Monday, January 15, 2018

A CLOSE LOOK AT GOD, FAITH AND PROSPERITY

A CLOSE LOOK AT GOD, FAITH AND PROSPERITY
©Wendell Griffen, 2018
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas
January 14, 2018
Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

Luke 16:10-15, 19-31
10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’*
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.* The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.* 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

        We worship God today on the Sunday before the US national holiday to honor the life, faith, and fellowship of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Followers of Jesus have long viewed Sunday as our worship day because the New Testament Gospel accounts about Jesus report that his resurrection happened on that day of the week. 

Next to Easter (Resurrection) Sunday, the Sunday before the King Holiday may be the Sunday cherished most by followers of Jesus who believe in social justice.  This is because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., unlike other persons for whom a US holiday is named, is remembered for his devotion to social justice.   Dr. King never sought nor held any public office.  He did not serve in the military.  Dr. King was not financially wealthy based on the standards of his day.  Yet, his fierce and nonviolent advocacy for social justice has left a more lasting and profound impact on life in the US and the rest of the world than did the careers of the presidents and generals of his era, or even since then for that matter. 

We do Dr. King a disservice, however, if we ignore or forget that he always labored, agitated, demonstrated, spoke, and protested based on his identity with and ministry in the religion of Jesus.  In that sense, Dr. King not only rose above the politicians of his time and ours.  He rose above the religious leaders of his time and hours in the US and across the world.  Rev. Billy Graham was welcomed by and held evangelical rallies in cities across the US, and he was hosted in the White House by several presidents.  But Rev. Graham’s ministry is seldom – if ever – remembered for having challenged the conscience of people in the US and around the world concerning the evils of inequality, war, racism, greed, and the suffering people experience because of those realities.   

Followers of Jesus also do Dr. King a disservice if we do not view the conditions, situations, and experiences of our time as he did, through the lens of the love and justice ethics of the Hebrew Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus preserved in the New Testament.  We should take avoid the common mistake of remembering Dr. King as “a civil rights leader.”  Dr. King was a prophet from God and disciple of Jesus. 

Dr. King was a preacher.  He served with his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  And, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became co-founder and the chief theologian for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  In all these roles Dr. King functioned as a prophet in the tradition of Jesus.  If we do not remember Jesus and his ministry when we honor Dr. King, we not only do a dis-service to Dr. King’s life and ministry; we do a dis-service to the love and justice ethics of God that Jesus lived, taught, and for which Jesus (and Dr. King) ultimately died.  

The lesson Jesus taught in Chapter 16 of Luke’s Gospel is strikingly relevant concerning our thinking about God, faith, and prosperity in 2018 as we reflect on the life and ministry of Dr. King.  Many people are familiar with the saying that “no one can serve two masters.”  I suspect that few people, however, associate that saying with the lesson Jesus issued and that Dr. King often mentioned about God, faith, justice, and prosperity.  In proclaiming the lesson about the rich man and the pauper named Lazarus, Jesus was expounding on the fundamental moral, ethical, theological, and social view that knowing and loving God involves becoming one in fellowship and peace with our neighbors, including persons whose situations are different from our own.  In doing so, Jesus issued a scathing condemnation about the idolatry of wealth under the guise of prosperity.

Jesus set up the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus with the following statement:  “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much…No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”  We then read these words.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.  So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for that which is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:10, 13-15)  We find the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus after reading that the Pharisees – described by Luke as “lovers of money” – ridiculed Jesus for saying “you cannot serve God and wealth” (mammon in KJV). 

Nothing in the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus suggests that the rich man did not believe in God.  Neither the rich man nor Lazarus is identified as religious in this lesson.  What the lesson emphasizes is that the rich man idolized wealth with complete disregard for Lazarus and his miserable plight.  That point is highlighted when the lesson mentions how the dogs showed compassion toward Lazarus licking his sores while Lazarus was unable to even depend on table scraps from the rich man. 

Lazarus was conspicuous in poverty and misery; the rich man was conspicuous in luxury and comfort.  The rich man only noticed and named Lazarus in the afterlife, when his situation was defined by agonizing misery while Lazarus was at peace and comfortable.  Then, the rich man who refused to offer table scraps to relieve Lazarus from the agony of starvation when they were neighbors wanted Lazarus to provide a drop of water to relieve the agony of his thirst. 

The rich man idolized wealth during his lifetime.  He enjoyed the comforts of wealth.  Nowhere does the lesson suggest that the rich man paid any regard for Lazarus and the clear inequality of their situations.  In this regard, Jesus used the rich man in this lesson to condemn the Pharisees, religious folks who “were lovers of money.”  This is the way Jesus expounded on his teaching that “you cannot serve God and mammon.”   The lesson about the rich man and Lazarus was how Jesus tried, in the way of Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, to “make it plain” that idolatry of wealth is “an abomination in the sight of God.”[1]

What Jesus made plain is that the Pharisees, like the rich man in this lesson, justified themselves “in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).  That point is profoundly made in the teaching about the rich man and Lazarus.  While the formerly sick and starving Lazarus is envisioned in the afterlife feasting in blissful fellowship with Abraham, patriarch of the Hebrew faith and people, the man who idolized wealth is envisioned in everlasting and agonizing separation from God and from the faithful community. 

The figure of speech “Abraham’s bosom” in the lesson indicates that Lazarus had a place of safety and security in the afterlife.  This figure of speech is drawn from the ancient banquet custom of was reclining on couches during a meal so that head of one person would reach the chest of the next person.  To engage in conversation with that person, one would lean his head back against the person’s breast.  It was a sign of high honor to be seated next to a celebrated guest at a banquet, and to be seated next to the host was a sign of the highest honor. 

So, in proclaiming this lesson, Jesus dramatically not only showed the great moral, ethical, and social distance between the rich man and Lazarus.  Jesus declared that the rich man was eternally out of fellowship with the entire community of the faithful. 

This lesson was a powerful condemnation of the Pharisees, religious folks who loved wealth, as being hypocrites.  Remember what Jesus said:  Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.  Jesus termed religion that loves wealth dishonest (Luke 16:10) and “an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).  And Jesus used the lesson about the rich man and Lazarus to drive that point home!

More than any other person in recent memory, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exposed the abominable (meaning morally detestable and despicable) dishonesty (hypocrisy) and idolatry to wealth of religion and culture in the United States.  Unlike the current president of the United States, Dr. King did not see or speak about poor and unprivileged people in vulgar terms.  Unlike the self-professed “religious conservatives” who have been the chief supporters and defenders of the current president of the United States, Dr. King spoke up for poor people, sick people, oppressed people, and people who suffered from the effects of wars.  We do Dr. King’s life and ministry a tremendous injustice by allowing his memory to be defined by anything less than the love and justice imperatives found in the religion of Jesus that he preached and lived. 

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will do much more than engage in annual daylong acts of service.  We will join voices and forces to denounce, condemn, and resist the idolatrous religion of empire and greed that traffics in fear, hypocrisy, and violence.  We will denounce, condemn, and resist policies, politicians, and other powerful actors that marginalize and threaten people across the world like Lazarus, people who live in conspicuous misery while others celebrate conspicuous consumption. 

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will denounce President Trump and every other person who thinks and speaks about any child of God as being from a “shithole” country.  We will not only cringe about people who, like the rich man, live with callous disregard, outright disdain, and hellish hypocrisy towards our neighbors who suffer, we will confront and challenge them. 

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will confront and challenge our imperial lust for wealth while refusing to share with people in Haiti, El Salvador, across Africa, and elsewhere in the world.  And we will prophetically challenge President Trump and anyone else with the truth that idolatry to wealth inspired the white supremacy and racism responsible for so much of the poverty, disease, and other suffering in Haiti, El Salvador, Africa, and other black and brown areas of the world. 

Idolatry of wealth motivated white European versions of President Trump to plunder, rape, and commit violence in black and brown societies across the world.
 
Idolatry of wealth drove white colonizers and imperialists to steal land from and kill indigenous black, brown, and red people in Africa, India, and throughout the Western Hemisphere.    

Idolatry of wealth inspired white religionists to disregard the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus in order to justify trying to exterminate indigenous people.

Idolatry of wealth inspired white religionists who, like the Pharisees who ridiculed Jesus, were lovers of money rather than God, called the entire hellish slavery empire organized and operated in this society righteous. 

Idolatry of wealth inspired white religionists to sanction slavery and manifest destiny, sanction discrimination against immigrants, and support laws and policies that legalized discrimination, bigotry, and abuse of people like Lazarus.

Idolatry of wealth inspired those white religionists to call resistance to slavery and anti-discrimination and anti-poverty advocacy evil.   

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King preached and lived, we will remind President Trump and anyone else what the Psalmist declared long ago at Psalm 24:1:  The earth is the LORD’s and all that there is in it, the world, and those who live in it…  We will remind President Trump and anyone else who idolizes wealth that God became incarnate as a colonized child in a poor family.  We will remind President Trump and anyone else who idolizes wealth that when the child Jesus was threatened by a maniacal ruler named Herod an angel directed Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt, a nation in Africa.    

When we follow the love and justice imperatives in the religion of Jesus that Dr. King lived and preached, we will declare that President Trump’s spirit resembles that of the rich man Jesus spoke about.  We will proclaim that the idolatry of wealth that President Trump has worshiped across his personal, professional, and political career is enabled, supported, defended, and even championed by people who call themselves “evangelical Christian conservatives.”

Then we will, in the spirit of Jesus and Dr. King, position ourselves with the Lazarus people of our society and world.  We will do this because we refuse to turn our backs on the love and justice imperatives in the Great Commandment that we love God wholeheartedly, intentionally, and courageously, and that we love our neighbors – including our neighbors who suffer from the effects of poverty, abuse of power, income inequality, sickness, violence, racism, nationalism, imperialism, sexism, and other wickedness because of human idolatry of wealth. 

Finally, we will warn President Trump and the current version of the Pharisees who idolize wealth how idolatry to wealth works to separate them from what is real prosperity.  Biblical prosperity is never self-centered; it is always communitarian.  A prosperous person, community, and society is one that protects, provides, supports, and nourishes people like Lazarus, not one that belittles, marginalizes, and oppresses people like Lazarus. 

By refusing to protect, provide, support, and nourish Lazarus during his lifetime, the rich man came to a dreadful and tormented end.  Jesus prophetically warned anyone who shares the idolatry of wealth illustrated by the rich man in this lesson that God does not condone and will subject to severe judgment the idolatry of wealth that President Trump and his self-proclaimed religious conservative sycophants represent.

Why?  “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
 
Why?  “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”

Why?  “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Jesus said it.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived, preached, and died in obedience to those love and justice imperatives.  Let us honor Jesus and his prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by proclaiming those love and justice imperatives with steadfast courage and fierce hope.  This is how we can challenge and condemn the idolatry of wealth demonstrated by the current version of Pharisees and President Donald Trump, their “rich man.”  

Amen.



[1] Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr. is Pastor-Emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, California, Emeritus Professor of Homiletics, American Baptist Seminary of the West, and a former President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE CHALLENGES PRESENTED BY WHITE EVANGELICALS, DONALD TRUMP, AND ROY MOORE TO DEMOCRACY AND THE RELIGION OF JESUS

©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
November 15, 2017

Like many other people in the United States and elsewhere, I have observed the daily events and controversy surrounding the candidacy of Roy Moore for election to the U.S. Senate from the state of Alabama.  Like many other people, I do not know why people would elect a politician to higher office who has consistently dishonored his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and who has twice been removed from judicial office for doing so.

I do not know why people who say they care about decency would support a middle-aged candidate whose former co-workers confirm allegations that he repeatedly engaged in questionable – no, predatory – conduct toward teenaged girls.

I do not know why I should believe people who profess concern for women and girls to be sincere about that concern when they now support Roy Moore after having previously overwhelmingly endorsed, supported, voted to elect, and now continue to defend Donald Trump, a known and serial misogynist.

And I do not know why I or any other follower of the gospel of Jesus should believe white evangelicals are followers of Jesus who support Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and the policies and practices associated with them. 

What is clear, however, is that there are people – in Alabama and elsewhere throughout the United States – who profess belief in democracy while supporting politicians such as Donald Trump and Roy Moore, persons whose personal and professional histories are defined by bigotry and other forms of oppression towards vulnerable people, including women and girls.  

And, it is clear that Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are determined to return the United States to an era when white patriarchy, white supremacy, and white nationalist militarism were the defining features of every level of government (local, state, and national) in the United States. 

Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are not patriots to democracy.  They are neo-fascists.

Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are, also, not followers of the Jesus who respected women, who included women among his closest followers, and who ordained women the first prophets of the resurrection gospel of grace, liberation, justice, peace, and hope.  Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and their white “evangelical Christian” supporters are heretics to that gospel.

The hard reality is that white “evangelical Christians” support Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and politicians like them, including people like former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (who received a presidential pardon from Trump from his federal criminal contempt conviction for refusing to stop using his office to racially profile and terrorize Latinos). 

The hard reality is that white “evangelical Christians” must be denounced as political and religious bigots, neo-fascists, and heretics.  They are not devoted to democracy.  They are not devoted to the Jesus of the New Testament gospels whose life and ministry was defined by inclusive grace, truth, compassion toward vulnerable persons, justice, peace, and resurrection hope. 

Instead, their true devotion is to white religious nationalism.  That is why white “evangelical Christians” overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump’s candidacy for president of the United States in 2016.  That is why white “evangelical Christians” are now determined to elect Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate from Alabama. 

That devotion to white religious nationalism – a mixture of white supremacy, white patriarchy, and religious nationalism – means white “evangelical Christians” will turn out in record numbers to vote for Roy Moore in Alabama. 

Devotion to white religious nationalism will inspire them to engage in or disregard overt and covert efforts to suppress, intimidate, and otherwise interfere with efforts to vote by people who are poor, persons of color, progressive minded women, students, senior citizens, and naturalized citizens of the United States when voting occurs in Alabama for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Devotion to white religious nationalism is what inspires white “evangelical Christians” to claim a divine right to rule the United States, and to impose their will on the rest of the world in the name of American Empire.

So what should people who truly believe in democracy do?

What should prophetic-minded followers of the gospel of Jesus do?

People who believe in democracy should resist the politics and religion of white religious nationalism and white “evangelical Christians” and call it what it truly is – neo-fascism, not democracy.

Prophetic followers of Jesus should denounce white religious nationalism as moral and theological fraud and a heresy to the gospel of Jesus. 

People who believe in democracy and prophetic followers of Jesus should organize against white religious nationalism and neo-fascism.  We should join forces to expose, challenge, resist, and inform ourselves and others about the hateful claims of Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and other favorites of white religious nationalism.  Working together, we should defeat politicians like Trump, Moore, and Joe Arpaio – along with the hateful and fear-mongering policies they champion – at the ballot box in local, state, and national elections. 

That is how we can, and should, protect and honor our cherished belief in democracy.  That is how we can, and should, protect and preserve the United States as a free, inclusive, and welcoming society.  That is how we can, and should, prevent our society from being controlled by bigoted religionists who lust for power to impose their notion of American Empire on our nation and the rest of the world. 

The issue for us is not what neo-fascists and white religious nationalists do or what they will do.  The issue is what will people like you and I do.  We have the power to determine the future of our society.  We have the power to step up together and defeat the forces and menaces threatened by white religious nationalism and the politicians embraced by white religious nationalists. 

Do not draw back from this challenge.  Lean into it as people who believe in and love democracy. 

And if you are a follower of Jesus, lean into it because you refuse to allow white supremacists, lovers of patriarchy, and white “evangelical Christians” to hijack the gospel of Jesus in the name of American Empire.   


Hope Fiercely!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

BLACK LIVES MATTER IS NOT A THREAT GROUP!

BLACK LIVES MATTER IS NOT A THREAT GROUP:
How will you respond to the lie that it is one?

JUSTICE IS A VERB!

©Wendell Griffen, 2017

October 19, 2017

On October 13 members of my court security team attended a training session for court security officers in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  I learned from a member of my team that Instructor Ronnie Boudreaux of Advanced Law Enforcement Readiness Training (ALERT) referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group “like the KKK” while leading a session on court security.  When members of my staff questioned Instructor Boudreaux about his comment, he identified Black Lives Matter among a list of “threat groups.”  

I issued a letter objecting to Instructor Boudreaux’s mischaracterization of Black Lives Matter to the Director of Court Security for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) – the agency that oversees court administration in Arkansas – last Monday (October 16).  My letter included the following observations.

The Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist organization that arose during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.  Its history of terrorism has been the subject of federal legislation.  Instructor Boudreaux, ALERT, and your office can easily verify this information by reading the following Internet based article:  http://www.history.com/topics/ku-klux-klan

By contrast, Black Lives Matter is not and has never been designated a terrorist organization by Congress, or any state or federal law enforcement agency.  I invite you, Instructor Boudreaux, and the director of ALERT to cite any law that has ever identified Black Lives Matter in ways that resemble how the Ku Klux Klan has been identified.  Black Lives Matter does not and has not endorsed or condoned violence against law enforcement officers or anyone else, for that matter.  No authorized spokesperson for BLM has done so, and BLM has explicitly condemned hateful comments by others that have suggested or encouraged that anyone engage in violence against or toward law enforcement officers. 

Instructor Boudreaux’s characterization of BLM as a “hate” or “threat” group is baseless, however much he or others may believe it.

I am pleased by the response of Marty Sullivan, Director of the AOC, to my letter of protest.  When he was contacted by the media, Director Sullivan immediately disavowed the remarks made by Instructor Boudreaux, and agreed that Black Lives Matter is not a threat group (see https://m.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2017/10/16/judge-objects-to-trainers-references-to-black-lives-matter).

However, Michael Thompson, the president and a co-founder of ALERT according to its website (http://www.alert10-04.com/instructors1.html), compounded the cultural incompetence demonstrated by Instructor Boudreaux’s mischaracterization.  I share below what Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times reported concerning his conversation with Mr. Thompson:

… I talked with Mike Thompson, a former deputy U.S. marshal who owns Georgia-based ALERT, which he said has been providing training sessions for court bailiffs and other court officers for 20 years.

"I've heard Ronnie teach and there's not a racist bone in his body," Thompson said. "If anyone said anything out of line, it was a misstatement." He said he'd check with Boudreaux and said he'd be happy to talk to Griffen.

Thompson said in 20 years of teaching such courses, "it's the first time anyone has ever lodged a complaint such as this." He said he took pride in the quality of his company's instruction and added, "I wouldn't have anyone working for this company who is prejudiced."

He said ALERT, as a favor to a former student and friend who works in Arkansas, had put on the course Friday at cost, about $2,200, for about 70 court bailiffs. He said Boudreaux, a former U.S. marshal in Louisiana, talks about many groups that can present potential threats to court security. He said Black Lives Matter had recently been added to the list.  But he said the talk focused mostly on drug cartels and "sovereign citizens" as most dangerous. But he acknowledged that all groups mentioned, from tax protesters to Aryan and Nazi groups. were seen as having committed violent acts or acts that have "created a problem for law enforcement."

But he said, "We don't focus on any one group." He said he was sorry anyone took offense at the mention of Black Lives Matter.

Thompson’s responses to Max Brantley’s inquiry about Boudreaux’s characterization of Black Lives Matter reveal several disquieting realities.

·         Thompson confirmed that Black Lives Matter has recently been added to a list of groups seen as having committed violent acts or acts that have “created a problem for law enforcement.”  Who compiled and maintains that list?  What conduct or stances have been taken by Black Lives Matter that amounts to committing “violent acts” or acts that have “created a problem for law enforcement?”
·         Thompson confirmed that Boudreaux, a former U.S. Marshall in Louisiana, talks about many groups that can present potential threats to court security and that Black Lives Matter had recently been added to the list.  What incidents have been reported, not to mention confirmed, that involve Black Lives Matter movement people presenting threats to court security?  Who reported these “potential threats?”  When did the “potential threats” arise?  Who investigated the “potential threats to court security?”  Who verified the “potential threats” mentioned by Boudreaux and later repeated by Thompson?
·         Thompson’s statement that he was sorry if anyone took offense at the mention of Black Lives Matter exposes another troublesome, and troubling, reality.  Thompson skirted the whole question about the mischaracterization of Black Lives Matter as a group that has committed violent acts, acts that have “created a problem for law enforcement,” or acts that posed any threat to court security. 

Far from disproving my objection to Instructor Boudreaux’s mischaracterization of Black Lives Matter, Mr. Thompson’s response to Max Brantley’s inquiry confirmed that his organization views Black Lives Matter among groups that have committed violent acts and/or that have created a problem for law enforcement.  According to Thompson, Boudreaux, and (presumably) all other ALERT instructors, Black Lives Matter is similar to domestic terror groups similar to the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, and neo-Nazi white supremacist groups known for engaging in violence. 

According to its website, ALERT holds its instructors out as “subject matter experts” about court security.

The court security seminar provides law enforcement officers working in courthouses with the most current evidence-based practices used in securing courthouse complexes and protecting judicial personnel.  The program is a three-day comprehensive course that offers a wide range of training modules designed to reinforce the fundamentals of court security, enhance existing skill sets, and incorporate contemporary issues challenging America’s courthouses and the officers protecting them.  As subject matter experts, the instructors bring their experience to the classroom through lecture and practical exercises..,
 
This is a classic case of cultural incompetence that is subsidized with public money. 

Black Lives Matter is a social justice movement that arose to protest abusive and homicidal law conduct by enforcement agents, with special focus on abusive and homicidal law enforcement conduct and practices towards black, brown, and other persons of color.  Without citing a single verified report of violence endorsed, condoned, threatened, or committed by Black Lives Matter, Thompson, Boudreaux, and other ALERT instructors of court security officers and other law enforcement officers are perpetrating the false, untrue, - as in outright lie – message that Black Lives Matter poses an ongoing threat to court security and to law enforcement in general. 

Cultural incompetence happens when seasoned law enforcement instructors falsely accuse a social justice movement to protest abusive and homicidal conduct by publicly sworn and compensated law enforcement agents of being a threat to law enforcement and court security.

That cultural incompetence exists no matter how many years it has been practiced.  No matter how many years Boudreaux, Thompson, or anyone else has worked in law enforcement, lying about whether a social justice movement is a threat to law enforcement and court security is lying. 

The cultural incompetence doesn’t arise because my court security officers and I properly took offense to Black Lives Matter being falsely labeled a “threat” group.  It exists because Thompson, Boudreaux, and other ALERT instructors cannot tell the difference between exercising the freedom to demand that law enforcement officers not engage in abusive and homicidal conduct – a freedom enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – and committing criminal acts of violence and intimidation. 

Black Lives Matter has the right under the First Amendment – ratified in 1791 to the U.S. Constitution – to protest abusive and homicidal law enforcement behaviors, the people who engage in them, and the system that enables, protects, and attempts to justify abusive and homicidal law enforcement practices and policies.  Black Lives Matter is not a threat group, no matter what Ronnie Boudreaux, Michael Thompson, and anyone else may claim (whether associated with ALERT or not). 

How many other times have ALERT instructors made similar untrue claims about Black Lives Matter? 

How many law enforcement officers and court security officers have been misled by those claims?  

How much money has been paid to ALERT by taxpayers to send law enforcement and court security officers to be misinformed by Boudreaux and other ALERT instructors about Black Lives Matter? 
                           
When will public officials and members of the general public stop paying ALERT and other “subject matter experts” on law enforcement and court security to misinform law enforcement and court security officers?   

My court security officers and I are not the only persons who should be offended by what Instructor Boudreaux falsely claimed about Black Lives Matter.  I am not the only person who should insist that the propaganda spouted by ALERT about Black Lives Matter be denounced and condemned. 

Judging from the reaction by Mr. Thompson of ALERT, it is unlikely that ALERT will stop referring to Black Lives Matter as a “threat” group?  The question is whether the rest of us will stand by while public funds are paid to ALERT to spread that lie and misinform court security and other law enforcement officers. 

We can’t stop ALERT from being culturally incompetent.  We can and should insist that ALERT not be awarded public business and paid public funds for that incompetence.    


What will you do? 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

PEOPLE IN THE PRESENCE OF FRUSTRATED GOD

PEOPLE IN THE PRESENCE OF FRUSTRATED GOD
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
A sermon for October 8, 2017
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

Isaiah 5:1-7
5Let me sing for my beloved
   my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
   on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
   and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
   and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
   but it yielded wild grapes.
 

3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
   and people of Judah,
judge between me
   and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
   that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
   why did it yield wild grapes? 

5 And now I will tell you
   what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
   and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
   and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
   it shall not be pruned or hoed,
   and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
   that they rain no rain upon it. 

7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
   is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
   are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
   but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
   but heard a cry!
Matthew 21:33-46
33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
*
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.* 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’*
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
        Frustration is the English word we use to name a sense of not achieving what we have expected.  The verb in English is frustrated, meaning to prevent someone from achieving what he or she intended, as in to make the effort to achieve it useless.  As we ponder these passages from Isaiah 5 and Matthew 21 today, think of them as lessons about humans frustrating God, as in actively working to prevent God from getting what God expects. 

In these lessons, God is represented as a landowner who planted a vineyard.  Planting anything is an act of hope.  We plant hoping to harvest.  People pick ground, cultivate, fence it, put and put grape vines on it expecting to eventually harvest grapes.  They expect results.  They hope. 

But in these passages, God’s hopes are frustrated.  In Isaiah, the frustration is like that of a disappointed lover.  Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.  My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He dug it and cleared it of stones; and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes [Isaiah 5:1-2].  In other words, despite all the attention and care God invested in Judah, God’s attention and care was spurned.  The society behaved in unloving and oppressive ways, as if it had not been favored by God.

The prophet explains the allegory at verse 7:  For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!  Despite all God had invested in Israel and Judah, the people refused to produce justice.  Instead, God found widespread violence (bloodshed) and suffering victims because of systemic oppression (heard a cry).   God is presented as frustrated.

Jesus made the same point in our lesson from Matthew 21.  There God is presented as a landowner who decided to plant a vineyard.  But in this lesson, God isn’t frustrated by the grape vines.  God is frustrated by the tenants to whom the vineyard was entrusted.  God expected the tenants to care for the vineyard, harvest the grapes when they ripened, and produce wine, as shown by the wine vat on the property. 

But when the vineyard owner sent employees to collect the income produced by the vineyard, the tenants intentionally and consistently mistreated them:  But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them the same way.  Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.”  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him [Matthew 21:35-39]. 

These lessons present God as frustrated, disappointed, spurned, rejected, defied, and even violated.  God is mistreated.  God is defied. God is spurned like a jilted lover.  In Matthew 21, God sends servants – prophets – to plead God’s cause.  But the prophets are mistreated.  Even God’s child is not respected. 

Dr. Marvin McMickle (President of Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School [CRCDS] in Rochester, New York)[1] has observed that the idea of rejecting and frustrating God, as shown in these lessons, is repeated in various ways in our time.  According to Dr. McMickle, some people reject the very idea of God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  Some people have chosen to disavow involvement with God in any personal sense of commitment in favor of “spirituality.”  Then there are the people who, according to Dr. McMickle “two-time the Lord.”  The point he makes is that these passages challenge us to see the various ways we reject God, frustrate God, defy God, and even do violence to God.[2] 

God is frustrated most of all by humans.  Humans alone in all the creation have the moral capacity to disobey, defy, and even make war against God.  Despite all that God has invested in us, humans frustrate God’s goodness.  We frustrate God’s love and justice.  Humans are the greatest threat to peace and hope in the world.  Despite all that God has done for us, with us, and on us, humans frustrate God! 

We frustrate God by the way we treat each other.  We frustrate God by mistreating the creation and other creatures on this planet.  We frustrate God by the ways we mistreat people who are vulnerable, marginalized, and helpless.  We frustrate God by embracing ideologies and ways of living that demand allegiance we only owe to God, what Marvin McMickle termed as how we “two-time God.” 

We don’t frustrate God accidentally, inadvertently, or by mistake.  These lessons force us to ponder the ways we deliberately, systematically, and knowingly live in opposition to God’s love and purposes.

Allan Boesak is on target when he makes the following observation in his latest book:

The wrongs we see are not just happening; they are caused to happen, and they are happening to the vast majority of God’s children who are vulnerable, targeted, and excluded from human consideration.  They are not happening randomly, they are deeply systemic, deliberately built into systems of oppression, domination, and dehumanization. And we must not be afraid to say it.[3]

These lessons were addressed to people who held themselves out as followers of God!  Isaiah and Jesus did not focus their attention on pagans, but on people who claimed to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. 

When we consider these lessons in that light, we cannot escape knowing that they apply to the religious attitudes and conduct in this society and that dominate throughout its culture. 

When one thinks of all God has invested in this society, why should God not be frustrated?  This nation is rich in natural resources.  The climate of this land is not only suitable for humans to live in, it is fruitful.  There is enough land and water to sustain and nourish every person who inhabits this society.  We live in a land with abundant resources.  Yet, many people suffer gut-wrenching poverty, hunger, and are homeless despite all the hymnals, Bibles, Bible study groups, and “soul-winning revivals” we see and hear about.  God is frustrated.

God has sent prophets to call this society away from our addiction to greed, violence, and oppression.  But instead of hearing and heeding Martin Luther King, Jr., this nation branded him a moral and political threat before it killed him.  This nation deliberately labeled Dr. King, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, and other activists for peace and equality threats when they challenged racism, materialism, classism, sexism, imperialism, and other forms of injustice.  God is frustrated.

With unmistakable and deliberate conceit and hypocrisy  our nation twice committed the greatest act of mass murder known to humanity – within only three days – when it dropped nuclear bombs on children of God living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. 

On August 6, 1945, our self-professed God-fearing nation deliberately dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, a city with an estimated population of 330,000 children of God.  The death toll from that bomb by December 1945 is estimated at between 90,000 and 120,000 people!  Three days later (August 9, 1945), the United States dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, with its estimated population of 250,000.  The death toll from that bomb by December 1945 is estimated at between 60,000-80,000 people![4]  God was frustrated by what this nation did to the world when we cold-heartedly committed mass murder using nuclear weapons.  

God is frustrated by the usual religious suspects of our time – the Bible thumping cheerleaders who enable and encourage oppressive actions against immigrants, people who are hungry, homeless, sick, afflicted by physical, emotional, and other conditions of impairment. 

God is frustrated by religious bigotry against women, children, and God’s LGBTQ children.  God is frustrated because the usual religious suspects have co-signed that violence. 

The usual religious suspects elected a ruler who refused to show kindness and empathy for Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico. 

The usual religious suspects cheered, campaigned for, and celebrated the election of a ruler who termed racial and ethnic bigots “fine people.” 

The usual religious suspects cheered when that ruler issued a pardon to a former law enforcement officer who used his office and power to terrorize Latinos in Arizona. 

Now the usual religious suspects are cheering as women and girls are being denied access to contraceptive care and services and celebrate while God’s LGBTQ children are threatened with loss of federal protection from discrimination at work and when they seek healthcare.[5] 

According to these lessons, the time comes when  entrenched opposition to divine love, mercy, peace, and hope is intolerable even for God. 

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the LORD’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom.  The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”  Matthew 21:42-44. 

According to Jesus, God always has other options when we will not produce justice!  God has the option to turn to other people – meaning not the usual suspects – to produce the fruit of justice, peace, and hope God expects in God’s world.   

God has the option to work through other people – meaning not the usual suspects – who will be faithful and humble stewards of creation and God’s natural resources.    

God has the option to work with other people – meaning not the usual religious suspects – who will show the world how love is supposed to act.

God has the option to work with other people – meaning not the usual suspects – who will show that a prosperous society is defined by how poor, sick, persecuted, elderly, helpless, and immigrant people are treated with dignity, hospitality, respect, compassion, and tenderness, not how privileged people enjoy luxury. 

The religion of Jesus is the religion of “not the usual suspects.”  It is the religion of unconditional and inclusive love.  It is the religion of extravagant hospitality.  It is the love of fierce advocacy for the oppressed.  It is the religion of love and life in community with other children of God, not war and empire. 

God is calling us, in Jesus, to become part of a holy movement for love, peace, hope, justice, and compassion toward all.  God is calling us, in Jesus, to forsake the values and vices of the usual religious suspects.  Rejoice, beloved, because God is raising new servants who are replacing the usual suspects. 

Black Lives Matter is replacing the usual suspects.  The peace movement is replacing the usual suspects.  Faithful people are challenging the imperial vicious pretensions of the United States in this society and across the world because God is replacing the usual flag-waving, bomb and bullet worshipping, hymn singing, and hate-loving religious suspects.

Do you see it happening?  Can you sense how the usual suspects are uneasy?  The usual suspects are no longer considered trustworthy voices about love, truth, justice, and hope.  They are deadly afraid of being replaced because they sense that their age of male patriarchy and white supremacy is passing away!  They are fired up about “Make America Great Again” because they know their days are numbered! 

This is the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes!  Amen.   



[1] Dr. McMickle’s bio can be read at https://www.ats.edu/marvin-mcmickle.
[2] Feasting on the Word:  Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (David J. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, general editors), Year A, Volume 4, pp. 142-43 (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2011).   
[3] Allan Aubrey Boesak, Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood-Red Waters:  Prophetic Critique on Empire-Resistance, Justice, and the Power of the Hopeful Sizwe—A Transatlantic Conversation (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017), p. 81.
[4] See Children of the Atomic Bomb: at http://www.aasc.ucla.edu/cab/200708230009.html