Tuesday, December 20, 2011

David Barton -- in denial about race and racism

Do you ever wonder why so few African-Americans vote conservative? David Barton should remind you. The modern conservative movement has never fully accepted its complicity in maintaining racist ideology and in fact has consistently tried to run from it, and Barton doesn't help matters.

Barton, head of the WallBuilders organization, which can be kindly described as giving a right-wing Christian spin on American history, and who once headed the Republican Party in Texas, has no training as a historian. Rather, from WallBuilders you get the kind of agitprop that distorts history and causes division. Earlier this week a friend forwarded me a number of his papers on black history which proved either irrelevant or misleading.

Let's take an entry on Richard Allen, founding bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. According to Barton, "Allen began to preach regularly at the St. George Methodist Church in Philadelphia. He suggested that Blacks should have a separate place of worship apart from Whites; and although his suggestion was at first resisted, his forceful preaching attracted such a vast number of Blacks to the church that when objections were raised, Allen's idea of a separate congregation was finally accepted."

However, Barton fails to note that the vestry of St. George had voted to build a segregated section of the church and that he had led a walkout in response. And that was hardly uncommon; black churches were established in the first place because black parishioners were abused or neglected in white ones.

In an entry on black voting rights published in 2003, Barton consistently mentions -- without perspective -- that the Democratic Party was the chief agent of racial segregation and discrimination (that was true only in the South). He's correct in saying that the Republican Party was founded specifically to take down chattel slavery -- but wait a minute. By the 1880s, with slavery gone and Reconstruction abandoned, the GOP had left its anti-racist past behind.

Moreover, what became known as the "New Right," pushed by William F. Buckley Jr. and developing appeal mostly in the West, was proving increasingly influential in the GOP in the 1960s, so much so that it was able to get Barry Goldwater on the ticket as its presidential candidate in 1964; Goldwater, who publicly opposed the civil-rights movement, was later denounced by Martin Luther King Jr. as "the most dangerous man in the country" at the time. Two years later, Richard Nixon enacted the GOP's notorious "Southern Strategy" which reached out to white Southerners by emphasizing, among other things, the national Democratic Party's commitment to civil rights (which was recast as "big government"). Slowly they began to trickle into the GOP but came full-scale with the election of Ronald Reagan -- who also opposed MLK Jr.

I wonder why Barton never mentions King and the civil-rights movement -- which of course came out of the black church and even to this day informs much of the African-American community -- in his writings. Perhaps because it clearly came from the political left and thus causes embarrassment to those on the right who want the exclusive franchise on religious activism. But that's a shame, especially considering his partisan view of history which leaves out much of the truth.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tim Tebow -- hot now, but wait

Tim Tebow, the former missionary kid, has made quite a name for himself over the past few years. The first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy while attending the University of Florida and the subject of an anti-abortion ad during last year's Super Bowl, he now plays quarterback for the Denver Broncos, who have lost only one game since he was given the starting job about two months ago.

Lately he's been somewhat of a lighting rod for his open displays of Christian faith both on the field and in the media. Some love it, but others have said that he should tone it down. (One of his critics is the now-retired Kurt Warner, himself a believer who led the St. Louis Rams to their only Super Bowl championship in 2001.)

Here's the problem I have with all the attention Tebow gets: There does appear to be a lack of humility, let alone depth, on his part. He has played for winning teams throughout his short career -- UF plays in the Southeastern Conference, arguably the toughest in the country and whose games are broadcast on CBS. It's easy to "praise God" in such situations.

But wait until he starts losing games. Then we'll see what he's really made of.

In 1996, after losing a close playoff game to the Steelers, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh still gave props to Jesus. Going further back, consider pitcher Orel Hershiser, whose Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in 1988. However, two years later he needed surgery that prematurely ended his season; at a press conference, he said, in effect, "The same God that was there when we won the World Series is going to be there now."

And let's look at Warner, who played at the University of Northern Iowa, which participates in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) and had previously worked in a grocery store before resuming his career. Because he didn't go to a football factory, virtually no one knew who he was -- that is, except for pro scouts.

In the early 1980s I used to watch the 700 Club, and I couldn't help but notice that when it broadcast athlete profiles only these qualified: 1) star players; 2) from winning teams; 3) with Christian parents or spouses (or, in one case, a fiancé). Yet it's very possible that a third-stringer from a losing team who's unattached and doesn't come from a Christian home may maintain a deeper walk with God than any of them -- and needs to.

In such situations I'm reminded of the line from "Blessed Be the Name of the LORD": "Blessed be His name/On the road marked with suffering/When there's pain in the offering/Blessed be the name ... " It's easy to be "on fire for God" when you're on top, but when things start to fall apart -- that's when you learn what you're made of.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Occupy Wall Street' -- highlighting the unspeakable

Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land.

-- Isaiah 5:8

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

-- James 5:1-5

Republican strategist Frank Lantz has admitted recently that he's quaking in his boots over the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has called attention to the excesses of corporate power in this nation. As well he should be.

You see, by its mass ongoing demonstrations, which stated in New York's financial district but have since spread to other major cities, OWS has touched on a far bigger issue, one which few have ever addressed: Class warfare.

There, I've said it.

If you think I'm simply channeling Karl Marx, I challenge you: On what else was the opposition to civil rights for African-Americans based? The targeting for destruction of the labor union movement? The elimination of social programs that actually help the poor? Tax breaks and cuts for the super-wealthy? The weakening of regulation of large financial interests? The trashing of public education? And on and on and on ... if these don't represent an attempt to build a quasi-aristocracy, I don't know what does. And folks are waking up.

That said, over the years, especially in the recent tea-party movement, some have actually tried to scapegoat "government" as the ultimate source of all our ills. Let me remind you, however, that we have government in the first place due to a chronic problem called sin, that left to their own devices people will, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "take the low road" -- which is why the Apostle Paul told the first Christians to respect the government. (And don't forget that he was referring to highly corrupt Rome, which many of his Jewish audience despised with a passion.) Here in this country especially, because our system was built to give political power to private entities, the idea of "too much government" comes across as so much hooey.

Have you ever wondered why major Christian media "ministries," with all their bellayaching about abortion, gay rights and the "War on Christmas," never talk about the plight of the poor, a major theme in Scripture, especially the Old Testament? Check their donor lists and boards of directors and find out just who's paying to keep them on the air -- you'll be unpleasantly surprised.

So let's place the blame right where it lies: With the moneyed interests able to "buy off" any opposition. And that's just what OWS is protesting.

Moreover, OWS has to date never been part of any political establishment and thus truly represents a grass-roots movement. Contrast that with the tea-party movement, a picture of whose first local demonstration was placed on the front page of the Tribune-Review (its publisher is a supporter), that has run candidates for Congress and which now has several candidates jockeying for the Republican nomination for president. The tea-party movement has already been brought to heel, which OWS won't be -- and that freaks Lantz to no end.

None of this is to suggest that God is specifically endorsing Occupy Wall Street, although a few individual Christians and ministries have done so. Rather, I suggest that He is using OWS to send a message to the nation and perhaps also the church that business as usual -- with the emphasis on "business" -- will not be tolerated in the "last days."