Thursday, April 27, 2017

REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION

Yesterday I requested that the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission and the Arkansas Committee on Professional Conduct investigate the Arkansas Supreme Court, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, and certain members of her legal staff for possible violations of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct (the ethics standards applied for Arkansas judges) and the Arkansas Code of Professional Conduct (the ethics standards applied for Arkansas lawyers).  Here is a link to the document I submitted to those bodies.  

https://posting.arktimes.com/media/pdf/griffen_letter.pdf.






Sunday, April 23, 2017

THE APPEARANCE OF FAIRNESS

THE APPEARANCE OF FAIRNESS
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
April 23, 2017

            One reason I became a lawyer and, later, a judge, is because I care about fairness.  I have seen how powerful people manipulate situations to produce unfair results.  I studied fairness as a political science major at the University of Arkansas.   For almost half of my time in the military I advised and assisted commanders to assure fair treatment to the men and women in their units.  I studied and wrote about fairness as a law student.  Fairness, and the appearance of fairness, has always been important to me.

            I take accusations about unfairness seriously. 

            There are some basic principles – lawyers and judges speak of them as “cardinal rules – about fairness. 

First, every person accused of wrongdoing deserves to know about the accusation before authorities take action against them.  That is called the right to notice. 

Second, every person accused of wrongdoing deserves a chance to be heard before the authorities take action on an accusation.  That is called the right to a hearing. 

Third, every person accused of wrongdoing is entitled to confront the source of an accusation before action is taken on it.  That is called the right to confrontation.

Fourth, every person accused of wrongdoing is entitled to an opportunity to present his or her response to the accusation at the hearing on the accusation before authorities take action on the accusation.  As another judge once remarked, no matter how thinly you pour it, every pancake has at least two sides.  Fairness requires that authorities consider all sides of disputes before acting.

Fifth, every person accused of wrongdoing deserves a hearing before a fair and impartial decision-maker before action is taken on the accusation.  Fairness and impartiality involve being unaffiliated with the parties to a dispute.   

These five cardinal rules are commonly associated with two words:  due process

Due process is fundamental, meaning basic, to the idea of fairness.  Judges must allow persons accused of wrongdoing to know they are accused before taking action.  Accusations must not only be supported by facts presented by an accuser, but persons accused of wrongdoing must be allowed to present their side of the issue. 

One would expect lawyers and judges to know these cardinal rules.  After all, they are taught in every law school in the United States.  One would expect judges to know and apply them to accusations of unfairness against anyone.  One would especially expect judges to apply them to accusations of unfairness made against other judges.  And one would expect the state attorney general – the head of the government agency responsible for representing judges whenever parties accuse judges of wrongdoing in litigation – to observe these cardinal rules. 

None of that happened before the Arkansas Supreme Court recently removed me from a case in which I issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) until a full hearing could occur on the claim by a medical and pharmaceutical products distributor that the Arkansas Department of Correction had wrongfully obtained and refused to return vercuronium bromide.  After I issued the TRO on the afternoon of April 14, 2017, I and other members of my church attended a Good Friday prayer vigil in front of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.  In solidarity with Jesus who was condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor in Palestine, I acted as a dead person during the prayer vigil. 

The TRO was issued against Governor Asa Hutchinson, Director Wendy Kelley of the Arkansas Department of Correction, and the Arkansas Department of Correction.  Those parties were represented by the Attorney General of Arkansas. 

After I issued the TRO, the Attorney General petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court to remove me from the case and vacate the TRO.  In that filing, the Attorney General of Arkansas argued that I was unfit to serve as judge on the case because of my participation at the prayer vigil. 

The Attorney General never filed a motion accusing me of unfairness and suggesting that I recuse before accusing me of unfairness in the Arkansas Supreme Court. 

The Attorney General did not notify me about the accusation when she petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court to remove me from the case in which I had issued the TRO. 

The Arkansas Supreme Court did not notify me that the Attorney General had accused me of unfairness before it acted on the accusation. 

The Arkansas Supreme Court did not afford me an opportunity to respond to the accusation before it acted on it. 

The Arkansas Supreme Court removed me from the case, in effect treating the accusation of unfairness as true, despite knowing I had not been notified about it and had been afforded no opportunity to respond to it.


Everything we know about due process indicates that was unfair.

Friday, April 21, 2017

SEEING GOD AND FACING EMPIRE

SEEING GOD AND FACING EMPIRE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
April 21, 2017

            When I was a child, our family practiced the ritual of saying grace before each meal.  After Dad pronounced grace, Mom would say a verse from the Bible.  The rest of the family would then repeat the verse.  One of the verses I recall Mom reciting was Matthew 5:8:  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God

I also recall another passage often read and quoted by the men and women in southwest Arkansas whose humble faith and prophetic citizenship sparked my interest in theology, ethics, and justice.  At Matthew 25, verses 44 and 45 read:

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

The nurture I received from my parents and childhood elders about God, love, and justice has shaped my understanding of ethics – meaning how we treat one another – since those childhood meals and community interactions.   That nurture has helped me realize that the way we treat marginalized and vulnerable people, those Jesus described as least among us, is the way we treat God. 

This insight challenges us to see marginalized and vulnerable people as surrogates of God in every society, regardless to our notions of empire.  Prophetic citizenship forces us to see God in people who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, frail, imprisoned, and unwelcomed.  Prophetic citizenship is not about building empire.  It is about producing what Howard Thurman called “the Beloved Community.”

Prophetic citizenship recognizes, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that the Jesus idea of God, love, and justice focuses on using power to achieve justice.  As Dr. King declared in his last address as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), “power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”[1] 

Perhaps nothing exposes our blindness about power, love, and justice more than how societies treat marginalized and vulnerable people. I wonder if we see God in the people we deem unworthy. 

Do we see God in people without healthy food?  Do we see God in people who do not have clean water?  Do we see God in homeless people?  Do we see God in sick people? 

Do we see God in people we mass incarcerate and kill in the name of empire?  Do we see God in immigrants we refuse to welcome? 

Do we see God in people who are desperate, destitute, hated, and helpless?

Lord, when did we see you …?

Do we see God in murder victims? 

Do we see God in their grieving loved ones? 

Do we see God in the people who killed?

Lord, when did we see you …? 

I am struck by the moral and ethical inconsistency of people who insist that justice requires society to kill people who are condemned because they killed others. 

Yet, we somehow realize it is unjust to rape people who commit rape. 

Somehow, we understand it is unjust to torch the homes of people who commit arson. 

Somehow, we know it is not right to plunder the belongings of thieves. 

Somehow, we recoil at the idea that justice requires society to order agents of government – our political empire – to molest children whose parents molest children to show we condemn child molestation.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Lord, when did we see you…?

            The State of Arkansas killed Ledell Lee last night. It is easy to recognize that was a political act, meaning an act done in the name of official policy as an expression of our sense of empire. 

It is not easy to recognize another truth. 

There are beings we refuse to see.    





[1] Dr. King’s last presidential address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “Where Do We Go From Here?” is reproduced in A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., James M. Washington, ed. (New York:  HarperCollins, 1991), p.247.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

LET US REASON TOGETHER

LET US REASON TOGETHER
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
April 19, 2017

            When I was a child, the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible was the only one found in our home (in Delight, Arkansas), read in our church (Harrison Chapel Baptist Church), and quoted by most people I knew (parents, pastors, other preachers, relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers).  So when people read or quoted Isaiah 1:18, this is what they read and said:  Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD.  The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) rendering of that passage reads:  Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD

The passage is a call to engage in honest and thoughtful conversation.  It reminds us that humans are blessed with the capacity to contemplate situations and experiences involving ourselves and others, including our Creator.  Indeed, the passage is an urgent call from our Creator to engage in that effort.  Come now, let us argue it out.  I grew up in a family, neighborhood, church, and around elders of people who valued and enjoyed thinking, debating, re-thinking, and challenging the thinking of others. 

I suspect that was one reason I became a lawyer, a minister of the religion of Jesus, a legal educator, a judge, and a strategic consultant about cultural competence and inclusion.  I have long enjoyed pondering the possible interpretations and meanings of what others do, write, and say, and weighing facts, ideas, values, and competing arguments and interpretations about the situations and conditions that we call life.

Along the way I learned that the words that John Adams spoke in December 1770, while defending soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre, are true.  “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  As a lawyer, pastor, judge, law professor, and consultant, I work at learning facts, weighing competing facts, and deciding whether facts prove what people claim to be true. 

When a judge gets a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), the judge considers whether facts show some imminent and irreparable harm is threatened unless the judge issues an order that preserves things as they are – “the status quo” – until the judge can hold a full hearing and consider all the available evidence.  The law requires that judges determine whether the party that claims it is threatened by a situation that poses imminent and irreparable harm is likely to succeed on the merits of the dispute before issuing the TRO.  If no facts are presented showing that an imminent and irreparable harm is threatened, the TRO must not be granted.  But even if facts are presented showing that an imminent and irreparable harm is threatened, if the facts do not show that the threatened party has a legal claim that is likely to succeed, the TRO must not be granted.   No matter what the judge’s personal views may be about the dispute, the judge must be governed by whether the facts show some imminent and irreparable harm is threatened unless a TRO is issued and whether the party seeking the TRO has a legal claim that is likely to succeed. 

On Friday, April 14, 2017, I was preparing to join other members of New Millennium Church for a Good Friday prayer vigil outside the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion when I received a motion seeking a temporary restraining order.  The moving party was a distributor of medical supplies and pharmaceutical products.  Its motion was accompanied by a verified complaint, meaning a pleading signed under oath. 

In that verified complaint, the moving party declared that the Arkansas Department of Corrections had purchased vercuronium bromide – a pharmaceutical product sold by the distributor – under false pretenses in violation of Arkansas law.  The moving party declared in its verified complaint that it attempted to retrieve the vercuronium bromide after learning what the Department of Correction had done.  The moving party declared in its verified complaint that the Department of Correction had refused all requests to return the vercuronium bromide after the moving party refunded the purchase price and provided a pre-paid return mail container.  And the moving party declared in its verified complaint that the Department of Correction was going to dispose of the vercuronium bromide on April 17, three days later, unless a TRO was issued. 

The issue was plain:  whether a party who claimed that someone else was wrongfully in possession of its property and about to dispose of it was entitled to a court order directing the other party to preserve the disputed property and not dispose of it until a full hearing could be conducted on the dispute.  Under the facts shown in the verified complaint and supporting sworn testimony, the moving party was entitled to the court order if that moving party was likely to succeed on its claim of ownership of the disputed property under the law that governs ownership of property.  If the moving party was not likely to succeed under property law, it was not entitled to a TRO.  If the moving party was not threatened by imminent and irreparable harm, it was not entitled to a TRO.  A TRO was only justified if, and only if, the moving party was threatened by imminent and irreparable harm and was likely to succeed on its legal claim concerning the disputed property. 

I understood the facts.  I understood the law.  Under the facts shown by the verified complaint and property law, I concluded that the moving party was entitled to the requested TRO.  My order directed the Department of Correction to preserve the vercuronium bromide – meaning not use it or otherwise dispose of it – until I held the hearing.  My court assistant scheduled the hearing for Tuesday morning, April 18, at 9 AM., even though I was already scheduled to begin a two-day non-jury civil trial on that date.    

I attended the Good Friday vigil with other members of New Millennium Church.  In solidarity with Jesus, the leader of our religion who was put to death by crucifixion by the Roman Empire, I lay on a cot as a dead man for an hour and a half.  Other members of New Millennium Church were present.  They led other persons in singing This Little Light of Mine and Amazing Grace, songs long associated with the religion of Jesus. 

Property law is property law, no matter whether one supports or is opposed to capital punishment.  My job as a judge was to apply property law to the facts presented by the verified complaint and decide whether the medical supplier moving party was likely to succeed on its property law claim for return of the vercuronium bromide.  If the medical supplier was not likely to succeed on its property law claim, it was not likely to succeed whether I support or am opposed to capital punishment.  If the medical supplier was likely to succeed, but there was no proof that the vercuronium bromide was in imminent risk of being disposed of before a hearing, then there was no reason to issue a TRO whether I support or am opposed to capital punishment. 

And whether the medical supplier was entitled to a TRO or not, I was entitled to practice my religion on Good Friday.  I was entitled to practice my religion if there was no TRO motion.  I was entitled to practice my religion whether I granted the TRO or not.  I was entitled to practice my religion as a follower of Jesus with other followers of Jesus from New Millennium Church.  I was entitled to practice my religion as a follower of Jesus with other New Millennium followers of Jesus in front of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

So because I am a follower of Jesus and a citizen of the United States and Arkansas, I portrayed a dead person – the Jesus who was crucified by the Roman Empire on what we call Good Friday – by lying motionless on a cot in front of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.  The hat shown in photographs of my prone figure covered a black leather bound King James Version of the Bible, the book that my parents taught me to read and love as a child. 

Whether I attended the Good Friday vigil or not does not change property law.  Whether anyone approves or disapproves of me attending the Good Friday vigil does not change property law.  Whether I support or am opposed to capital punishment does not change property law. I am entitled to practice my religion – whether I am a judge or not – even if others disapprove of the way I practice it. 

There is nothing improper about applying the law to facts. That is what judges are supposed to do.  There is nothing improper about applying the law to facts in cases where people have strong feelings.  That is what judges are supposed to do.  There is nothing improper about judges who support or oppose capital punishment hearing and deciding cases involving property law disputes about the right to ownership of drugs used for capital punishment.  Property disputes about ownership of drug products are property disputes, not decisions about the morality of capital punishment, the method by which persons who have been convicted of capital murder are put to death, or whether doing so violates the Constitution of the United States. 

People have strong views about capital punishment.  I know that.  I have strong views about capital punishment also.  But none of our views about capital punishment, whatever they may be and however strongly we may hold them, affect the facts in the TRO motion I reviewed and decided on Good Friday.  None of our views about capital punishment, whatever they may be and however strongly we may hold them, are relevant on whether anyone has a legal claim to recover property that has been wrongfully obtained and is threatened to be imminently and irreparably used despite the demand of its rightful owner. 

Whether you approve or disapprove of my religion, how I practice it, or what influence my religious beliefs have on the way I understand life, I hope you’ll ponder my decision to grant the TRO motion in light of these realities.  I hope you’ll remember that my sworn duty as a judge on Good Friday 2017 was to apply property law to the facts shown in the TRO motion and decide whether imminent and irreparable harm would happen – meaning that the rightful owner of the vercuronium bromide would lose the chance to recover it forever – unless I issued an order to the Arkansas Department of Correction to preserve the vercuronium bromide until we could hold a full hearing. 

I was not supposed to think about whether making the correct legal decision would be popular to anyone, including myself, the moving party, the Department of Correction, or anyone else.  I was supposed to focus on the facts and the law. 

That is what judges do, whether we are religious or not.  That is what judges do, whether we support or oppose capital punishment.  This is what judges do, whether other people like it or not. 


That is what I did.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND CORPORATE WELFARE

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND CORPORATE WELFARE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
April 12, 2017

According to the advertising campaign for the proposed May 9 millage extension ballot measure, the proposal to refinance an existing bond measure and extend it fourteen more years is about upgrading school buildings for children who attend Little Rock School District (LRSD) schools.  That campaign is a deception aimed at getting students, teachers, and principals to talk parents into voting for the millage extension.  Now I’ll share what students, teachers, principals, parents, and LRSD voters are not being told – and don’t want you to know – by LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, and the business and political insiders who are peddling the millage and paying for the advertising campaign.   

The Arkansas General Assembly, with active urging from Johnny Key and assent (if not advocacy) from Governor Hutchinson, passed a law (Senate Bill 308/now Act 542 of 2017) during the recently-concluded legislative session.  Act 542 of 2017 allows property (including buildings) of public schools in districts that have been taken over by the state to be leased to charter school organizations.  Here is a link to the new law:  http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2017/2017R/Acts/Act542.pdf.
                                                                                                
Charter school organizations, therefore, are authorized by state law to operate from public school buildings that have been designated as "under-utilized."  Passage of the millage refinancing measure will put hundreds of millions of dollars (some estimate as much as $600 million) in Key's hands that he can use to improve “under-utilized” public school buildings leased for charter schools and pay operating costs – including salaries – for the charter schools. 

As Max Brantley recently observed in an Arkansas Times column, the May 9 millage refinancing ballot does not specify which schools the LRSD will improve.  Commissioner Johnny Key will, as the de facto governing official for the LRSD, decide how the money will be spent, direct Michael Poore where to spend it, when to spend it, and how much to spend for what purposes.

Now recall that Michael Poore decided several months ago to close Franklin and Wilson Elementary Schools, close the Hamilton Learning Academy, and “re-purpose” the Woodruff Early Childhood Center.  Poore made that decision despite strong objections from parents, students, and teachers associated with those schools.  Each of the four schools is located south of Interstate 630 and east of Shackelford Road.  Each of those schools serves student populations that are predominantly black and brown.   

Mind you, part of the deferred maintenance and capital improvements issue that Michael Poore talks about is because money from the existing millage is being diverted – now – for operations (including salaries such as the $225,000 annual salary that Key extended last week to Poore for another two years). 

What Poore, Key, and the backers of the May 9 millage measure don’t want voters to know is that charter school companies aim to lease "under-utilized" public school buildings in "good ole boy" crony deals struck with Johnny Key.  The charter school companies then can lobby Key and the State Board of Education to have their operations funded by the millage Poore and the business community is urging voters to extend.  This means that charter school companies will essentially be capitalized by LRSD taxpayers.  That fund diversion will not benefit LRSD students, teachers, and staff members.  It certainly won’t help the LRSD provide a free, equal, and adequate education to every public school student in well maintained and attractive buildings.  

The January 28, 2015 state takeover of the LRSD was a power grab.  Act 542 of 2017 is the building and facilities grab.   The May 9 millage measure is a $600 million bank heist that will permit Key can funnel millions of tax dollars paid by LRSD property owners to charter school management companies supported by Walton Family Foundation and other charter school champions.  This has already happened in New Orleans and other places. 

The May 9 millage ballot must be defeated if we hope to preserve any sensible notion of public education in the LRSD.  If the charter school lobby can control the Arkansas Board of Education and Education Commissioner (as it apparently does), and if Commissioner Johnny Key can control how public education is provided in the LRSD (as he does), then the only issue left is how charter school operators can acquire buildings and operating revenue to operate. 

LRSD students, teachers, staff members, parents, and voters aren’t being told the well-documented truth that charter school management companies are bankrolled by hedge funds!   I’m pasting an article that explains what a hedge fund is and how that investment strategy works.  https://www.quora.com/In-layman%E2%80%99s-terms-what-is-a-hedge-fund.  A hedge fund is an investment fund, meaning a pool of money put together by a limited number of wealthy people and managed by their handsomely paid investment advisor, to bankroll businesses the manager and investors expect will produce large profits with less regulatory oversight than mutual funds.  For years, the Walton Family Foundation has been a leading force in a national effort to entice hedge funds to invest in charter school management companies, the businesses that operate charter schools.  Here’s a link to an article about that effort.  http://www.businessinsider.com/walmart-is-helping-hedge-funds-make-money-off-of-charter-schools-2015-3.  

A $600 million dollar bond fund produced by taxes paid by homeowners in the LRSD would be a handsome investment for a hedge fund, especially when investors know that the Arkansas Board of Education and Commissioner Johnny Key are keen about approving charter school applications, turning over “under-utilized” public school buildings for use as charter schools, and have control over how the LRSD is governed.  The charter schools would be more likely to be profitable if Johnny Key can direct LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore to lease “under-utilized” public school buildings to charter school companies and use money from the May 9 millage extension to make capital improvements to the “under-utilized” school buildings.  And if money from the current millage can be “diverted” from capital improvements to fund Michael Poore’s salary, who believes Johnny Key won’t use it to underwrite operation costs for charter schools run by hedge fund-backed charter school companies?  

Now you know why local business people are determined to suppress voter turnout in black and brown neighborhoods where they expect opposition to the May 9 millage ballot measure to be high.  Investment bankers will make fees from the refinancing of the existing millage.  Hedge fund managers will make handsome fees because of the charter school investments.  Charter school companies will attract more investors because of the $600 million bond fund, coupled with the recent disclosure that Governor Asa Hutchinson and Commissioner Johnny Key will not allow the Board of Education to schedule a vote on returning the LRSD to local control.  And the wealthy people who invest in hedge funds will get favorable tax advantages from the money they earn from charter school profits.  These players don’t want to take the risk that black, brown, and fair-minded white LRSD voters will vote down a $600 million corporate welfare scheme destined to generate billions of dollars in coming years for charter school lobbyists, their management companies, and hedge fund investors and managers. 

Supporters of the May 9 millage ballot measure want you to think this vote is about producing better buildings for students of the LRSD.  That’s why you see pictures of black, brown, and white children on their campaign material.  They don’t want the parents of those children to vote, but would rather pimp the children on their campaign literature so wealthy investors in charter schools can reap huge profits that will receive favorable tax advantages.  http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/030916/inside-hedge-fund-infatuation-charter-schools.asp.  


The May 9 millage is about hedge fund investors like the Walton Family Foundation and other billionaires.  That’s why millage supporters are suppressing voter turnout in neighborhoods where black, brown, and lower income white children live and attend school.  They’re pimping images of our children to promote the millage extension so they can take our tax dollars to the bank.  Vote AGAINST the May 9 millage!

EXPOSING HYPOCRISY ABOUT JUSTICE

EXPOSING HYPOCRISY ABOUT JUSTICE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is a Verb!
April 12, 2017

Matthew 21:12-13
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
   but you are making it a den of robbers.’

          This is Holy Week. 

On yesterday, Sean Spicer, the press spokesperson for President Donald Trump of the United States, further exposed the already conclusive proof of the Trump administration’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy.  First, Spicer declared during his daily press briefing that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was morally worse than Adolf Hitler because “Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”  Moments later, Spicer compounded historical mis-statement when he said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people.”

Anyone with a competent knowledge of history knows that both statements by Spicer were factually, and indisputably, untrue.  Adolf Hitler used gas to kill people during World War II.  Hundreds of thousands of the people Hitler gassed to death were Jews from Germany. 

Sean Spicer not only exposed his glaring historical incompetence.  He also provided further evidence to the world of the cultural incompetence within the Trump Administration.  Spicer’s false assertions were uttered days before the start of Passover. 

This happened during Holy Week. 

Voters in the Little Rock School District (LRSD) learned yesterday that election officials have canceled an early voting site for a controversial bond refinancing ballot measure set for election on May 9.  The LRSD has been under state control since January 28, 2015, when the Arkansas Board of Education dissolved the majority black school board. 

Opposition to the ballot measure to refinance a bond measure is strong.  That opposition is especially strong in areas of Little Rock where black and brown people live and are outraged about state ouster of the democratically-elected school board, a recently passed state law that allows charter schools to seize property and buildings of public schools in districts that have taken over, and refusal of state officials to indicate when LRSD voters will regain their democratic right to have the LRSD governed by a school board they elect.   

Black and brown children make up the majority of students attending public schools in Little Rock.   The polling places for early voting were announced a month ago, and the now-closed polling site was included in the official proclamation for the May 9 election.  The decision to cancel the early voting site located in the predominantly black and brown neighborhood leaves only one site for early voting.  It is located in the downtown Little Rock financial and governmental area, a site convenient for office workers (most of whom do not live in downtown Little Rock), and for predominantly white residents of downtown condominiums. 

In 2017, sixty years after the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis, the state takeover of the LRSD and the shenanigans surrounding the upcoming May bond refinancing ballot measure show that claims by white state and local officials about their professed commitment to democracy, equality, and inclusion, are a sham. 

What does the account in the Gospel of Matthew about Jesus turning over tables and chasing currency exchange operators from their positions of privilege and profit in Herod’s Temple mean for us as we witness public instances of hypocrisy about justice such as Sean Spicer’s factual and cultural incompetence and the shameful tyranny by state and local officials in Arkansas? 

When will we condemn Sean Spicer for uttering outright lies about history?

When will we condemn the blatant voter suppression efforts surrounding the LRSD bond refinancing ballot measure?

When will people, in the name of truth and justice, behave like Jesus did when he publicly denounced profiteers and political operatives who ran their oppressive enterprises from Herod’s Temple? 

When will we rise up in rightful indignation at the profiteers and political operatives responsible for oppression among us?  When will we turn over their tables?  When will we chase them from the places where they lie, cheat, scheme, and execute plans to steal justice, pervert truth, and conceal their treachery?

Have we lost our ability to express outrage about hypocrisy concerning justice?What good is served in us by the lessons of Holy Week and Passover if we can’t – or won’t – do what Jesus did to people responsible for oppression and injustice in our time and place?     

It is time to overturn tables and chase greedy profiteers and their political operatives from our temples of government.  They will not leave on their own.  Their tables must be turned over.  Their profiteering and tyrannical schemes must be blocked.  They must be turned out of their positions.


If we don’t realize this truth during the week of Passover, Good Friday, and Easter, when will we learn it?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO SEE

WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO SEE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is a Verb!
April 11, 2017

John 12:20-21
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’
          According to a September 2016 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), one in four adults in the United States are not affiliated with any religion.  That group is called the “nones” and is larger than any religious denomination.  The survey shows that the number of unaffiliated young people has jumped from 10 percent in 1986 to 39 percent in 2016, a 400 percent increase.

The “nones” haven’t given up on religious faith.  They aren’t rejecting the notion that “there is sponsorship friendly to the human condition,” a phrase moral theologian and educator Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor used in his book My Moral Odyssey (Judson Press, 1989). 

Instead, the “nones” show that people are growing increasingly unwilling to treat organized religion as the clearest and most appealing expression of their confidence that there is a “Friendly Force” in whom our aspirations for love, justice, peace, truth, compassion, forgiveness, and hope can be centered.  Within the religion of Jesus, people haven’t given up on Jesus.  They have stopped behaving as if organized religion – “the church” – is the best way to understand Jesus, follow Jesus, and live like Jesus. 

Jesus embraced marginalized people.  Jesus was a refugee as a child, and may have been an undocumented immigrant.  Jesus was a religious outcast whose message and methods defied religious orthodoxy.  His message was that in God, we can know “there is sponsorship friendly to the human condition.”  Jesus presented himself as proof of that friendly sponsorship to women, children, and to other persons, who were disabled, disavowed, or considered socially or morally undesirable. 

In other words, Jesus was unlike organized religion.  He was not calling people to become part of any version of religious empire.  Jesus called people to become part of a great fellowship with God and the rest of creation and to live in love, truth, justice, compassion, peace, and hope as part of that fellowship.

The “nones” appear to have decided that they have a better chance of experiencing oneness with God and the rest of creation and living in love, truth, justice, compassion, peace, and hope if they are not involved with organized religious institutions. 

There is growing evidence they may be correct.  When churches scramble to be favored by, funded, and identified with people responsible poisoning the air, water, and soil, people who care about respecting the earth and all beings and creatures who live on it have reason to distance themselves.  When preachers and religious congregations engage in hateful rhetoric and conduct towards refugees, persons from other religious traditions, and persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, we are entitled to question whether they are trustworthy agents of divine love. 

The truth revealed by the PRRI survey is that the religion of Jesus is not about church attendance, buildings, and cash, but about being agents of God’s grace, truth, peace, justice, mercy, and hope.  It is about living and behaving so that people and the creation are delivered from oppressive forces and conditions.  Whenever people embody the grace, truth, peace, justice, mercy, and hope of God they will show up, listen up, speak up, act up, and otherwise live as prophetic agents of God in our suffering and despairing world.  They will not behave in the racist, sexist, materialistic, patriarchal, militaristic, imperialistic, homophobic, and xenophobic ways that have defined so much of organized religion. 

We want to live before God and with one another the way Jesus lived.  We want to love God and love one another the way Jesus loved.  We want to be instruments of healing, forgiveness, inclusion, and subversive community the way Jesus was.  The “nones” prove that people are leaving organized religion because they don’t see Jesus in religious capital campaigns, power grabs, doctrinal arguments, and ego-driven competitions for domination. 

The “nones” aren’t leaving organized religious institutions to start others.  They are doing so to live in oneness with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the rest of creation and its creatures.  This is a good thing. 

And during Holy Week, people who want to live in oneness with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the rest of creation and its creatures remember that Jesus is the first and best example of what it means to live for God.  During Holy Week, we also remember that Jesus is the best proof of the way organized religion and agents of empire mistreat people who live for God.

God summons us to oneness.  God wants us to see ourselves as part of divine oneness.  People want to see Jesus, not our religious notions of empire, because Jesus represents God’s passion and our aspiration for oneness.  

As the passage from John’s Gospel shows, people don’t want to meet organized religion.  They want to become one with God like Jesus.  Jesus calls us, ironically, to become part of divine oneness by living up, showing up, listening up, speaking up, acting up, and loving up as people of prophetic hope and humility for God and the rest of creation, and doesn’t call us to be part of religious institutions to live this way. 

Jesus, not religious versions of empire, is the best example of what “the nones,” and everyone else, want to experience with God.  Now, as during the days before his crucifixion, we want to experience oneness with God.  Now, as then, people are finding that oneness.  That oneness is why Jesus lived.  That oneness is why Jesus died.  That oneness is why his living, dying, and resurrection matter.