Monday, August 28, 2017


©Wendell Griffen, 2017
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR
August 27, 2017 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

Exodus 1:8-2:10
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews* you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’
2Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. 3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,*‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out* of the water.’


Your voice burns within the depths of our being,
O God of our ancestors,
and draws us into your presence and service.
Hear the cries of your people
and speak a word of comfort,
that we may proclaim to all the earth
the glory of your name. Amen.

        Across the United States and elsewhere around the world, people are concerned about what some consider a resurgence of bigotry, hatefulness, white nationalism and white supremacy.  

·       We worship today two weeks and a day after a young woman – Heather Heyer – was murdered and 19 other people were injured in Charlottesville, Virginia by a white supremacy sympathizer who used a car as an instrument of terror and destruction. 
·       The evening before that tragedy, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and neo-Fascists marched onto the campus of the University of Virginia shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans.  They surrounded a chapel where people from many faith traditions and ancestries were assembled for prayer and preparation to protest against white supremacy and racism the next day.
·       Last Tuesday evening, President Trump boldly hinted that he would issue a pardon to former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Arpaio was convicted by a federal judge on the charge of criminal contempt of court for willfully disobeying a 2011 court order that required his agency to stop racially profiling Latinos.  On Friday afternoon, while national attention was understandably focused on the threat Hurricane Harvey presented to the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coastal region, Mr. Trump announced that Arpaio would be pardoned. 
·       On Thursday evening, people gathered in the Old Supreme Court room of the Arkansas State Capitol for a public meeting concerning the Little Rock School District heard Commissioner of Education Johnny Key and members of the Arkansas Board of Education declare they do not plan to restore local governance to the Little Rock School District at any specific time.  The State of Arkansas dissolved the democratically elected Little Rock School Board of Directors on January 28, 2015.  Since that time, the largest public school district in the largest and most racially diverse city in Arkansas has been run by Commissioner Key, un-elected bureaucrat and former state legislator with no previous experience or education in public education. 

The passage we ponder today offers helpful moral, ethical, and theological light for us about how God’s people should respond to bigotry, hatefulness, nationalism and claims of ethnic supremacy that are disguised as appeals to “law and order.”  The book of Exodus begins with this lesson about how an empire – Egypt – was led by a ruler and regime who did not know their own history and who feared the Hebrew minority population.  That collective ignorance and fearfulness motivated the Egyptian ruler and ruling regime to oppress and enslave Hebrew workers.  When they could not work the Hebrews to death, the Egyptian ruler and his regime ordered the death of all Hebrew male babies – infanticide – and commanded that Hebrew mid-wives become murderers. 

But two midwives – Shiprah and Puah – engaged in a non-violent and subversive protest campaign against that scheme.  At Exodus 1:17 we read:  But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.  When summoned before the king to give account for letting Hebrew boys live, Shiprah and Puah claimed that “the Hebrew women … are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (Ex. 1:19).  So Pharaoh – the title of the Egyptian ruler – ordered that all Hebrew baby boys to be thrown into the Nile River (where they would either drown or be devoured by crocodiles).
The first ten verses of Exodus 2 show how one Hebrew family defied that decree.  A Hebrew husband and wife did not throw their baby boy into the Nile.  His mother hid him for three months.  When she could no longer hide her son, she built a basket, placed him in it, and hid him among the river reeds.  His sister stood watch to protect him.  After the Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the boy in the basket, the sister volunteered to find a Hebrew nursemaid for him – his mother.   

Pharaoh’s daughter did not obey her father’s royal decree.  Instead, we read how the daughter of a ruler who wanted to wipe out the Hebrew male population paid the mother of a Hebrew baby boy to nurse him, not kill him.  The daughter of a tyrant bent on murder and infanticide became the protector and sponsor of a boy she eventually named Moses.

One lesson this passage offers is that ignorance, fear, bigotry, and greed work together to cause hateful and oppressive results for immigrants and other vulnerable people.  The Egyptian Pharaoh and his ruling regime “did not know Joseph.” 

Why did they not know how their nation had been faithfully served and saved by Joseph, the immigrant great grandson of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham?    

Did the regime “not know Joseph” because Egyptian historians did not include Joseph’s service in accounts of Egyptian history? 

Did the Pharaoh “did not know Joseph” because Egyptian educators did not teach about Joseph and the contributions of Hebrews to Egyptian society?
Did the Egyptian ruling regime “not know Joseph” because there were no statues to remind them about him?

How else could anyone ascend to lead the Egyptian government and “not know Joseph?”

A second lesson in this passage is that ignorant, fearful, and hateful people will rely on “law and order” claims to justify wicked policies and practices.  The Pharaoh used fear of being overpowered by the Hebrew immigrant population to motivate Egyptian society against them.  Hebrew immigrants were considered national security threats, not neighbors. 

The fear-mongering, bigotry, discrimination, and violence against immigrants we read about in Exodus 1 are in keeping with the attitudes used to justify the policies and actions of Donald Trump, Joe Arpaio, Adolf Hitler, and other nationalists across human history against marginalized people.  Fear of being dominated and the obsessive desire to dominate others are foundation rocks for every “law and order” reaction to demands for liberation and justice. 

This passage also highlights the role of women as leaders in the movement for justice.  The Hebrew midwives – Shiprah and Puah – conducted the first non-violent subversive protest movement against tyranny that we find in the Bible.  The mother and sister of Moses concealed him and guarded him.  Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion for him and financed his care.  His mother nurtured him until he was old enough to be delivered to Pharaoh’s daughter, who reared him as her son. 

Women are not secondary characters in this account of the early life of Moses.  The heroes in this account are heroines – “she-roes.”  Women paved the way for Moses.  Without the courage and cleverness of Shiprah and Puah, there would have been no Moses.  Without the determination and resourcefulness of his mother and sister, there would have been no Moses.  Without the deliberate  decision of Pharaoh’s daughter to defy her father’s order to kill Hebrew boys, there would have been no Moses. 

Shiprah and Puah protected Hebrew boys because they feared God.  That’s important to remember.  They engaged in social protest because they feared God.  They did not obey the law – they were law breakers, not law followers – because the justice of God is always superior to legal rules imposed to dominate and oppress others! 

Shiprah and Puah disobeyed the law because they feared God.  They shielded Hebrew families from losing their sons because they feared God.  They misled ruling authorities because they feared God. 

Think of Shiprah and Puah as forerunners of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Remember Shiprah and Puah not only when you think about Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Day, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Coretta Scott King.  Remember Shiprah and Puah when you think about Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, John Brown, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jeremiah Wright, Jr.!

Remember Shiprah and Puah when you think about other women who refuse to “go along and get along” with ruthless men and oppressive schemes.  When preachers try to talk you out of following the unction of the Holy Spirit, remember Shiprah and Puah.  Acknowledge that you are competent to hear and understand God’s will without a male filter.  Trust that the same God who inspired Shiprah and Puah to confront and out-think an empire can and will inspire you to become an agent for love, truth, justice, peace, and hope.

In the same way the Egyptian Pharaoh and his regime “did not know Joseph,” many religious people do not know Shiprah and Puah.  Preachers and other religious people who provide cover as tyrants oppress vulnerable populations based on bogus fears about threats to national security and “law and order” do not know Shiprah and Puah.  Bible school teachers and counselors who say women and girls must obey and submit to abusive male leaders and tolerate misogyny do not know Shiprah and Puah. 

But more than that, they do not fear God!  They do not reverence God as author of life, love, and liberty for all persons.  They do not reverence the divine command that we love God with all our being and love one another –including persons who are different from us – as ourselves. 

Politicians and preachers who claim the right to lead based on maleness not only disregard the Biblical role of women in the life of Moses.  They disregard God’s influence in devout women to produce justice and liberation. 

The good news is that God works to produce justice in subversive ways – not by “law and order” – but in subversive ways!  We live to obey the subversive God of Shiprah and Puah!  We serve the subversive God whose love inspired a Hebrew mother and daughter to protect and defend Moses.  We are people of the subversive God who inspired a noblewoman to defy her father and the rules of his realm as being part of a conspiracy to save the life of a Hebrew boy. 

In the name of that subversive God, do not be afraid to resist the tyrants of our time who are oppressing immigrants and other marginalized populations. 

In the name of that subversive God, do not be afraid to work for justice for transgender persons.  In the name of that subversive God, rise up and resist President Trump’s order to ban transgender persons from military service.  In the name of that subversive God, resist his plan to discriminate against service members who are transgender. 

In the name of our subversive God, resist the effort to deny equal access to higher education to children of undocumented immigrants. 

In the name of our subversive God, let us live for justice and liberation for all persons.  In the name of our subversive God, let us stand against every law, resist every ruler, denounce every movement, and bravely overcome any threat and force for hate, fear, ignorance, and oppression. 

We are God’s subversive people.  We are subversive because God is subversive!  We are subversive because justice is always subversive to tyranny.  We are subversive because truth is always subversive to propaganda and deceit.  We are subversive because God’s love is always subversive to hate.  We are subversive, and in the name of the subversive love and justice of God witnessed by Shiprah, Puah, and the other women in this passage, let us work for justice and overcome the forces of “law and order.”


Wednesday, August 23, 2017


©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
August 23, 2017

Perhaps the most memorable line from the Apollo 13 motion picture was “Houston, we have a problem,” spoken by actor Tom Hanks who portrayed Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated space mission.  It’s time that we in the United States admit our problem.

On November 8, 2016, voters elected someone who is intellectually, emotionally, socially, and culturally incompetent as our leader.  We should confess our error.  Stop expecting Mr. Trump to “grow” into his job as President of the United States.  Stop accepting excuses for his failings. 

We should, instead, bravely admit what the rest of the world knew months ago.  We screwed up by electing Donald Trump, the most incompetent person in recent memory – if not in all US political history – to lead the world’s most sophisticated nation.  Let’s admit this truth now and begin to correct our colossal error. 

One need only recall the events of the past two weeks and Trump’s dismal job performance surrounding and in the aftermath of the tragic situation that occurred in
Charlottesville, Virginia.  Trump’s intellectual, emotional, social, and cultural incompetence has been apparent.  He is pathologically deceitful.  He does not know history.  He has demonstrated no empathy or insight about the damage caused by what he says and does. 

It does not matter that Trump remains supported by his partisan base within the Republican Party.  Trump’s job is to lead a multi-cultural nation, not headline a partisan movement.  His moral and political obligation for the first six months of his presidency was to present and advance a national agenda, bring the divided nation together around it, work with other elected officials, and staff his administration with competent people to manage it. 

Trump failed to staff competently and adequately.  Witness the many positions in the executive branch that remain unfilled seven months after he took office.  Witness the firings and resignations of some of the people in his administration since he took office. 

Trump has alienated his administration from the Congress and from the Courts, the other two branches of US government. 

Trump has insulted, openly frustrated, and mismanaged US military leaders.  He has offended US allies.  His bickering and bellicose threats with the leader of North Korea have made the world less safe.  Our allies do not trust Trump for help in managing any serious global issue.  Our adversaries do not respect Trump’s ability to manage any challenge to global peace. 

Donald Trump is not a danger to our nation and world because of ISIS, North Korea, globalization, global warming and climate change, or the latest manifestation of white supremacy.  Trump is a danger to our nation and world because people in the United States elected the most incompetent politician among us to the most difficult political office in the world. 

Now we must decide what to do about the mess we’ve made. 

First, we must quit enabling Trump, making excuses for him, telling ourselves and others that he needs time to acclimate himself to his work, and saying he isn’t accustomed to the workings of government.  Trump is in the Oval Office.  We put him there.   We should stop making excuses for his failings and tell ourselves – and Trump – that he is incompetent. 

Second, Congress must step up and fulfill its constitutional function as a separate and co-equal branch of government.  That is what federal judges have done from the outset of the Trump presidency – to his great displeasure – by refusing to uphold Trump’s attempts to ban Muslims from immigrating to the United States.  Members of Congress and the Senate appear to have finally realized they are not Trump’s hirelings, although the Arkansas congressional delegation appears to be an exception.   

Third, thought leaders must condemn and resist Trump’s unjust leadership.  Donald Trump’s insensitive response to the tragic situation in Charlottesville should be condemned by politicians, pundits, and preachers, at family tables, and in other social settings. 

We should question, challenge, expose, and reject Trump’s sinister and senseless initiatives and actions.  Trump went to Phoenix, Arizona for a rally to promote his 2020 re-election campaign on August 22, ten days after Heather Heyer was murdered and 19 other people were wounded when a white supremacy sympathizer allegedly drove a car into them in Charlottesville.   At the rally, Trump did not call on the audience to pray for Charlottesville.  He did not call on the audience to remember Heather Heyer’s grief-stricken family and the people injured by the attack. 

Trump did not behave like a national healer, but like someone who took personal offense about being criticized for his lack of compassion and moral awareness.  He lied about what he said after Charlottesville.  He lied about how news outlets reported his remarks.  Then he openly revealed his intention to issue a presidential pardon to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the 21st Century manifestation of the kind of racial bigotry shown by Eugene “Bull” Connor in Birmingham, Alabama against discrimination protestors during the Sixties. 

We should tell Donald Trump to resign!  We should not wait for him to be impeached.  We should not wait for Robert Mueller to issue indictments against Trump, members of his family, or others involved with his unscrupulous conduct. 

We need to tell Trump and one another that our situation will only worsen while he remains in office.  We put him there.  For the sake of our democracy and global peace, we must make Donald Trump go.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
August 17, 2017

It has been interesting to observe reactions by “good” white people who claim to be followers of Jesus and also supporters of Donald Trump in the past several months.  And it has been “interesting” to observe “good” white followers of Jesus who are Trump supporters struggle to explain their disappointment and shock surrounding last weekend’s tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia.  There, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, neo-Fascists, Ku Klux Klan sympathizers, and others associated with the so-called “alt-right” movement physically assaulted and threatened counter-protestors, including people assembled for a Friday evening prayer and preparation service at a Charlottesville church.  The next day they attacked counter-protestors.  After those attacks, a young woman named Heather Heyer was killed and 19 other persons were injured by someone who rammed into a car into them as they were walking away from the site of the violence.

It has been “interesting” to observe “good” white politicians who claim to be followers of Jesus and also Trump supporters as they’ve tried to distance themselves from Mr. Trump’s full-throated claim that the people who carried torches and shouted racist and anti-Semitic chants as they marched toward the church where counter-protestors were praying were “many fine people.”

It has been interesting to watch Southern Baptist and other neo-fundamentalist clergy and laypersons who voted for Trump in overwhelming numbers and, by doing so, elected him to the presidency.  The common theme running through their responses to what happened in Charlottesville has been a call to prayer and re-affirmation that racism and bigotry run counter to the gospel of Jesus, as shown in this article (

But white evangelical Christian leaders have not criticized President Trump since Charlottesville.  When have you seen or heard a local pastor of a congregation of Trump voters criticize Trump’s statement that the crowd of torch-carrying and slogan chanting people who marched on and surrounded a Charlottesville church where counter-protestors gathered for prayer and preparation included “many fine people”?  “Good” white evangelical Christians have been practically speechless since the November 2016 presidential election despite the fact that news outlets, in-depth magazine reports, and even Facebook and YouTube postings have detailed acts of hate speech as well as physical and online acts of racism. 

Given what happened in Charlottesville, white Christians who voted for Donald Trump should remember what John Pavlovitz, a member of the pastoral staff of a white, non-denominational evangelical church in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote on his blog the day after Donald Trump’s electoral victory in a post titled White Christians Who Voted for Donald Trump:  Fix This, Now (  

We Christians like to talk about Hell a lot, so let’s talk about Hell a little.

They need to hear from Elijah-like prophets – such as John Pavlovitz.  They will not do so from one reason.  Their preachers are not like Elijah, not like Pavlovitz, and not like Jesus.They need to hear from Elijah-like prophets – such as John Pavlovitz.  They will not do so for one reason.  Their preachers are not like Elijah, not like Pavlovitz, and not like Jesus.