Just gonna leave this here for now.
Christian writer Sarah Bessey’s new book, Jesus Feminist, is getting a lot of deserved attention, I believe. I have not read the book and may never do so (this is not a slight on the book. I’m just a slow reader and all), but I’m thinking of conversations around the book and particularly this trend of privileging the “civil” and “non-angry” feminist/pacifist/anti-violence activist.
I can see some benefits certainly to approaching injustice in a manner which makes it easier to engage in conversation with those who have not had the easiest time comprehending, let alone owning, that injustice. But that route isn’t for everyone – nor is it the only effective manner of addressing injustice; it is the nicest way, though, and so is easier on the ears (which, again, has its uses).
But recall that civility is the language of aristocrats, of Southern gentlemen of the antebellum US South, of knights, of gentrifying landlords, of oppressors whose depth of brutality was unparalleled by the unwashed heathens, enslaved, and peasants.
This week, on my Facebook page, I was called too emotional and irrational during an argument with a man who kept referring to abortion as “murder” and “killing.” Actually, I had laid out several reasons why it was immoral and violent for him, under the guise of being “pro-life”, to use such terms– some being that this rhetoric energizes and enrages anti-abortion fringe violence; that it dehumanizes and marginalizes people who have had abortions; that the definition that anti-abortion people have of “life” (more precisely, “personhood” but they tend to use “life”) is not common nor accepted outside a specific, narrow and religious scope; and that the rhetoric uses the most extreme of common law language to label those who have aborted or performed services as death-worthy criminals.
But I was being emotional. Calling my friends murderers will tend to do that, though. So I have no regrets.
Would it have mattered in this case if I were being civil? Nope. Others who disagreed with him and tried to engage on different levels were also called irrational (This is what happens when women argue with Mansplainers and when men argue alongside women with Mansplainers. We’re all irrational), if not ignored or dismissed in other ways.
But the cries for civility continue from privileged Christians. “We can’t hear you through your anger.” And yet, the oppressed somehow have a hard time being heard no matter what language is used.
Expanding on that a bit: Civility is a language – it is the language of the oppressor. It is the language used to disguise oppression under the veneer of exaggerated humanity and mannerisms. One need not read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to see the direction this goes (well, I haven’t at least. Again, slow reader..)
Rather than touting civility as a neutral good, recognize it as the language of the violent elite being forced unto the masses as a way to distract from and hide societal violences. If a pacifist chooses to use civility or is comfortable in its use and can use it as a way of dismantling the powers that be, that is great.
But a new, integral pacifism will understand that the language of the oppressors, of the colonizers need not be the language of the oppressed and the colonized. And attempts to make it so is an act siding with violence.
Being civil sometimes isn’t being lovely.
Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.
Galatians 3 (The Message)
I identify as a Christian, as a communist, as anti-violence, and as an anarchist. Which I know confuses the mess out of people (partly why I like to identify as such).
But these are words. Markers. They help to frame, but don’t quite place. What does it mean to be a Christian (and particularly a White, male, straight) Christian in the United States? Both Cornel West and George W Bush are Christians. What does it mean to be a socialist – as one tends to think of Che, Mao and Castro, of violent unions and Soviet propaganda or super-duper unions and guys on Macs talking about revolution in coffee shops? And how does that jibe with they typical understanding of anarchism – whether that be Sex Pistols fans burning stuff down, wearing handkerchief masks and beating down cops in the most popular imagination, or people who really like Ron Paul and Austrian Economics who insist that taxation is coercive theft and government is slavery.
Briefly, I believe in following Jesus Christ as my Lord and his counter-intutive ways of loving my neighbor as myself and seeing the Supreme Creator God in every person and interaction. This definition isn’t necessarily the same type that Billy Graham or Pat Robertson would use, but it fits in within the history of Christianity.
I also come from a tradition that states that Christianity is a central identity – that “once saved, always saved.” I suppose maybe that is true, but I see salvation as being something that is never complete, never full (of course, we mean different things when we speak of “salvation.” But Christians have generally meant different things by these terms throughout Christian histories and traditions): salvation as following Jesus and acting according to his Spirit as mediated in the world. It’s “captivating every thought and principality” and so there is never a point of completion, never a destination. Always a journey. (This idea isn’t unique, of course. Just rather foreign to some sections of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity.)
Socialism and anarchy appear paradoxical. But, in short, socialism and anarchy combine to be the sharing of resources and wealth and political agency of each person – from what each has to what each needs (socialism) but without centralized power (anarchism). Generally, when people hear these terms, they also imagine a kind of netherworld destination. With these two, it is a place, a no-place, a Utopia. Rainbows and ponies and all that razzle-dazzle (not that there’s anything wrong with rainbows and ponies!) where all problems are forever solved and everyone drinks free milk pumped by brawny hands and sits on down pillows and 4000 count thread sheets sewed by delicate fingers.
But I can’t subscribe to that. There will be no such future state, because that is not who we are – we are not wired like that and there will always be someone to take advantage and oppress. Rather, I think of anarchy and socialism as trends, as direction, as practice. Not a future destination- but a way of equality and solidarity and mutuality where no one group or person is marginalized or oppressed for another, where all are represented and the underrepresented are finally represented.
It is for this that I cannot separate my Christianity from my praxis, my anarchism from my praxis, my socialism from my praxis – they must be more than words. They must be doings. Faith without deeds is dead, said the Apostle James, brother to Jesus.
Just as integrally, I cannot separate any of these from feminism and womanism and mujerism, from anti-racism and post-colonialism, or from anti-ageism and anti-ableism and all intersectional forms of justice and equality and talking back to the colonizers and oppressors.
It is feminism and anti-racism and anti-ableist agency that teach us how to recognize all people as fully human and respect places, identities, and the things that the privileged and powerful see as abnormal, as oddities, as less-than. These movements also teach us to identify and deconstruct the systems of power and violence that keep people in the margins and that deny access to integral resources and support. White men cannot quite comprehend the oppression and violence that black women face on a daily level through just the lenses of pacifism or anarchy or socialism because none of those strains are neutral. They come about through prisms, and for white men, they come through the perspective of white men. So we must learn to adopt and sync to other views as well; for though we White men can never lose our perspectives, we are foolish to merely retain ours as if it were the ONE TRUE objective perspective. There is no such thing.
Some would-be radicals will say that all of this is extra excess and nonsense. That all you really need is communism or anarchy or Christianity and the rest just naturally fall into place. But each identification has troubling aspects. Each identity must be subjugated to questioning and interrogation for its participation in White, Male, Cis-, Class, and Hetero-Supremacy.
When I teach or tutor or write or become involved in community efforts or parent, I consider that I am not the only shaper, that my experience is not universal; I am not the only person influenced and influencing this world. I can’t teach without desiring to empower my students and trying to meet each of them as not just students, but as equals, as human beings, as complex and wonderful people. I can’t father without believing fully that my daughter is a full and equal human being who is now a little girl and that I want to make the world somewhat better for her while helping her carve out a good path in this hostile world – hostile to women’s bodies and experiences and minds.
That is why I am not satisfied with just anti-violence or just Christianity or just anarchism or just socialism.
And so I listen to the marginalized and oppressed voices and I practice and I meditate and listen some more.
It sounds like something Jesus would do, bear with others. And so I try to act in accord.
This is my second direct contribution to Political Jesus’ #TheNewPacifism Blogathon, and is inspired by @graceishuman and @scATX’s visit to a Christian church’s Hell House last weekend (Storify here; vlodcast here [no, seriously, that’s a thing]). The rest of my pieces on TheNewPacifism can be found here.
Consider the confluence of hellish theology and violence and one can come to understand how someone like Mark Driscoll cannot possibly believe that Jesus would be a pacifist. After all, if a loving God eschews violence, how can God then allow for anyone to be thrown into eternal, everlasting torment of the most extreme and perverse imagination*? How can one believe that we are all sinners in the hands of an ANGRY God and believe, at the same time, that that God is against aggressive violence? That the most powerful being in the world himself not only doesn’t prevent violence, but it is his** will to enact violence against his enemies. So, taking the words of Jesus – “Love your enemies and pray for they who persecute you” – against the actions of a God that will destroy the entire world by fire and throw its people into a burning lake, well, we trust actions, don’t we? We can proof-text “love”, but the violence of Cage Fighting Jesus (if Jesus does desire to send people into hell and looks like Mark Driscoll’s version, then it’s an appropriate name, no?) shall not be denied his blood lust.
This imagination favors drama, actions, and policies that justify and even promote violence. It is no wonder that little kids can watch ultra-brutal religious psychodramas like The Passion of the Christ or go through a Hell House with multiple murders, various forms of sexualized and domestic violences, but not be considered mature enough for a couple of curse words or sensualized kisses.
The theology and acceptance of hell is of such an extreme that very little else can compare. After all, violence is of a relative nature. What would be considered violent in one context – for example pushing as first contact between kids or throwing rocks at tourists – would most likely not be considered (or at least should not be) considered violent in another context – the pre-schooler protecting himself from the bully, the occupied throwing rocks to protest the bulldozers and militarized police. If the greatest threat of violence – that of neverending torture – is committed by a supposedly all loving God, then all violence done in the name of that God is sacred.
Another factor that jumped out at me about Grace and Jessica Luther’s reporting is how entertaining the whole thing is set up to be, and how monetized the structure is. Hell as we understand it in Western Christianity, is rooted into the deepest, most carnal parts of our chemical and primal need for fear and how that fear relates to entertainment. Who needs torture porn when we have Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? And hell houses are marketed as both a ministry and as entertainment – as both fear away from something, yet also with a draw towards something. And, always, underneath, the capitalist need to market and bottom-line.
Finally, and this ties in directly with Christianity and non-violence, hell is a prominent tool used by Christians in
delaying denying justice for those who undergo violence. Whether that violence be domestic, sexual, economic, racial/ethnic, the answer tends to be the same: What you are going through is sad, but what your abusers/oppressors will go through will be much, much worse.
This is not consoling; it is not peaceful and does not lead to shalom. It is synonymous with another type of post-crime retaliation: rape-and-homicide-as-punishment of sexual predators in jail.
The following is a real live true statement in the comments section of an article by Dianna Anderson on the connections between Christian Purity Culture and Rape Culture:
I’m sorry, and I’m grieved, for the abuses you suffered. There’s no excuse for that. Your abusers will eventually answer for their actions, to God if not in this life. I hope it might help to remember that we Christians follow a Lord who suffered horrible abuse, enduring it so that he could suffer with us and win redemption and healing for us.
This answer is not an answer. He is telling abused people to consider the extremities of eternal punishment as a stand in for their denied justice. Tied into this is his usage of the abuse of Jesus as a way to remind us all that we should shut the hell up when seeking the removal of our abuse. (I guess the lesson of Jesus’ death is that marginalized people are supposed to suffer? Doesn’t seem that way to me, Foolishness of the cross and all). What kind of redemption and healing is there in a God who suffers horrible abuse and then tells us to do the same rather than seek justice?
I would venture to say that any religious theology that teaches that extreme suffering (whether in hell or on the cross) is not only natural but good, is an violent religion. I do not see how the God who comforts the afflicted and tells us to do the same would revel in that.
*(certainly of the type imagined by fire-and-brimstone preachers as originally popularized by Dante and his Inferno)
**forgive me. It seems fitting that the God of Hell be uber-masculine. If not necessarily describing male-ness (I don’t think it does), then in keeping with the tradition of the Patriarchical God that the Hell Theologies represent.
War is not the only – nor, would I argue, the greatest single – form of violence in the world. If we were to take a much wider and necessary lens to the subject of violence, I propose that we consider three primary forms through which it comes: Poverty, sexism, and racism/ethnicism. Because war is special; it is declared; it is relatively infrequent; it is targeted. Yet poverty, racism, and misogyny are underlying and ignored facets of reality and the violence they wage are enfleshed and lived out every moment and in myriad and dynamic ways.
Those who do not believe that poverty is the basest of evils have never had the privilege of meeting poverty and its hunger, want, need, constant fear and worry. Nothing else kills as many people per day. Nothing else cuts the lives of children shorter, reduces men, women and children to mere numbers, consumable goods and numbers. Pacifists who consider war to be a great violence because of sheer lives killed are like anti-abortionists who only care about the life before birth, but not about the quality of life – not about abuse, neglect, health and well-being, or, well, poverty. They focus on lives being killed rather than lives being stolen and impacted.
We cannot look at any form of violence – whether it be poverty, war, or colonialism – without considering the weight of racism/ethnicism within it. What allows us to conquer and conquest a people is the evil internalized machinery that otherizes our fellow human being. We are so callously brutal to our fellow person because the evils of racism allow us to view them as brutes and bugs in need of destruction on the one end, in need of our rescuing on the other – but for most of us who reside somewhere in the ambivalent center, they remain the targets of our pity or the forgotten of our imagination – pushed out to the margins of remembrance. Here is the radical notion: People of color are human and are made in God’s image. The violence that befalls on them – whether through abusive microaggressions such as iconography and words that ostracize or stigmatize or institutional apartheid such as in South Africa of the 1980’s and Chicago of now – is not accidental. And we, White Christians, allow it through nullification, marginalization, and justification. Many Christian pacifists took to the blogosphere when Mark Driscoll said that pacifism is wimpy, but where was the outcry when Christian preacher John MacArthur said that slavery is a neutral good? Or when slavery apologist Douglas Wilson was saying he isn’t racist, but black people need to listen to him.
Misogyny is the premise that half of the human population is not quite fully human – that half of the population deserves to be the object of male sexual, psychological, and physical violence. But yet misogyny is the devil most often ignored or downplayed by Christian pacifists – the overwhelming majority of whom are white, economically-advantaged, and male. It is the physical and sexual abuse of women ignored by a party that largely idolizes a man, Yoder, while ignoring or downplaying his serial sexual assaults on women? Let us be unwavering here: Sexual assault is violence! Christian pacifism follows another man who had problematic statements telling Christians that their sex organs are not theirs* – a familiar Christian teaching with deep roots into Christian rape culture.
White Christian pacifists need to grapple with and antagonize over these demons within their leadership before they find they have much to say among themselves, least over the bodies of underprotected women and children who are taught to sacrifice themselves for the cause of peace.
It is with disembodied detachment that Christian pacifists imagine scenarios that they have little experience in (“What if I saw a man attacking his girlfriend? How shall I act to not cause harm to the man?”), giving priestly advice to those who very seriously want to follow and honor God, but in the process teaching them to privilege their attacker more than themselves. This goes above and beyond Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbors.
Christian pacifism needs less theoretical scenarios and more space for analytical praxis. It needs to be based on life lived within and amongst the violence.
Christians – and particularly any Christian men interested in pacifism – need to listen deeply and long to the stories of those who suffer and/or survive domestic – or economic, racial, or sexual – violence before we offer even suggestions for what they should or could do in any given situation. More importantly, we need to reduce sexual oppression that allows for and justifies wife-beating and rape culture.
Middle Class, Male, White Christians are not in a place to forget those who bear the brunt of our social, economic, or sexual sins. Nor are we in a place to put them on a pedestal nor demonize them. No one who believes that all of humanity is made in the image of God can dear afford to Other our fellow God-bearers. Doing so reduces each of us and reduces our God to nothingness.
*In the Stanley Hauerwas Reader we find this (italics mine):
Christians, to be more specific, do not believe that we have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies. We do not believe that we have a right to our bodies because when we are baptized we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what it is that we should and should not do with our bodies. I had a colleague at the University of Norte Dame who taught Judaica. He was Jewish and always said that any religion that does no tell you what to do with your genitals and pots and pans cannot be interesting. That is exactly true. In the church we tell you what you can and cannot do with your genitals. They are not your own. They are not private. That means that you cannot commit adultery. If you do, you are no longer a member of “us.” Of course, post and pans are equally important.
Because pots and pans and privates are the same, y’all!
Last night I took my daughter out for some Mexican food at our favorite taqueria. When we got to the booth, she asked me to sit with her. We worked on her homework and shared chips (she hates anything spicy, so she eschews salsa in favor of salt. Little weirdo…), horchata, and quesadillas. And she leaned on me, as she does. And I feel all the warmth, all the love, all the want and acceptance. And then I walked her home. And she told me something to the effect that she doesn’t want me picking her up from school so much.
This is the part where daddy would start freaking out and asserting daddy’s rights and reminding her how much I\daddy loves her. And, to an extent, I did do some of that, but I tried to check it. Some of the most helpful advice I received from parenting is to not re-center her declarations on to my hurt. If she has something to share, there is a reason for it. And I, in my position of power over her, need to be able to stop and listen and ascertain. I’ve come to trust that advice because it’s true, not just with my daughter but particularly in areas where I have privilege over or power over another.
I try to carry the same advice into other areas too. And I sure do often fail. Of course I do. It’s not natural. But I believe it is essential and improves both the relationships and myself. Otherwise, there is no progress; there is no learning; there is no righting; there is no justice; there is no peace.
I don’t try to treat my friends, my clients, and people at the intersections of marginalization and oppression like my daughter because I think they are children. I listen to my daughter without reacting because I have this radical philosophy that she’s a human being and needs respect and space. I try to extend that elsewhere (though I suffer no one’s tantrums in the same way I do hers. If y’all ask me for candy, I’m out!) because I think others who don’t look or act like me are also human beings.
This is what allyship* is about: De-centering and listening.
Listening for a good long time.
When my daughter asks me for my advice, I give it to her. When she tells me what’s wrong with her, I listen, try to affirm her, and look to find a solution. I may need to offer an unequivocal apology. I may actually need to explain what’s happening (not explain away, mind you). I may need to give her a hug (as her daddy. I don’t suggest this for allyship).
When I speak as a person in poverty, I do not want a middle class person interrupting me and telling me they “get” something they don’t necessarily get (“I was like that for a couple months in college” isn’t nearly the same thing as being in a constant state of emergency and homelessness). While I appreciate my friends sympathizing and commiserating in my struggles (and to my knowledge, none has ever done the following to me), but I cannot deal with people downplaying my pains in this area by comparing it to their experiences.^
I cannot speak for or into Blackness (though I have tried before); but if I listen closely enough, I can attempt to amplify what my Black friends say about their experience, using stats and history to share and illustrate the reality of the oppression of POC in the USA and this post-colonial world. Nor can I speak a woman’s perspective. Or a homo/bi-sexual’s experiences. I can NEVER understand them. And in those dynamics, I am the student. I can never understand what it is to be my daughter.
It’s important, as people who live in a planet with much injustice that we are a part of – whether we choose that or not is irrelevant, we participate in violence and oppression in myriad forms every day, through things as innocuous as participating in consumption and media representations, let alone micro-aggressions or politics** – to participate in the work of justice. To be active voices when and where appropriate, and to be listening when appropriate.
*I’m going to suggest that being an ally isn’t static. It’s not a label, like “Sales Associate” or “President.” It’s something we do, and it’s in flux. Thanks to Dianna Anderson for this read from Shakesville. Please read. Thanks.
^Edited: I felt it was necessary to make a distinction here between being a friend and in a position of being a friend, and in derailing and what that causes. As some pointed out on the Progressive Christian Twitters yesterday: Friend does not equal ally. Friendship does not equal allyship. We should not confuse the two.
**We’ll address this hopefully in the #NewPacifism synchroblog hosted by Political Jesus.
John MacArthur claims (here, around minute 24*) that slavery isn’t bad. It isn’t necessarily good, he notes – just neutral; just is. Slavery as an institution isn’t bad, he says – only individual slave “owners” can be. Throughout, he makes it clear that slavery is a biblical concept and the word “slave” – not any substitute – is the appropriate biblical word for any person who is in Christ. Not “bondsman.” Not “servant.” “Slave,” meaning, he argues, a person owned by another and who obeys every whim of the owner. The phrases “owner” and “obeys” are both key to MacArthur’s theology and worldview, and we’ll get to those in a bit.
We can consider that this isn’t just the talk of a typical Neo-Confederate pining for the days on ol’ Swannee River – at least not in the usual manner we recognize in a Southern Apologist (but then again, I did not make it to the halfway point of this sermon – he could’ve unfurled a Confederate battle flag and reminded his Texan audience [note: though MacArthur’s from California, this sermon was delivered in Texas] that the South shall rise again while plucking a banjo). But like his sarcastic Slavery Apologist doppelgänger, Douglas Wilson, MacArthur is intent that the lowers need to listen to and obey their superiors*. In this conversation with John Piper, Wilson confides that he’s not racist (Really! He swears it!!) and then tells black people they need to listen to him, that they’re lazy and are too dependent on welfare, that they vote for the devil… (if you can’t stomach listening to Doug Wilson and John Piper practicing 80 kinds of mental abuse and cognitive dissonance, my friend Sarah Moon storified her tweets on the conference. Still, major trigger warnings abound).
But it’s not just black people that are lower (or, as MacArthur puts it, Africans are genetically “servile”) and need to subjugated to white people . Women also need to be subservient to men. Non-Christians and the gays and the libruls, etc, are less than their more godly superiors. If you don’t think this is absolutely the core of what Wilson teaches, that this is the theme of all of his writing – whether rape apologism, slavery apologism, or just putting women in their freaking place – then you’ve never heard anything by him. And you’re lucky. This man wrote a book on the greatness of slavery as an institution. This key of subjugation is also central to MacArthur’s theology. Both of them practice their proto-conservatism in different moods, but both viciously defend the idea that certain people should be on top, and most people should be unquestionably and devotedly below them.
MacArthur makes his proto-conservative side clear in other sermons, for instance this infamous one from 1997 (no, he has not changed; not recanted. This is, after all, a model for him):
What is our duty? We may be hurt. We may be disappointed. We may be angry as we watch the vestiges of Christian influence die. We may be angry at what we see happening in the courts and in the congresses and the executive offices of our land. What is our response? We may not agree with the decisions that they are making. Here’s what he says. “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” Seven virtues are listed there. Seven virtues. Now listen to this. It doesn’t matter whether your ruler is Caesar, Herod, Pilate, Felix, Fetus, Agrippa, Stalin, Hitler, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, it doesn’t matter who it is, he says be subject, you teach them to be subject.
So, submit to the government. Why? It is designed by God, resisting is resisting God. Resisters will be punished. Government is designed to restrain evil and promote good. Rulers are empowered to punish and do it for conscience’s sake. Then the sum of it, verses 6 and 7, “So pay your taxes,” verse 6 says, “for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” And then verse 7, “Render to all what is due, tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” The whole point is God has put government in place and you are to submit to it.
The only exception he makes is for when the government tells people not to preach (as in Acts 4) about Jesus and eternal life.
This is a serious, highly abusive misreading of the Gospels. Misinterpretation of Christ and the prophets. Maligning the Pardoxical Kingdom.
If, as MacArthur claims in his sermons, God isn’t concerned about slavery, then why Exodus? If God doesn’t want us talking back to political rulers, then why the prophets? If God thinks one should be above the other, then why Galatians 3?
Why have an embodied resurrection, if it’s just more of the same? Why would Jesus call the religious and cultural leaders of his day into question and then force us to not follow his footsteps – even though we’re supposed to follow him? What kind of a kingdom and a life is God calling us to if it’s just to continue the fallacies of institutional evil? What good can a whole group of Christians hope to change if not a one is allowed to question or change institutional evil?
The entire South was full of “good” Christians, many of whom had the same theology MacArthur and Wilson espouse. It didn’t make it gentler, but that theology was a perfect cover for their evil. And it’s a perfect cover for domestic and emotional and psychological and spiritual and sexual abuse and transgressions.
*Not quite halfway through his sermon, which is ordinary in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Also, H/T to my friend Hoodie_R at Political Jesus
**This is also the theme of another influential megachurch pastor, Mark Driscoll. Is it at all surprising that they would come to a head this past week?
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Matthew 20:25b-28 (NIV)
What does it mean that the First shall be Last in Christ’s Paradoxical Kingdom? What does it mean that the enslaved becomes first?
What will then become of the colonizers? What will become of presidents and speakers of the house and supreme court justices and law makers and kings and queens? Are they to be exalted, to be lifted first?
What will become of the oppressed and the dirty and the filthy? Of the homeless in our churches, on our streets? Side-stepped, or treated with honor and dignity in ways they do not find outside of the embodied church?
How do we treat the testimony and the personhood of women and children that survived rape and battered abuse? Do we ignore, or do we prioritize?
How do we recognize international banks and resource-stealing multinational agrarian/oil/diamond/manufacturing/textile/technology corporations that steal the resources of colonized countries and people? Do we prioritize them or question them to the fullness of their evil deeds as they Lord it over?
How do we treat hungry families? Do we tell them to wait, or do we prioritize them?
How do we react when influential pastors like John MacArthur advance White Supremacist theology from their pulpits, on the radio, and on the internet? Where does he go in the Body?
How does the Church as whole and as embodied members act out as agents of liberation for the Paradoxical Kingdom?
And how do we act as tools for the continued status quo, resisting the paradox, maintaining the Empire of Rome and the Ways of the World?
A very famous and influential Hong Kong-based pastor splashes an image on his well-traveled web page of a plane heading to the Twin Towers. Under this picture is the caption: We’re gonna take ‘em down today, church!
Underneath, in the comment section, a large and growing number of his fans LOL and applaud the edgy (but really unfunny) joke. Some add to it. A few American ex-pats see it, as do a number of Americans in the US (some of them of Chinese heritage and/or descent), and remark how hurt they are by this post. Other fans of this pastor dismiss or even start attacking the protesters.
This is funny! Can’t you see? Get a sense of humor! Lighten up. Stop picking on the pastor! Such a PC culture you Americans come from, can’t even take a joke. It happened sooo long ago.
This doesn’t help.
The protesters (and more Hong Kong and Chinese people join in as they recognize the insensitivity and outrageousness of the posting and those defending it) argue that though the event happened twelve years ago, and though several are trying to not remember, yet it’s part of their national and collective memory. That day is indelible and horrifying to us, and for many it’s personally so. Some of us lost or almost lost friends or relatives that day. Some of us took the attack very personally and vow to never forget. Many of us are still angry about both the attack and how the attack was used to manipulate us – to buy more and to support the drums of war. We cannot help but be horrified to find such an image being used as a joke in order to promote an image of a church.
But, regardless, we say, the picture causes unnecessary harm so why are you, as Christians, defending it?
Then the pastor chimes in. He is a bit of a celebrity – a man with a reputation for being a pastorly type.
And he dismisses the protesters.
Oh come on. I was only using light humor to illustrate how my church operates. Jesus used humor to illustrate his points.
And here you realize that the pastor may be a leader, but he isn’t very pastoral.
The places and collective memories of this story have been switched and modified, but this is a true story based on recent and current events.
When you look at the sheep and they are lost and confused and judgmental and mean and vicious and unconcerned and then you look to the ones they follow and though they may not be as mean, you begin to pick up patterns.
Which isn’t to say that all Christians who are also racist jerks also follow insensitive jerk pastors or vice versa. But there is a definite feeding frenzy, a correlation not necessarily of causation, but of one feeding into the other.
We can see this in another realm that of the so-called “orphanage crisis” (partially led by the very same pastor, Rick Warren), where, once again, White Evangelicals are dismissive of the attempts to communicate the hurt and pain caused by White Supremacy run through the Western White Church and onto non-Western and Third World people. White and Male (and Straight and Cis- and Upper/Middle Class) Supremacy are poisoning the witness of the Christ who “emptied himself” as Christena Cleveland pointed out so well this week.
Christian pastors are not called to be aggressive and assertive leaders. They are called to be careful and listening.
I’ve been thinking – and I’m no expert on emotions* so don’t quote me on this – that there are two bad emotions. One being bitterness – not because of what it does to others but because of what it does to ourselves. Oddly, those who have been abused and working through their emotions/feelings/past/hurt/scars/memories/pain are often tone policed about their so-called bitterness, certainly on the internet. And often by those defending the very abusers. That is not our job to identify and parse out another’s, and certainly a virtual stranger’s, bitterness.
In fact, if we truly want to limit bitterness, we should work towards justice. It won’t cure all bitterness (after all, as Al Green asked, who can mend a broken heart?), but it’ll reduce the circumstances of it happening to abused and oppressed people because – and this is key – there will be significantly less abuse and oppression.
Speaking of justice work brings us to the second bad emotion: guilt.
Guilt, like any other feeling/emotion, is not necessarily wrong to have. In no way do we blame the person who feels guilty - how do we blame someone for how they feel? If there is blame to be had in guilt, then it is to the systems and methods that make it such an integral part of our vocabulary that it’s hard to parse it out. Many religions (certainly my own Christianity) and cultures rely on guilt as a prime motivator for doing acceptable things that it’s usually the go-to, the loci, the focus of understanding badness, wrong, injustice.
Eat your peas; there’s starving people in China.
I don’t know how to stop it but to change the rules. I don’t know how to eradicate guilt from myself, and even talking about it urges forth feelings and washes of guilt in others. And it can seem like in talking about it, I’m telling them not to struggle through their emotions – including guilt. Yet, I want us to come to more fully appreciate what this feeling is in us and how it affects us. Not to condemn, but to understand.
As a method of comprehending, communicating, and influencing injustice, guilt needs to be called out. Guilt is not the paradigm to speak about justice or injustice, oppression, or any issues having to do with them.
Poor people, people of color, other oppressed people (and most of us are oppressed in one manner or another; additionally, if you’re reading this, you’re also privileged in several ways **) and various justice workers get the “I’m guilty” speech all the time from people who represent the oppressed class. There is nothing really new about Kate Menendez’ article, “Being Privileged Is Not a Choice, So Stop Hating Me for It.”
The title was an apex of chutzpah, but we’ve heard it all before: I’m wealthy; it’s not my fault; I shouldn’t have to hide it; I shouldn’t be looked at funny for not having to struggle or living in a fancy building or for not having to worry about crushing student debt; I shouldn’t have to feel guilty; assuage me!
But here’s the thing, she assumes that economic justice workers want her to feel guilty. I can assure her that they don’t. Guilt is useless. It incapacitates the wearer. It shifts the focus from the oppression and the struggle to bring justice to the emotions of those who identify with the oppressive classes. It’s a horrible motivator and is incapable of changing the guilted - the guilted only sees the struggle and those struggling through the lens of guilt. The guilted is less likely to recognize the full humanity of the strugglers and every struggle becomes another object through the lens of guilt – blurry, never in focus, clouded by clouds.
I want to eradicate guilt from my vocabulary.
*Just ask my daughter.
**We all have agency, and privilege is understood in many dimensions.
A good many of us poverty workers look at the recognition of Labor Day as a tiny concession to the sacrifices of the working class and the historical rallies of unions and socialist forces. But it’s not much of an honor in reality. After all, if (IF) we get the day off, it’s rarely paid for, particularly if we’re part-time and paid hourly. How could labor be honored today? By honoring the labors and lives of all the laborers.
Previously we had talked about the cray-cray things conservatives do and say to deny even the most basic of wage increases for the poor. And, in light of the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (over at Forward Progressives where I also occasionally blog, I talked about how job payment and poverty are still vastly unequal for women and People of Color) fell right before Labor Day (a kind of Capitalist rejoinder to the scarier but internationally celebrated May Day) and both are in the middle of the rising fast food and service worker demonstrations, it is high time to talk about not just wage equity, but respect to the worker, respect to the family, respect to the poor, respect to the backbone of this country.
Workers should be allowed to mobilize without being treated like criminals. Should be allowed to petition for livable working conditions without being stigmatized and labeled lazy. Should be allowed to apply for livable wages without propaganda from corporate media that makes us appear lazy, unwilling, and unfit to balance a checkbook. Should be able to redress our bosses for grievances without being lectured to or threatened with termination.
What kind of a civilization demands everything from you and then crushes your back when you demand fair return? What kind of a civilization says that those at the top with all of our robbed riches deserve our food, blood, children, and bones?
Not only is the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour too low for most that aren’t somehow independently wealthy (say, a teenager living at home that doesn’t need extra income – I’ve had several students in high school who needed to work to bring in extra money for their families), but the idea that the minimum only needs to be lifted a couple of dollars an hour shows how out of touch most of the Beltway is with half of America. Not liberal or conservative, not Democratic or Republican or White or Black America – but with those of us struggling to keep a roof over our heads while feeding and sending our children to overcrowded schools. Those who hope to remain healthy since we cannot afford to take days off work, let alone afford any sort of comprehensive medical coverage. We are not moochers, we are givers, givers beyond ourselves.
When we look at even the efforts of the Lucha Para 15/Fight for 15 people, we see something that seems radical even in a union-favoring state like my own Illinois. And such a wage of $15 an hour, if given the full forty hours through fifty weeks (let us assume a week off for vacation or sick days. Or child sick days. Or funeral days. Or a family member needs emergency help) will definitely help. A single person would make 30,000 a year. Not a tremendous amount and certainly, contrary to what the Fox News Awful Fascist Machine insists, not a ton of money either. Yet, a single accident can wipe that out. Thirty thousand a year before taxes is 2,500/month. For taxes, let’s assume 500 (more taken away for singles, less for those with dependents).
If we take into consideration that housing costs should be one-third of the total take home pay of a family, then the 2K per month could afford something a little under $700/month. In Chicago, it’s becoming impossible to find a one bedroom or studio for that price. So, the single could room and actually save money.
The single parent, though? That’s not even an option. A typical two bedroom in Chicago runs a good 900/month. That’s almost half of the income before getting to basic utilities, transportation, food, clothing, medication, insurance…
Respect for the workers means more than just fair wages, though that is an important aspect of it. Respect due our workers would call for not just livable wages, but a livable economy, a livable society. It would call for fair and just housing, health care, child care, public transit, schools (from pre-K through grad level), working conditions, maternity and paternity leave.
The US has an official Labor Day, but it seems like an affront to the Labor of the poor – particularly when the lowest paid of the workers are forced to work today. Perhaps it’s time to either give the worker her full rights or stop pretending, US?
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and [she] distributes them to each one, just as [she] determines.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
- St Paul, I Corinthians 12
Sounds an awful lot like THIS:
From each according to ability to each according to need.
- Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program