Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some "common sense" on race and racism

“Hey, we all know there’s been some bad history in our country. We know that racism exists. I’m extending a hand like, ‘Hey, we want to get past this. We’ve been bullied, we’ve been beat down, but we don’t want it anymore.' ”

Rapper and actor Common, who said those words recently on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” ended up taking some abuse for also saying that ending racism can begin by “extending [a] hand in love” to whites. And, frankly, I don’t understand that.

Because he’s right. That’s the only way racism has ever been ameliorated.

Last month I picked up the book “Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church” by Edward Galbreath, and in reading it I got a considerable surprise: As a teen Dr. King himself went through an “I hate Whitey” period.

Which tells me that, like Nelson Mandela after him, he underwent a time of transformation and, by the time he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., he was able to refer to “our white brothers” in sermons.

We all remember what happened next.

And as the campaign for voting rights in Selma, now 50 years old, made national news, whites — even some religious leaders — even got involved. One of them, Boston minister the Rev. James Reeb, who was beaten to death, is listed in a hall of martyrs at alma mater Princeton Theological Seminary; Viola Liuzzo, a housewife, lost her life at the hands of Ku Klux Klansmen when driving demonstrators back.

I respectfully ask militants out there: Kindly explain to me how we’re supposed to attain “equality” without relationship-building, what Common was getting at. Tough talk has never availed us anything but further social, economic and political isolation.

Many African-Americans often ask: Has there ever been this level of disrespect for a sitting president as there is today toward Barack Obama? The answer is yes.

Remember that Bill Clinton was gossiped about, with unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, and eventually impeached — illegally — on phony charges. And if you want to go back in history, consider that 11 Southern states left the union as the direct result of Abraham Lincoln being elected president — and he eventually ended up dead. To say that people hate Obama simply or primarily due to his race is thus an overstatement.

One other thing to remember: Dr. King’s adoption the Gandhian-style nonviolence served to expose the bad guys as bad guys. And it certainly worked like a charm because “We’re not going to play their game — we’re bigger than that.”

I find it interesting that Common’s former stage name was “Common Sense.” Which he displayed that day.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Franklin Graham: Back to the dark ages

When evangelist Franklin Graham announced that he was coming to Pittsburgh I thought about going — when his father Billy held a crusade here in 1993 I went every night but the first.

But after the first night of the three-day gathering, which I couldn’t attend anyway, and I heard about an interview with Franklin that aired that night on the Fox News Channel complaining about Muslim persecution of Christians in the Middle East, I decided not to (he has made numerous anti-Muslim statements over the years). In fact, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he insisted — falsely — that Muslims had never spoken out against Islamic-based terrorism.

And of late, that’s not the only pronouncement he’s made that has offended many. Last month, according to his Facebook page and quoted by blogger Bill Chandler, he asked, “Why is [President Obama] seemingly continuing to protect Islam and refusing to open his eyes to the truth?” And just last week he basically told “people of color” that they should obey the police to keep from being roughed up or shot.

What I think we’re seeing is a return to the bad-old days of the 1980s culture war, where enemies real or imagined were played up by media “ministries” for the sake of power, using some bogeyman to raise money to maintain their empires. In 1980 it went from “secular humanism” to communists to “abortionists” to liberals; in the 1990s President Clinton and the media were the whipping boys; these days, of course, it’s President Obama, gays and Islam.

And the problem was the same then as it is now: Just as did Moral Majority and other groups did back then, Graham, with such pronouncements, is neglecting the spiritual war — which is the war in which he’s supposedly enlisted to fight. Doing so actually causes divisiveness in the church.

Graham’s statements about African-Americans and the police have to be especially insulting considering that Billy was one of the few conservative Christians who supported Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement (Billy supposedly said to Dr. King, “You take the streets; I’ll take the stadiums”). Modern political conservatism has a reputation, which frankly is deserved to a certain extent, for racism; while I’m not calling Franklin a racist, he’s probably alienated black supporters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, under whose aegis Franklin works.

People might be saying, “But Franklin is preaching the Gospel.” I would ask: What kind of Gospel is he preaching? Are we asked to commit to a God Who needs to be propped up by the culture, or is He beyond all that? He is not a tribal deity that we can call upon to defeat perceived enemies; remember that Jesus was crucified in part because He refused to go that route.

A number of people, most notably Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, have called Franklin out. And I think it was the right thing to do — because he’s making things more difficult for the rest of us.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Forgiving ISIS

While [members of the Sanhedrin] were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

— Acts 7:59-60

The world took note when the Coptic Christian community in Egypt announced that it had forgiven the Islamic State terrorist group that beheaded 20 of its members a few weeks ago.

I learned today, however, that a tract was circulating that part of the world with the same sentiment — and it’s getting notice, with even Muslims reading it according to my source.

And do you know what? If this kind of thing is happening, it really could mean the eventual end of Islamic-based terrorism.

You see, one distinction between Christianity and Islam is the concept of forgiveness, a major part of Christianity but foreign to Islam. Indeed, it probably makes little if any sense to Muslims, who likely believe in retribution for the wrongs done to them (I confess to some ignorance about Islam, so I can’t say that for sure).

Moreover, in this case the Copts understand and accept something that we American Christians often don’t: Following Jesus may very well cost you your life. We’re often the first to complain about mistreatment from the world when He Himself said it was inevitable — so, why worry about it? Heck, He would know about unjust treatment, since He was falsely convicted of a crime against the state and hanged on a cross.

Here’s what might be happening: The Copts didn’t react the way most people expect, and that distinction is turning people’s heads around in that part of the world. And the dictum “The tree of faith is watered with the blood of martyrs” truly applies here, for the reason that if someone were willing to die for something it must be worth it.

Will the Copts’ stance sway Islamic terrorists? It actually might. Remember, the church grew rapidly as a result of Stephen’s stoning and eventually captured a anti-Christian Pharisee named Saul, with the Roman name of Paul, who witnessed the proceedings but, of course, later became the greatest missionary the world has ever known.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rhetoric vs. reality

For years I’ve heard complaints from the political right that people were being “unfair” to it when the topic turned to race relations and politics. Those folks insist, probably to this day, that the Republican Party eliminated slavery in the 1800s and Jim Crow 50 years ago and complain that African-Americans reject them because “they don’t understand the history of the Democratic Party.”

I heard today, however, that not one — not one — member of the congressional leadership of the current GOP is participating in tomorrow’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, Ala., that resulted in the Voting Rights Act. I would think that if they were so proud of that achievement they would be the first to laud it.

Perhaps the reality that the folks who now run the Republican Party had absolutely nothing to do with civil-rights gains made then (if anything, they opposed them) has finally hit the fan. I wonder just how many of their constituents told them not to bother — or even if they took a poll because they represent districts that tend to be hostile to folks voting who don’t think the way they do. (Then again, they didn’t attend the golden jubilee of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 2013, either.)

After all, who was it that has always tried to gut that law? Who today is passing voter-ID laws that would keep people from voting? If the shoe were on the other foot they would scream bloody murder.

Bottom line, talk is cheap.