Tuesday, July 17, 2018

IMBECILE IN CHIEF


IMBECILE IN CHIEF
©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is a Verb!
July 17, 2018

We’ve had vicious kings and we’ve had idiot kings, but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king. Tyrion Lannister (from Game of Thrones spoken regarding King Joffrey Lannister, his nephew)

People familiar with the Home Box Office blockbuster Game of Thrones television series will recall that line spoken by Tyrion Lannister (the character portrayed by Peter Benchley) to describe King Joffrey Lannister (his nephew portrayed by Jack Gleeson).  Now the world knows the current President of the United States is a vicious idiot. 

It has been widely known for years that Donald Trump is vain, untruthful, and a rich fool.  Yet, President Trump’s behavior during his recent European trip shocked longstanding observers.  The poor fellow scolded U.S. NATO allies about not paying enough for their own defense, then praised Russian president Vladimir Putin for being strong.  Mr. Trump engaged in the feckless act of publicly extolling the veracity of Putin, a former KGB intelligence officer, over the unanimous findings of the entire U.S. intelligence community. 

Add “Imbecile-in-Chief” to Mr. Trump’s title.  Central casting could not have found a better person to portray the role of a fool.  However, Trump is not playing a theatrical role. 

In the last few days the world has seen what other people have known for decades.  Donald John Trump is an intellectual dullard, narcissist, pathological liar, and a fool.  His main competence (if not his only competence) is self-adulation and shameless showmanship.  Trump’s Fox News white supremacist and religious nationalist base can crow all they please about “let Trump be Trump.”  Donald Trump is not a comedy show or practical joker.  He is President of the United States.  His feckless behavior affects our lives and livelihood. 

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was correct during the 2015-16 campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination when he called Candidate Trump a “kook.”  President Trump is intellectually, emotionally, politically, mentally, and morally unhinged.   The issue is how we will deal with that reality.

The United States House of Representatives could begin hearings on whether there is ground to impeach Donald Trump.  It won’t do so.  Most Members of Congress love their own political standing more than they love protecting the nation from the threats presented by our demented chief executive. 

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizes Vice President Pence and a majority of the Cabinet Secretaries to report to Senator Mitch McConnell (President pro tempore of the Senate) and Speaker Paul Ryan of the House of Representatives “that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”  They won’t do so.  Like Congress, they love their political standing more than they love protecting the nation from the disabled fellow occupying the Oval Office. 

Our situation reminds me of the Biblical account about King Saul, the first king of Israel.  Like Mr. Trump, Saul was a megalomaniac, emotionally unstable, and a threat to his allies and his nation.  Eventually, Saul was denounced by Samuel, the judge and prophet who anointed him to be king. 

Don’t expect Mr. Trump’s white religious nationalist cheerleaders to follow Samuel’s example regarding Saul, nor that of Tyrion Lannister regarding Joffrey Lannister in the HBO Game of Thrones dramatic television show.  White religious nationalists are Trump’s most faithful supporters. 

The unpleasant truth is that Donald Trump’s presidency is both a curse on the United States and a curse from the United States on the wider world.   Thanks to the election of 2016, the security of our nation, sanity of our world, strength of U.S. armed forces and our NATO allies, stability of our economy, tranquility of our society, and health and welfare of our population are threatened by one reality:  the President of the United States is a vicious idiot. 

We are cursed.  Welcome to the “new normal.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

THE DOMINANT RELIGION OF THE UNITED STATES IS WHITE SUPREMACY


©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
July 11, 2018

Many people have experienced the pain of learning unpleasant news.  Every day people cope with learning they have been diagnosed with terminal illness, news about the deaths of loved ones, loss of jobs, termination of romantic relationships, and other traumatic events and situations.  Today I bear similar unpleasant news.  White supremacy is a moral and ethical cancer threatening the United States. 

Communities of color have challenged, protested, and condemned racist policies in our society for centuries.  It is time to admit that the problem of racial injustice has always been deeper than unjust policies.  Racial injustice exists and has persisted across the entire history of this society – legally, economically, politically, socially, and culturally – because white supremacy is now – and has always been - sacralized.  By sacralized I mean that white supremacy has always been considered sacred.  Whiteness has always been the standard of “rightness.” 

It is, therefore, a fundamental mistake to view and treat white supremacy as merely an attitude or a set of practices and policies.  White supremacy is something approaching a theology in this society, if not the world!  The evils of mass incarceration, state sanctioned abuse and homicide of black and brown people by police agencies, racist immigration policies that target persons from South and Central America, South Asia, Africa, and Muslims, dislocation and other economic oppression of communities of color through gentrification and other commercial schemes, and the refusal to engage in the long overdue work of reparations are based on the conviction that white norms are superior, that white culture is superior, that whiteness entitles one to a presumption of superior morality, dignity, intellect, and privilege, and that the only legitimate remedies for racial injustice are those fashioned and/or accepted by white persons based on white norms and objectives. 

In this sense, race is not only a social construct.  White supremacy is a theological construct whereby white norms, goals, and aims define what is right, good, true, healthy, fair, and otherwise worthwhile.    This theology deified whiteness, demonized non-whiteness, and has deceived many people for such a long time and so thoroughly that even theologians have not recognized its religious nature and effect.  And because we have not treated white supremacy and white racism as sacralized evil, we have not understood that white supremacy and racism must be “de-sacralized” and exposed as demonic.

Hence, police officers routinely get away with slaughtering unarmed black and brown people because white supremacy has sacralized police brutality against black and brown communities.  We have the challenge of “de-sacralizing” police brutality against black and brown people by calling police brutality demonic.

Real estate speculators and developers are allowed to dislocate communities of color – now as in the past – because white supremacy has sacralized the idea that white presence on land and white perspectives about who should be on land and decide how it is used are more valuable and valid.  We face the challenge of “de-sacralizing” gentrification and other neo-urban renewal schemes by saying that gentrification schemes are demonic.

Opioid addiction is now being widely considered a health crisis while heroin addiction and other substance abuse have been viewed as proof of moral depravity.  We must “de-sacralize” the racist double-standard and hypocrisy surrounding drug addiction, and declare that hypocrisy and deceit to be demonic.

Militarized white people who openly carry firearms are lionized as protectors of public safety and civil liberty.  However, people of color from the Native Americans to the Black Panther Party have been vilified for insisting on the right to defend their communities from homicidal and otherwise abusive white assaults.  We have the challenge of “de-sacralizing” white supremacist- driven discourse about public safety, and expose the deceit and hypocrisy surrounding “gun rights” as demonic.

The poisoned water in Flint, Michigan is sacralized evil.  Disregard for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is sacralized evil.  Religious endorsement of a lifelong bigot to lead the nation is sacralized evil.  Dislocating communities of color is sacralized evil.  Evil becomes embedded and part of the ongoing life in a society only because it is sacralized.  We have the hard and urgent task of “de-sacralizing” it. 

For starters, we must admit and declare the hard truth that racism and white supremacy are not restricted to notorious white nationalists such as the Ku Klux Klan.  Racism and white supremacy are so embedded in the foundational moral perspectives of white people as a whole, and in many people of color for that matter, that most people do not recognize that white supremacy dominates and defines what we think and behave! 

Now, as it did before the Civil War, after Reconstruction, and during the challenge to racial segregation, the wicked religion of white supremacy threatens the moral, social, civic, and political future of our society.  Will followers of Jesus disavow and condemn white supremacists and white Christian nationalists as heretics to the religion of Jesus?  Have we forgotten his words near the end of the Sermon on the Mount?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many acts of power in your name?’  Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers’” Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

SORTING, SAYING, AND SEEING



©Wendell Griffen, 2018
July 1, 2018 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)
New Millennium Church
Little Rock, Arkansas

God of hope,
you are ruler of night as well as day,
guardian of those who wander in the shadows.
Be new light and life
for those who live in the darkness of despair,
for prisoners of guilt and grief,
for victims of fantasy and depression,
that even where death's cold grip tightens,
we may know the power of the one
who conquered fear and death. Amen.
Matthew 25:31-46
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “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.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 
        I know that today is the last Sunday before the U.S. Independence Day.  It is the first Sunday following the end of the 2017-18 term of the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is Day 526 of the presidency of Donald John Trump.

And as I pondered these facts, I keep remembering the words of Jesus found at the end of Matthew 25.  I am wondering about what Jesus would think about the moral and ethical health of our society and world. 

What would Jesus think about policies – in the United States and in other nations – that treat immigrants as threats to be imprisoned and quarantined rather than neighbors to be welcomed?

What would Jesus think about the “zero tolerance” policy of the Trump administration that treats immigrants who seek to the U.S. fleeing hunger, poverty, violence, and other harms and do not have authorization to cross our borders as justification for tearing immigrant children – infants, toddlers, and children of older years – from their parents?

What would Jesus think about people who call immigrant strangers “animals?”

Where does anyone find justification in the teachings of Jesus for treating anyone in these ways?  What in the teachings of Jesus justifies putting immigrant children in internment camps? 

And finally, how would Jesus treat people who treat immigrants this way?

The words of Jesus at the end of Matthew 25 provide clear answers to these questions.  Jesus included the way strangers and people in prison are treated in the list of things that distinguish people who are righteous (just) from those who are wicked (unjust). 

According to Jesus, how we treat immigrants matters to God.

According to Jesus, how we treat people in prison – think of the immigrant adults in detention centers across the U.S. and think about the immigrant children interned in separate locations from their parents – matters to God.

There are several why what is happening to immigrant families – parents and children – in the United States and elsewhere around the world matters to God.  The most urgent reason is that immigrants and all other vulnerable people represent God’s presence among us!  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”  Then 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.”  Immigrants are surrogates for God, anywhere and everywhere

In every society and age, there are people who need shelter, food, and clean water.  There are people who need healing from disease, illness, and injury.  There are people who have been locked out and kept away from opportunities because of prejudice and bigotry.  And in every society and age, there are people who leave their homelands in the hope of finding a safe place to live and work. 

According to Jesus, these people, including immigrants, are images of God among us.  The way we treat immigrants shows whether we are righteous/just or wicked/unjust. 

A second reason why we should focus on the present way immigrants are treated is that there are many passages in Scripture about the moral obligation to welcome migrating people and treat them with fairness and dignity.  The words that appear in Scripture that apply to non-citizens of a society are foreigner, alien, stranger, and sojourner.  Here are some passages that address the moral duty owed to non-citizens.

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizens among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34):  

For the LORD your God is God of Gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, are executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns (Deuteronomy 24:14).

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice (Deuteronomy 24:17).

The LORD watches over the strangers…but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin (Psalm 146:9).

… I will be swift to bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien… says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:5).

Now remember the words of Jesus at Matthew 25:43:  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.  

Thirdly, remember that in Jesus, God appeared in humanity as an immigrant! John’s Gospel declares:  The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).  Matthew’s Gospel recites that after Jesus was visited by magi, an angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod Matthew 2:13-15).  In Jesus, God has appeared among us as Immigrant-in-Chief! 

According to Jesus, God loves immigrants.  God is especially concerned that immigrants are welcomed and treated fairly.  God condemns those who mistreat immigrants, who oppress immigrants, and who reject immigrants. 

Let me put it bluntly.  It is an offense against the love and justice of God for anyone to mistreat foreigners, aliens, strangers, and sojourners.  God is wronged.  God is wounded.  God suffers.  God will not ignore nor excuse injustice against and oppression of foreigners, aliens, strangers, and sojourners. 

That is why followers of Jesus must declare Trump administration policy towards immigrants to be wicked!  It is wicked because it is unjust, unloving, and unwelcoming.  Don’t allow anyone to fool you into thinking that the actions of our nation towards immigrants will “Make America Great…”  They won’t.  The wicked harms suffered by immigrants have stirred people from every ethnic, political, religious, and economic background to rise up in protest because Trump administration immigration policy is wicked! 

Finally, we should learn from Jesus how to define and deal with people who mistreat immigrants.  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).’”

Jesus did not bless blessing on people who mistreat immigrants.  Jesus did not talk about praying for them or being patient with them.  Jesus did not excuse them or show leniency toward them.  And Jesus did not merely declare them to be wrong; Jesus cursed them![1]

If Jesus cursed immigrant hating people, why shouldn’t followers of Jesus curse immigrant-hating politicians?  If Jesus cursed immigrant hating policies, why shouldn’t we curse them?  If Jesus refused to pray for immigrant hating people, where do followers of Jesus find justification for behaving differently?   If Jesus called immigrant-hating people offensive to God to the point of deserving eternal condemnation with “the devil and his angels,” followers of Jesus can and should denounce and condemn the people responsible for oppressive immigration policies as hellish.

That is why I do not ask you to pray for President Trump, Stephen Miller, Jefferson Sessions, and the other politicians and operators of oppressive immigration policies.  We, like Jesus, should curse them.  The idea of praying for people who conceive and enforce wicked policies violates the very words Jesus spoke in this passage.  That idea also violates the other passages in Scripture that call on us to treat immigrants the same way we treat citizens and remind us that God loves immigrants and is offended by people who oppress them. 

We should curse the wicked politicians, and their religious enablers, who treat immigrants as threats to national security and public safety.  All information worth believing shows immigrants to be the most law-abiding and hard-working people in our society.  We should curse the “national security” and “public safety” arguments concerning immigrants as deliberate falsehoods, untruths, and lies.  And we should curse the people who make those lies as hypocrites and liars. 

We must stop allowing hypocrites and liars to scare the society into mistreating immigrants by using fear-mongering and bigotry.  That means we should confront U.S. Senators and Members of Congress and demand that they call on President Trump to re-unite immigrant parents and children.  We should demand an end to the “zero tolerance” criminalization of undocumented immigrants.   We should join protest demonstrations.  We should engage in acts of non-violent civil disobedience.  By these and other actions, we show God and our immigrant neighbors that we love them, and that we curse the wicked ways and words of our government leaders towards immigrants.

Beloved, the ways we treat immigrants and view immigration are much more than political issues.  These are profound moral questions. 

Let us sort these issues guided by God’s perspectives towards foreigners that are clearly set out in Scripture.  Let us see immigrants as surrogates of God, who in Jesus has lived among us as Immigrant-in-Chief.  And let us, as followers of Jesus, say – as clearly, loudly, and strongly as we can – that hateful people who practice and preach mistreatment towards immigrants are wicked, unjust, and cursed. 

Amen.


[1][1] Scripture reveals that people can reach such a morally depraved condition that their moral fate is sealed.  When that happens, God will not even listen to prayers on their behalf and prophetic people are divinely ordered not to pray for them!  As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call on me in the time of their trouble (Jeremiah 11:14).  Then the LORD said to me:  Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people.  Send them out of my sight, and let them go! (Jeremiah 15:1); see also, Luke 16:19-26, where Jesus illustrated this point in the vivid lesson about the fatal deficiency of an indifferent wealthy man and the impossibility of altering his divine condemnation on account of that moral defect. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

IT’S TIME TO REFOCUS



©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
June 26, 2018


News about the hateful words, policies, and practices of the Trump administration dominate the airwaves.  That’s understandable.  President Trump’s comments, policies, and practices should be discovered and exposed. 

However, we who believe in love and justice should focus more attention on building a counter-movement to the hate, fear, hypocrisy, deceit, and authoritarian mindset that Donald Trump represents, and that is particularly evident among white religious nationalists in U.S. congregations.  After all, white religious nationalists pushed Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy ahead of the rest of the Republican field in 2015 and 2016.  They overwhelmingly voted to elect Donald Trump, and remain his most faithful constituents. 

Any hope that the U.S. can become an inclusive, thoughtful, and just society doesn’t depend on President Trump or his white religious nationalist base.  Donald Trump and the white religious nationalists who idolize him are white supremacists.  Don’t expect them to change their views or their ways. 

That hope depends on people who believe in justice, inclusion, and thoughtfulness.  We must turn our attention from Mr. Trump’s hateful ways and words.  We must re-focus our efforts on building and advancing a counter-movement that offers a vision of a hopeful, thoughtful, inclusive, and just future for our society and world, and works to make that vision the new reality. 

It is not enough to merely be “anti-Trump” and “anti-white religious nationalist.”  People need an alternative to hateful, fearful, and otherwise wicked perspectives.  They need to believe in light, not merely rail against darkness.

A counter-movement focused on light will proclaim the truth that all are neighbors.  Immigrants are our neighbors from other lands.  People in Puerto Rico are our neighbors struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.  Women and girls, people holding different views about faith, people of color, workers, people who are frail because of illness, age, and other vulnerabilities, LGBTQ persons, the soil, air, water, vegetation, and animals are our neighbors.  A counter-movement focused on light will say so. 

A counter-movement of light will declare justice as our highest value, and that justice only results from powerful love.  A counter-movement of light understands that people can and will trust powerful love more than vitriol and resentment. 

Shared trust and commitment to powerful love can overcome hate, fear, deceit, hypocrisy, greed, and violence.  The counter-movement of hopeful, thoughtful, inclusive, and just people will out-shine any darkness.  A counter-movement of truthful, freedom-loving, generous, and hospitable people will out-shine deceit, hypocrisy, oppression, selfishness, and unwelcoming people and policies. 

I hope we will focus on being that counter-movement.  Let’s turn our attention from the faces and voices of darkness (Mr. Trump and his followers).  Instead, let’s focus on being people of light and powerful love, together. 

Cursing darkness doesn’t create light.  Only shining does.  When we focus our energies on shining together, the resulting light of our powerful love will overcome the darkness. 

The result of that powerful love will be justice.   

Friday, June 22, 2018

UN-AMAZED AND UN-FOOLED



©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
June 22, 2018

Unlike many people, I am not amazed that public policy in the United States towards immigrant families from South and Central America is cruel.

I am not amazed that President Donald Trump, his advisers, and political supporters have lied – meaning they have said and persist in saying things that are categorically untrue, false, inaccurate, and fraudulent.

I am not amazed that immigrant children have been forcibly separated from their mothers and fathers.

I am not amazed that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions quoted the Bible in a shameless effort to justify that conduct. 

I am not amazed that religious leaders who supported Donald Trump to become President of the United States are now trying to distance themselves from the hellish Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy toward immigrants who commit the misdemeanor offense of crossing the border without authorization.

And I am not fooled by people who say the cruelty, dishonesty, and hypocrisy we are witnessing every day is somehow a break from what the United States truly is. 

I am “un-amazed” and “un-fooled” because I know the true history of this nation.  

This nation separated Native American children from their parents and communities.  This nation separated and upheld the enslavement and sale of African children from their parents.  This nation separated Japanese children and their parents from their homes, schools, and neighborhoods. 

This nation separated Mexican children and their parents from lands their families owned for generations.  This nation separated entire Native American communities from lands they occupied.   

White religious nationalists voted for the people who developed and carried out those policies.  White religious nationalists profited from those policies.  White religious nationalists refused to join the victims of those wicked policies in calling for reparations. 

Yes, we are living in a distressing time for people who care about justice.  We are living in a distressing time for people who care about democracy.  We are living in a distressing time for people who care about immigrants, women and girls, people who are black and brown, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.  We are living in distressing time for people who are followers of Islam.  We are living in distressing time for people who are injured, ill, workers, aged, not affluent, and not white.   We are living in a distressing time for people who believe in truth, generosity, hospitality, justice, love, peace, and hope.

However, we should not be amazed or fooled.  The U.S. has always behaved this way. 

Donald Trump’s administration is proof about the ugly, yet un-amazing, truth about white religious nationalism and the demonic theology of white supremacy on which white religious nationalism has always stood. 

People in the U.S. have always pretended they do not know that white supremacy is the dominant theology of this society – no matter what religious affiliations they claim.  White religious nationalism is how the theology of white supremacy influences public policy at every level of this society. 

I am un-amazed and un-fooled by the distressing things we are seeing, however much I am distressed by them, because I have long understood that white religious nationalism is not limited to the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizen Council and other notorious white nationalist hate groups.  White religious nationalism is the pernicious operating philosophy for the entire society.  White supremacy is the theology that undergirds it. 

That is why Donald Trump became President of the United States.  That is why immigrant children have been separated from their parents.  That is why the U.S. leads the world in mass incarceration, including detention of children.  That is why black and brown people are routinely slaughtered by law enforcement agencies with impunity. 

We should be saddened, distressed, angered, and determined to resist white supremacy, white religious nationalism, and the unjust policies and practices associated with it.  But we should not be amazed at it nor fooled by people who claim to be surprised about it. 

This is what the United States has always been. 

This truth is ugly. 

It is not new.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

UN-PROPHETIC WHITE BAPTISTS AND THE STATE OF THINGS


 ©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
June 13, 2018


The Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are the largest two bodies of white Baptists.  So, as Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists convene separately this week in Dallas, Texas, a year and a half into the Trump presidency, ponder a few questions with me. 

The Trump administration has been hard at work trying to deport undocumented immigrants almost from the moment President Trump took office.  What have Southern Baptist and Cooperative Baptist leaders said or done to voice support for the immigrants subjected to that xenophobia and racism? 

When did they say it?

When did they appear before Trump administration officials and challenge the policies as contrary to the gospel of Jesus?

When did they appeal to their constituents to mount phone, social media, and other communication efforts to members of the U.S. Congress and Senate?

Where are the prophets among white Baptists who have been speaking up for immigrants who currently resemble the Palestinian Jewish family that, according to the New Testament gospels, migrated to Egypt when their infant son named Jesus was marked for death by a tyrant named Herod?

Prophetic people nudge a society toward the moral imperative of repentance.  I shared the following thoughts on that issue during a 2015 lecture at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.

The Bible also reveals that persons and societies are called to repentance by prophetic challenge, not internal impulse.  In Genesis we read of God confronting Adam and Eve following the Fall and God confronting Cain after the murder of Abel.  Then we read of Noah confronting his society before the Deluge.  In Exodus Moses is the prophetic agent sent by God to confront the Egyptian empire with the repentance imperative concerning oppression of the Hebrew population. 

The prophetic call to repentance is always an act of protest.  It is an observation and objection that the way we live violates the Great Commandment that we love God with our whole being and love others as ourselves.  Somehow, people are inspired to recognize that people are not living as God would have us live, meaning that our relationships are not right with God and each other, whether because of actions we take or duties we neglect.  Somehow, the Spirit of God inspires people with insight about love, truth, and justice (righteousness) who are then impelled to protest conditions and situations that violate the love, truth, and justice of God.  Without that protest, idolatry of self prevents us from recognizing our sinfulness and confronting the imperative for repentance.

So repentance does not begin with us.  Repentance begins with God whose love, truth, and justice define the meaning of right and wrong, good and evil, healthful and harmful, just and unjust.  God inspires people to see situations and relationships from the divine perspective.  Then God commissions those inspired people to become prophetic protestors with God for love, justice, and truth and confront persons and societies to confess sinfulness, return to God, and restore what has been harmed because of sin. 

There is no repentance, personally or societally, without the disturbance of that subversive protest, subversive in that it asserts a different and counter-cultural version about life, love, truth, and justice from what is the dominant narrative.  God is literally Protestor in Chief concerning our actions and attitudes that violate divine love, truth, and justice.  God summons prophetic protestors to proclaim God’s demand that we live according to divine love, truth, and justice and protest our failure and refusal to do so. 

And in repentance, we join God in protesting our transgressions and derelictions.  We not only agree with God that our transgressions and derelictions are wrong and harmful. We agree to turn back toward God in repentance to protest our sinfulness with God, and in repentance turn away from that sinfulness toward God.  With God’s help we become protestors of our ways.  We not only agree with God that our ways require prophetic protest.  In repentance we become God’s people of protest, prophetic and subversive agents of divine love, truth, and justice.  We never become repentant people without somehow becoming prophetic people about God’s love, truth, and righteousness (justice).

Thus, the Hebrew prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and the people who followed Jesus were prophetic subversives of repentance.  They were markedly and intentionally inspired to view life and living from the radically different perspective of divine love, truth, and justice.  That inspiration caused Moses to confront Egyptian unjust treatment of Hebrew workers.  Nathan was inspired to protest to David about misusing personal and political power in his relationships with Bathsheba and Uriah.  Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were inspired to protest the ways that power was abused to oppress widows, children, immigrants, workers, the weak, and people who were poor.  Jesus was inspired by the Holy Spirit to protest the ways power was abused by religious authorities to oppress rather than to liberate, to rupture fellowship rather than nurture reconciliation, and to benefit the wealthy while disregarding the plight of suffering people. 

Ponder how history might have been different if white Baptists had entered into honest dialogue with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rather than catered to popular racial prejudice.  Ponder how history might have been different if white Baptists had entered into honest dialogue with Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor (who inspired Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Jeremiah Wright).  Ponder how history might have been different if white Baptists had entered into honest dialogue with Dr. James Cone about black liberation theology. 

Ponder how the coming years might be changed if Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists learned from Dean Emilie Townes, one of the leading contemporary thinkers about womanist theology.  Ponder how the state of things might be challenged and changed if Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists would bother to re-think the gospel of Jesus by hearing from Dr. Cornel West. 

Each person I have mentioned is or was black.  Each is or was recognized as being prophetic. White Baptists could benefit from more exposure to prophetic people who are not white and privileged. 

That exposure might inspire a new consciousness in them about faith, love, justice, peace, truth, and hope. The new consciousness might lead to a deeper and stronger awareness about the urgent need for repentance among white Baptists and other religionists about white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, racism, sexism (including homophobia and transphobia), capitalism, imperialism, militarism, and techno-centrism.  In other words, it would force white Baptists to confront the idolatry of self and its unjust societal and global results.    

That would be a very good thing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

BAPTIST MENDACITY ABOUT MISSIONS THIS WEEK IN DALLAS, TEXAS


©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
June 12, 2018

This week the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship convene, separately, for their annual meetings in Dallas, Texas.  SBC and CBF constituents will – separately - sing, pray, preach, hold hands, and talk about God’s love for the world.  Separately, leaders of both groups will profess commitment to the Great Commission Jesus issued to his followers to make disciples. This week in Dallas, Texas the largest white Baptist bodies in the United States will put on the latest demonstration of their mendacity about love and justice.  Both groups will behave as if religious ceremony, religious entertainment, and marketing schemes can undo or make up for systemic, deliberate, and sacralized bigotry, discrimination, and practiced disregard for victims of systemic injustice.    

The Southern Baptist Convention meets this week on the heels of revelations about sacralized misogyny in SBC seminaries led by Dr. Paige Patterson.  Dr. Patterson has denied treating women and girls unfairly.  However, credible evidence that he condoned, enabled, and/or openly endorsed sexist, abusive, and otherwise misogynistic treatment of women as leader of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary led to his recent dismissal as President of Southwestern. 

The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 by white Baptists who were determined to permit slave owners to be appointed as foreign missionaries.  Southern Baptists sang, preached, prayed, held hands, and talked about God’s love for the world while insisting that owning other humans and treating them like breeding stock was consistent with God’s love and the religion of Jesus.  Southern Baptists supported racial segregation.  Southern Baptists opposed and criticized the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.  Southern Baptists continue to deny women opportunities for pastoral leadership.  The revelations surrounding Paige Patterson are merely the latest episode in Southern Baptist sacralized bigotry and discrimination perpetrated in the name of the Great Commission of Jesus.

White Baptists displeased with fundamentalism, power politics, and sacralized hostility to women in ministry formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1990.  At the Convocation of the Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta, Georgia on May 9, 1991, Cooperative Baptists adopted a document titled “An Address to the Public,” considered the founding document of that body.  Early in that document one finds this sentence:  “Being Baptist should ensure that no one is ever excluded who confesses, ‘Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:11).’”  Yet in 2000, nine years later, Cooperative Baptists adopted a hiring policy that banned employment of persons who are lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. 

Two years ago, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship launched its Illumination Project during its annual meeting at Greensboro, North Carolina.  While the Illumination Project was purportedly created to give constituents a process aimed at reaching consensus about contentious issues, one thing was clear from the outset.  The Illumination Project was contrived to game dialogue and policy about the discriminatory hiring policy.  After an eighteen month period of “listening sessions,” in February of this year the CBF Governing Board replaced the discriminatory hiring policy that totally banned employment of LGBTQ persons with a policy accompanied by an “implementation procedure” which bans married LGBTQ followers of Jesus from employment as mission field personnel and several leadership positions.  

I serve as pastor of New Millennium Church, an inter-racial welcoming and affirming congregation in Little Rock, Arkansas that has been affiliated with CBF since its formation in May 2009.  Each year since 2009, persons from New Millennium have attended and participated in annual CBF General Assembly gatherings. 

However, I and others from New Millennium Church will not attend the 2018 General Assembly in Dallas.  We refuse to engage in a charade whereby claims about professed devotion to the Great Commission of Jesus and buzz words such as “big tent” and “denomi-network” are used by CBF to justify excluding married LGBTQ Baptists from mission field and other employment opportunities. 

This week, Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists will sing, pray, preach, hold hands, and engage in other ceremonial acts two years after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida.  They will engage in religious preening three years after the Emmanuel A.M.E. church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina.  As the residents of Flint, Michigan continue suffering the toxic consequences of the evil that has them purchasing unleaded fuel for automobiles while being poisoned by leaded water, Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists will profess commitment to the Great Commission of Jesus but say and do nothing to demonstrate the compassion of God for them.   

SBC constituents are unlikely to confess that the SBC enabled and condoned misogyny and sex discrimination against women.  CBF constituents are unlikely to confess CBF bigotry and discrimination against LGBTQ Baptists.  Both groups are unlikely to say or do anything prophetic about the fact that unarmed black and brown people are routinely slaughtered by law enforcement agencies.  Neither group is likely to say or do anything that approaches being prophetic about the injustice of gentrification.  The harms suffered by victims of SBC and CBF bigotry, misogyny, and discrimination will not be confessed, let alone remedied.  There is no sign that either group will express disappointment, let alone prophetic outrage, about how the people of Puerto Rico have been mistreated and disserved by the Trump Administration since their lives and communities were devastated last year by Hurricane Maria. 

There will be lots of singing, preaching, praying, and hand holding.  Meanwhile, victims of sacralized bigotry and discrimination will be ignored, patronized, blamed, and otherwise trivialized.  To put it plainly, white Baptist mendacity about love and justice will continue without apology, remorse, or any serious effort to begin repentance. 

This week, SBC and CBF constituents will demonstrate separate, albeit common, devotion to their versions of religious empire, while professing love for God, their neighbors, and the creation in a blazing exhibition of sacralized mendacity.  Whatever else that audacious sacralized mendacity may be, it isn’t obeying Jesus.