Religion and Race in America

Featured

20160327_ResurrectionSunday_rp_374

A.R. Bernard, Easter Sunday, Christian Cultural Center, NYC.

“Megachurch pastor resigns from Trump’s evangelical council” reads the headline in today’s Washington Post about the resignation of A.R. Bernard. Other council members are staying put for now.

The term ‘evangelical‘ is a hot word for folks like me from what were once called America’s ‘mainline churches“. We understand the gospel differently from our Christian sisters and brothers who claim the term and sit on the President’s evangelical advisory council.

Mainline Protestants were a majority of all Christians in the United States until the mid-20th century, but they now constitute a minority among Protestants. Mainline churches include the so-called Seven Sisters of American Protestantism—the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (not to be confused with Confessional Lutheranism), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ—as well as the Quakers, Reformed Church in America, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other churches. – –  “Mainline Protestant” Wikipedia.

Among the differences between the evangelical churches and the mainline churches is the meaning of euangelion (the Greek New Testament word which translates into English as ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’).

From this writer’s perspective, the Good News/Gospel is the conquering of sin by the power of Love, the victory of love over hate, of compassion over cruelty, of oneness over division, of mercy over viciousness, of reconciliation over racism.

Or, as I have more recently come to think of it, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the counter-narrative to every exceptional or superior claim — national exceptionalism, racial exceptionalism, cultural exceptionalism, gender exceptionalism, species exceptionalism, and — yes — religious exceptionalism.

A.R. Bernard’s decision to leave the the President’s evangelical advisory council in the wake of the news in Charlottesville is worthy of national news coverage. A.R. Bernard’s decision bears witness to the gospel’s counter-narrative.

gettyimages-682637522_wide-47040a0ed3f4dd41fc01c544653aed86be13e28a-s900-c85

President Trump and Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

While the members of the President’s evangelical advisory council like Jerry Falwell, Jr. have stayed put, mainline church leaders like Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have stepped up with statements that fly beneath the attention of national publicity.

Here’s an excerpt from Herbert Nelson’s word to leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the aftermath of President’s remarks following the white nationalist, white supremacist nightmare in Charlelottesville, “Are we complicit in the racism of the alt-right?” (August 14, 2017) .

jhn_preaching_cropped_flipped_medium250

Dr. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA)

“Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:15–16).This word advocate comes from the Greek word advocare, which means to “stand beside or stand with.” Its connotation is akin to a lawyer standing beside a client. Jesus is preparing them to live a life in faith without his physical presence, while reminding them that the spiritual presence that guided him will still be with them; will stand beside them; will be an advocate for them. We use the words justice advocacy to explain the power of walking beside the victimized in our society. Racism represents a historic ill and victimization of people of color in this nation. It is a cancer in the soul of our country that can be driven out only by love. This love makes both the believer and nonbeliever uncomfortable, because it causes us to recognize that we can do more when we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on the Almighty.

“White supremacy will not be eradicated until faith leaders become willing to risk their very lives (professional and otherwise) for the sake of the gospel. The Scriptures remind us that “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). Our denomination must be willing to lose its life for the sake of eradicating more than 400 years of white supremacy in the United States.

Perhaps today I may be forgiven for taking a little comfort — very little — in being part of a non-exceptional dying church that bears witness to the counter-narrative gospel in spite of itself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 19, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandpa, he’s just a baby!

Featured

“Grandpa, they think I’m a baby. I don’t like all these stuffed animals!”

IMG_7165

“I can see that, Elijah. But, ya know . . .  you’re still a baby.”

“I’m not, Grandpa. I’m not a baby! I’m 12!”

“Well, I understand that you feel that way. You have very little control. You’re still very vulnerable at 12 weeks. You have no defense against Mom and Grandma putting stuffed animals in your arms whether you want them or not. But you’re not ready for independence.”

“Uh-uh! Am too!”

“No, you’re really not. You still need your diapers changed.”

“So what? So does the President! He’s just a baby, Grandpa. How come nobody’s helping him? You could give him one of my stuffed animals to help him be calm. He can have this one. Except for black eyes, it’s all white and kinda cuddly, and it is an elephant!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 17, 2017

 

Grandpa, did the President (not) say that?

Featured

President Trump’s statement and silence about white supremacy following the terror in in Charlottesville prompted a brief but telling conversation in Minnesota.

IMG_5234“Grandpa, the President just said he wants me to feel safe to play outside, right?”

“Right, Elijah, that’s what he said. That had nothing to do with the reason for the violence in Charlottesville, but, yes, he did say that.”

“Yeah, if he cares about all the children, why didn’t he say the words?”

“What words, Elijah?”

“You know, Grandpa. You know!”

“I do, Elijah. I do.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 13, 2017.

 

White supremacy @ Charlottesville and Bedminster

Featured

Speaking from his Bedminster Golf Club after domestic terrorism at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the President of the United States spoke not the words the nation needed to hear. He used his bully pulpit to call for a more generic end to hate, referring to himself as a victim of it.

TC 3

There are no Confederate flags or statues there. No Ku Klux Klan hoods, neo-Nazi swastikas, or old pick-up trucks with gun racks in the parking lot of the summer White House. The members of Bedminster arrive in Bentleys, Ferraris, or a poor man’s Mercedes or Audi to yell “fore!” to warn other members in danger of getting hit by an errant golf ball. They ride on manicured fairways in their golf carts. They don’t drive cars into crowds.

But as Bedminster’s celebrity addressed the nation last night, didn’t what he didn’t say leave you wondering whether he is constitutionally unable to speak aloud the name of the bully ideology that summoned the white nationalists to the event of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville?

Can you say “white supremacy”? Can you say “white nationalist domestic terrorism”?  Or do you see only yourself everywhere?

trump-crashed-a-wedding-at-his-bedminster-golf-club-saturday-night

Donald Trump crashing a wedding at Bedminster Golf Club

“’We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back,’ said Mr. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried campaign signs for Mr. Trump.” (August 12, 2017, NYT)

The President sees only himself everywhere. Unfortunately, he’s not alone!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 13, 2017.

 

Into a dense fog: Sinner, do you love my Jesus?

Featured

The descent from my suburban home in Broomall to serve the “less fortunate” on Green Street sent me home looking into a dense fog.

The Wanderer

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog –  Caspar David Friedrich, c.1818

I had given up a Saturday as a youthful answer to the song I learned has a child. “If you love him, why not serve him?”  Serving Jesus meant serving those who were less fortunate than we, as we used to describe the difference.

The kids from Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall were aware that Jacob’s Ladder and the other spirituals we sang rose from the slave fields of the white Southern plantations, but the plantations were in the south. We were northerners. We were the abolitionists. We were part of the solution, not the problem.

The day on Green Street knocked me off my ladder. Those few hours on the calendar time of Chronos were a pivotal Kairos moment that placed me before a dense fog searching for answers to how and why life was so different for the two junior high youth groups from Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall and Berean Presbyterian Church in north Philadelphia.

How and why was it that Tony was born into poverty while I was born into relative economic wellbeing in a suburb became a daunting question. I was looking into a dense fog.

Prior to the plunge to Green Street I hadn’t paid much attention to the first word of the stanza about loving Jesus: “Sinner… do you love my Jesus?” Although I knew myself to be a sinner — I had told a lie or two and not been kind to my younger brothers — I was no Judas! I was a soldier of the cross. “If you love him, why not serve him, soldier of the cross?”

Suddenly, the fog was not just outside of me. It was inside me, a jarring sense that I and “my people” were self-deceived sinners.

But what is sin and what is a sinner? Institutional slavery was sinful.  The slaveowners were sinners. I knew that. The slaveowners were white. The slaves were black. I knew that. The slaveowners were Christians. I knew that. The slaves were Christians. I knew that — or thought I knew it.

I didn’t learn until much later that the slaves were forced into the Christian faith no less than they had been herded like cattle onto slave ships, or that the difference in the churches was as different as it had been on the slave ships. The difference was that on board the slave ships, the slaves were chained together in the hold while the slave traders were up above; in the churches, the slaves were up above in the rear balcony, looking down on the sea of whiteness on the main floor. Until Richard Allen led the revolt from the balcony to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But the kids from Berean Presbyterian Church were not African Methodist Episcopalians. They were Presbyterians in the theological tradition of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the doctrine of predestination.

Was Tony predestined to poverty in north Philadelphia? Was I predestined to white privilege in Broomall? Or was predestination a hoax, the idea of sinners washing their hands like Pilate that had nothing to do with the will of God?

Caspar_David_Friedrich_018

Frau am Fenster
Caspar David Friedrich, 1818–1822
Öl auf Leinwand
44,0 × 37,0 cm
Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

I was no longer standing on the heights of innocence overlooking the landscape. I was a child of privilege, confined and alone, looking through a very small window at the world beyond what had belonged to “my Jesus”. I was pondering the ships of past and future and the dense fog that went on as far as my eye could see. It has lasted my whole lifetime.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 11, 2017.

 

The DOJ on BLACK Privilege

Featured

Jeff_Sessions_by_Gage_Skidmore

Attorney General Jeff Sssions

Apparently the Trump Administration Justice Department led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hopes to balance the scales of racial injustice in America where it believes white black privilege prevails.

“The Trump Administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admission policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants. . . .” (News Service, Aug. 2, 2017).

Enter the Rev. William Barber of Moral Monday and interviewer Charlayne Hunter Gault, the civil rights movement activist and award-winning reporter, in this PBS News Hour Special Report.

“Not guilty” – Law and Justice in America

“A jury found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, whose livestreamed death during a traffic stop stunned a nation.

“Castile’s family called the decision proof of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, while prosecutors cautioned the public to respect the jury’s verdict “because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.” – StarTribune, June 17, 2017.

The acquittal of the officer Jeronimo Yanez opens again the pandora’s box of racial profiling, justice, law, police training, jury instructions, and race in America.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Minnesota State Senator Tina Liebling, a candidate for governor, sent the following email.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Philando Castile, and to all who mourn him. His killing was a tragedy that should not have happened and the verdict today brings back the pain and horror of that day. While I share the outrage of many over the unnecessary killing and its aftermath, I do not blame the jury or even Officer Yanez. The law itself is to blame, and this is something that can and must be changed.

Minnesota law allows police to use deadly force “only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm” and to prevent death or great bodily harm to others. Whether the officer believes the force is “necessary” is examined only in the moment when the officer reacts, and it is hard for a jury to find beyond reasonable doubt that the officer did not have that fear at the moment he fired the gun.

Our law should require officers to avoid creating the situation in the first place-and police agencies should train and reward them for doing so. The officer’s first obligation should be to protect the life and safety of everyone involved in an incident-whether a suspect, victim, or the officer-as it is in many other nations. This may mean waiting for backup before approaching a vehicle, setting up a perimeter and waiting out a suspect, or similar tactics. If we are to reduce the horrible killings of innocent people by police, we must change our laws.

Serving as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center (1998-2006), I experienced daily the tilting of the scales of justice against African-Americans, American Indians, Latinos, and other people of color. LRC was born of the shared commitment of north Minneapolis African-American civil rights leaders and south Minneapolis American Indian founders of the American Indian Movement to righting the scales of justice. Racial profiling on the streets, racial bias in the courtroom, and finding ways to overcome those disparities of law and justice were and still are Legal Rights Center’s reason d’être.

On days like this, I remember who we are and who we are not. I remember the reality of the law and justice that are not blind, the jury members, all who weep, those who speak and protest in whatever nonviolent ways they can, and hope and pray we will yet find a reason d’être way in America to move beyond “not guilty” to a time that has become harder to imagine.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 17, 2017.

 

 

Acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez – a Response

The following letter from Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders in Minnesota arrived this morning in response to the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.

“Nearly a year ago, in a community overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair at the shocking video images of the shooting death of Philando Castile, and then at the roiling protests that have followed, we—the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area—joined our voices together with each other and with many others in a cry for comfort, for equality, for justice.

“We committed ourselves to prayer for the family of Philando Castile, that they would know our God’s deep and abiding presence, and for the many others so deeply grieved by these events. We prayed for our community,that amidst its deep divides and fractured relationships, amidst the fear and anger especially of our black community, we in the church might find words of comfort and challenge to speak into the yawning chasm of societal fractures and divides. We prayed for our police officers and all who daily place themselves in potential harm’s way in order to protect us. And we said, firmly and unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter, and we committed ourselves as a Presbytery to the work of understanding white privilege and to anti-racism.

“That work is not done. Today, we are compelled to revisit those prayers and commitments in the aftermath of the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez, a verdict that ripped open a family’s overwhelming grief and further caused our African-American brothers and sisters to fear anew that their lives indeed do not matter in this country.

“As followers of Jesus, our task is to listen, to hear, to act, in response to the call of God and the voices of the people. And so we again join our voices in prayer for the family of Mr. Castile. But we must not stop there. We must commit ourselves anew to work for end the perpetual sense of fear and suspicion under which our African American brothers and sisters constantly live. Whetherwe live in a community with very few people of color or with many, no one of us has the luxury of being detached and unaffected. Those of our society who feel suspect and vulnerable are our very sisters and brothers in Christ. As Christians, we must stand with them.

“We are challengedto look anew into the imperfect structures of our society; and to speak our belief that every person is created in the image of God, even as we confess our denial of that very belief in the sin of institutional racism. We must speak our belief that “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church,” knowing that, too often, we have allowed our ideological differences to fracture our unity in the One Body. We must challenge ourselves anew to proclaim Christ’s words, “that they may all be one,” knowing the essential need for all Christians of privilege to seek deeper understanding when so many of our brothers and sisters cry out for a justice they do not know.

“Our African American brothers and sisters have implored us to raise our voices on their behalf. Together, we in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area re-commit our voices and our actions to better seek justice and work for the good of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.Give us the determination to build new or deeper relationships, as together we seek new ways to partner in work for a just society. Give us courage, in all that we do, to be not simply speakers of peace, but peacemakers.”

The Presbytery Leadership Team, Sue Rutford, chair
The Executive Presbyter, Jeffrey Japinga

Frame Up! Remembering Martin Sostre

Video

Yesterday Views from the Edge published several posts re: the case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre. Today we post this documentary film that jars the memory and human sensibilities. Martin Sostre speaks on camera about the recanted testimony of Arto Williams and the Erie County Sheriff Department frame-up. Sortre’s appeal was denied in March, 1974.  Seven months later The Christian Century published the sermon “Worship and Resistance: the Exercise of Freedom”; 20 months later New York Governor Hugh Carey commuted his sentence.

This story is especially useful for younger generations whose experience may lend to the belief that the concerns that led to Black Lives Matter are of recent origin.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 2, 2017.

The Story Behind the Story – “The Camp of the Saints”

INTRODUCTION: We republish today’s letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center fully sharing our readers’ weariness with politics but also sharing the conviction that silence, or speaking with muted voice, is not an option in the face of evil. Though Views from the Edge rarely uses the word, the alt-right story behind the story of this historic moment has earned the rarely used word.  This is what evil looks like. Take time to open the links for the full impact, but remember – evil has no standing on its own; it is completely dependence on the enduring goodness its wiles distort.

Dear Friends,

Last April, long before Stephen K. Bannon became the chief strategist to President Trump and the architect of one of the president’s most most draconian executive orders, the SPLC’s investigative blog Hatewatch published an analysis of Breitbart News, where Bannon was executive chairman, and its drift to the radical right.

The question that served as our headline “Is Breitbart Becoming the Media Arm of the Alt-Right?” was answered by Bannon himself when he told a Mother Jones reporter in July that Breitbart was, indeed, “the platform for the alt-right.”

Our recent research confirmed just how bad it was. Under Bannon, the comment section became infested with anti-Semitic language while their inflammatory coverage of migrants made it the radical right’s favorite daily news source.

Last week, The Huffington Post published a major article about Bannon’s affection for an obscure and disturbing novel released in 1973 that helped shape his worldview.

The French novel, authored by Jean Raspail, is “The Camp of the Saints,” with a subtitle reading “[a] chilling novel about the end of the white world.”

Bannon repeatedly referenced the novel on his Breitbart radio show, arguing that the migrant crisis in Europe is exactly what the novel foretold.

“It’s not a migration,” he said in January 2016. “It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.”

As The Huffington Post summarized:

The plot of The Camp of the Saints follows a poor Indian demagogue, named “the turd-eater” because he literally eats s***, and the deformed, apparently psychic child who sits on his shoulders. Together, they lead an “armada” of 800,000 impoverished Indians sailing to France. Dithering European politicians, bureaucrats and religious leaders, including a liberal pope from Latin America, debate whether to let the ships land and accept the Indians or to do the right thing — in the book’s vision — by recognizing the threat the migrants pose and killing them all.

One man responsible for promoting the novel throughout the 1990s was John Tanton, the architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement. In 1994, Tanton’s Social Contract Press published the novel that featured an afterword by Raspail who wrote:

[T]he proliferation of other races dooms our race, my race, to extinction.

That the right-hand man to President Trump is a fan of this novel should deeply disturb Americans if they aren’t already. Linda Chavez, a Republican commentator interviewed by The Huffington Post for the story, said that while she supported some of Trump’s economic policies, his immigration policies were “extremely dangerous.”

As for Bannon and his affection for this racist novel, Chavez said he “wants to make America white again.”

As always, thank you for reading.

The Editors