuate and exacerbate systemic racism.  The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist terror groups saw them as natural allies.  In the wake of the 1921 Greenwood race massacre, white church leaders were eager to lay the blame at the feet of “black agitators” while stating that blacks were clearly unfit for life together with whites in our American society.

Fast forward to the 1950s and 1960s and we see that white evangelicalism has at best a mixed record on race relations during that period.  Billy Graham did desegregate his crusades and many evangelical leaders and publications came out in support of Brown v Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and other such reforms.  But very few Northern evangelicals participated in the civil rights movement, and strong pockets of resistance formed in the South.  White evangelicals pushed back on what they saw as federal encroachment on state and local authority as the federal government moved to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws.

When the Moral Majority got going in the 1970s and 1980s, the driving issue was not abortion, it was resistance to federal attempts to desegregate evangelical institutions such as Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Academy (now Liberty University).  In light of this, I am now at least somewhat distrustful of the evangelical fixation with anti-abortion as an attempt to steer the conversation away from the issue of race relations.

This brings us to present day.  In August 2017, white supremacists took to the streets of Charlottesville, VA, to protest the proposed removal of Confederate monuments.  When violence broke out, Donald Trump drew moral equivalency between the white supremacists and those who opposed them.  Many leading evangelicals, including FBC Dallas pastor and Trump supporter extraordinaire Robert Jeffress, who warned of an “axis of evil” threatening to take Donald Trump down and reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots with nary a mention of how intimately those roots are entangled with violence against the black race.

All of this to say:  It’s time for a reckoning, my fellow evangelicals.

Our movement is intimately tied up with violence and oppression directed toward the black race, and has been, virtually since its inception.  Inerrancy and a literal reading of the Bible, some of our dearest and most deeply held evangelical presuppositions–those didn’t just come up out of thin air.  They came about because evangelicals early on perceived that the Bible, when read in a certain way, could be weaponized against the black race to keep them in a place of subjugation.

In the Kraalogies series that I linked in my prior post, one of the key movements was the use of apartheid as a political/theological defense against godless, atheistic communists who were backing those in South Africa who were agitating for its removal.  This movement ties in with that of the Southern evangelicals who opposed anti-slavery arguments on the basis that they were a product of godless, liberal, atheistic modernism.

If that’s godless liberal modernism, then give me godless liberal modernism any day of the week.

Evangelicals:  If our God is one who approves of the subjugation of millions of human beings created in His image just because their skin happens to be a few shades darker than your own, then that God deserves atheists.