Tuesday, December 24, 2013
He also said that, where he was, he "never" witnessed African-Americans being treated any differently due to race, even when he was a youth during the civil-rights movement; those remarks caused a lesser firestorm.
This may surprise you, but on this one I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. "How could he not see it?" you may be wondering.
Because of one fact that people often overlook: The civil-rights movement was almost exclusively an urban phenomenon. Certainly a number of atrocities did take place in rural areas, but virtually all the action was in Southern cities, where Robertson didn't live.
That should make sense, because the obvious problems were there.
And it wasn't simply about rich vs. poor, either, as many of the foot-soldiers of the movement were wealthy professionals, academics and merchants who had the wherewithal to support it financially. The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s first pastorate out of graduate school, was a "seditty" congregation that had community status in Montgomery, Ala., and when things began to spread only the cities were involved. (Indeed, Montgomery wasn't even the first bus boycott; Baton Rouge, La. had previously experienced one a couple of years beforehand.) Being from the country, Robertson simply wouldn't have first-hand knowledge of these things.
If Robertson is guilty of anything, it would be gross insensitivity toward his black neighbors and occasional co-workers; perhaps he ought to have discussed with them the challenges of being black in the rural South. That wouldn't be confined to people like himself, however -- all of us ought to be willing to address such or similar things. So before we point the finger at this one man, perhaps we all ought to consider our part in the conflict.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Earlier this week Phil Robertson, a star of "Duck Dynasty" and apparently an avowed Christian, was suspended by the A&E Network for making what some considered anti-gay remarks in an interview with GQ magazine.
The obvious contrast to your average culture warrior would be "See how society is becoming coarsened and hostile to religious faith." I have a different view, however: When you seek authority and money by turning people into scapegoats they or their allies will respond -- maybe not next month or next year, but they will respond eventually.
Folks may remember the very first anti-gay-rights campaign with singer and former Miss America runner-up Anita Bryant in 1977 in Miami as the focal point. After her side "won" she shared a long kiss with her then-husband and said, "This is how it's done, fellas." (Her marriage fell apart soon after that.)
From the outset I felt that the campaign displayed arrogance and focused on pushing folks around, which to me always contradicted Biblical principles; though I did and do believe that homosexual conduct is indeed sinful, in this instance I sided with the gay community. In a poem I wrote in 1979 and published in the high school newspaper, I warned that they'd be back, angry.
But a funny thing happened over time: The gay community actually gained sympathy. Perhaps because folks thought as I did that gays were being bullied. Perhaps gays were being more reasonable in their demands. Perhaps many of the people who were anti-gay began to get to know gays -- who may have been in their own families and even in churches.
By the 1990s things began to shift, with a local gay-rights organization disbanding about 20 years ago because it believed that its objectives had been reached. Today no one bats an eye at a "gay-straight alliance" in high schools in response to bullying of gay teens.
So when Robertson's interview was published, most of the resultant vitriol went against him. (Now, you can argue that the A&E Network was concerned only about the money it might lose if it didn't suspend him -- but then again, so was ABC in 1978.)
The point, however, is that too often Christians have isolated homosexuality as a particularly gross sin when the Bible doesn't even go that far. There's no indication that gays were ever considered an existential threat to society and culture; if anything, during the writing of the New Testament it was considered "normal" among Gentiles. (That's why Paul wrote to the early church saying that Christians should avoid it -- in essence, "We as believers don't want to be associated with that.")
That misunderstanding, and not merely contempt for the Christian faith, is what got Robertson in trouble. I think we need to rethink the entire enterprise -- and get it right.
Monday, December 16, 2013
More amazing, it was Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Paul Ryan who hammered out the details.
No one is happy -- and that's the point.
Interestingly enough, House Speaker John Boehner blasted conservative politicians and their backers for denouncing it before it was even released.
In doing so, Boehner admitted publicly what, according to conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker, he has apparently believed privately -- the political right should shoulder the blame for gridlock in Washington. And he's right.
The biggest problem with the tea-party movement, among the folks that Boehner criticized, is and always has been that it expects political goals but not to be involved in the process. Politics by definition means compromise -- which to ideological purists represents surrender.
But you can't run a government that way.
It remains to be seen if this means the end of the partisan war, but at least the budget deal might serve as a start.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
I'm speaking about Pope Francis, who recently delivered a scathing denouncement of the abuses of capitalism, specifically "supply-side economics"; and Nelson Mandela, the recently-deceased former revolutionary and political prisoner who later became president of South Africa. Both of them have been accused of being Marxists because they called for a restructuring of the prevailing economic and political order.
My reaction to the "haters": Is that all they got?
The charge against the pope is especially spurious, given that Marxism ignores the spiritual -- as Martin Luther King Jr. said, in that view "matter is all there is" and that he hasn't changed Roman Catholic social teaching one bit. Also consider that Mandela, informed by Bible student Gandhi, became quite the conciliator after being released from prison after nearly 30 years, especially when most folks expected (and some were hoping for) bloodshed.
Both men, on the other hand, have called for "justice" -- and that seems to be threatening to those who have or lust for power. The trouble is, of course, that they equate "justice" with "equality" -- read: equal outcomes and/or, cynically, "equally poor." But that isn't at all what they're talking about.
Rather, they refer to the basic dignity of all men and women. Equal opportunity. Fair treatment regardless of economic station in life. The same opportunity to participate in public life. And so on ... and those are Marxist?
Well, it could be seen as such if, again, your goal is aristocracy, but in doing so you play right into Marx' hands. He never declared "class warfare," only that it already existed -- the rich declaring war on the poor. And in 19th-Century Europe the church was a willing pawn in the political power game, working hand-in-hand with the nobility to remain in power. Have you noticed that Europe is largely secular today? Do you think there's a reason for that?
Here in America, the history of organized labor demonstrates that you don't have to be "Marxist" to believe in, for example, fair treatment of workers. Many Catholic priests were supporters, because their parishioners were involved, and the American labor movement regularly purged Communists from its ranks.
So the next time you're tempted to refer such men and those who think like them as Marxists, think again. They in fact may be closer to God's intent than you realize.
Friday, December 6, 2013
It wasn't so long ago, however, that Mandela was considered a dangerous man. (Understandably so, but not in the ways you might think.)
Back in the 1980s, when the anti-apartheid movement was in full swing and he had been in prison for 20 years, many evangelical Christians spoke out against him without understanding the context under which he operated. Because these people were swayed almost exclusively by Cold War politics, he was regarded as a terrorist and a Marxist.
I wonder, however, how they would have reacted were they in his shoes -- a black man in a place where whites had all the political power and most of the economic power. Somehow they never got that apartheid was a unjust system that certainly did need to be overthrown.
You might ask: Why didn't he, and the African National Congress for which he served as deputy president, go the nonviolent route? Well, at first they did. That changed as the result of a massacre in Sharpeville in 1960, the government's response to a demonstration against the hated "pass laws." But rather than dealing with the issue, the government simply banned the ANC. (The South African Communist Party was also officially underground as of 10 years earlier and thus made a natural ally.)
Mandela was convicted of sabotage and given a life sentence in 1964, and perhaps the powers that be thought that they would be done with him and the government continued to regard him as, perhaps, Public Enemy No. 1. Instead, however, his stature grew -- especially around the world.
With a change in the presidency -- F.W. de Klerk replacing the hardline P.W. Botha -- and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he was finally released, de Klerk perhaps believing that, without help from a defunct Soviet Union and East Germany, he could control the process. That didn't happen, of course, and the rest became history.
Disappointing to me, however, was the reaction back then of certain Christian media leaders to the plight of black South Africans. Jerry Falwell openly expressed support for the Botha government, The 700 Club in 1985 interviewed Ian Smith, the last white leader of what was Rhodesia expressing contempt for Mandela -- that was the last time I ever watched that show -- and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart going to South Africa and declaring that he "didn't see any problems."
So you can imagine folks' shock when not only did Mandela not only didn't take revenge on whites but even sought to include them in his administration upon succeeding de Klerk as president in 1994. I saw the movie "Invictus" when it came out four years ago, and in it he was depicted as telling people "Reconciliation starts here" and "Forgiveness starts here." He hired whites for security detail -- because they had the experience -- and stopped the Ministry of Sport from retiring the Springbok nickname for the national rugby team, considered a reminder of apartheid.
Are these not "Christian" values and virtues? These are the actions of a committed Marxist terrorist?
I think it's time for us Christians to admit that we were ultimately wrong him, but I don't think that we will -- we still have too much at stake defeating some "enemy." Shame on us.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
But that's not what Robertson really meant -- the context was that we Christians were losing our privileged status in American society. Trouble is, that isn't something to be concerned about because when you are you often end up becoming a persecutor in your own right.
Let's remember that this took place arguably at the height of what I refer to as media evangelicalism, where the message of the Gospel often ended up being muddied because programs needed to stay on the air -- and the easiest way to do that is, of course, to identify an enemy and try to defeat it. Muddied because the message of the grace of God through Jesus Christ was pushed aside of favor of a more lucrative "culture war."
And that's an issue of theology, as it demonstrates a lack of trust in God for anything except "fire insurance."
Furthermore, political freedom simply isn't addressed in the Word of God; Christians in other countries understand this, so they simply do what they do regardless of what the authorities say. The church in mainland China is growing as an astronomical rate -- in a climate that's hostile to any form of religious faith. (Indeed, it seems to thrive in those conditions.)
On top of that, if American evangelical Christians were undergoing legitimate persecution they would back anyone regardless of faith affiliation that also suffering. I can't think of one instance, however, in which we have.
A couple of generations ago a social movement, inspired by prayer and revival meetings in churches, arose, in the process changing an entire region of this nation. The opposition became so fierce that participants were being killed, churches were being bombed and pastors were being jailed -- and yet the movement stayed strong and prevailed. Most "Christians," however, in that day ignored it, many even opposing it.
I guess you know by now that I'm talking about the civil-rights movement, challenged not just because of racism but that the movement threatened -- yep -- some folks' privileged status. It's one reason for the racial divide in the church.
Early in my Christian life I learned the acronym JOY -- Jesus, Others, Yourself -- as to where our focus should be. Also remember that He said that persecution is inevitable, so we shouldn't worry about it.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Years later, I realized why: I might have well been listening to the devil himself.
It wasn't merely his ideological agenda I had problems with; more to the point, it was the plainly mean things he said about people he disagreed with. There was no grace or peace in his speech, just pure bile. He actually made Rush Limbaugh sound sweet and kind.
Last week Quinn and sidekick Rose Somma Tennent -- whom I met a few years previously at a local Christian radio station where she was on staff and I was doing commentary -- lost their jobs as commentators at a local talk-radio station in what I suspect to be a contract dispute. Their show had been syndicated to seven other stations around the country and even on Sirius XM satellite radio. (I didn't bother to find out what they were saying about President Barack Obama because I knew it couldn't be good.)
My reaction? "Thank you, Jesus."
Two things come to mind.
One, if you want to find the reason there's so much political polarization in this country, start with folks like Quinn & Rose, who stay angry seemingly for its own sake. No solutions, no addressing issues in depth -- just rage against a "them." We know just what they were against, but we never knew just what they were for; and God help anyone whom they targeted. I understand why they did such -- for the sake of ratings because they had to know that people were hanging on their every word. They likely became fairly wealthy in the process; after all, hate sells. (You can't blame "liberals" for this because -- and the conservatives will tell you this -- left-wing talk-radio has never taken hold.)
Two, not forever because eventually people are going to react if you keep treating them like piñatas. Around 2005 I noticed that a progressive populism was becoming evident, initially due to the war in Iraq going bad but ultimately a backlash against the conservative enterprise, and it was fighting fire with fire. By last summer, around the time of the Sandra Fluke controversy, it developed enough clout to cause sponsors, I understand about 70 in all, to drop Limbaugh's show. That wouldn't have happened even five years ago.
But there's also a spiritual principle afoot here. You see, listening to Satan's lies and accusations deadens sensitivity and leads directly to a decline in discernment. Again, the actual agenda doesn't matter; it's the idea of scapegoating people for who or what they are or what they believe that God cannot tolerate. That's why such contempt isn't perpetual; it wears you out and down. In other words, attitudes and behaviors are ultimately more important than worldview, and when you refuse to be confronted about them communication breaks down. Even with God.
I have been saying for quite some time that an awakening is taking place in this country, and one of the signs of such is a rejection of the world's way of thinking. Quinn & Rose's show was definitely "of the world," and they are now receiving the world's reward for their actions. I haven't seen Rose in a while -- I don't know Quinn's religious leanings -- but when and if I do I will remind her that God calls us to a better, more excellent way.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
I understood just what was behind that: His identity was wrapped up in having her; when that became no longer possible he tried to find someone to blame. The trouble is that he never looked in the mirror to find the true culprit as to the demise of the marriage.
I bring that up because in light of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act I see the same reaction to President Obama -- "incompetent," a "tyrant" and other names, some of them too vile to publish; the folks who make those comments don't appreciate that he was legitimately elected president. When I hear them, I always consider the source.
It's one thing to oppose a president's policies; after all, people do have that right. Let's keep in mind, however, that he did gain a majority of popular and electoral votes in both 2008 and 2012; as such, going out of their way to sabotage his constitutionally-mandated obligation to carry out the laws of this country is simply beyond the pale.
Well, we don't agree with him. Fine, but you didn't make your case in the election.
We think his policies are dangerous. A lot of people obviously don't agree.
We think he's leading this nation toward socialism. You'll have to do better than that.
If the media had just told the truth ... They did. You just didn't want to hear it.
We think he should be stopped. By any means necessary? At the cost of your own soul?
I mean that -- if you're that focused on defeating him you end up only defeating yourself. That was a major factor in his reelection last year despite the bad economy and a persistently unstable labor market.
Dad never remarried, as I didn't think he would, and likely harbored bitterness toward Mom to the day he died; that's no way to live and he didn't. Moral of the story, at the risk of sounding arrogant: If you feel that way about the president, you need to get over it and move on because you can't change the election results. Not doing so might very well kill you.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Reading that piece made me realize just how much of a pioneer I was, especially in the 1970s. And how and why I was.
In 1974, when I was 13, I was "recruited" to play basketball at the Catholic parochial school near me; it turned out that I would be its first black player ever. That said, I wore that status lightly; while I realized that I was making a statement I never felt the burden of being the "first." Having by this time removed any racial resentment that might have caused any problems with my schoolmates, virtually all of them white, I got along with them beautifully and was invited to all of the dances and parties (though, being a tad socially backward, I rarely went).
I didn't realize until the next year, as a high school freshman at a prestigious Catholic prep school, that the barrier had fallen.
I wasn't playing basketball at the scholastic level, so I asked my father about playing Catholic Youth Organization ball for the same parish. Dad waved it off, saying, "They don't allow blacks." A week or two later, the CYO coach called to ask if I were interested in playing. (I didn't.)
At that school I began trying out for plays. Having developed a singing voice the summer between freshman and sophomore years, as a sophomore I made callbacks for the fall play and the director promised me a part in the following spring production. (I ended up with two.) There was one other black kid, a junior, who also was part of the cast; we may have been the first two African-Americans to grace that stage. I developed some popularity at that school as well.
I learned a valuable truth from those experiences that has stayed with me to this day: The best way to "integrate" is not to force your way in but to get to know people on the inside who can vouch for you -- that way folks don't feel put upon and forced to accommodate for the sake of being "politically correct." I took the opportunities that were afforded me at that time, and everyone grew as a result.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
What I found disconcerting is that many of them were supposedly Jesus-loving Christians but clearly hard-core conservatives. It reminded me why we still have a major race problem in the church -- denial.
No, I'm not calling them racists, but they were clearly insensitive to the indignities, great or small, that some of their "brothers and sisters" have had to deal with on a consistent basis.
And I believe that their commitment to a myopic conservative worldview, which seeks comfort for itself but couldn't care less about anyone else's suffering, is the primary culprit here.
Frankly, most of my friends outside my diverse church and the local music community are white. This is especially the case among the three local Christian singles ministries that I've been involved with; I'm one of only two African-Americans who participate, and neither of us are militants who demand to be heard.
But sometimes I wish they would ask me for my perspective on things.
You see, many of them focus on Christian "morality" and "liberty" at the expense of everything else; as you can imagine, they vote Republican. They don't see how or why the conservative agenda that now controls the GOP is considered insulting and injurious, at times even willfully, to African-Americans, who vote Democratic for that reason.
How so? Well, let's consider the phrase "big government." You may not know this, but it originally had a racist connotation -- recall that it was the Federal government that took down Jim Crow laws in the South, specifically through laws and Supreme Court decisions that irritated a lot of people and led to what became known as the "new right," which started in the 1950s and gained steam in the '60s. Propagandists over the years have sought to blame the "Great Society" for the ills of the black community, never mind that it doesn't have the same access to education and employment opportunities (I realized this when I got to college) as everyone else.
Over time these folks have sought to reverse the progress that we've made, especially when it comes to important issue of voting. The Supreme Court's invalidation of a major tenet of the Voting Rights Act didn't help, and right-wing radio's quasi-racist ramblings have inflamed the discourse. Not to mention the voter-ID laws implemented in many states that are reminiscent of laws in Southern states that essentially barred blacks from voting. (Voting will always remain an issue.)
But my "siblings" don't see that we as African-Americans are often treated differently in the world. While I personally have never experienced being stopped by a policeman for no good reason -- "driving while black" -- or ignored by restaurant waitstaff, I know people who have.
And sometimes it spills over into the church. When I was in college I began attending a campus Christian fellowship that was otherwise all-white. I soon found out why it was that way; a couple weeks after coming -- and becoming chummy with one of the women -- a staff member asked me to leave; it turned out that the ministry actually operated a separate group for black students and she said that I would "fit better" there, my actual church background notwithstanding. (I didn't.) Later on another staff member tried to drive me out but failed.
At the beginning of my last committed dating relationship in the summer of 1999 -- my girlfriend was white -- I had a week off from playing at my church, so I visited hers. In the church was literature from the "Conservative Chronicle," which one of her sons would bring home on a regular basis; upon reading it I detected a spirit of racism. (Which turned out to be correct; I learned long after the relationship collapsed that it was the newsletter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, formerly known as the White Citizens Council, which formed in the South to oppose desegregation.)
I'm privileged to attend a church where some of these issues have been addressed; however, I know full well that it's an anomaly. And even there, some folks still often don't "get it."
We took this on most recently in my Christian Leadership Concepts small group -- CLC is a two-year men's leadership course that ended for me in February -- in which racial reconciliation was one of the last things to be taught. Because the other guys know that I have a passion for and considerable knowledge and experience in that, one of the co-facilitators asked me to lead the first session. As part of the curriculum we used the book "Strength to Love" by Martin Luther King Jr. However, I told them flat-out that Dr. King's opponents were conservatives. I didn't get a handle on how they reacted.
One song that's now being played in heavy rotation on smooth-jazz radio is a cover of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," whose message I heartily agree with. But I wish that my conservative friends would heed it -- that when it comes to issues of race in the church they may recognize that their attitudes may be part of the problem.
The same Bible that causes me to oppose abortion and homosexual conduct also despises racism and obliges me to identify with those of lower status. (Not just help -- identify with, for you can't do the former without the latter.) We simply won't solve this problem unless hearts are softened, and may God do so.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Basically, we need people who are willing to tell inconvenient truths and ruffle feathers, which is something that may of us are trying to avoid. But we can't avoid it if we want to.
Last year the book "It's Even Worse Than It Looks" placed almost all of the blame -- in my view, appropriately -- for the dysfunction in Washington squarely upon the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Authors Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Orenstein gave specifics of how and when former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was able to sabotage the institution and reputation of Congress for mere political gain. When that book came out, however, they were never invited to discuss their findings on the Sunday morning talk show circuit -- because they went against conventional wisdom that both sides are to blame.
But the evidence is overwhelming that such isn't the case. Republican leadership generally opposed anything that Bill Clinton did, though they were able to cut deals at one point. It's become even worse under Barack Obama, what with the distractions of his citizenship or lack thereof, his alleged ties to former Weather Underground figure Bill Ayers and former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, their blocking appointments of Federal judges and Cabinet positions -- the list goes on. (No, liberal Democrats do not do this -- one, they don't have the belly; and two, they still respect the political process.) Right-wing talk radio, with all its lies and distortions, certainly doesn't help matters.
Anyway, there are theological implications to telling, or not telling, the truth no matter who's offended. We can't tell people that "Jesus is the only way" and not try to be fair, just and honest in our dealings, overlooking facts that don't jibe with our opinions and calling anyone who challenges our worldview as "biased." (Of course, they don't consider that they themselves might be biased.)
I was once accused of suggesting that conservatives often act in bad faith, and the person who said that was frankly right. Until that's addressed, we have no chance of establishing "civility."
Monday, June 17, 2013
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Saturday, April 13, 2013
And while there's nothing wrong with making money, too many of us have idolized businessmen as the Christian ideal, ignoring the economic exploitation that they supported that began taking place in the early 1980s and the heavy lobbying to maintain their privileged status that they do today. In the process the church, in failing to confront the greedy then, has lost much of its prophetic power, which is why few are listening to it today when it comes to a clear violation of another Biblical issue.
With the gay-marriage issue now facing the Supreme Court -- and remember that one of the lawyers who argued for the overturning of California's 2008 Proposition 8 that banned it was Ted Olson, who played a small part in the 1990s anti-Bill Clinton crusade -- it's time for us Christians to understand that secular conservatives were never really our friends. I always was concerned that Christians might be thrown overboard if we were seen as costing them elections.
That day may have come.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
I've worked at the same newspaper for over 16 years, and I got that job indirectly because I used to attend a integrated church with a now-deceased member of the editorial board -- a very fair-minded white man. In 1993 he was my instructor for one of my college classes; I did so well that he put my name in down there.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Monday, March 4, 2013
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Well, yes, there is -- a walk with God. If your activism no matter the issue detracts from that, it's frankly idolatry and needs to be put away. You simply can't assume that you're obeying God just by being involved because the devil can certainly disguise himself and worm his way in there. Remember that the only thing that Satan cares about is disrupting God's agenda and will use anything, even His Word, to do it.
For that reason it's probably a good thing that abortion isn't even directly mentioned in the Bible, although you can certainly make the case that it is indeed evil.
I do have one prediction: Abortion will not become illegal again unless and until the culture war ends -- with a loss. I say this because only when it's freed from what might be considered its exclusively religious context will folks begin to consider when life truly begins. However, for that to work it also has to be coupled with "quality of life" issues such as poverty and pollution, thus embracing a more comprehensive "pro-life" approach.
And doing that costs time, money and power -- things that folks don't want to give up.
The book "Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?", which was published in 1999, mentioned how abortion came to be banned before -- around the turn of the last century, and that had to do with men who played the "use 'em and lose 'em game" and left the women that they had seduced in a lurch. The churches weren't involved in banning the practice, simply counseling people about sexual activity; meanwhile, abortion laws were enacted in every state with popular consent.
Times are different today, of course, with women often now seeking sexual fulfillment for its own sake and abortion seen as a "right," but the premise still applies. Deal with the issues between men and women and you deal with the abortion issue.