Friday, March 30, 2018


©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is a Verb!
March 30, 2018

            Good Friday marks the crucifixion/assassination/lynching of Jesus, the Jewish prophet whose ministry of healing and preaching presented the people and powers of 1st Century Palestine with a radical alternative to imperial religion, commerce, government, and culture.  We do not experience Easter correctly by ignoring, discounting, or deliberately mis-stating this.  This year Good Friday and Easter occur within days of April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.  The coincidence is more than ironic. 

Good Friday reminds us that religion, commerce, government, and culture are constantly tempted and threatened by notions of empire, including the myth of sanctified violence.  South African theologian Allan Boesak makes this point in his latest book, Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood Red Waters, in the following words.

Empires not only create realities of dominations and subjugation; they also create myths:  of invincibility, endless power, infinite duration, great beneficence, and divine incarnation.  Crucial to all these is what Walter Wink called the “myth of redemptive violence.”  Instead of acknowledging the violence it uses because it is needed for continued domination, subjugation, and exploitation, the empire “enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war makes peace, that might makes right.”  Consequently violence is not only necessary; it is the only thing that “works.” [1]

The sanctioned violence that killed Jesus resulted in the recent slaying of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black father, brother, and grandson, by two Sacramento, California police officers.  Stephon Clark was shot 20 times in the backyard of his grandmother’s home, where he lived until he was slain.  He was given no medical attention for several minutes after he was gunned down.  After being shot 20 times, Stephon Clark was handcuffed, but denied medical attention or assistance.  Stephon Clark was mutilated so much from the gunshot wounds and two autopsy procedures that his family was forced to hold a closed casket funeral service.   

If we do not connect Stephon Clark with Good Friday it is because we are somehow unable or unwilling to detect the similarity between the slaying of Jesus and the slaying of Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jr., Amadou Diallo, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Eugene Ellison, and so many other black, brown, and poor white unarmed persons by the armed and militarized agents of political, commercial, religious, and cultural empire.  If we do not connect the assassination of Dr. King with Good Friday, we are not likely to connect the slaughter of Stephon Clark and so many others with Good Friday.  Like Jesus and Dr. King, people like Stephon Clark have been slain after being hounded, spied on, and threatened by armed and militarized agents of political, commercial, cultural, and religious empire. 

Finally, it is important that we realize how Dr. King’s memory, ministry, and message are “re-assassinated” by self-serving political, religious, commercial, and cultural agents of empire. When people gather on April 4 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, politicians, captains of greed, religious pretenders, and cultural hijackers of all varieties who have spent their careers distancing themselves from or opposing Dr. King’s work of social justice will clamor to be seen, heard, quoted, and considered as disciples of his prophetic devotion to the Beloved Community.

In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson is scheduled to be the “keynote” speaker for a mid-day gathering at the State Capitol on April 4.  Governor Hutchinson’s official bio states that he is a graduate from the University Of Arkansas School Of Law.  It does not disclose that he graduated from Bob Jones University in South Carolina in 1972, four years after Dr. King was slain. On Easter (April 17, 1960), Bob Jones, Sr. delivered a radio sermon titled, “Is Segregation Scriptural?” which served as the University racial position paper through the ’60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  Bob Jones University did not enroll Africans or African-Americans until 1971, three years after Dr. King’s death and one year before Governor Hutchinson received his undergraduate degree.  In 1976, the Internal Revenue Service revoked the tax exemption for Bob Jones University, retroactively to 1970, because the institution practiced racial discrimination.  Governor Hutchinson enrolled in and attended a racially-segregated college four years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for which Dr. King labored and countless people suffered and died. 

As Administrator of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Governor Hutchinson led DEA actions that contributed to mass incarceration of persons of color and low-income white persons for non-violent drug offenses, a problem described by Professor Michelle Alexander as “the new Jim Crow.”  And Governor Hutchinson’s “keynote” speaker role on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination is more odious because of his past advocacy with the National Rifle Association.  Recall, that Dr. King and his mother were murdered by persons who shot them to death.  Recall that the NRA has led opposition to regulate firearms and has resisted governmental attempts to study the health impact of firearms in the U.S. 

Given this history, Governor Hutchinson’s “keynote” address will amount to “re-assassination” of Dr. King’s memory when the governor pimps Dr. King’s moral authority on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. 

Remember Jesus, Dr. King, and Stephon Clark, and other victims of state-sanctioned violence on Good Friday.  Remember the names and faces of the racists, militarists, and materialists who have spent the last half-century pimping Dr. King’s name and memory while fighting the causes for which he lived and died.  Then remember the part of the Sermon on the Mount that is rarely quoted, but which speaks with unflinching accuracy on Good Friday, Easter, and any other time.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? ...You will know them by their fruits.  (Matthew 7:15-16, New Revised Standard Version). 

[1] Allan Aubrey Boesak, Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood-Red Waters:  Prophetic Critique on Empire-Resistance, Justice, and the Power of the Hopeful Sizwe—A Transatlantic Conversation (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017), pp. 81-82.