Boycotts As a Signal of Virtue

Recently yet another outrage has occurred to provoke the sensibilities of all Christians* everywhere—a city in North Carolina said that people who are already using public restrooms in relative privacy can continue to do so.

The response by the state of North Carolina was swift and sure. Action with more alacrity than the state of Michigan confronting the poisoned waters of Flint, the North Carolina legislature convened, debated, amended, passed (from both houses) a bill to the governor, who signed the bill into law, all in under 24 hours.  (That the bill included entirely unrelated Christmas-tree decorations that also stripped rights to sue the state government was simply the icing on the cake, but of course the cake is not a lie.)

In response to that, some agitator-groups pushed back to say that North Carolina was—get this—acting bigoted by shaming and excluding people who up to now had not been the focus of anyone in North Carolina until the state legislature stepped in. And some businesses and governments reacting by withdrawing from North Carolina, or re-asserting that they wouldn’t otherwise discriminate against transgender Americans.

Then other groups stepped in to say that they would boycott businesses that would allow Americans to use the public restroom of their choice, and these groups decided to target Target (surely the best phrase since a trip to France to take a tour of Tours) with a boycott.

Whew. I think I’ve listed everything.

The fascinating thing is that these boycotters of Target decided to use media and social outlets to announce and publicize their movement. You can’t go a page on Facebook without seeing a posting from one group or another.  Twitter is alive with outrage.

People are using businesses that support transgender civil rights to …communicate a boycott of businesses that support transgender civil rights.

It’s really an impossible task, to boycott businesses that allow transgender Americans to use the public restrooms they feel comfortable in – like the always have.

Always.

Have.

And good luck with that boycott. Here’s a short list of the businesses that support transgender civil rights.

Go for it, agitators.

Facebook
Twitter
Google
Apple
McDonalds
Coca-Cola
Anheuser-Busch
Walgreens
CVS
American Airlines
United Airlines
Southwest Airlines
JetBlue Airlines
Alaska Airlines
Boeing
Ford
GM
Toyota
Nissan
Volkswagen
Nike
Chase Bank
Bank of American
Citi
Wells Fargo
Mastercard
Visa
American Express
Discover
IKEA
Home Depot
JCPenney
Sears
Nordstrom
Target
General Mills
Kellogg
Kraft
Kroeger
DirecTV
Sirius XM
Sony
Universal
Paramount
Disney
Warner Brothers
Comcast
AT&T
Time Warner

* If you’ve read this far, you would realize that of course it is only a minority of Christians who feel angered by transgendered Americans. But boy are they loud.

America Is a Christian Nation: We Should Have Christian Laws

I have been hearing this lately with regards to transgender “rights” in American culture. (I put “rights” in quotes because the argument is being made that transgender people don’t have rights; they are somehow granted some special privilege to enjoy some aspects of normalcy, but it’s all provisional and can be taken away at any time if we normal people decide it’s time to yank acceptance and safety.)

But let’s face it, there is a strong, strong urge to make this country “Christian.” We have a Christian president. We have a dominate (white) Christian religion. All our leaders, with very few exceptions, are Christians. We have “God” on our currency and in our pledge to our national flag.

Of course we’re a Christian country, right? We have paintings and quotes from our Founding Fathers proving that we’re a Christian nation.

Right?

No. Not true. Not at all.

The Founding Fathers could all be Bible-believing Baptists, and it would not matter. The Constitution–the foundation and charter of our government–is entirely secular.

Christians, non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, all have equal access to government services and power. No one should–and no one must–rule as a sectarian believer. The Constitution does not permit that, and anyone who loves the Constitution, including Christians, should be absolutely against any one religion having control over anyone using the power of the federal government.

You want to enforce your version of Christianity? Feel free to do so–in your church. I won’t have your religion rule over others who are not in your church, and I will not have your religion rule over me. No Christian especially should be seeking to rule over others _because_ they are Christian.

If you are given power over others because of the rule of law, exercise your rulership according only to the law, not to the dictates of your religion.

The Jesus I serve (somewhat unreliably, it seems) would not be made King over our nation. He would be made Lord of our individual hearts.

Work on that, first. Then we can talk about making America “Christian.”

A Review of "Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism"

TroubleIveSeenSo this book is several things.

One, it is a book of theology of the kingdom of the Messiah. Dr. Hart lays out the plans of God through Jesus Christ in instituting his kingdom, which is topsy-turvy: it is not power-based, it is not authority-based, it is not self-based. It is, instead, based upon love and community, honesty and commitment, risk and sacrifice and the great great reward of connection with Jesus. For that alone, you should read this book.

It is also a book about America, plainly stated, as it was, and is, and perhaps may not always be. It is a book about how we Christians have acquired a worldview of the church and society, of God and Jesus, that matches with our own estimation of the normalcy of “whiteness.” There are books which will give you much more detail about the American past, creating the concept of “whiteness” and “blackness” in order to justify power and ownership of one person over another. There are books which will give you more details about how these all worked out in society, from redlining to education to family stability to job access, even to the point of membership and participation in the church. The thesis is that we American Christians have re-created the Jesus of Scripture to be a slightly more beneficent-appearing Uncle Sam, a Jesus committed to the supremacy of America, along with its violence and authority and rulership. The Jesus of the America church, he argues, represents a Jesus we have created in our image so that we may receive approval for our actions in his name. It is not a Jesus that represents humility and service and sacrifice, but one that represents anger and exclusion and hostility to anyone who might threaten the power of America or the church–which are often confused as being the same thing.

It is also a book about wounding and healing, about the many, many millions of people who have been wounded by American, Christian values, and even in their wounding have been overlooked and dismissed. It is a book that opens up the Book; it talks about the real Kingdom and the real Jesus and how He cannot be used by anyone to advance a political or religious objective; indeed, it appears that Jesus has his own agenda and purposes, and they are not necessarily being implemented in the American church. Dr. Hart makes the argument that Christians, representing Jesus, *should* be at the forefront, all along, of restoration and healing. He provides many examples of the wounding, and provides many ideas for the healing that we, as Christians, can begin implementing.

And finally, it is a book of redemptive love. It is Jesus, after all, who has loved us and saved us, such squabbling nuisances, such angry elves, such short-sighted and individualistic believers, such unloveable and unloved humans. Above all the message of Dr. Hart is the reminder that Jesus is worth knowing and loving and serving, that Jesus is in the business of restoration and healing, that Jesus is calling us all, right now, to participate in his kingdom, that Jesus’ love is not limited by his need for power and authority, that people are always, ALWAYS more important than success or fame or accomplishment.

There are many great stories in this book. A few spoke to me more than others. One is his story (also told elsewhere) of the meeting of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franklin Fisher. It pulled together the life of Bonhoeffer for me–I knew he made a great sacrifice during WWII, but did not understand how he had come to be the person who could walk out his life that way. The other is the story of a women in contemporary American, a white woman, who found herself in a situation she was unprepared to handle regarding an honest, open discussion of racial actions and reactions in the American church. She was unable to handle her emotional reactions (it’s not an uncommon thing), and was honest enough to admit her anxieties. The response of Dr. Hart was perfect, meeting her at her level, actively listening, helping her stay on her journey–and yet not dismissing the importance of broaching the topic of racism just because it makes a lot of us uncomfortable.

That is the kind of discussions and interactions we need to have. Dr. Hart helpfully provides some mechanisms and actions we can take in response to his message, which are great tools.

It is a full, rich, complete book. It is challenging and hopeful and honest. It is a message of truth that can appear to be brutal because it is not softened by an attempt to be “liked.”

But it is a book worth reading and thinking about.

You can buy it from several sites, including Powells, Amazon, and indie sites.

Amazon print https://www.amazon.com/dp/1513800000

Amazon Kindle https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01CF1TR1Y

Powells http://www.powells.com/book/trouble-ive-seen-9781513800004/

Others http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781513800004

The Christian Response to Public Restroom Access

In his blog post on April 27, 2016 (https://theboeskool.com/2016/04/27/boycotting-target-is-about-the-least-christian-thing-you-could-do/), Mr. Boeskool makes the case that boycotting Target over its public restroom use is a foolish irrelevancy and harmful to very real people. (And, as an aside, this is not a new policy for Target. It is simply their existing policy which has existed for a while.)

You can go read the article. It’s long and painful, but it’s educational.

And of course, it has received some pushback, especially from people who are concerned that allowing trans people to live in America unmolested is the Worst Thing Ever.

One, in particular, posted an opposing view, which I’ll quote in full here (along with a link to the comment).

Chris – “You’ve been peeing next to trans folks for a long time.” you’re right but the trans lgbt community are forcing these issues to the forefront. In most places/most cases we’da been just fine with the way it was but nnooo the LGBT community is never satisfied… always pushing for more. Now folks with common sense have had enough. “If your kid is going to get molested or sexually assaulted, it’s probably at least 1000 times more likely that the perpetrator is going to be a church youth worker than a stranger in a public restroom.” I think you’re exaggerating but partly right…. so does that mean we should elliminate speed limits on highways because after all the #1 cause of accidents is distracted driving, not speeding? Your logic would say this.. SMH. ” Jesus loved the outcast.” You’re right again but He also told them to ‘Go and sin no more.’ Regarding your transgender photos – These “scare samples” mean nothing to people with a brain and common sense. The people you’re depicting have a lot greater issues in life than deciding where to pee. There is no law that will cure their ills and no law that will make them happy, because they have not come to grips with who they are and how they were created. Why is it OK to discriminate against the 99% because the .0001 percent moan, groan, and complain expecting the world to stop and bow at their feet? Thankfully people with common sense who are comfortable in their own skin but not comfortable with an open bathroom policy are fighting back. We have been pushed over the edge. There have been incredible rights given to the LGBT (owe and now also add the letters “QIA” in there. We’ll soon likely be adding the whole alphabet in there including “D” for dog) community, but they are never satisfied… always thirsting for more no matter whose rights they trample. Chris – I admire you and your churches position on loving all people… I really do… yet you regularly bash Christians who hold traditional values. I’ll admit I don’t understand this. And yes I signed the Target Boycott (but you already knew that). One of the reasons our country is in the mess we’re in is because Christians often haven’t taken a stand so yes, it’s refreshing to see we can make a difference. It’s not just the Liberal Left that can force change in our society. And whether Target will admit it or not they are feeling the heat for their choice to be so inclusive that they actually offend and discriminate against a very large swath of their customers. Yes as Christians we can’t fight every battle but I won’t feel guilty in trying to make a difference where I can.

(https://theboeskool.com/2016/04/27/boycotting-target-is-about-the-least-christian-thing-you-could-do/#comment-32023)

I responded there, and am copying here what I said. I think it’s important for Christians, no matter which “side” they’re on, to consider something we rush in to—the desire to make our personal convictions into God’s convictions, and to use the grace of Jesus as a weapon to punish and slay our religious AND political opponents.

Here are my responses to Lonnie’s statement. I do not want to seem to be picking on him, but he has made a public post repeating many of the things I have seen elsewhere, so I’m publishing it here again.

1. “You’ve been peeing next to trans folks for a long time.” you’re right but the trans LGBT community are forcing these issues to the forefront.

Actually, no. The issue is that everything was fine until the straight community started thinking it wasn’t fair to deny Americans equal civil rights. Then people opposed to equal civil rights got scared, and started a campaign to undo the attempts to be fair towards our fellow Americans and fellow human beings.

2. In most places/most cases we’da been just fine with the way it was but nnooo the LGBT community is never satisfied… always pushing for more.

To quote the great Jackie Robinson “A man shouldn’t have to ask for what’s rightfully his.” LGBT (and others) who are not “satisfied” are saying this: “We want the same things you have. If you can go into a store or restaurant or hotel or service station or bakery or flower shop or business and get fair treatment in spite of your straightness, we should be able to get exactly the same levels of service in spite of our non-straightness. That’s all it is—saying that “we want the same stuff you get.”

3. Now folks with common sense have had enough.

Not everyone who is against LGBT equality does so due to common sense. The vast majority of the reaction is based upon fear, hatred, and ignorance.

4. “If your kid is going to get molested or sexually assaulted, it’s probably at least 1000 times more likely that the perpetrator is going to be a church youth worker than a stranger in a public restroom.” I think you’re exaggerating but partly right…. so does that mean we should eliminate speed limits on highways because after all the #1 cause of accidents is distracted driving, not speeding? Your logic would say this.

No, logic would say “If 1000x times more kids are going to be attacked by church youth workers, then let’s focus our attention to where the problem is.” I’ve been a church-going Christian for all my adult life, some 45+ years. In all that time, I have never, ever seen a trans person “attack” anyone. In fact, trans people are people. You’re confusing pedophilia, an actual crime committed by straight adults against powerless children, with non-traditional social behaviors, including the behavior of saying “I would like to live my adult, non-threatening life in a way that pleases me, just like you live your adult live in a non-threatening way.” If trans people need to use the restrooms we straight people use, and they can do so as they have always done—by not making a fuss—then what exactly is the concern?

5. SMH. ” Jesus loved the outcast.” You’re right again but He also told them to ‘Go and sin no more.’

Trans people aren’t sinning. Where did you get that idea from? Jesus said a lot of things recorded in the New Testament, in the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the book of Revelation AFAIK. I looked to see where Jesus made a statement on how trans people are sinning merely by existing, and I could not find it. And I looked for a statement by Jesus in the New Testament where he said “You Christians need to use your religion to make the government punish people who don’t fit your biases and requirements.” I didn’t find those passages. Can you share where you get this idea from, based upon the New Testament words of Jesus? If you need to throw in Paul or the other eyewitness apostles, feel free.

6. Regarding your transgender photos – These “scare samples” mean nothing to people with a brain and common sense.

How do you know this? How do you imagine you can reach inside the heads of people you don’t know?

7. The people you’re depicting have a lot greater issues in life than deciding where to pee.

What are those greater issues? How do you know what they are, and how do you know they are “greater” issues? Are you a trained specialist in any field that would lead anyone to believe you speak authoritatively on how humans behave and what humans want?

8. There is no law that will cure their ills and no law that will make them happy, because they have not come to grips with who they are and how they were created.

Of course not – the purposes of the law aren’t to cure personal ills per se or make people happy per se. The purposes of the law are to enforce reasonable restrictions on behavior so that people in general can enjoy their full human existence without interfering with others’ enjoyment or impinging one’s own enjoyment. It’s up to use to figure out what makes us happy and to pursue it. The law won’t make us happy. It will, we hope, enable us to find the right paths to our own happiness. Not everyone chooses the same path to happiness, which is good and proper, because none of us should be telling someone else what they should do to be happy. We who find happiness can share with others where we found it and how we put it into effect in our lives, but we can’t mandate it.

9. Why is it OK to discriminate against the 99% because the .0001 percent moan, groan, and complain expecting the world to stop and bow at their feet?

Because civil rights are granted at the same level to everyone—100%. If one person in 12 is denied the enjoyment of their civil rights, we pass laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ameliorate that. If it is one person in 100, or one person in 1000, we would still need to pass laws to ensure that all humans, and especially all Americans in a country conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, have equal access to the full and complete enjoyment of their civil rights. We don’t want to make the mistake that just because one sheep is lost we should be fine with the 99 remaining. We go out and ensure that all the sheep are found. We go out and ensure that all men have equal access to their civil rights.

10. Thankfully people with common sense who are comfortable in their own skin but not comfortable with an open bathroom policy are fighting back.

What is an “open bathroom policy,” and why are you concerned about it? Most people in my experience in public restrooms go into these restrooms to do the necessary things. The people who use public restrooms to commit petty and felony crimes are doing so in spite of existing laws. It is not a thing that trans people are somehow committing crimes—they are using restrooms like we straight people do—to void and to eliminate in a private, secure, sanitary, and safe setting. Taking away the ability and access for trans people to use public restrooms will result in what, exactly? Do we then expect trans people to somehow “hold it until you get home”?

11. We have been pushed over the edge.

How? What edge? What in the past has led you to believe that right now, if you go into a restroom, you’ll see a trans person using the restroom which will cause such great distress? The essential nature of trans people is that they comport themselves according to the gender they feel. You literally will not know they are trans. So what is this “edge” that so alarms you?

12. There have been incredible rights given …

Literally not true. A completely wrong statement. Rights are something all humans are endowed with, equally. We straight people are not “giving” trans people (or others) some special inclusion into human rights. We are doing two things: we are acknowledging they are human, and we are doing the good, proper, and Christian thing to afford them the liberty to exercise their human, civil rights.

13. … to the LGBT (owe and now also add the letters “QIA” in there. We’ll soon likely be adding the whole alphabet in there including “D” for dog) community…

This is literally an unchristian things to do here, Lonnie. You just compared the humans for whom your Christ allegedly died for to dogs. The Jesus I’ve learned to worship and whom I attempt to serve didn’t go to that level of scorn and abuse. He somehow found it fit to save me, the chief of sinners. We can discuss differences in what we think about people without comparing them to animals

14. … but they are never satisfied… always thirsting for more no matter whose rights they trample.

Whose rights are trampled? And how? What is the “right” being trampled here? Is there some right to use a public restroom that requires people we know nothing about (and socially, shouldn’t be focusing on anyway in public restrooms) to be blocked from access and use? Please do the very hard work of justifying this very bizarre position.

15. Chris – I admire you and your churches position on loving all people… I really do… yet you regularly bash Christians who hold traditional values.

What are these traditional values that he bashes? And are they good values? The key to living a Christian life is knowing how to follow Jesus in changing times, and how to identify behaviors and attitudes that are not Kingdom-oriented, no matter how common or popular. I don’t see any “traditional” value that says “you need to keep unloveable people from public restroom access.” Traditional values have been, I think, focused on marriage and family and respect and focus. None of these values, however, can exist as values if they are enforced by law to the exclusion of people who do not fit into traditional roles. They aren’t values at that point. My family isn’t threatened by trans people having a place in society. My marriage isn’t weakened. My commitment to my career and job aren’t threatened. My ability to stay true to my values isn’t affected. I live a fairly conventional life, and I also interact with people daily who do not live their lives the way I do, and I’ll tell you this: I’ve never felt threatened that others don’t choose my way of living. It works for me to do what I do. Letting them do what they want to do affects me not one whit.

16. I’ll admit I don’t understand this.

No snark here, but I think you’re right, and this is the truest thing about your statement. If you want to understand this, you are on the right path by starting a conversation and listening to others. We are all growing in our understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to follow Jesus. We all start from the place of saying what you just said: “I’ll admit I don’t understand this.” I started there about a decade ago, convinced my ways and methods were Christian, and yet extremely puzzled why my ways were not generating any change in my own life, not to mention the lives of those I loved and was in community with. It took some extensive shocks and some very hard and painful work to change. I’m not done yet. I can tell you, however, that the freedom to love people and the freedom to live my life in Christ as Christ leads me is overwhelmingly worth it. If you want to go on this journey, I’ll offer all the encouragement I can.

17. And yes I signed the Target Boycott (but you already knew that).

I don’t think anyone else knew that, but it’s useful information. Signing a boycott, however, isn’t that effective. You have to stop shopping at Target. Your choices are limited, but you’ll need to seek out others places that don’t offer fair access to restrooms. I have a very strong suspicion that the number of places with trans-friendly restroom policies will increase.

18. One of the reasons our country is in the mess we’re in …

What mess is that? Are you speaking of poisoned water across the nation due to government malfeasance and incompetence? Crumbling highways? Dismal schools? Crushing poverty? Rich people earning money from the poor and then removing their money to offshore banks? Kids going to bed hungry at night, or going to school hungry? Women living in their cars with their kids, or on the streets, because we don’t have shelter for them? People of color being maltreated for centuries, selected for abuse by police, incarcerated for crimes at far higher rates and for far longer sentences compare to we good, white people? Are those the problems you’re speaking of? Because if you think access to restrooms is a “problem,” I’d suggest you’re aiming your attention far too low.

19. … is because Christians often haven’t taken a stand …

What is “Christian” about blocking access to public restrooms? I have searched my Bible high and low, and don’t see this as a command from Jesus or his apostles. I do see literal commends to feed the sheep, tend the poor, care for widows and orphans, heal the sick, give liberally to those in need. Can you share the parts in the New Testament that tell us to ignore these commands so we can focus on public restrooms?

20. … so yes, it’s refreshing to see we can make a difference.

What difference are you making? Target isn’t changing its long-standing policies. Telling Target you won’t shop there is completely ineffective unless you and others like you stop shopping there. A boycott built on hate and ignorance is going to fail. A boycott that consists of signing an online petition is…literally useless.

21. It’s not just the Liberal Left that can force change in our society.

This is a good thing. We as people can change our direction. Go for it. Speak up. Use your right of petition and assembly. Vote. Organize people. I encourage it. It is the way a civil society functions, by examining their values and changing where change is needed.

22. And whether Target will admit it or not they are feeling the heat for their choice to be so inclusive …

Evidence? What “heat” are they experiencing? A business exists to make money, first. Are Target sales down over all, and are other stores with more restrictive restroom policies doing better when compared to Target? It might feel good to imagine that Target “feels the heat,” but the evidence so far is that they don’t.

23. … that they actually offend and discriminate against a very large swath of their customers.

Who is being offended? Target sells outfits for children that I consider inappropriate, as they sexualize pre-pubescent girls. That, to me, is far worse than letting trans people use a restroom. Do you know that some Christians boycott Target because of this? Do you know that Target still sells these clothes, because other customers want them? The “swath of customers” who are offended will be replaced by those who are not offended. Target will offer sales and irresistible prices—and people will go back to shopping at Target even though they’re offended. It’s the way the world of Mammon works.

24. Yes as Christians we can’t fight every battle but I won’t feel guilty in trying to make a difference where I can.

I agree we can’t fight every battle; we have to fight the ones that matter. However, this is not a “Christian” battle. This is a conservative-religious battle. Lots of Christians, including Mr. Boeskool and myself, and others, are not convinced this is a “Christian” battle except that as Christians we are trying to ensure that our fellow humans and brothers and even believers are afforded the simple dignity we have: to use a public restroom without busybodies attempting to shame them and exclude them.

I am not attempting to pick on you personally, Lonnie. I don’t know you from Adam. You probably have a full and rich life, with friends and family and a career.

But I am responding to your statements because you have made a grievous error of confusing your personal, conservative, religious values with those of Christ, and making the extraordinarily wrong statement that your personal convictions are somehow to be identified as “Christian,” to the exclusions of millions of Christians who have examined these issues and have reached different conclusions.

There is no “Christian” policy towards public restrooms. We are left by Jesus to figure things out on our own, and we can glean clues about public behavior and public choices. But it is entirely plausible that Jesus’s words to Peter here are good for us, too: “When Peter saw [John], he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” – the temptation is to enquire of God as to the affairs of others, to ensure that they are following Jesus like we do. Jesus’s response is eternal: “Stop worrying about others’ behavior. Follow me.”

Structural Racism—It Doesn’t Exist

One of the things about American culture and society is our racism. It’s not the only thing, or the most important thing (well, maybe). We have a past that is entwined with racism, and there are still problems today with racism.

I won’t go into all the details about racism and what it is in every dimension, because there isn’t the time in this post, nor do I want to completely define everything. I’ll be teaching a class about this in the fall of this year, so if you want a better run-down, sign up.

But I did want to talk about one aspect of racism, and that is “structural racism.” This is perhaps the hardest to see or admit, because we don’t see all the individual acts that lead up to structural racism.

We’re good people, you see, and not racist. We are kind to people who are not like us, we might work with them, and even might have friends who are not exactly like us.

I get that, and I say the same things.

But let’s do a little experiment to understand—or at least demonstrate—what structural racism might look like.

Take a sheet of paper and draw a tic-tac-toe grid:

StructuralRacism0

Now, as best you can, enter the names of the families in your neighborhood—your closest neighbors, whether they are on the same floor as you in your apartment, in your condo development, or your suburban development. Don’t worry about being completely accurate—you might not know the names of the people, so write down something that might fit. You should be able to do this in about 5 or 10 minutes:

StructuralRacism1

Now, as best you can, under their names, write down their occupation. Again, don’t worry too much about the details. Just get a general gist. I wrote down occupations that are what I understand them to be. A “director”, LePage in this case, is the director of a business department:

StructuralRacism2

OK, now the part that might be uncomfortable.

Write down the race of the person or family, to the best of your understanding:

StructuralRacism3

Now, your neighborhood might be slightly different. You might have a few names/races that don’t fit the pattern.

But in general, people in America live sorted by their race.

How did this happen in your neighborhood?

Likely it wasn’t anything deliberate or overt. No one posted signs “White People Only” in your development.

It just happened.

“Look,” you might say. “This is a neighborhood of nice homes. You have to have enough money to pay for them. Some people just don’t have enough wealth to live here.”

“Note that the occupations here all come with good salaries. People working at Walmart can’t afford this place.”

“Most of these people have a good education so they got good jobs. People who do poorly in school because they slack off can’t get good jobs that pay enough to live here.”

And that is structural racism exposed in kind language or “explaining-away” language.

Structural racism is exposed here as a series of steps, all along the way, that leads to sorting by race.

Minority Americans were excluded from access to federally backed mortgages, which meant they could only use financial instruments with far greater risk and far, far less guarantee that they’d end up owning their home or apartment.

Minority Americans historically (and right now, still actually) have access to far fewer education options, and their education options have been and still are substandard when compared to white American education.

Minority Americans are shunted aside to the poorer areas. These poorer areas are historically and currently where we push our most damaging and dirty industries, leading to a poisoned environment which results in sicker children and adults.

Minority Americans have been denied access to careers in businesses where wealth can be acquired, and have also been denied advancement when they do get into businesses.

Minority Americans have had far less safety in their homes and schools and businesses, and when they do have police presence, they are arrested, tried, and imprisoned at far higher rates, for far longer sentences, for crimes that white Americans get by with a warning. (This is literally true. I know you don’t believe it, but there are studies after studies that show similar crimes and similar crime rates for white Americans and black Americans lead to convictions and prison terms for black Americans and a pass or a warning for white Americans.) Prison is literally destructive to families and wealth-building, so minority Americans can’t get the assets they need to move from “starter homes” to better suburbs.

It’s an interlocked system with many components that keep white Americans on top and wealthy, and that blocks minority Americans, especially black Americans, from access to wealth and safety.

Yes, not all white Americans are middle class. And there is a large black middle class, as well as a middle class experience for other minorities.

But it is inarguable that the middle class in America as a whole is much more likely to comprise the white race than any other race.

This is structural racism. Piece by piece we have systems that block minority Americans from access to things white Americans take for granted & think come from “hard work” and “taking chances.”

The people in your neighborhood are probably not overt racists. You are probably not overtly racist. You are probably a nice guy, like me.

Yet your neighborhood shows you as living only among your own kind. The occupations are diverse. But the race is probably uniformly of one kind: yours.

I can’t offer you, right now, options to change that. I just wanted to highlight it, for now, so you can maybe start your journey of understanding America better.

More next time.

A Setback and a Resurrection

I am celebrating Easter today, which is a reminder to Christians that death is not the final answer. We celebrate Easter because Jesus, having died, was resurrected and will die no more; those who believe in him also will one day be resurrected. It is God’s way of saying our pilot episode will be picked up for broadcast and renewal.

We have this hope in us, this idea of Easter, that we will not only die when we are dead, but that something will live on, whether it is the things we have constructed, or the people we have helped to grow and change in life.

And I’m reminded that we have Easter because we have Good Friday; that everyone who is called for creation and restoration is opposed by those who would continue in destruction and misery and death.

We are surrounded by these people and these systems, which glorify (if that is the right word) all the things they can do to tear down, rip up, destroy, defame, malign, and corrupt.

I’m reminded of the efforts of these enemies to destroy every time I see good people attacked.

I’m reminded of the efforts of these enemies to tear down every time I see good organizations torn apart.

I’m reminded of the efforts of these enemies to pull to pieces every time I see good works ripped apart.

I’m reminded of these things because I see them around me.

Recently an organization in South Seattle, a community outreach center for peace, justice, teaching, training, and life, was vandalized and burglarized. Over the weekend the Umoja Peace Center had their offices and their community rooms defaced, their equipment destroyed, and their achievements trashed. Some vandals broke in, painted swastikas on the walls, cut and destroyed all their networks, and essentially trashed all their works. All the people who work there saw their efforts thrown away, all the people who use their services saw their achievements trashed, all the people depending upon this outreach and resource have seen their community shut down, all because evil men are doing their best to destroy and to bring death to the heart of this community.

We can react with pity and feel sorry for these people who’ve lost their community. We can feel righteous indignation at the evil done by these small men who are so threatened by people attempting to bring peace and justice.

We can also react by helping this community which has been vandalized and wounded.

There is a donation site set up here: https://connect.clickandpledge.com/Organization/umojapeacecenter/campaign/rebuildAfrictownnUPC

I encourage you to give what you can. There is literally no amount too small to give, and all proceeds go to the Umoja Peace Center Fund and the Africatown Center.

Use this time of Easter to celebrate restoration, resurrection, and the victory of life over death.

Forgiveness—What Is Possible? What Is Demanded?

I heard a story on NPR the other day.

rembrandtSeems that in Maryland there’s a push to review the sentences of those who were convicted of murder in the last 40 years based upon the Unger decision.

Several people who were affected by these murders—being the family and friends and co-workers—were asked for their thoughts. Did they forgive these people?

One lady—and I am not picking on her—said essentially that she forgave the man who killed her family member some 40 years ago, but she could not forget and that, as a murderer, she thought he deserved to stay in jail—that his release, even though mandated by mistakes in prosecution, should be stopped because he was guilty.

I pursued the thought of “what is forgiveness?” as I was on the way to work, trying to construct an understanding of what it meant and what it required of me.

And then I was asked for my thoughts. What is Christian forgiveness? How much are we to forgive?

So…

I think we should separate a couple of things, first, some which you are already like to do yourself:

1. There is no “Pope” for Christianity (even though there is a Pope for Roman Catholics), so we can all kind of invent what Christianity means to us. Some people in Maryland, claiming to be Christians, really cannot be used to represent all Christians.

2. We still can still come up with what people inside and outside Christianity think that it means and requires, and hit the mark for what people inside will allow as true and what people outside consider as binding or descriptive.

3. One essential element is, indeed, a concept of forgiveness, which does not have an explicit definition in the Christian scriptures even though Christians are enjoined to forgive, by the words of Jesus himself as well as the main people who are considered his disciples, and by the example of Jesus on the cross who asked, we are told, for the Father in Heaven to forgive those who were killing him because they were ignorant of the meaning of their actions.

4. If we presume that forgiveness is really an essential mark of Christianity, and we presume we can guess what it means (release someone from the debt for their actions, giving them a restoration to their place in society, accepting that they have actually committed an offense but no longer holding it against them), then we can say that forgiveness means something we can both do ourselves and see others do.

5. Forgiveness, it would seem, does involve a releasing. It might not involve a forgetting, but even if there is no capability of forgetting, the releasing is important.

6. Because forgiveness is given great value in normative Christian behavior (“you’re supposed to forgive!”), there is, in my opinion, inordinate stress on people to “forgive” in order to show the bona fides of their faith.

7. It’s my opinion, though, that forgiveness, while something we can say we are doing, is something that really requires us to enact a change in how we will value someone.

8. Also in my opinion, we can’t be made to forgive, and we cannot make ourselves forgive until we are ready.

9. Also my opinion, we shouldn’t make our act of forgiveness something that breaks us. I think we should understand the value, and work toward it, and let time and circumstances and reflection help us forgive – but we can’t demand it of ourselves, and we cannot, absolutely cannot, demand it of others. (Which is why I was quite upset after nine Christians in Charleston SC were assassinated by a white supremacist who wanted to kill black people, that some of the survivors declared they “forgave” the murderer. I think that was at best a religious nicety but I don’t think anyone is capable of forgiving that quickly the murder of their loved ones.)

10. I think forgiveness is for _us_. _We_ are helped in our own journey and growth when we forgive, because it helps release us from the binding we have in our pain and destruction caused by another. As long as I cannot or do not forgive, I am considering someone else’s retributive pain and destruction. Forgiveness releases _me_.

11. Forgiveness, when given, is at a personal level according to Christianity. The legal requirements of justice and law may also allow for dismissal of charges and a clearing of the record, but that’s not forgiveness. And even though we can forgive someone of their damage to us, none of us can, by our personal forgiveness, release someone from their legal penalties. We might end up in court with the person who caused us pain, and whom we now forgive, but the acts that brought that person into prison are acts against the state and not really the person. (We bring people to trial for murder because there’s a law against it, not because I have a personal injury done to me, and the penalty is laid down by the law. Otherwise, people who are orphans and widows would have no one defending their right to life in court when they are murdered.)

12. I am sorry for the pain these people have experienced because their loved ones were murdered, in some cases right in front of them. (The 92-year-old woman comes to mind – her husband was killed in the shop in front of her 40 years ago, and she still weeps for the pain and grief.) I demand forgiveness from none of them. But if they do forgive, I would encourage them to go all the way, and forgive.

13. With that said, even though I might forgive someone of what they did to cause me pain, my forgiveness or lack of forgiveness is completely irrelevant in the courts. Someone who says “I forgive him, but he needs to go back to jail because he murdered!” is a nonsensical statement. He’s not getting out because you forgave him. He’s getting out because his conviction and sentence were, according to the state, unjust and unfair. His “early release” is a matter of law, not a matter of your forgiveness.

14. I think the lady in question deserves my empathy and pity, but I don’t think she deserves my acceding to her definition of forgiveness. I think she’s wrong, but I don’t think I need go any further than stating that, and hope that she can find release for the sake of her own comfort and her own soul.

15. The forgiveness-of-sin aspect of forgiveness is something that God does, not us. Our forgiveness is for personal slight. God’s forgiveness is for moral and spiritual offense. We sin against God and his holiness, causing us to break away from his presence and power. Forgiveness wipes the moral slate clean, makes us whole against spiritually, and puts us back in the place where we can commune with him face to face. God can forgive any sin/sinful action because he’s God, which is one of the things Jesus did (forgave someone their _sin_) to show that he had the power and authority to forgive beyond the human level. But that’s not what our personal forgiveness is. We can’t forgive a moral or spiritual offense because it’s not done against us.

Anyway, that’s where I am today. The topic of what it means for Christians to forgive is a testy one, because some people think we should “forget,” which is sometimes impossible, and others think that it is releasing (that’s my position), which is much more doable.

Remarks to the Muslim Association of Snoqualmie Ridge

Back in November of 2015, Washington State Representative Jay Rodne (R-05) made some inflammatory remarks about Muslims and Sharia law, leading to many ugly statements from others in the community expressing their own ignorance and hatred. In response, the Muslims in our community of Snoqualmie and North Bend came together in a community open house on Saturday, January 30th, and invited me, along with the mayor of North Bend and others, to speak to them and our wider community as part of their outreach program. Here are my remarks prepared for that meeting.

Good morning.

I extend my thanks to Mujeeb Mohammed, President of the Muslim Association of Snoqualmie Ridge, along with the Board of Directors, and the Board of Governors, for asking me to speak; the members of the Muslim community for hosting this open house; and all the residents of the Snoqualmie Valley who have come this morning to learn about and to welcome our neighbors. And as a member of Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church, I’d like to express my thanks for the presence of my pastor, Monty Wright, and his wife, Amy Wright, soon to be the principal the newest school in the community, Timber Ridge.

I would like to start off my remarks with a story about people and faith and community. Given the circumstances of the past few months, the statements that have been made, and even the questions that have been raised, I think it’s important to get to know the people around us in our community.

Now, in my faith tradition we learn much about our lives and our values through the stories told by Jesus, and so I have found that the stories I tell are the best way to for me to explain to others what I’m thinking.

So let me tell you how it is we came to live in this valley which welcomed us and where we made our home.

It was midnight of January 1, 1990, and finally we’d finished packing our four-seater Hyundai, crammed with food and clothes for myself, my wife, and our two boys, one not quite 2, and one six months. We began our journey to Washington State, travelling from the arid Southern California coast to Puget Sound. You see, my employer had decided to move me to their headquarters, and so we pulled up stakes and headed north, driving for 3 days until we reached Canaan—or more properly, Bellevue.

Our apartment was bare for the first week as we waited for our furniture. With two small kids and a new job keeping me busy, no friends and no family, we were hungry for human contact, for relationships, for that daily interaction between neighbors, for the sense of a community we’d left behind.

I have to tell you, it was hard. Our apartment neighbors were seldom home. Our kids were too young to be in school. We had not yet found a church home, and not yet really settled into living in Washington State. We were used to things being dry and hot—and it rained here, all the time! I remember the TV news reporter in May of 1990, gleefully announcing it had been some 55 days since the last time the sun broke through the clouds. Y’all were happy about that! I thought we were gonna die.

So we lived in Bellevue for that first year. We tried to make connections with people in the “big town,” but it was hard. No family, no friends. I worked in Issaquah, my wife was in the apartment in Bellevue.

We were talking to friends back home, sharing our frustrations at connecting with people. We were friendly, we thought, but even striking up a conversation at the supermarket was met with puzzled silence.

“Oh,” our friends said. “There are some people we know who live a bit east of you. Why don’t you look them up?”

Turns out these people pastored a church in Snoqualmie. So we got up on a Sunday and drove out to the valley.

That church embraced us and made us feel at home. We’d found the family and faith community we needed. We were invited to their homes for meals. We found playmates for our children.

Soon we moved to the valley, buying our first home in Snoqualmie and then our second (and current) home in North Bend, where we raised our kids in a safe, loving, accepting environment, surrounded by people we’d grown to know and love, in a community that embraced and included us.

For the past 25 years I’ve taken for granted that everyone who lives in this valley is like that. Open. Accepting. Friendly. Helpful. Patient. When we were flooded out, twice, in Snoqualmie, our neighbors and community pitched in to help clean up. When our kids were in Little League, our community stepped up to provide a baseball park. We have community pools and recreation centers, parks, schools, libraries, and wonderful neighborhoods.

There are opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the area, and all kinds of people with different interests. Some of us are hunters and fishers, some are kayakers and hikers, some participate in Fun Runs through the mud, some take hikes in our city and regional parks. There’s a community theatre company, homegrown artists, music groups, dance troops, karate studios, sports and fitness academies—if there’s something people want to do, there’re probably people in the valley who are doing it.

Of course, we also have a strong and vibrant community of faith here. What drew my family here was the natural beauty, of course, but what got us to move here, to live here, to buy things from stores here, were the people of the church we attended. And whether our own neighbors worshipped as we did—or did not worship at all, as they might please—we were safe to worship as we would and live where we wanted.

And so, this is where we are today, a community with a diverse set of interests and talents, opportunities and events, viewpoints and values, faiths and no faiths. Not everyone in the valley walks the trails, I understand. Not everyone in the valley enjoys a hike to Mt. Si. Some, like me, enjoy seeing Mt. Si from our own warm and dry homes. Not everyone in the valley attends the same church, or even a church at all.

We can appreciate those who live here and how they work, play, relax, and worship, and none of us needs have any concern.

You see, we are all neighbors here.

And as neighbors, if we have questions about those around us, or don’t understand them, or even just wonder what they’re like, the best thing we can do about that is to do what we’re doing here, today—to get to know them as neighbors, through potlucks and dinners and play dates, Fun Runs and hiking and kayaking, plays and dance exhibitions and parades. We get to know each other by doing things with each other, and just talking to each other about ourselves, our families, our hopes, and our dreams.

I would like to invite us all to get to know each other, as neighbors, as friends, as a community. Let’s build up our trust in each other, and let go of the fears that can divide us.

I would like us do what our prophets and our wise teachers and even our parents have asked us to do: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.

That’s what we’re here for, I think. To do the best we can, to be neighbors and friends, to love our families, do our jobs, and, if we so wish, attend the church or synagogue or mosque of our choosing, knowing that there is, after all, no compulsion in religion.

Thank you for listening to me today. Thank you for showing up to learn more about your neighbors, and to welcome your friends in the Muslim community of Snoqualmie Valley. May we all find a home here, a place for all our families to grow, and a community of friends who accept and embrace each other.

Why Honor Dr. King?

Reposted from 2010,  2011, 2012, and 2013. I wrote this as a quick email in response to some scurrilous nonsense forwarded to me, nonsense written by a white Christian eager to point out to me that Dr. King was a flawed man, too flawed to be honored and acknowledged.

N.B. 2016. I’ve grown in my understanding since 2010, and while I might not say things in this way, and I might add or edit this beyond some slight spelling or grammar changes, I am leaving it as-is, as I think it’s sufficient to express my viewpoint.

MLKJrLet’s get some things straight right off the bat: I’m a white male in my 50s with little or no experience through most of my life with any black/African Americans other than incidental work relationships. My cultural outlook is white, whiter than snow, whiter than LiquidPaper™, whiter than polar bears in fog on an iceberg. My outlook up to this point has been we’re all Americans and we are all the same, diversity is really all about looking past any differences, and good people will agree on all the same things, and coincidentally that agreement will be to my viewpoint, and that all this talk about race and skin and oppression and holidays for Dr. King are simply unpleasant and unnecessary reminders of a past that no longer exists. They got black people on TV; one of the richest people in the world is black (Oprah), and we got ourselves a black president. So end of story.

What I say and think now comes from a process that started about a year ago when a black friend asked me point blank several times: “You do know that I’m black, right?”

I considered it an extremely rude and provocative question, because I’d been trying for most of my life not to see black Americans as black, but rather some non-color, because in my heart I didn’t think skin color mattered, and so I simply wouldn’t see it.

Of course I knew he was black, but I wouldn’t let that affect my understanding, because I am a nice person who accepts everyone.

But still, the question rattled me. Why would he have to ask that question of me, a considerate, patient, loving person? What made him think I didn’t see that obvious fact about him?

But really, I wasn’t seeing him in any way. I didn’t consider his history or his experience or his life or his choices, instead evaluating him and what he did in the context of my own undisturbed life. My thought was that we’ve moved beyond all the unpleasantness of racial tension, and as believers in Christ there was more in common with us in our hearts than in our bodies, appearance, or even our minds.

I had to think about that – really think about that.

That one question sparked a thought process in me to examine what I really believed and thought and felt about the Other – the people that moved around me with unknowable motives, who had so many unspoken experiences, who chose and acted and talked in ways that simply didn’t make sense to me.

It was a long process to see how he lives in the America I live in, and yet has so many divergent experiences, experiences that I cannot comprehend as actually happening. And yet they happen, and continue today.

That discussion folded around in my mind, and I continued to think about what the question meant. Why would someone need to tell me that I was blind when I knew that I could see?

That led to the novel I’m working on [and have since completed], set in Texas in 1952, the story of a 13 year old boy who wrestles with racism, Christian belief, growing awareness of self, and his unfolding understanding of his own sexuality. So I’ve been doing a lot of research and thinking about what it means to open one’s eyes, to look at the world for the first time, and to grasp the fact that we each can choose what we want to do with our lives and what values we want to hold. Take this, then, with a grain of salt – the ideas are still being formed.


I think a lot of white people don’t get the impact MLK had upon the souls of black people, people who were invisible for so long in our American culture. Most white people don’t know that the first black slaves came to the Americas in the 1500s; the first black slaves landed at Jamestown in (I think) 1619. Most white people don’t know – or don’t figure it out – that some black slaves captured were Muslim, and thus brought Islam to America quite early – much earlier than popularly believed. Most white Americans think of what happened in the past as something perhaps unpleasant, but surely by now those black people should be over it, forgetting how black people had been pushed into a box of inferiority and invisibility for 400 years. Most white Christian Americans don’t think that black Americans have Christian souls or worthy Christian beliefs because their version of Christianity is so different from white American Christianity. (As some have said, the most segregated place in America today is still the American church on Sunday morning, and each side points their fingers at the other.) Most white Christians don’t think about the incredible cognitive dissonance required to teach black slaves about Christianity, a religion where there is neither slave nor free, and with the hand that holds the Bible to also hold the whip that beats them into submission as slaves, slaves for the simple reason that someone said “I have the power to own you and steal you away from your homes and families.” I can’t ever think of a time in church or in school where this was discussed: did anyone ever think Isn’t it weird that we call them our brothers and sisters and yet treat them like furniture or horses?

MLK – who was killed at 39 – accomplished so much to bring awareness to black people that they were human beings with dignity and worth. I don’t think his main accomplishment was to raise the consciousness of white people – although he did do that in some part. It was that he helped black people to be aware and to believe they were worthy of their God-given rights and citizenship. At Jackie Robinson put it, “I shouldn’t have to ask for what’s mine”; it was MLK that brought that idea to the mind of ordinary black people – that they shouldn’t have to ask for their ordinary civil rights, the right to live as they wanted to live without permission or oversight of others, the right to just be treated as human beings. His hope, in my opinion, was that just by saying they deserved participation in their civil rights, ordinary white Americans, Christian Americans, would understand their plight and their longing and their need to participate in America – and would enable it, willingly, because it was the right thing to do. A bullet ended that dream, and it’s been 50 more years of talk and fights. We’re closer than we were, but we’re not there yet.

Was MLK a perfect man, an ideal man, even a moral man? Is he someone worth looking up to? Complex broken people are always found in situations where revolution happens; often they are the reason for the revolutions. LBJ – the man who is most singularly responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – was a corrupt, selfish, adulterous, racist man who lied about things he didn’t even need to lie about, who destroyed people not just because they stood in his way, but because he could. (LBJ along with J. Edgar Hoover so thoroughly politicized the FBI that it’s hard to accept how much those actions tainted anything the FBI “discovered.”) LBJ cannot be claimed to be the friend of anyone because he could never be trusted to be telling the truth – and yet somehow he was the one who pushed through these two transformative acts of 1964 and 1965 – as well as the unknown Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first Civil Rights Act since Reconstruction. As leader of the Senate he finagled this ‘57 Act through the Senate, bypassing the liberals of the North who wanted more and the conservatives of the South who wanted not just less, but to take away even the rights blacks already had. (Essentially the ‘57 act was to grant jury trials to people convicted of federal crimes of suppressing voting rights; the law opened up the way for registration of blacks in the South that led directly to the marches on Washington and the Freedom Riders of the South.) LBJ bungled our way into Vietnam, one of the most wasteful and useless wars in our history. He made himself into a multimillionaire in office through the corrupt use of federal power to essentially steal TV and radio licenses in Texas. No one should hold him up as an example of a moral, caring, thoughtful, Christian man.

And yet – he was the central figure in the 50s and 60s to bring civil rights to black Americans. There is no one else who had the power he did, and no one else who had the capability to do what he did. It happened because of this broken, racist man. Churches that preached the love of God and the humanity of all mankind preached and taught – but it was the actions of a man without a church and without a governing principle other than “me first and me only” who initiated these transformative acts in the American political and cultural life.

In a similar way, MLK was broken and flawed and unfaithful. He likely plagiarized to some extent his writings while working for his degree at Boston University. He did not have extraordinary preaching skills beyond all other preachers. He didn’t even have a unique theological vision; indeed, I’d claim his theology was undeveloped and based more upon feelings than upon strict logical construction. As a Reformed believer, I find that his theology devolves into folk wisdom. His work is derivative, and it is set crisply in its time. Reading his work now requires work to understand the decades of the 50s and 60s; his writings seem now more worthy of research than of wide dissemination. (Howard Thurman and W.E.B. DuBois are much more readable today and require much less understanding of the times.)

But MLK found a way to emphasize to the American people the moral injustice of treating people as if they were trash, bringing an awareness to blacks that they were not trash and to whites that they would need to start considering blacks as if they were as truly human as whites were.

Like others who pointed out these hard facts, he generated opposition. I’m pretty sure his theology and political viewpoints weren’t well-thought-out; I’m pretty sure he hung around with people he shouldn’t have; and I’m pretty sure he didn’t pay careful attention to the motivations of the people who wanted to claim him as part of their movement. And while we celebrate (and ignore!) his words about racial harmony, we ignore his words about other great problems such as the propensity of America to wage war, and the almost incomprehensibly tragic effects of the vast social and economic disparity between classes in America. I think he used Marxist terms because Marxist terms are convenient for economic and social analysis; by doing so he made a mistake, because (in my opinion) instead of listening to what he said, we can conveniently look at the terms he used or the people he associated with to ignore what he said. Lincoln said a nation could not endure half-slave and half-free, and he was right; MLK said a nation could not endure where generations and races were locked in perpetual poverty and dead-end despair, and he was right, but Lincoln has had the benefit of being dead and elevated so that we have forgotten his very human foibles: MLK has unfortunately not been dead enough for us to wring out the essence of what he said from the mistakes and errors he made.

I’m not sure of the motivation of people who feel the need to point out MLK’s flaws, though he had many. I think there’s a time for that, just as there’s time to point out Washington’s flaws regarding slavery or Lincoln’s desire to save the union whether blacks were freed as a result or not. (Pointing out those flaws doesn’t take away from who they were. It simply points out that Washington, Lincoln, and others were humans who sometimes rose out of their own times in a spectacular fashion.) I suspect the need to point out the flaws of Dr. King (who was no saint) is a way to say “he does not deserve respect or attention” and then we can move along with our lives without pausing to think what drove this man to live a life with such privation and fear? What drove him to walk and march and preach when so little changed? I wouldn’t elevate him above any other person – he was just a man, like us – but with the few tools he had he moved a nation. Whether we like him or not, he has been a powerful man in our American life, an almost unwitting agent of the essence of the American experiment “to form a more perfect Union.” What he did was profoundly American in spirit: he looked at what we were and what we could be, and decided not to settle for what we are.

Dr. King was a minister of the gospel who preached and acted in a style familiar to the American black church. And being a minister doesn’t guarantee sanctity (although one would hope that the salesman would use his own product; a preacher who doesn’t act under the light of the gospel seems to be questionable.) But I don’t see that the gospel guarantees the moral superiority of any believer in either thought or action when compared to any other person; the essence of the gospel is that it saves sinners and makes them whole and gives them working tools to better their lives until their homecoming. (As C. S. Lewis pointed out, you don’t compare person A to person B to see if the gospel is true and powerful; you compare person A before and person A afterwards to see if it’s true and powerful in that person’s life.) I won’t excuse moral failings, because we are called to a holy life, and when a minister who purports to preach the true gospel of a holy God misbehaves, it hurts people and hurts the message of the gospel. But let’s not think that only ministers fail, or focus on their failures and ignore their service. As you and I both know, God uses flawed and broken people – sometimes critically flawed people – to bring the message of the cross in order that no man can boast that salvation came by his own power, but only by the power of God.

There are wounded people in the church of Christ who carry their wounds deep inside and use them to explain their behavior, hiding behind words of sanctity and fruit-checking. I’m sure none of us could stand up to the scrutiny of others to such a degree; I’m sure all of us have stories to tell that would explain why we fail where we do and when we do. I would only offer that, as a class of Americans, black people have been put down and shut down and kept down, kept away from education and access to ordinary lives where they could assume safety and control, not knowing whether their kids would be safe or well-educated or fed or protected. The ordinary experience of blacks in America for 400+ years has been one of complete disruption and exclusion from what the rest of us just assume we’ll have – from the assumption that we can walk down any street we want, go to any hotel we want, eat in any restaurant we want, buy from any store that we want, see any doctor we want, send our kids to any school we want – you get the drift. I would expect that as we excluded our black Christian brothers and sisters from ordinary life, they have, as a result, developed their own patterns of living and beliefs that to us seem destructive and unhealthy and even unchristian; I don’t see how we’re going to help them or respect them if that’s the first thing we focus upon.

You might be interested in the viewpoints of Dr. Boyce Watkins, a black political analyst, who shares the viewpoint of the necessity of seeing the flaws in our heroes. His take is for, I think, different reasons.

http://www.bvblackspin.com/2011/01/17/dr-martin-luther-king-and-the-dangers-of-hero-worship/

Here I’ll quote a bit from his article:

[B]y pretending that Dr. King was perfect in life, we are making his legacy vulnerable to those who can prove that he made mistakes. For example, there are some who simply wish to pretend that there was no possibility and no reason to even mention the fact that Dr. King was not always faithful to his wife, Coretta. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that African Americans keep on our religious figures has not only ruined lives, but it makes all of us look silly. It also heightens the impact of the scandal when the truth finally hits the light of day. I had a friend in the south whose 19-year old mother was impregnated by a 45-year old married pastor. The pastor forced my friend’s mother to keep the love child secret, which she did for over 20 years. So, my friend grew up watching her “sanctified” daddy walk right past her in public places without even acknowledging her. You think that might have affected her psychologically? Yes, it did.

Honoring Dr. King doesn’t mean deifying him. It simply means we acknowledge that for all his many flaws, he affected us. He was not perfect. No man is. But he did show that an imperfect man with imperfect dreams and goals can accomplish great things.

Staying the Course

Conservatives love to trot out Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell because they are Black Thinkers.

To be fair, Williams and Sowell are both well-educated, worthy scholars, have great integrity in their viewpoints, and individualistic in their approaches to their fields of study–but just as you can’t say that Van Jones represents all black American thinking about economics and politics, neither can you say Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams represent all black American thinking about economics or politics..

They represent themselves, and they have a place at the table because they have earned their degrees, but they cannot be held up as “the right and only way for black Americans to think,” because, just as with every other set of people, there is no one way for black Americans to think about anything. They are individuals in every way as is anyone else. (I don’t represent all white males, or all American Christians, or anyone in general—I represent me, for example.)

There are, of course, familiar themes in what we might see black Americans talking about _because_ black Americans have been treated (and still are treated) by white Americans in ways that have isolated them and held them to be the “other,” and black Americans who are still so treated have observed their situation to find ways to express their astonishment and displeasure at not being treated equally and at finding themselves the target of ignorance and undeserved hate, and they have worked not just to understand but to get out from being the target of ignorance and hate so as to go on with their lives, to do what white Americans can do with ease.

So you might find more black Americans focusing on things like equal access to jobs and schools and housing, crime and prison and sentences, the death penalty, social justice, and so on, versus white Americans who, as we all know, can get the jobs and schools and housing they want given their finances and class and education, are prosecuted less for their actions at all stages (monitoring, arrests, charges, trials, convictions, and imprisonment) than anyone else, and so on. (Being white means it is not harder to get what you want or deserve for being white, whereas being black means it is harder to get what you want or deserve because you are identified as “black” by white Americans, who simply hold the power of definition and of power itself in America.)

Go ahead and read and study Sowell and Williams and other black conservative thinkers. You’ll learn a lot. They bring up interesting points and go down unexpected paths.

But you will also see how Sowell and Williams are among the tiny collection of safe “black” thinkers conservatives want to read because they affirm conservative viewpoints, not because they are sine qua non in the world of American thinkers. They are valued for being conservative-black. A conservative who reads Sowell will not also read Van Jones, because he is not interested in learning and discovering what is true; he is reading to ensure that he is right, and he wants to ensure is he always affirmed and not challenged.

My opinions and observations, of course, but they come from a long time of being conservative, listening to conservatives, and staying put largely within the conservative sphere of thought.

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