Franklin Graham: The Bible Is Silent About Welcoming Sojourners and Refugees

Here’s Graham to the Huffington Post on how he can square his and Trump’s literal, political xenophobia (literally, stoking fear of outsiders) carried out in Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants and refugees from several Muslim-dominated countries with his Christianity:

It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue. We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.

Contrary to the Culture Warrior Christian’s idiotic statement, it’s not only a biblical command for Christians, it’s a biblical command for nations. Recall that the Bible wasn’t written to individuals, but to communities, from the Israelites to the early Church.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

This idea is repeated in Deuteronomy 10:19 and Exodus 22:21: Do not oppress a foreigner, for you yourselves were mistreated foreigners in Egypt.

Throughout the Jewish scriptures, the idea is reiterated time and again as both a national story and as a decree, not only should the immigrant (or stranger or refugee) be welcomed, but treated, befriended, and loved as any other member of the community. Deuteronomy 27, in fact, curses those who mistreat the stranger. The effect is one of continual remembrance; the act of welcoming the stranger is one of communal redemption.

Welcoming sojourners is seen as a definite sign of following God’s commandments. Job, for instance, refers to his good deeds of hospitality toward strangers (in chapters 29 and 31).

Throughout the Older Testament scriptures*, the idea that the Hebrews were aliens, were stuck in a foreign land, and were strange to their own God is reiterated so that the people could empathize with the traveler – those who are forced out of their own land and into a new land, as was Abraham and the people under Moses and Joshua. The Lost. This is a prominent story of Israel, that of a people who were oppressed foreigners and travelers who found a home among God and remember this story through their own hospitality toward foreigners and travelers.

And then there’s Jesus and the New Testament, expanding this national story into Jesus himself (who Matthew recounts as a refugee fleeing the genocidal Herod into Egypt) and then his disciples and Christians themselves (Jesus tells his first followers to go town to town as strangers and accept hospitality, which is expanded in the Great Commission [Go out into all the world and make disciples]; Paul recalls the story before Mars Hill in Acts through an elaborate evangelistic call; Peter does so explaining the new order of Christ-followers on the multilingual Pentecost). The story of strangers being accepted by the community and the parents becomes the story of Christianity, spread throughout the Pauline letters and other epistles as well as through the Gospels themselves.

In Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that those who welcome and are hospitable to  the stranger are welcoming him; that those who reject the stranger reject him.

The Newer Testament book of Hebrews again retells the national story of Israel, God’s people, as being aliens and strangers and then closes to remind the expanded people of God (according to Christian theology) to:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Chapter 13. NRSV)

[Oh, now there’s that pesky commandment about torture and imprisonment, both of which Franklin Graham is silent about as his presidential preference is promising to increase.]

In short, we see that while White Evangelicalism promises to be exclusively biblical in following Christ, it is fundamentally cultural, which is to say it is foundationally a linguistic and political theology that establishes and reinforces Whiteness. Franklin Graham is emblematic of this approach, this sin, this heresy of White Theology.

Not that I’m working on a book about this or anything… **


*For instance, Genesis 15:13; 23:4; Psalm 39:12; 105:12; 119:19; I Chronicles 16:19; 29:15; Leviticus 25:23, 35

** I am working on a book about this. Really, two books. Please subscribe to the newsletter for updates.

Martin Luther King and King Falwell

As I’ve said several times and will say many times to come, Martin Luther King, Jr. is known by most for one line in one speech and wearing suits when he protested*. It’s this sheer veneer of a hagiography of King that allows Liberty University to welcome #DonaldNaziTrump to give the MLK address. Which is weird because presidential candidate Donald Trump is basically running as a national Sheriff Bull Connor. But the higher-ups at the conservative Evangelical Liberty U, despite having many students of color, feel the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, jingoistic Trump is an appropriate speaker for a retrospective on Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We chose that day so that Mr. Trump would have the opportunity to recognize and honor Dr. King on MLK day,” Liberty University President (and son of founder) Jerry Falwell, Jr. told The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

[Falwell] pointed to King’s principle that people should be judged, as King put it ‘not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
“Liberty stands for that principle and I believe that Mr. Trump does as well,” he said.

Liberty’s Falwell Jr. swears that a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist class fascist lives by Martin Luther King’s standards. Let’s think about the abundantly evident patterns being made here for a moment.

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Jerry Falwell, Jr. giving a speech at Liberty University

The first being that there is little critical analysis of King’s legacy in the public eye. Just like Jesus, we remake him in personal images because we don’t want to scrutinize the text – and even when we do, we are rarely honest about the presuppositions we carry with us in our readings.

Take this consideration in combination with the fact that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist theocrat, like his father Jerry Falwell, Sr. before him. And that he interprets others in binary models in this framework. If they are good, they think like him and are like him. If they are bad  they may or may not think like him, but are on the receiving end of his actions – for example, those Muslims that he told Liberty students to “end” and should be “taught a lesson”.

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Justin Sullivan – Getty Images North America

Contrary to King’s most famous mode of organizing, Falwell, Jr. told his Christian students that they should arm themselves. In their school. Never mind the implications of intimate violence in an environment rife with hyper-masculine theology and ecclesiology. While King advocated nonviolence as a means of organizing protest, it was as a critique of violence located within White Supremacist democracy. We can’t talk about nonviolent agitation without acknowledging that it is an organized resistance to the locus of violence: White Supremacist Empire.

King, it should be noted, was not strictly opposed to gun ownership for black families in terms of protecting their homes from direct white violence (cf Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge). Malcolm and the Panthers preached that this personal method of protection should be extended to organizational efforts against the threat of White violence. In the end, Dr. King and the Black Panthers fell to White violence and intentional disruption (and Malcolm would have likely have done so too if his life wasn’t cut short by an internal power play).

If Falwell, Jr. is to be believed and White Christians are under violent siege from Muslims, then and only then can his call to arms be taken seriously.

But

we

aren’t.

Muslims in the US and abroad are exponentially more likely to be harmed and killed by White American Christian violence than white Christians are by Extremist Muslim violence. In this scenario, Falwell represents the Klan, mob violence, and lynchings that King and his contemporaries were under threat from and (sometimes) armed themselves against.

This centering and outpouring of White violence coupled with the economic terror known as capitalism is central to how Jr. envisions Jesus and Martin Luther King. So of course Trump – another crude White Supremacist capitalist – speaking at an event honoring the pacifist, anti-racist, class-consciousness King is perfectly acceptable.

Trump, Falwell Jr. tells us, reminds him of his father.

President Ronald Reagan and Rev. Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell, Sr., by the way conspired with FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to spread propaganda about King and elevated American capitalism over and above the health of Black Americans. In the 1960’s, he preached that racial segregation was ordained by God. And…

In a 1964 sermon, “Ministers and Marchers,” Falwell attacked King as a Communist subversive. After questioning “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations,” Falwell declared, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

Falwell concluded, “Preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners.”

Then, for a time, Falwell appeared to follow his own advice. He retreated from massive resistance and founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy, an institution described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as “a private school for white students.”

Note: Many progressives tend to overplay Falwell’s post-Brown V. Board explicit racism as the genesis and centrality of Liberty University and his Moral Majority. Falwell Sr would later repudiate and even destroy remaining copies of sermons such as “Ministers and Marchers” and “Segregation or Integration: Which?” – arguably for political and numerical reasons, to further his reach and base among those who did not care for such explicit racism. The concern here is this false thinking that racism, like misogyny, is only real and harmful when it’s explicit rather than structural. The Moral Majority and Falwell both endorsed policies and practices which were functionally racist and sexist, but not out of a desire to be racist or sexist.

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For God and the Empire – via Wiki

In the contemporary West, the White Supremacist Empire is located in the relation that the state and its arms (the police and the military) have with corporations and banks. This was true during King’s era as seen in Jim Crow and Vietnam, and it is true in its current manifestations of the War on Crime and the War on Terror. On the rare, exaggerated, and misattributed occasion that peaceful protests get out hand and start burning or looting, White media and masses tend to focus on that rather than the White violence that is the we fail to recognize actual violence.

The actual violence is that people, and especially black and brown people, are commodified and perceived as property in the first place. We see how this happens in both practice (privatization of black and brown schools; overpolicing) and in memory (King as nice-&-eloquent black man who asked whites to free his people).

———————

*For more, check out Austin Channing Brown’s “What Would MLK Do?

 

Do Black Lives Matter to Evangelicals? Show It.

There’s something oddly familiar about the way that Larycia Hawkins is being treated by White Evangelicals. An intelligent black, political person with a Liberation Theology backgrond and a funny (by Anglo standards) name makes statements in solidarity with Muslims. The result is that conservative White Evangelicals question her loyalty and fidelity to America and to Christianity.

The obvious counterpart is President Obama, the “Secret Muslim” and “Terrorist Sympathizer”. In Obama’s case, fortunately, his job did not rest fully on the whims of White Evangelicals – though they have made things harder for him, and for the rest of us. The major difference of course is that Hawkins actually promotes peaceful solidarity and has not sent in drone strikes that kill hundreds of Muslim children each year (Which means she automatically gets my vote).

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Dr Hawkins addresses media at her church over Wheaton College’s actions against her

Despite Evangelical rancor, Wheaton College is not firing Hawkins because she has said or done anything opposing or outside of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. The statement of faith is important to Evangelical concerns because it plays into the identity politics at its core – that what we believe about things is more important than what we do, who we are, how we can get along, how we treat each other. And so this document is central to Wheaton’s identity. And by way of measure, what was said in the document should be how Hawkins could understand herself to operate as a fully-engaged faculty member within the parameters of Wheaton. Within this framework, even if nudging just a bit, Larycia Hawkins and any other faculty member should be safe* from such scrutiny within the bounds of the established parameters. From the Chicago Tribune:

Hawkins has been asked to affirm the college’s statement of faith four times since she started teaching at Wheaton nearly nine years ago. She was first admonished for writing an academic paper about what Christians could learn from black liberation theology, which relates the Bible with the often-troubled history of race relations in America. Jones said Hawkins’ article seemed to endorse a kind of Marxism.

She was called in a year later to defend a photograph someone posted on Facebook showing her at a party inside a home on Halsted Street the same day as Chicago’s Pride Parade. Last spring she was asked to affirm the statement again after suggesting that diversifying the college curriculum should include diplomatic vocabulary for conversations around sexuality.

None of this is outside the parameters of the college’s SoF. But therein lies the problem. White Evangelicalism’s parameters are not just what is said, but what is implied and implicated as well particularly by its well-heeled backers.

  • Violence is God’s means to redemption.
  • Capitalism is God-ordained.
  • God blesses America.
  • Heteronormativity is God-ordained and LGBTQ people are under God’s attack.
  • European theology is superior to Black and Latin theology.
  • Abortion is the primary sin of America.

Liberation theology – which Hawkins espouses and which she was previously censured by the school for – is viewed as particularly suspect because it violates at least two, if not most or all, of the aforementioned rules. Hawkins was also previously under fire for desiring and even personally having friendly, non-antagonistic relations with LGBTQ people.

But for the most part, these are the orthodox concerns of those who fund, not those who teach and inhabit, who are actually at the frontline of Wheaton. The same can be said with concern to the Black Lives Matter staging and unqualified support that happened at Urbana this past month as well, which the collegiate missions ministry InterVarsity Fellowship followed-up with a clarification/apology statement that muddied the waters of what solidarity should look like. The event itself was a major step forward for a White-headed Evangelical organization, in its declarative proclamation that Black Lives do Matter to God and thus should to all Christians.

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Black Lives Matter t-shirts worn by worship team members at the Evangelical Urbana Conference

But this declaration scared its donor base and so IVF had to reify its commitments to the Implied Statement of Belief. In doing so, IVF leaders had to clarify that they support black lives and the pre-born. But the most important message, the one that the donors needed to hear, is that the anti-abortion message is clear and without wavering. That the lives of (cis, straight) Black men and women are important to Evangelical institutions but do not trump the current Evangelical orthodoxy cause of fighting against abortion.

To answer John Inazu’s question in the Washington Post this last week, black lives will not matter to Evangelical institutions as long as they are captive to funding by anti-black, queerphobic capitalists. Black lives will not matter to them as long as they prioritize the police over their victims. Black lives will not matter to them as long as they are in an antagonistic posture against LGBTQ people of color. Black lives will not matter to them as long as Black Thought and Black Theology is seen as inferior and outside of orthodoxy.

 

——

*I know this is all very unfamiliar with those of us from state and non-fundamentalist university backgrounds. However, this form of boundary-policing has been an essential aspect of fundamentalist praxis since The Fundamentals were released.

If the Good News Isn’t Good News for the Poor…

This weekend I witnessed – mostly through Twitter – my town being taken over by two gatherings for justice, both of which themselves included diverse voices. One was an Evangelical Christian seminar called The Justice Conference, held downtown and featuring an array of Christian voices on issues of justice as identified from a largely White Evangelical perspective. The other was a series of protesting actions to get a trauma center in the South Side, which would be used to save people shot within range as there are no trauma centers for adult victims of shootings on the South Side of Chicago.

I would not argue that one was more important or justice-y than the other. Both were calls to justice but for different audiences. Evangelicals need to be called to economic, sexual, gender, and racial justice. There were problems as Ryan Kenji points out. It largely centered on white and male voices, framed conversations in the problematizing nature of White Privilege, disappeared LGBTQ issues and speakers, and included only one Woman of Color for the mainstage, etc. But at the same time, for many it was revelatory and even earth-shaking to hear voices speak loudly and prophetically against capitalism, patriarchy, prison-as-justice, and White Supremacy.

But the problem was that while the protestors at the University of Chicago were directly confronting White Supremacy, detainment control of poor black communities , and capitalism in order to get a much-needed trauma center open for victims of gun violence in the South Side and save lives, attendees and organizers of The Justice Conference were largely operating in a mode that takes White Supremacy and Heteropatriarchy as norms. We could see this in some of the problematizing of the very definitions of Justice, or in how the conference was arranged in the first place. Calling men “pastors” while calling women “sisters” is a capitulation to a male supremacy ever present in the majority of Evangelical churches – whether or not they call themselves Complementarian* or even know what that term means.

Christianity Today hosted this chalkboard asking "What Your Justice Looks Like"

Christianity Today hosted this chalkboard asking “What Your Justice Looks Like”

At heart was a re-defining of justice to fit into a highly individualistic framing. Oddly enough for a culture at-odds with post-modernism and a society they consider too relativistic, Evangelicalism redefines justice not to movements of people righting societal injustices, but to people individually helping to curb things they consider wrong or unjust. Because there is little room for community-based action and little understanding of corporate responsibility (everything is broken down to individual sin and individual responsibility), it’s a mess for the foreseeable future**.

All of this to say that, in some respects, justice is often a word applied to the top of specific interests of Evangelicals (I believe Daniel spoke about this) and in line with Evangelical priorities (worship, missions, sex trafficking) that either are directly a part of Evangelicalism or can be neatly aligned with it (White Privilege, as opposed to addressing White Supremacy). I’m thinking about this as I’m writing my book on Evangelicalism’s roots and how it nose-dives with neoliberalism, but also as my church is partaking in a several-week-long sermon series on reclaiming Evangelism. And, for a variety of reasons, this discussion gets me in an uncomfortable position.

I don’t necessarily like to be uncomfortable, but I do like to interrogate what could make me squeamish, and why something may be making me uncomfortable and what to do about that.

Being a Christian means – in some aspect – in evangelism as an outpouring of care. I believe that some sort of sharing of my faith, some public performance of it that can be communicated is necessary. It’s an outpouring of love. It’s reproduction, and reproduction is vital to life.

And yettttt, Christian witness of our faith has largely sided against life. It has been and still is a message steeped with death, and given in ways that reflect that. Rich recalled going to a Hell House when he was a youth. For those not familiar with Hell Houses, it’s a Halloween-themed church gathering that uses imagery left over from Dante’s epic poems and Carman’s music videos to scare people away from hell and into the abusive Jesus who would send them there for not believing that he could and would send them there.

Most churches despise this form of evangelism, however. In light of more friendly and effective Evangelists like Bill Bright, Billy Graham and megachurches following in the footsteps of Willow Creek Church, seeker-friendly churches do not pound on doors, do not preach condemnation, rarely-if-ever talk about hell, and go out of their way to show visitors and would-be Christians that they are welcome at the church.

I remember when seeker-friendly was seen as a denigration by my more fundamentalist peers. They were seen as “not preaching the truth”, being afraid of “man’s approval rather than God’s”. I felt then that they may have a point.

I think I agree with them now. Not that the truth is that every person is on their way to hell without affirming some four or five points about doctrine and then saying a prayer. But that their seeker-friendly message was just a veneer, a sleek cover for the same old thing and therefore dishonest.

Gospel was, in early Christian times, a message from the courts of power that meant (in an Orwellian sense) “good news”. That good news was usually the ascension or birthday of a new emperor. Or the conquering of a city.

This was certainly not good news to the colonized. That good news was of suppression and oppression.

Which is why the good news of Jesus was upsetting to that order (and why he was killed by that same state power). Because Jesus’ good news was good for the poor, for women, for the indentured, for the slaves and the nobodies and the prisoners. This was the message when reading from a synoptic gospels-centered view at least (there’s great stuff in Acts, the epistles, Revelations, and John’s Gospel, but I’m convinced that trying to read those outside of the framing of the gospels first is a huge mistake and leads to a recontextualization of the texts that over-spiritualizes them, robs them of their liberating power and upholds current, violent, dominant power structures).

The gospel message of the seeker church is delivered in a nice package, but inside the package is the dominant, oppressive system’s Gospel. It is Caesar’s gospel of war, empire-building, fear, hell, torture, suppression, oppression. Anti-LGBTQ. White Supremacist Euro-American theology with abundance of shame and guilt. Capitalism-entrenched. Patriarchal. Abuse-as-central to salvation. Eternal suffering and torture to justify unnecessary suffering…

When so many White Christians are justifying child abuse that happens in their own communities (whether it happens when a Duggar male child sexually abuses Duggar female children or when cops target, harass, beat up, throw down black kids attending a pool party in a white neighborhood) but blaming LGBTQ people for imagined abuse – or at the least being silent about such abuse coming from their own communities – the “nice” Christianity doesn’t appear so friendly to those on the margins.

As long as the Christianity that we offer to the world is fundamentally capitalist and abusive, then perhaps it’s not a message that needs to get out so much? If the good news that we have to offer to the people is like the good news of empire and dominion and violence, then how does it differ from Caesar’s good news?

Also, if our good news is tied together with a culture that seeks to superimpose over other cultures – if it aligns godliness with whiteness or consumeristic spirituality, for instance – then is it actually good news?

Because if the good news isn’t the good news of liberation, if the good news isn’t good to the poorest and the most oppressed, then it isn’t good news for anyone but the wealthiest. And that is not a gospel worthy of Jesus, (as far as I’m concerned).

So, a new evangelism needs to be tied in with a liberating gospel.

———-

* Complementarians believe that women and men are essentially different and that each has an assigned gender role to facilitate the other in a heteronormative marriage relationship. Shortly, the man is the head of the household and the woman is his helper.

**Though we can hope for better in the future, yet this may encapsulate structural theological problems within Evangelicalism that will need to be addressed before it may be able to be an effective engine for justice.

Evangelicals, Suburbia, and the Mark of Cain

Cain and Abel is the prototypical story of brotherly jealousy-cum-murder. Agrarian brother versus shepherd brother. Both fight over the acceptance of land use, but the Lord finds the shepherd’s sacrifices acceptable and not the vegetable ones. Herds wander, but farmers stay put. I’ve been considering this since my pastor made note of not only how this story ends for Abel, but also how it ends for Cain.

For murdering his brother, Cain cannot remain in his fields – he must wander the country as a vagabond, with his special protection mark. But after some years, he settles again and builds a city.

I am reading this as a critique from a largely shepherding community of the very civilizations that they encountered: Egypt, Babylon, Ninevah. Cities have the mark of Cain impressed on them. Cities are birthed in violence, and that is something to remember in how we approach living situations. Cities have long been the epicenter of violence – both on the creating and receiving ends.

This violence is not borne of the citizens, but of the mechanisms of which civilization bears – industry, empire, colonization, economic injustice and disparity, pollution, exploitation.

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7 (NLT)

The biblical and prophetic witness to the Abels of Israel was to “work for peace” while in the cities. This command I would argue would be extended to all of the people of God. We see it being repeated in Jonah and God’s concern for the inhabitants of the empirical/colonial/conquering city of Ninevah. We are also told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which I think is important considering the blood shed by the colonial and conquering Israeli government.

And yet, White Evangelicals – my own background – were among the primary White Flighters, those who not only left the cities to rot under the violence but took with them tools and resources needed to deal with that violence. As if White Evangelicals could leave the Mark of Cain behind them.

They refused to work for the peace of the city and were, en masse, culpable for the unrest, for the insatiable poverty, for the decay, for the water turn-offs.

Retired Cruiser

Retired Cruiser – Chuttlesworth, via Flickr

When White Evangelicals come into the city, it is often as another form of colonialism and conquering. Their churches act as if they’re carrying out terra nullius upon the spiritual landscape. We city folks are aboriginals to be converted and our churches like our rights to our land are void and nonexistent. It’s religious gentrification, values colonialism of white, middle class suburbia. Our values are not valid, our concerns are not valid. People who left us and took the money with them come back with money, to spend on each other as they push us out of the way of our own homes and dismantle our communities.

The missionaries of Spain and England came as emissaries of a military overtaking. The missionaries of suburbia are emissaries of real estate developers and gentrifiers.

So when Evangelicals borne of a post-Cain-ian suburbia complain about living in the city and how the suburbs were so much better, so much safer, so much cleaner, so much better for kids, I sigh. It happens often. Very often. Suburbia may be the womb of contemporary Evangelicalism, but it is also built upon the backs of those left within the city. It is us who have spent these years fighting the crippling effects that their removal have left. It is us that have invested in this city. It is our labor that have created the wealth of suburbia and it is suburbia that has refused to give it back.

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city” means to work for justice.  Means to partner with us while we seek liberation and peace. To do otherwise isn’t prophetic, isn’t biblical in any sense that is loving.

Bootstraps & Assets: Three (Post) Evangelical Views on the Poverty of the Poor

In my experience with (Post) Evangelicalism, there are three basic models for dealing with poverty and poor people (though most experience some overlap).

The loudest-  though probably not the most widespread – we can refer to as the Dave Ramsey School of Thought: People in the US are in poverty because they choose to be. They are lazy, bereft of character, are without industry and resourcefulness. Poor people basically deserve to be poor. I mean, they can’t even bother to take one of Dave Ramsey’s $200 Seminars on Saving Money and Becoming a Success by the age of 60™!

The above view is deplorable, despicable and ultimately has no redeemable value whatsoever. It’s a Ponzi Scheme for greedy would-be condo developers – the sorts of people who run around twirling their mustaches while tying up their tenants to the train tracks just because.

But its real deviousness lies with how it views and thus affects poor people. According to the DRSoT, we aren’t fully human – we are leeches, drains on society. We are not survivors, we are here to suck up at the sweet teat of Mama Gubmint and drink more cavity juice from Uncle Sugar. We are not resourceful – except for learning how to extract those sweet liquids of public assistance and we exist merely to be tormentors of good old American Republicans. The effects of this kind of thinking leads to the Tea Party, which leads to a continued Starving Out the Poors aggressive campaign*. These are the people who brag about cutting food stamps; these are the school administrators who take away kids’ lunches in front of their peers because their parents didn’t pay their debts (for a public school). These people inflict real harm into the lives of the poor and inflict damage to Jesus’ Body.

The second model isn’t quite as insidious – in fact, it’s innocuous. And therein lies the problem. For this model is much more widespread than believed. If the first view is that of Rush Limbaugh, this is the view of the common person in (Post) Evangelicalism. And it seems so benign, so well-intentioned. Which makes sense. Most people aren’t villains and have little aspirations of being a Master Capitalist or even a banker.

However, White Evangelicalism is still problematic and these problems can remain with those who leave Evangelicalism and yet have not had the space or resources to fully wrestle with how Evangelicalism and White Privilege make us think about Whiteness, about class struggles, about justice and work. We tend to think of our neighbors, when we do, as decent people and we can move our imaginations a bit to see ourselves in their shoes. We don’t have to know poor people to feel some pity for them and to believe that they may not be the people who directly do their own damage.

And this is where Ruby Payne’s Culture of Poverty rubric comes from. It is exhibited prominently this week in a guest post at Rachel Held Evans. While the author takes pains to remind readers that people in poverty are not the main ones to blame for their own poverty or conditions, she also tips the scales in a way that, frankly, gives me pause. What Culture of Poverty teaches is that poor people are different (read: inferior) to middle class people and must be studied through a framework that is overwhelmingly middle class but lacking in critical theory or social sciences. One can find good truths through observation and being near – but strong assumptions still remain from an outsider perspective and prescriptions are also given from that outsider perspective. There is still a reluctance to grapple with underlying systemic factors that contribute to high- and generational-poverty. 

To be sure, Amanda Opelt has some necessary insight for her (mostly) middle class white American Christian readers.

 I did the math and found that someone working full time at the current minimum wage (assuming they had paid sick days) would only make $15,080 a year.

In most places, that is not enough for a family of two, let alone three, to live on adequately. And that’s assuming paid sick days and a full schedule. And…

But for the low-income women I worked with, their lives were a perpetual house of cards.  They had no resources, no safety nets to keep them from going under.  One step forward, two steps back.

Ms. Opalt outlines – based on experience working in inner city Nashville – the trap that poverty is. Without a system of on-ground, replenishing, available and familiar safety nets (family to loan a few hundred dollars during a pinch; a few thousand in savings just in case) and cushions, poor people often have to rely on payday loans with exorbitant rates (I speak from experience having just missed this appointment due to the saving grace of having a family member in a place to help me pay rent this month), or pay more for upkeep and maintenance of crappy-but-necessary vehicles, or use day-to-day bus passes rather than cheaper monthly passes, or pay fees to restore the gas and lights because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills until tax returns, or stay at motels because of bad credit, or spend precious few dollars on a temporary escape that most middle class people take for granted. These survival mechanisms cost more money than stabler families and individuals have to spend for more stable and superior services.

So Ms. Opelt is correct in pointing this trap out and then giving some all-too-real cases of how this affects real live people. Poverty is like Mordor – you don’t fancy yourself just walking out.

But the sentence preceding this excerpt points to a problem with this worldview, one that many White Americans believe despite its vast ugly untruth reasserting itself on a daily, institutional level.

Abuse, racism, corruption; we all experience these hardships to a varying degree. [emphases mine]

While we may all be familiar to some level – however minute or overwhelming- with abuse and corruption, White people in a post-colonial world are not targets of racism. Something we must always remember: White colonists, elites and slave traders invented and whites of all socioeconomic statuses implemented and operate the social construct of racism. The express purpose of racism is to create and perpetually maintain a permanent underclass and to continue to divide the lower classes to keep us from organizing and revolting.

Racism as it is directed at non-White people is a tool to maintain poverty. Claiming that all people face racism not only  belittles actual, systemic racism that happens to People of Color, but itself furthers the hold of systemic poverty. Which brings us to another criticism of the Culture of Poverty: there is little societal, systemic analysis of the why’s to poverty. Ms. Opelt’s piece highlights this inconsistency by noting that “the playing field is not always level and not everyone was born with bootstraps.” The bootstraps myth is a tape in conservative America about self-reliance – but it’s mostly about neglect of community and social-political responsibility.

Which isn’t to say that Opelt and Culture of Poverty adherents shirk responsibility for the poor on an individual basis. Like Opelt, they tend to be generous and voluntary, working as teachers in underresourced urban and rural schools, as social workers, working for non for profits, helping out in the inner city’s soup kitchen on the weekends. Many tend to put their money where their mouths are – but there is the complication that they look at the field of the work and only see the value of rescuing individual strangers on the road to Emmaus. They refuse to – for socio-theological reasons – acknowledge the existence of systemic evil. And they see social programs of uplift as being naive and intrusive at best, responsible for poverty at worst.

But perhaps the most heart-wrenching aspect of the Culture of Poverty view is how it belittles the lives and communities of poor folk.

What I learned in the inner city is that to be caught in the cycle of generational poverty is to experience a bankruptcy of spirit, a deficit of hope.  It is poverty of education, community, safety, health, and spiritual guidance.

The problem here isn’t so much that poor people are turned into adversaries in this scenario – instead, we are objects to be pitied – emphasis on the objects. We are removed of our own experiences and thoughts and agency. Heck, even our communities and spirituality are labeled “impoverished.” We are infantilized and, in the Culture of Poverty Culture, can’t do anything without White Middle Class America stepping in to rescue us.

While on the face of it, because the Ruby Payne method lacks the antagonism of the Dave Ramsey method, we tend to think of purveyors of this model to be on the side of those in poverty. It is certainly better than the DRM. But, as my friend and unofficial mentor Don Washington likes to say, remember that better is not the same as good. And erasing people’s agency while belittling their communities and spirituality is not good.

Image: Female protester wearing a sign that says, "You are NOT powerless." Black & white imagery

Image: Female protester wearing a sign that says, “You are NOT powerless.” Black & white imagery

To contrast, I think Christian Community Development Association shows a way forward at least for Evangelicals and a more healthy way of connecting with under-resourced communities and people.

CCDA, a coalition of Evangelical churches and community-based NFPs – believes in incarnational ministry and asset-based community development. The idea is that White Middle Class people can come live with poorer neighbors not as leaders but as neighbors. Often divested neighborhoods will have helicopter drops where outsiders will bring in resources regardless of what is happening and needed in the community. Rather, what we need are efforts to address lack of community resources through acknowledging what the community has, what it knows, and what it knows it needs. If White Evangelicals want to make remarks about how impoverished our community relationships are, I’d like them to live as neighbors and see how strong our communities are, how we come together and celebrate with each other and pitch in at times of need. And I’d like them to do this for years and years before they claim to know what we live with.

There are ways to treat poor people as fully human – as beings made in the image of God. Our communities and spirituality aren’t bankrupt – our checking accounts are missing or perilously low.

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*This campaign can and should be defeated, but enough Americans will both have to awaken their conscience to vote against it and demand full equality for all. We need a moral education.

The War on White Christmas

My Dominican friend remembers Santa being black and bearing gifts. A Twitter friend, Kristen Soo aka @readtooswift, shared that her Asian uncle dressed up as Santa a couple of years ago. I know this flies in the face of convention, of Northern European Christmas myths, and Megyn Kelly, but if my dad could be (though wasn’t) Santa Claus, then why not my friends’ dads – or moms? Or are Santas only for and from white people?

Around Easter of last year, I posted some satirical pictures of Jesus mocking conservatives and American Empire to my Leftcheek and Commie Pinkos Wrote My Bible Facebook pages and someone asked me why Jesus had to be white. I of course answered that he doesn’t, but these were the images that I found. But I knew what this person meant and became more deliberate about finding other representations of Jesus.

My grandmother, a Puerto Rican with mocha-ish skin and tight curls, came to be a devout Evangelical around the age of forty. She kept pictures and representations of Jesus all around her apartment upstairs from me. Looking back, all these paintings and figurines were white, often blonde, often smiling or plaintive or pleading. They never looked like her but like other people from church’s tradition (our particular church was mixed-race, but the leaders were usually white men). Come to think of it, they rarely looked like me – with freckles and an unkempt ‘fro. This was the acceptable Jesus in Anglo churches.

Of course the historical Saint Nicholas and Jesus were not white – certainly not white by conventional Whiteness standards (which tends to favor fair-skinned people from Northern Europe). Nicholas was darker from Turkey with a black father and Jesus, well, from Nazareth (and what good can come out of Nazareth?). Neither would be mistaken for Brad Pitt. Yet, Renaissance-era paintings and millions of commercials and commercialized books and movies later, both are well-recognized within Western culture as being White. That shouldn’t be a problem – myths are adaptable and should change to each culture and tradition.

So when Fox News and the rest of the Right Wing Media Circus gets so defensive that Jesus is White, Santa is White (and kids, don’t you forget it!) and Christmas is the supreme holiday and should be the one and only recognized for this season (There can only be one!), the problem isn’t that what they are saying is intrinsically bad. White people can recognize Santa and Jesus in their own image and Christians can be the most wonderful time of the year for many. The problem is in recognizing those as the primary or only options. When they declare a War on Christmas or the two biggest representations of Christmas (notice that Mary is not included in this picture), they are really promoting the supremacy of a White Christmas for Whiteness.

To solely focus on Christmas dismisses those who have deep depression for various reasons around this time, who remember loss, or face a lack of necessary sunshine, or who struggle with family grievances. But also, what of Hanukkah, Ramadan, Winter Solstice, New Year’s, and/or Kwanzaa in addition to or separate from Christmas? It’s not the only holiday. Nor do any of the holidays need to be celebrated by every one.

black madonna and child

Black Madonna and Child, courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna

Additionally, picturing Jesus as necessarily a white man (or even necessarily a man) is a disservice to the Jesus of the Gospels – where Jesus was an oppressed minority. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the book of Matthew, Jesus says that his followers will serve him directly and take care of him directly when they serve, visit, and care for the hungry, the prisoners, the sick, the homeless.

Who is oppressed today – who does Jesus look like? An unmarried pregnant teen from the rural regions of Palestine? A shanty-town dweller in Cape Town or Rio de Janeiro? A sixteen year old black man in Cook County Jail? An untouchable in India? A single mother with cerebral palsy? A father awaiting deportation back to Juarez? A trans*woman or man pretty much anywhere? Can Jesus be trans*? Can Santa?

I argue for a tapestry of Jesus, Santa, and Christmas that is multi-colored, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mult-class, multi-ability, intersectional, open and affirming of all sexualities, identities, capabilities and spectrums. Because Jesus, Santa, and the holidays are for the people – and White Christians are such a small – yet unduly influential – percentage of us all.

Baby, Baby!: Humanity and Sexual Commerce in #PlanetCCM

Note: This is my first post on the synchroblog #PlanetCCM, in which we ponder how Contemporary Christian Music affected our lives. Since I have much and much to talk about, I’ll start with some musings that have been in the back of my mind for some twenty years. The synch is hosted by Dianna Anderson. Feel free to join in.

I think I was headed back on the 55 on the long, boring journey from the northeastern corner of Oklahoma to the northeastern corner of Illinois and I popped in Heart in Motion. This was the mid 90s and I know it’s a weird cop for a guy whose favorite music is the Clash, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Wonder. There’s more intricate and challenging pop music out there, and Amy Grant’s best stuff is like crackers.

But it makes me feel more human, and compared to most all the other Contemporary Christian Music I listened to at the time (almost all music I owned at the time was produced in CCM industry) outside of the alternative scene (Daniel Amos/DA/da, the 77s, the Choir, Adam Again), it was resoundingly human. Amy was a real person who had been through life and her music touched on that. It wasn’t a Sunday School lesson.

I just had no idea how true that was as of yet.

My driving partner looks at me now. Not much of a talker himself, I remember very much what he says next.

You know, she’s divorcing her husband and she’s in an affair with some country star.

That hits. My car neighbor is not much of a gossiper. But this was serious business – at least that’s how it struck me at that time. My driving partner knew people in Nashville. All of Nashville knew about this. But they were keeping the mums.

Yet, they weren’t keeping quiet to honor the Chapman/Grant family. Nor to protect the kids. No, I had learned long ago that CCM culture can be the most judgmental and hypocritical of all. Humans are not humans. Mistakes are unforgiveable, unless you make beaucoup money for them.

Amy Grant is money.

So the CCM industry tried to correct its ships. Tried to find a way to bury the secret for as long as possible until it could do no longer. Ms. Grant, it turned out, was not going to have it.

And when the secret came out, she was judged for not being Mrs. Perfect. She left, after many years, her drug abusing husband to be with someone she felt listened to her, someone who was also human and real. Someone outside of the machine of CCM.

Now, Amy was money. And money in the CCM industry will forgive a hell of a lot of sins. But it doesn’t cover being a woman. And so it was Ms. Grant who took hell for leaving a hellish relationship behind. CCM, like the God of Moses, hates divorce. But the God of Moses hated divorce partially because it hurts dependent women of a particularly patriarchal time and land. CCM hates divorce because it hurts its particular patriarchy. And money. 

Because she wasn’t able to just leave the relationship, she followed her heart. Whatever a decision that was should not be taken outside of its context: CCM – the exact geographical and cultural land where Amy Grant was raised and found herself, was beholden to the gods of commerce, patriarchy, youth group demographics, and White American Christian Purity Culture.

All these are more important than real lives of real people.

……..

Some years earlier, as Ms. Grant was just coming out of her adolescence, these same Guardians of the Virtue started looking for a worthwhile replacement for the teen set. The first of many was found in a young Leslie Phillips.

She recounts this experience in her second post-CCM record, Cruel Inventions  (which is available to stream on Spotify)* – her third one produced by a post-How Will the Wolf Survive/pre-everything Coen Brothers T-Bone Burnett, her then-husband and after changing her stage name to Sam Phillips.

The title track is – like much of her work – poetic and can take on more than one meaning. Yet,

Two men with empty pockets
Put lipstick on little girl
And another dream goes by

They make her ride the rockets
That fall into the sea of pearl
And another dream goes by..

Uninvent the wheel of endless greed
Let conscience run
Like a river like a dreamer

A world of elevators
Music like magazines
And another dream goes by

“Music like magazines” because CCM is the name of an entire cottage industry focused and centered around a magazine called, conveniently, CCM. But also, in that the music was meant to be consumed, read and trashed. In CCM, the music is about the money, about the culture of greed – and a young child will get dolled up, will go on tour, will be on promotions and touch the hand of a certain kind of fame, will crash for the sake of that wheel.

via No Depression. Can we also talk about her role as a terrorist along Jeremy Irons in a Die Hard movie?

via No Depression. Can we also talk about her role as a terrorist along Jeremy Irons in a Die Hard movie?

But Leslie, as she later revealed to CCM (both the magazine and industry) journalist/music critic Brian Q Newcomb, she was groomed to replace Amy Grant, but she didn’t fit in. Phillips thought she was in a good place to ask a lot of spiritual questions. But no. PlanetCCM exists for the marketing and selling of White Jesus and conservative White Evangelical Christianity.

It’s not for humans being human. To do that, you may have to leave the Christian world.

They found other artists

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*I want to note that this album came out roughly the same time as Grant’s mega album Heart in Motion, which I tried to listen to while writing this article. Phillip’s album stands up pretty well with acoustic textures and richness. HiM, though, is woefully dated in a way that would embarrass 80’s stations. The drum machine! The synths! NOOOOOO!!!
I propose Ms. Grant re-records. With that other Civil Wars producer and the songwriter for “Every Heartbeat,” Charlie Peacock.

Violence in the House of Hell (A #TheNewPacifism Post)

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.

Mary Ellen Page's Halloween Town 2009

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.

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*(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.

The Good Samaritan in Sanford

Luke 10

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Orlando to Sanford, Florida, when he was attacked by capitalists. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A pastor happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a developer, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a young, black man, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him to bandage his wounds but the white traveler feared for his life and shot him dead. 34. When the police finally arrived, they took the traveler away for questioning but released him uncharged within a couple hours. 35 Meanwhile, the black man’s family was worried about him but were not informed of his whereabouts as their son was considered another drugged-out murderous Black thug.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who shot the thug in the face!”*

Jesus was stunned to silence for three minutes before he said, “Smdh.”

hoodie anděl

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*If you think I’m exaggerating here about White conservative religionists and their antipathy towards Black victims of violence, check out the vicious, demeaning and flat-out racist comments on this post by a conservative Evangelical Black pastor who openly admits that he’s attempting colorblindness.

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Post-Script:

There are several reasons why The Good Samaritan is my favorite parable, mostly because, in the original, Jesus demonstrates that love stops at the borders of familiarity but shocks his listeners into considering The Villainized Other (as the Samaritan is) as not as a villain or a stereotype or even a decent character in the story, but as a possible hero. Loving those close to us is easy when they love us. Loving those who seemingly do not share common traits with us – whether they be of a different race, nationality, religion, political orientation, sexual orientation, they have different ways of organizing… Our fears of the Other have been taken advantage and turned to the breaking point by political and economic masters (the Capitalists Robbers in this version).

Jesus teaches love. Acceptance and healing and power to mend for the marginalized among and in all of us. For our marginalization hurts us all – we are all tied in together to the oppression of some. Out of self-love and love for God, I seek to love all. For though we are all different (and I am no Trayvon) we’re all intimately and intricately connected.