Monday, November 5, 2018

WATCHING FOR SIGNS OF REPENTANCE



©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
November 5, 2018

On November 8, 2016, 81 percent of white evangelical voters in the United States supported Donald Trump despite evidence of his personal and commercial racism, misogyny, fear and hatred of immigrants, and deceitfulness.  Their votes did not show that they see God in our neighbors who are immigrants, sick, and otherwise vulnerable. 

Since then, white clergy who say they are evangelical followers of Jesus have grinned, applauded, and lavished praise on President Donald Trump despite daily proof of his dishonest, boorish, racist, sexist, and xenophobic character and conduct.  White clergy who claim to being followers of the Palestinian Jewish fellow named Jesus – whose parents were forced to seek asylum with him in Egypt during his early childhood – have been silent as Mr. Trump has ordered military forces to prevent unarmed immigrants from Central America from seeking asylum in the United States.  White clergy were silent after President Trump referred to immigrants from Haiti and nations on the continent of Africa as being from “shithole” countries. 

Most white clergy were silent when President Trump urged Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act that guarantees access to affordable healthcare.  If many white pastors reminded their congregants that Jesus spent most of his ministry healing people who were sick and poor and did so without charging anything – let alone requiring a co-pay – I suspect that would have been newsworthy.  I don’t recall seeing news reports that white clergy in Arkansas, or elsewhere for that matter, suggested that efforts to dismantle a system of affordable health care don’t square with the gospel accounts of the healing ministry of Jesus.    

After white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazi sympathizers attacked peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, President Trump said that there were “fine people on both sides.”  What do you recall white evangelical clergy saying in response?  If you attend a predominantly white evangelical church, what did you do about that response, or failure to respond? 

Evidence has been mounting over the past two years about efforts to intimidate, suppress, discourage, and disenfranchise people of color from voting.  Native American, Latino, and black voters have been deliberately targeted for gerrymandering, closure of polling places, and misinformation about voting requirements.  How have white clergy and congregations responded? 

I join those who are encouraging young voters, people from lower income households, women, and people of color to vote.  I hope young voters, people from lower income households, women, people of color, persons who are LGBTQ, senior citizens, and other people who are marginalized turn out and vote in record numbers. 

At the same time, I’m watching to see if white people who attend evangelical churches across the nation will vote the way they did in 2016.  I’m watching for signs that white people who call themselves evangelical followers of Jesus will turn away from the hateful, fear-mongering, bellicose, power-driven dishonesty of President Trump and his political cronies. I’m watching for signs of repentance from white evangelical voters.  

The proof of white evangelical repentance will not consist of people of color being invited to kum-ba-yah gatherings with white evangelicals to hold hands, sing “We Shall Overcome,” and exchange pleasantries during religious dinner parties.  The proof of white evangelical repentance will not consist of black and Latino preachers and congregations being invited to sing, pray, and preach with white evangelicals. 

I join others who question whether white evangelicals are followers of Jesus at all.  They often seem to confuse the gospel of Jesus with white supremacy and notions of U.S. empire.  White religious nationalism is heresy to the gospel of Jesus, not faithfulness to it. 

So tomorrow night, I’ll watch election returns to see whether white people who call themselves evangelical followers of Jesus will, again, prove that they prize white supremacy above the inclusive and liberating gospel of divine grace, truth, justice, and peace.  I’ll look for evidence that white people who claim to be followers of the Palestinian Jewish itinerant prophet and healer named Jesus are turning away from white religious nationalism.  I’ll be watching and hoping for signs of white evangelical repentance.  I don’t expect that election results tomorrow will support my hope. 

Yet, I hope for justice no matter how white evangelicals vote tomorrow.  White evangelicals have a long history of misrepresenting God and supporting injustice.   God has a longer history of proving them wrong.  

I hope for justice because I trust God, not white evangelicals.

Friday, September 28, 2018

LESSONS TO REMEMBER ABOUT THE KAVANAUGH SPECTACLE


©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is a Verb!
September 28, 2018

Now that the September 27, 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing spectacle involving Judge Brett Kavanaugh and sexual assault allegation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has concluded, let’s consider a few things. 

Ponder white male privilege, rage and cultural incompetence.  The most controversial issue facing the nation surrounding Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is whether allegations that he engaged in unlawful sexual conduct and bullying behavior as a high school, college, and law student disqualify him for confirmation as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Although Dr. Ford’s allegation that Judge Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were high school students captivated national attention yesterday, Judge Kavanaugh has also been accused of exposing his genitals to Deborah Ramirez.  He has been accused of being present, if not complicit, when his male friends allegedly gang-raped girls who were impaired by alcohol and drugs.  Judge Kavanaugh has been accused of bullying conduct when inebriated.   

The Senate Judiciary Committee is the body responsible for advising the United States Senate on the fitness of people who are nominated for lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary.  But what happened on September 27, 2018 didn’t resemble a sensible and competent effort by the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear any of the serious allegations about Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness.  Instead, we witnessed an unforgettable display of white male rage, wounded pride, and cultural incompetence. 

Reflect on Judge Kavanaugh’s visceral fury and evasiveness concerning why he refused to request that the confirmation process be suspended to permit the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the allegations. 

Imagine how senators would consider it disrespectful had a woman or person of color witness or nominee shouted at Judiciary Committee members during a confirmation hearing. 

Imagine what the response might have been had a woman or person of color member of the Judiciary Committee shouted curses toward other Committee members as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina behaved.

Imagine how parents of color would be condemned for allowing teenagers of color to engage in underage drinking. 

Imagine what would be said about parents of color if girls were sexually assaulted during house parties where parents were not present and alcoholic beverages were openly consumed.    

Ponder the white male rage, privilege, hypocrisy, and cultural incompetence displayed yesterday.

Ponder deliberate disregard for basic standards of credibility.  Trial lawyers and judges know that demeanor is a fundamental aspect of evaluating witness credibility.  Evasive, belligerent, insolent, and rude behavior during cross examination does not mean a witness is telling the truth, but that a witness is offended about the prospect of things being uncovered which the witness would rather hide.    

Judge Kavanaugh’s answers during questioning by Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee were evasive.  He rudely interrupted questioners.  He was flippant in responding to questions about whether he lost consciousness or forgot events that occurred when he became inebriated. 

No matter where Judge Kavanaugh attended prep school, college, or law school, allegations of sexual assault, offensive sexual conduct, complicity in sexual assault, and bullying deserve serious attention by anyone responsible for evaluating a judicial nominee.  But throughout Judge Kavanaugh’s fiery and sometimes tearful testimony, he repeatedly evaded questions about his willingness to have the FBI investigate the allegations by making self-serving and self-righteous claims about his academic rank in high school and college, his efforts as an athlete, and his friendships as if that information somehow should matter to anyone trying to learn the truth about the allegations.

Does anyone seriously contend that a woman or person of color who behaved as Judge Kavanaugh did during testimony anywhere would be considered credible? 

Ponder disregard for the rule of adverse inference.  It is universally recognized – meaning accepted law everywhere – that when a party with the power to produce information concerning a material issue fails or refuses to do so, that failure or refusal creates a reasonable inference that the information would be unfavorable to that party.  Trial judges and lawyers recognize this as the adverse inference instruction. 

That instruction is expressed in Arkansas Model Jury Instruction 106A as follows:  Where relevant evidence is within the control of the party in whose interest it would naturally be to produce it, and that party fails to do so without satisfactory explanation, you may draw the inference that such evidence would have been unfavorable to that party. 

Judge Kavanaugh’s refusal to consent to an FBI investigation and President Trump’s refusal to order an FBI investigation into the serious allegations about Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness creates an inference that evidence which might have been uncovered during an FBI investigation – which Judge Kavanaugh refused to request and President Trump refused to order – concerning those allegations would have been unfavorable to Judge Kavanaugh’s quest for confirmation. 

Whatever one may think about Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court, one thing is obvious.  September 27, 2018 was not a good day for the Supreme Court, the nation, survivors of sexual violence, the rule of law, cultural competence, and justice. 

Thank you, President Trump.  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

THIS IS ANOTHER TAMAR TRAVESTY


©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is a Verb!
September 27, 2018

As President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee go through the motions surrounding the sexual assault and other allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, I invite you to recall the Old Testament account concerning Tamar. 

According to 2 Samuel 13, Tamar was “a beautiful sister” of Absalom, King David’s second son.  She was also half-sister to Amnon, King David’s first son.  Amnon raped Tamar.  At 2 Samuel 13:21, we read that King David refused to punish Amnon because “he loved him, for he was his firstborn,” meaning the crown prince.  2 Samuel 13 offers important lessons about patriarchy, male privilege, objectification of women, and the ways powerful men mistreat victims of sexual assault. 

Judge Brett Kavanaugh denies that he sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blassy Ford when they were teenagers.  He denies that he was present along with Mark Judge (his college roommate) when young women were plied with alcohol and sexually assaulted by other men.  He denies that he engaged in offensive sexual conduct toward women at all.  Then what makes the Old Testament lesson about Tamar relevant to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation? 

Like Tamar, Dr. Ford and the other women who accuse Judge Kavanaugh of sexual violence have been maligned by powerful men who are determined to shield Judge Kavanaugh.  President Trump, Majority Leader McConnell, Judiciary Chairman Grassley, and Republican members on the Senate Judiciary Committee seem determined to shield Judge Kavanaugh from an impartial and professional investigation concerning the accusations by Dr. Ford and the other women who have accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual violence.  Judge Kavanaugh, like Amnon, is getting “crown prince” treatment from the very people who have the authority and obligation to investigate the sexual assault allegations. 

Don’t be fooled because Senator Grassley has hired Maricopa County, Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Dr. Ford before the Judiciary Committee today.  Seasoned prosecutors and defense lawyers question witnesses publicly only after thoroughly investigating the background of those witnesses and the subjects the witnesses will testify about.  The FBI hasn’t investigated the sexual assault allegations about Judge Kavanaugh by Dr. Ford or anyone else.  The FBI hasn’t investigated Judge Kavanaugh’s denials of those allegations.  Why?  Because Judge Kavanaugh, like Amnon, is getting “crown prince” treatment from the people who can require FBI investigations into the sexual assault allegations.

Neither the prophet, Nathan, nor any other prophet spoke up for Tamar.  No religious leader denounced what happened to her, or condemned the way King David and other powerful men shielded Amnon.  Likewise, none of the religious leaders who brag about their access to President Trump and influence with Majority Leader McConnell, Chairman Grassley, and other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have been quoted in the media concerning the sexual assault allegations made by Dr. Ford and other women.  Why?  Because Judge Kavanaugh, like Amnon, is getting “crown prince” treatment from religionists who claim to be moral counselors to Judge Kavanaugh’s political sponsors and allies. 

Amnon, as crown prince, was positioned to succeed David as king of Israel.  Judge Kavanaugh is positioned to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court of the United States.  Like Tamar, Dr. Ford and other women who have accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual violence are being patronized – but not protected – because they are viewed as disposable obstacles to the elevation of a privileged man to higher office.    

Privileged politicians and religious leaders – all men – are shielding Judge Kavanaugh and mistreating Dr. Ford and other victims of sexual violence in 2018 the same way privileged and powerful politicians and religious leaders – all men – shielded Amnon and mistreated Tamar in the Old Testament. 

I’ve written this essay to condemn the latest example of the Tamar travesty.  I’m also calling on Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton of Arkansas to refrain from voting whether to confirm Judge Kavanaugh until the FBI has investigated and issued a written report to the Office of the President and the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning the accusations from Dr. Ford and other sexual violence victims. 

What are you doing to condemn and prevent the current example of the Tamar travesty? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

HAIL TO THE HYPOCRITES



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

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faith… You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!  Matthew 23:23-24 (New Revised Standard Version)

Those prophetic words by Jesus concerned moral and political leaders in Palestine during his lifetime.  They also apply, sadly, to evangelical religious conservatives and national political leaders regarding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). 

The Constitution of the United States vests authority in the President of the United States (POTUS) to nominate “Judges of the supreme court” (Article II, Section 2.2) “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.”  President Trump is the only person authorized to nominate Judge Kavanaugh to become Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  He is also the only person authorized to request an investigative report, in writing, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the Justice Department concerning Judge Kavanaugh’s background for honesty, integrity, legal competence, and moral and ethical fitness. 

President Trump is the only person who can authorize the FBI to investigate the allegation by Dr. Christine Blassy Ford that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford when they were teenagers.

President Trump is the only person who can authorize the FBI to investigate the allegation by Deborah Ramirez that Judge Kavanaugh sexually exposed himself to her when they were students at Yale University. 

President Trump is the only person who can authorize the FBI to investigate reports by Judge Kavanaugh’s former schoolmates that Judge Kavanaugh engaged in boorish and offensive conduct during bouts of drinking when they attended high school, college, and law school. 

President Trump is the only person who can authorize the FBI to investigate whether Judge Kavanaugh's denials about the allegations are true.  He knows this.  Judge Kavanaugh knows this.  The members of the United States Senate know this.

Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of the U.S. Senate are the people can request that President Trump direct the FBI to investigate the allegations that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, sexually exposed himself to Ms. Ramirez, and engaged in drunken and boorish conduct during his years in high school, college, and law school.  They refuse to do so. And they also refuse to subpoena people with knowledge about Judge Kavanaugh's background concerning the sexual assault, sexual exhibitionism, and intemperate drinking allegations.

President Trump despises the FBI and its investigative role because he despises the rule of law. Mr. Trump fired James Comey as Director of the FBI after Comey refused to declare personal allegiance to Trump.  President Trump regularly criticizes the FBI for investigating allegations about corrupt practices, dishonesty, and other misbehavior by Trump administration officials, by Paul Manafort (Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016), Trump’s personal attorney, and people involved in Trump’s business practices. 

President Trump is a notorious misogynist and self-admitted sexual predator.  He once described his daughter as “a fine piece of ass.”   He once bragged that his maleness, celebrity, and wealth enable him to forcibly grab women by their genitalia. 

Majority Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley know these things about President Trump.  Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee know these things about President Trump.  They and other Republican members of the Senate are not requesting President Trump to authorize the FBI to investigate serious allegations of sexual assault, sexual exhibitionism, and intemperate drinking by Judge Kavanaugh.  

Those leaders know that President Trump despises the FBI. And they know the FBI is routinely trusted to conduct non-partisan investigations concerning the backgrounds of all federal judges.  Each member of the Senate could properly refuse to vote on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination unless and until the Senate Judiciary Committee has received an FBI report and had the opportunity to conduct proceedings concerning the allegations against him based on that report.  Any member of the Senate could publicly announce that he or she will not vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh unless and until the FBI has investigated the allegations, issued a report concerning them to the Office of the President and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Judiciary Committee members have included the report and any questions they have regarding it in confirmation hearings.  

It is telling that no Senator has announced that he or she will take that principled stance.  Their refusal to do so makes each Senator complicit with President Trump’s gross disregard for the rule of law.

Judge Kavanaugh denies the allegations that he sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, exposed himself to Ms. Ramirez, and engaged in intemperate drinking.  However, because President Trump refuses to authorize the FBI to investigate those allegations, Judge Kavanaugh knows the allegations will not be investigated by the only non-partisan investigative agency authorized to question him and anyone else about them.  

Make no mistake, Judge Kavanaugh doesn't want an FBI investigation into those allegations.  Otherwise, Judge Kavanaugh would have issued a statement along the following lines:  "In the interest of transparency, the integrity of the confirmation process and the integrity of the Supreme Court, and justice, I ask President Trump to authorize the FBI to investigate the sexual assault, sexual exhibitionism, and drunken misconduct allegations that have been asserted against me.  For the same reasons, I also ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to suspend further consideration of my nomination until the FBI has conducted that investigation and issued a written report concerning the investigation to the Office of the President and to members of the Judiciary Committee.  I pledge to cooperate with FBI investigators and look forward to speaking with them concerning the allegations." 

Judge Kavanaugh has the power to issue that statement.  One word - hypocrisy - explains why he has not done so and will not do so.   

Wealthy donors to Republican politicians and self-proclaimed evangelical religious conservatives are determined to get Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court at all costs.  They want Judge Kavanaugh to overturn SCOTUS rulings that uphold reproductive freedom for women and girls.  They want Judge Kavanaugh to limit the power of federal agencies to protect people, animals, the air, soil, and water from health risks posed by corporate polluters.  They want Judge Kavanaugh to limit access to voting by people who have been historically disenfranchised.  They want Judge Kavanaugh to vote against protections for workers. 

Hail to the hypocrites!  One longs to see people who believe in justice, mercy, and faith denounce them the way Jesus did. 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you ...have neglected… justice and mercy and faith… You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! 


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

MISOGYNY, HYPOCRISY, AND THE BRETT KAVANAUGH SCOTUS CONFIRMATION PROCESS


Justice Is A Verb!
©Wendell Griffen, 2018

To use the lyrics of a song by Stevie Wonder (You Haven’t Done Nothing), I’ve been “amazed but not amused” by the way people have reacted since Dr. Christine Blassey Ford’s allegation surfaced last week that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. 

It is amazing that people who profess to be “tough on crime” now seem willing to treat an allegation of attempted rape as mere horseplay because it allegedly was perpetrated by a drunken teenager named Brett Kavanaugh.

It is amazing that people who profess to support law enforcement – including members of the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate – are unwilling to allow the premier law enforcement investigative agency in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to investigate an allegation of attempted rape by a nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

It is amazing that the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is unwilling to direct the FBI to investigate the allegation that President Trump’s nominee, Judge Kavanaugh, sexually assaulted Christine Blassey when they were teenagers.

It makes no difference that other women consider Judge Kavanaugh to be a decent man.  The issue is whether he tried to rape Dr. Christine Blassey Ford when they were teenagers.  If he did, then the issue is whether attempted rape – even as a juvenile – is conduct that should be considered in determining whether Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed for appointment as an Associate Justice of the United States. 

In short, the issue is whether the nation deserves an impartial investigation concerning an allegation of juvenile misogyny, and whether that conduct, if it occurred, should somehow be excused decades later when the alleged misogynist is a candidate for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the United States.  Do we really mean what we say when we say that women and girls deserve to be safe from sexual assault?  Or are we only paying lip service to the belief that sexual assault is despicable conduct, regardless to the age of an alleged assailant? 

Chairman Charles “Chuck” Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee should formally request that President Trump direct the FBI to investigate Dr. Ford’s sexual assault allegation against Judge Kavanaugh.  After all, investigation of presidential nominees for key appointments in the federal government, including appointments to the SCOTUS, is what the FBI routinely does. 

However, I doubt that will happen.  Chairman Grassley, his Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell know how much President Trump dislikes – despises is probably the more accurate word – the FBI, the Justice Department, and the investigative process.  President Trump holds the wrong-headed belief that the Justice Department owes him, rather than the nation, personal loyalty. 

It is also rather unlikely, for another reason, that President Trump will ask the FBI to investigate Judge Kavanaugh regarding sexual assault.  President Trump has a less-than-favorable record when it comes to fair treatment of women.  He once bragged that his wealth, maleness, and celebrity allows him to forcibly grab the genitalia of women.

One is reminded of how King David, the second ruler of Israel, and other male leaders of his government failed after David's son and crown prince, Amnon, raped his half-sister and David's daughter Tamar (see 2 Samuel 13).  Tamar spent the rest of her life as an un-vindicated sexual assault victim because David and other male leaders were more interested in protecting Amnon than they were concerned about her.  

I hope Dr. Ford holds fast to her demand for an FBI investigation of her sexual assault allegation against Judge Kavanaugh.  Whatever the outcome of such an investigation might be, the nation can be sure that it will performed by qualified law enforcement professionals, including people skilled in performing investigations of sexual assault allegations. 

Professor Ford deserves to have her allegation investigated by the FBI.  Judge Kavanaugh also deserves it.  Above all, the nation deserves it.  It remains to be seen whether hypocrisy will cause Senator Grassley, his Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, Majority Leader McConnell, and President Trump to try to fool the nation and wider world into believing they want a thorough investigation about whether Judge Kavanaugh engaged in a sexual assault – attempted rape.   

As Stevie Wonder put it so well in You Haven’t Done Nothing, “we are amazed but not amused by all the things you say you’ll do.”

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.