Tag Archives: racism

July Fourth’s Hope and Promise According to Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. As a young man around the age of thirteen he was converted to Christianity under the preaching of a white Methodist preacher, named Hanson. Of that preacher Douglass said, “He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God; that they were, by nature, rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God, through Christ” (My Bondage and My Freedom, p. 68. Kindle Edition). Under conviction of sin, he sought out the counsel of a black Christian, Charles Johnson, who guided him on how to pray. Weeks later he finally trusted in God through Christ for salvation and was born again.

After this, I saw the world in a new light. I seemed to live in a new world, surrounded by new objects, and to be animated by new hopes and desires. I loved all mankind—slaveholders not excepted; though I abhorred slavery more than ever. My great concern was, now, to have the world converted. The desire for knowledge increased, and especially did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible. (Ibid, p. 68)

Another black Christian named Lawson, became a mentor and a guide for Douglass who helped him increase his faith and knowledge. He also gave Douglass a hope for freedom and a vision for how God would use him in his future beyond slavery.Frederick Douglas Speaking

Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838. He and his wife, Anna, eventually settled in Massachusetts and joined with an African Methodist Episcopal Zion church where he would become a licensed lay preacher. In fulfillment of the incipient vision cast by Rev. Lawson, he would become one of the nations finest orators and activists for abolition.

In 1852, at an antislavery society meeting in Rochester, New York, Mr. Douglass delivered a powerful speech on the hope and promise of the Fourth of July, Independence Day. He found hope in the founding principles of liberty enshrined in the nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The latter he called a “glorious liberty document” when interpreted in a way consistent with the eternal principles that lay at its heart. Mr. Douglass also expressed profound admiration for the country’s founding fathers.

I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory. ~ Frederick Douglass “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

But even more than the founding fathers, he cherished the founding principles of liberty and the self-evident truths upon which the republic stood, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight. ~ Frederick Douglass “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Although Douglass found great hope in the nation’s founding principles, he found the fulfillment of their promise falling exceedingly and egregiously short of their glory. In that speech about the Fourth of July, he also excoriated the nation for allowing the monstrous inconsistency of the reality of American slavery, and the racism upon which it stood, with those principles of American freedom to continue. His excoriation was also a warning, given less than a decade before the beginning of the Civil War, about the ever-increasing, coiling tension in the nation because of these contradictions. And he stated his case in a blistering, scathing critique of the hypocrisy despite pleas from some quarters for him to be more genteel and “winsome” in his oratory.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever! ~ Frederick Douglass “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Frederick Douglass’s deep desire was that the Fourth of July would eventually be a celebration for everyone in the country including people of color. Despite the tyranny and the villainy of the slavery that still existed when he gave that speech on July 5th, 1852, because of his faith in Jesus Christ and in the principles of liberty upon which the United States was founded, he was confident that it eventually would be.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.                   ~ Frederick Douglass “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

In his condemnation of the “great sin and shame” of the nation, slavery, including support of it given by too many churches and theologians, Douglass’s words only amplified and magnified the strong condemnation delivered by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley himself (see “Thoughts Upon Slavery” and Wesley’s letter to William Wilberforce). Douglass’s words also magnified and amplified the words of a special anti-slavery statement delivered and published in newspapers around the country from the 1800 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, presided over by Bishop Francis Asbury. Unfortunately, anti-slavery statements and proposals, which was the original and official position of the early Methodist movement, were being met with increasing resistance from culturally accommodated Methodists, especially in the South. Nevertheless, that 1800 General Conference published an anti-slavery statement formulated by a committee, led by Ezekiel Cooper, William McKendree, and Jesse Lee. It attacked slavery as “repugnant to the unalienable rights of mankind, and to the very essence of civil liberty.” They also declared that it was hideously contrary to the “whole spirit of the New Testament.” Moreover, the statement decried the egregious inconsistency of American slavery with the value of American freedom so cherished and enshrined in the nation’s founding documents. It called for the gradual but universal emancipation of all slaves (see American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists by John Wigger, p.293).

The tension of those internal inconsistencies were there at the founding of the United States from the very beginning. The founding fathers knew it in large part because of our forefathers and mothers in the Methodist faith, who refused to compromise with the culture. But as Frederick Douglass pointed out, too many other Christians, Methodists included, were too complacent, lukewarm, or coldly indifferent, if not openly hostile, to fight the good fight against the evils of slavery and racism. Many others, like Orange Scott, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1843, and William Loyd Garrison, were more than willing. Unfortunately, it would take the bloodiest war in American history for slaves to finally be freed; it would take another hundred years for equal rights under the law to become a reality for people of color. Douglass did live to see emancipation and then some before he died in 1895. Even before emancipation, his faith in the Lord and his great hope in the promising principles of liberty in the founding documents of the United States of America gave him confidence that he would.

Douglass’s ministry and his activism for liberation was one with a Spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation that he received in his own new birth. It was also inspired with great hope rooted in the founding principles of the country that he so cherished, even though it did not fully cherish him. Early counter-cultural Methodists, white and black, Frederick Douglass, and many others through the civil rights movement led by the Baptist preacher, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., appealed to the principles of 1776 to call America to live up to and consistently with its highest ideals. That and a spirit of reconciliation and hope changed the world for the better.

Today, however, another movement that finds its fuel in what happened in 1619, the year that the first Africans slaves were brought to America, seems to have rejected what happened in 1776 altogether (See “The 1619 Project” and find a critique HERE). They seem to insist that everything and everyone associated with the founding of America in 1776 is hopelessly tainted by slavery and racism. They seem to believe that what some call America’s original sin—what Douglass called America’s “sin and great shame”—is the unforgivable sin. Hence, the move to condemn even the founding fathers like Washington and Jefferson, and hence, the call of some even to condemn the Fourth of July celebration. This is a movement that seems bereft of forgiveness and historical humility that only seeks to highlight America’s low-lights and condemn her completely for what they see as the twin sins of racism and capitalism.

But, as Frederick Douglass knew, America is not just a country of low-lights. He knew that the United States of America was hopefully mendable not hopelessly damnable because of its founding principles. We would do well to remember his exhortation to cling with all our might to the ring-bolt, that is the Declaration of Independence, and to the founding principles of liberty and justice in the midst of the storm in which we currently find ourselves.

Thanks to men like Frederick Douglass, the Fourth of July, with so much more of the promise of America’s founding principles fulfilled, can and should be celebrated by all Americans everywhere, “from sea to shining sea.” Even as we continue to pray for God to mend our every flaw.

Happy Fourth of July!





Systemic? In Part or in Whole?

I took some flack for a video in which I expressed appreciation for law enforcement and said it is wrong to demonize all law enforcement for the wrongs done by some law enforcement officers or agencies. I shared my own personal experience of how helpful law enforcement has been when I needed to call them. On two occasions we have had to call them after break-ins, one when I was actually at home. I also shared the story of a former white church member, who was a state trooper, who helped deliver the baby of an African American woman who couldn’t make it to the hospital in time. She affectionately and jokingly referred to him as her “baby’s daddy” thereafter.

I didn’t share my experience to say that because I’ve had or heard about good experiences that there really are no problems as someone accused. The point I was making is that people in minority communities also need and want to be able to call the police for help. They also want a prompt and professional response. While polls on the general perception of confidence in the police is far lower, especially among blacks than whites, a 2011 study by the the Department of Justice revealed that there was no significant difference in satisfaction among whites, blacks, or Hispanics who actually called the police for help. Overall, about 85% said the police were helpful and over 90% believed the police acted properly. Moreover, 90% said they would be likely or more likely to call the police again. This study, done during the Obama administration, is a bit dated and no study reveals the complete picture, but this is part of the picture that needs to be considered and studied more as well.

People in minority communities also need and want good police protection. Demonizing police with sweeping generalizations and pushing for unnecessary scrutiny and drastic changes will lead to higher rates of crime that will disproportionately affect minority communities. As I was saying in the video, this is what the more recent work of Professor Roland Fryer, Jr. of Harvard reveals. It could cost hundreds more lives in some communities, and those black lives matter too, not to mention the black lives lost to murder at the hands of rioters and looters and the black livelihoods destroyed by the same. This is a justice issue too. If trying not to be racist is also racist as someone I once read argued, surely this is a case in point.

I’m not arguing that systemic racism doesn’t exist; I’m arguing that as a construct it can’t explain everything, and not everyone who uses that term means the same thing. More precise parsing is desperately needed. A friend shared a video explaining an example of systemic racism with regards to economic disparities that lead to disparities in educational opportunities, etc. The problem identified is only part of the picture, however; and my guess is many people would find what would likely be my friend’s libertarian solutions unacceptable.

The concept of racism itself also needs to be parsed out more clearly than much of the rhetoric does. Conflating racism in the heart with “systemic” racism such that all, including the racists themselves, are mere manifestations of the “system” is unhelpful. I don’t deny that there are systemic issues. In today’s society it’s not as obvious as it was during the horrific days of slavery and Jim Crow. But we do need to parse out prejudice in the hearts and minds of people from policies, procedures, and laws, especially when the issue is the partial and biased application of impartial laws. This is not to say there are no interactions between the different constructs, but the parsing is required to study the potential interactions carefully.

When people talk of the evils of systemic racism, for transparent and honest debate we need to know exactly what is meant. In a world under the curse of sin, of which racism is a only a subset, that is easier called for than accomplished. When someone is talking about systemic racism, it would be helpful to know if they are talking about part(s) of the system that need to be amended or saying the system as a whole needs to be abolished and replaced.

I just saw a post of a progressive friend who is at a protest in Washington D.C. It read, “Ending racism is not political, there should be no debate. It’s not right or left, it’s life or death.” Seems like a weird thing to say as you are marching on Washington D.C. At any rate, the historical civil rights movement was deeply spiritual and moral, but it was also political; so is this movement today. As clever as the statement above is, it is pure sophistry. We need to parse out the spiritual, moral, and political, but not pretend that politics is not very much in play. As much as we would like to continue to believe the Enlightenment lie that we can can, much less ought to, completely compartmentalize the spiritual from the political, we just can’t.

So when people talk about the system, we need to know exactly what they are talking about. Are they talking about adjustment (major or minor) to imperfect parts of an overall decent and just system as far as can be expected in this fallen and sinful world? Or do they mean the whole system needs to be abolished and replaced?

In my last article I mentioned Harvard professor, Cornel West, a Christian socialist, who believes the whole system needs to be replaced. Professor Willie Jennings of Yale just recently shared some of his views on the current crisis. Professor Jennings was one of my professors at Duke Divinity School. I thoroughly enjoyed his class, not least his passion and his infectious laugh. I also appreciate his honesty regarding his views. He certainly opened our eyes to the horrific and inhumanly brutal realities of the slave trade and slavery itself, from capture to slave ship, to slave auction to slave quarters and life on plantations and beyond. He also opened our eyes to the toll it took on the bodies and psyches of African Americans, as well as the toll it took on the general American psyche in terms of the devastation it brought on the consciences of slaveholders and their proponents. It also warped the Christian imagination in ways that have kept far too many of our churches segregated and prohibited us from bearing full witness to the gospel of reconciliation.

Professor Jennings also clearly and inextricably, however, tied the European/American slave trade and the development of modern racial categories with private ownership of property in general and the development of capitalism in particular. When I with qualms asked how we could understand even the commandment against stealing without some notion of private property, he just laughed it off with his infectious laugh as silly biblicism.

In the recent interview where he expressed his views about the current crisis, Professor Jennings once again traced the problems of what he declares to be our “white supremacist-infested country called the United States” ultimately to private property and capitalism. He decries what he sees as a prioritization of property over people. He seems to pit protection of people’s lives against the protections of property as if it is a zero sum game. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that destruction of property means the destruction of livelihoods, including those generated by black owned businesses. At a superficial level he says no one should be happy about the burning of businesses and the loss of businesses, but that side note is followed with a huge “BUT.” And that seemingly dismissive “BUT” allows him a segue way into saying “Maybe what the burning of buildings and the destruction of property ought to say to us is that things cannot stay the same.”  He goes on to call for a new order; and  it is clear that he doesn’t see the current system as flawed only in part but amendable. For Jennings there is something which is far worse than murderous rioting and looting in the streets.

Professor Jennings says:

Everything built in this country is built on the sinking sand of race and class and greed, and is now under the control of merciless financial capitalism. No amount of rhetoric around the virtue and glory of small businesses can hide us from the precariousness of economic life or the need to change an entire structure built to enhance profit at the expense of the health of a common life.

So there it is. The fight against systemic racism for Professor Jennings is one and the same as the fight against capitalism, which Professor West condemns as legalized loot. But systems that have abolished private property and capitalism have led to more than their fair share of injustice and horrifying atrocities. And slapping a Christian label on them will likely do little to stop them from happening again, especially in a climate of  strong anti-Christian sentiment.

Clearly for many the fight against systemic racism is largely political because it is simultaneously a fight against capitalism. For some the fight against racism is the fight against capitalism. They seem to be one and the same. For some, like Professor Jennings, the system requires much more than some adjustments. Others, of course, would not see the need for change to be that drastic. Thus we need to be precise—surgically precise— about what kind of systemic change we’re actually talking about.

As I also mentioned in my previous article, there is a great spiritual danger of vengeful rage that looms large. Professor Jennings also speaks of his own anger and compares it to the righteous indignation of God. He rightly cautions against the danger of conflating our own anger with God’s and allowing human anger to be poisoned by hatred. Make no mistake, it is a grave danger. My concern is that some of the anger is drifting in that dangerous direction. Over the last couple of weeks I have been warning about a spirit of rage that could engulf our whole nation. I have seen the rage among some whites bubbling to the surface in memes saying “All Lives Splatter” in regard to running over protesters that block traffic, for example. That kind of thing is actually happening in reality on both sides it seems, as some have plowed through protesters and others into police. This is only the beginning of evil unimaginable that can get far, far worse.

I’ve also heard forgiveness selectively downplayed and even problematized to one degree or another in progressive theological circles for many years now. That forgiveness may be used as an excuse for continued sin and injustice is true and always has been (see Romans 6), for people personally and for the wider community. God forbid that we should continue in sin in the name of grace and forgiveness. But if there is going to be reconciliation and peace, forgiveness is not even optional much less dispensable; it is essential.

But I am hearing the downplay if not rejection of forgiveness even from the more popular cultural centers of the country now too. A basketball player was rebuked sharply for calling for prayer not only for justice for George Floyd but also the police officers involved in his death, that their hearts may be changed. Former football player and sports commentator on the show Undisputed, Shannon Sharpe recently said Drew Brees should not be quickly forgiven for expressing sentiments against players taking a knee during the national anthem even though Brees recanted and apologized. Sharpe said, Brees should be required to earn his forgiveness. Sharpe was criticizing former NFL coach Tony Dungy for being “too forgiving.” Sharpe was clearly wrestling with the relationship between mercy and justice in the case of Brees, not wanting to condemn him completely but not really wanting to forgive him either. Startlingly, Sharpe also asked, “We have taken the highroad for 400 years, what has it got us?”

Well, what did it get Jesus and his followers? What about the countless white and black followers who prayed and worked tirelessly and gave their lives to end the slave trade and slavery in his name? What about those who worked along side Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others for civil rights in that same spirit of peace and reconciliation? Nowhere? Really?

This is dangerous theology that will only add fuel to the fires of human vengeance in which mercy is infinitely less certain and reliable than God’s. This is the reason a contrite King David preferred the wrath of God over the wrath of his human enemies (2 Samuel 24:14). The current generation can’t afford to pay for all the horrific sins of all previous generations for the past 400 years up to and including our own. In God’s eyes we can’t even afford to pay for our own sins as individuals.

Jesus, who was wrongfully accused and unjustly tried and condemned to a torturous death did not come back from the grave with a vengeance; he came back with forgiveness to bring about reconciliation and peace for people of all nations, tribes, and tongues. We are all sinners in need of a forgiveness that we cannot earn. It has to be a gift received from God in Christ and freely given for the sake of Christ to others. Forgiveness is not a payment to be earned; it’s a gift of grace to be received through repentance and faith with thanksgiving; it is also a gift to be shared freely with all. And it is a gift that calls for a changed life. The good news is the gift of God’s forgiveness by the blood of Christ includes the gift of the Spirit who enables and empowers the changed life for which the gift calls.

We need to pray to be delivered from evil, including the evil of racism; we all need to pray always to be forgiven our own trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (See Matthew 6:9-15; 18:21-35). An unwillingness to forgive is a grave danger for all parties involved. It will prove to be especially dangerous among those who view those with whom they disagree politically to be as irredeemable as the system that they so deplore.

Some are already expressing skepticism of white Christians who have recently jumped on the bandwagon in the fight against systemic racism. I’m afraid it’s not going to be acceptable to progressives for conservative white and black Christians only to work to change hearts and to merely amend part of the current system. As Marc Antoine Lavarin put it in his article entitled, “Why I’m Skeptical of New Christian Allies,” “An individual’s need of repentance will never be enough to redeem or rectify an entire system that is in need of salvation” (emphasis mine). Mr. Lavarin seems to indicate that anything less than full acceptance of the progressive vision of justice in its entirety will be unacceptable (Consider BLM statement of beliefs regarding gender, sex, marriage, and family).Vehicle-Systems-diagram

While we are fighting to change the system it would be good to know whether we are fighting to fix broken parts in an otherwise decent vehicle, or whether we’re working to send the vehicle to the junkyard and replace it with an entirely different one to be driven in a completely different direction. Be careful what bandwagon you jump on, it may take you to a place you really don’t want to go.

May God have mercy on us, and in his mercy enable us to be merciful and forgiving of one another until Christ comes with the one and only perfect system, the kingdom of God. Maranatha!


The Spirit of Rage or the Spirit of Reconciliation?

Last Sunday was Pentecost, the time when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church shortly after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Acts, the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, makes it clear the Holy Spirit was a Spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness. And it’s important to recognize that the Spirit of God was set in stark contrast to the spirit of the age, and every age and generation, in this fallen world, which is often a spirit of rage and vengeance.

Jesus was unjustly condemned through the deceitful testimony of false witnesses. He was wrongfully executed for bearing witness to the truth. He was brutally beaten and savagely tortured. Yet when he was raised from the dead, he did not come back with a vengeance. He did not come back to get even as one might expect from a typical tale in the ancient world or from Hollywood in our modern world. Jesus died and rose again not to get even but to bring forgiveness and reconciliation, even for the very ones who conspired and railed against him and had him murdered.

He commissioned the disciples with the same message of forgiveness and reconciliation for those who would receive it through repentance. He empowered his disciples to carry out that ministry with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And it was an empowered message accompanied by signs and wonders, but not coercion through violence. Christians gained power in the Roman Empire through preaching and teaching and love for each other and outsiders alike, and through their faithful witness in martyrdom.

Right from the start we see the Spirit bringing people of different tongues and places, natural born Jews and Gentile proselytes, together (Acts 2:5-12). The Spirit brought people of different Jewish factions together, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots. The Spirit brought together those who had persecuted Jesus and his followers with those who had been persecuted. The Spirit brought together Judeans and Samaritans despite the long hostility between them. The Spirit brought together Jews and Gentiles and the rich and the poor all to be a part of the same family of God. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.

The Holy Spirit, then as now, stands as an alternative to the spirit of the age, which often manifests itself as a spirit of rage. Jesus’ followers—much more the many Jews who never accepted the message of Jesus—were hoping for a Messiah who would come immediately in vengeance to destroy their pagan oppressors. There was a spirit of insurrection fueled by hatred and ethnic pride in the air in Jerusalem. This spirit animated people like Barabbas, who had been arrested for riotous and murderous insurrection (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19). At Jesus’ sentencing this spirit perhaps inspired the people to have Barabbas released instead of Jesus. It was like an invisible combustible gas that would eventually cause Jerusalem to go up in flames in 70 A.D. This was the spirit that Jesus warned about and delivered people from and the flames were a manifestation and symbol of the eternal flames of hell that Jesus also warned about. In large part when Peter called for his hearers to save themselves from that corrupt generation (Acts 2:40) he was pleading with them to allow the Spirit of God to free them from the spirit of rage.

The spirit of rage is the work of the devil, the slanderer, Satan the accuser, who works through wicked people to stir up strife and sow discord and hatred.

A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.
A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.
A man of violence entices his neighbor
and leads him in a way that is not good.
Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.  

Proverbs 16:27-32 ESV

Today there are those who rightly discuss what they call America’s “original sin” of racism and work for justice, peace, and reconciliation. There are also some who rail against America because of this original sin of racism and act as if it is the unforgivable sin. They seem to demand that the current generation pay in full for the sins and injustices of all previous generations for the past 400 years. They seem to insist that racism has so corrupted America that the whole system has to be burned to ground and something entirely new put in its place.

Professor Cornel West, a Christian socialist, says America is a failed social experiment. He apparently sees it as a government and economic system for which there is no hope of redemption. Apparently, for West every wrongful death of every black person at the hands of a white person is a manifestation of white supremacy and racism regardless of the facts of the situation. He and many others, politicians and media pundits included, seem to know this to be true before they know anything other than a black person was allegedly wrongfully killed at the hands of police or other white citizens. Many politicians, media pundits, celebrities, and even preachers immediately portray the situation in the worst possible light and highlight each incident as an example of how the whole “system” is totally corrupt.

A clergy colleague shared an article claiming that modern policing in America is inextricably linked with slavery and expressed the opinion that the whole system of law enforcement has to be abolished and started over. The media and certain politicians insist that each incident is evidence of an epidemic of racially motivated killings of blacks in America. Celebrities insist that black people are being hunted down every day in the streets and these incidences are all like modern day lynchings. Theologians and preachers talk about each incident as an example of a pattern, even a pandemic of racially motivated hate crimes against blacks. They also seem to suggest we have made little to no progress since the beginning of the struggle for civil rights. Well-meaning others, who just want people who are hurting to know they care, repeat the same refrain. These are accusations and verbal condemnations that have set the country ablaze with rage emotionally and physically in light of very real atrocities and tragedies.

The truth is the media highlighted incidences are rare occurrences statistically speaking. As of March 31, 2020 there were 228 citizens shot by police; 31 of them were black. Last year 9 unarmed black suspects were killed by police; 19 unarmed whites were. The total number of unarmed citizens killed by police was 41. The way some in government, media, and academia spin and sensationalize the stories of real people and real tragedies is irresponsible, deceitful, and dangerous according to many of those who study the actual data. Those who make these misleading and exaggerated accusations end up sowing further division, resentment, and vitriol that leads to far more calamities for everyone, including minority communities especially. It also impedes real and needed reform from taking place. This is the conclusion of many who have carefully studied the data, which do not reveal the supposedly clear and irrefutable pattern that is so often touted. The data needs to be analyzed in context apart from the hyperbole and cherry picked cases. (Please listen to this detailed discussion about what the data actually reveals. It’s long but you can’t gain understanding from mere soundbites, internet memes, and short video clips).

The fact that some studies show that black suspects are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white suspects does not mean it was all because of racism and white supremacy any more than the fact that all interracial crime between whites and blacks involves a black perpetrator and white victim 85% of the time means it is all or even mainly motivated by race. It’s also worth noting that Professor Roland Fryer’s research surprised him when he found no difference in lethal force used by police against black verses white suspects. Others have found similar non-disparities. While black men may be more likely to be killed by police, black men also commit a disproportionate number of murders (50%) and are disproportionately more likely to try to kill police officers (43%). Police officers are 18+% more likely to be killed by black man than unarmed black men are to be killed by police. The clear and pervasive pattern of racism that is assumed is wrongly assumed based on media hype. Suggesting that each incident is an example of a pervasive pattern of racism and that people are being killed by police for no good reason every single day is misleading in the extreme. Last year of unarmed citizens killed by police 19 were white; 9 were black, out of a total of 41.

Black men are far more likely to die at the hands of other black men than police. Professor Fryer’s new research shows that unnecessary and overly pervasive scrutiny of police departments will likely only lead to more crime and loss of life in those cities. He doesn’t argue that investigations of police departments should not be done, he merely suggests that careful consideration must be given to the unintended consequences. In some cases it could be a sharp rise in violent crime and cost many, many more lives. (Again, please watch the discussion of the facts in the video linked above).

Does this mean racism does not really exist? Of course not. I was reminded of the sad legacy of racism at a community prayer meeting yesterday morning as I sat in fellowship with white and black Christians, including a fellow Methodist of the AMEZ denomination. We were in fellowship on Tuesday but worshiped in separate churches on Sunday in large part because of the sad legacy of racism. I reminded the group of that sad history. We had a pretty frank discussion of that legacy and the exaggerated media hype of current events.

Racism is being presumed as a motive in current events even before all the facts of a case are known. In some cases, this is driven by an ideology that sees white supremacy and racism as inextricably, hopelessly, and irredeemably woven into the very fabric of the American system of government and economics. I once witnessed a lecturer with that viewpoint dismiss a black woman’s concern about the overwhelming amount of black on black violence in cities, including her own, as a distraction and itself as a problem also caused by white supremacy. It’s a doctrine of systemic total depravity that is far more extreme than the most extreme Calvinist understanding of total depravity among individuals.When racism is presumed and assumed in this way, is there any way to ever rule it out as a motive? If it explains everything does it really explain anything at all? (Consider the following from “experts” in this NPR article: “. . . the risks of congregating during a global pandemic shouldn’t keep people from protesting racism, according to dozens of public health and disease experts who signed an open letter in support of the protests. ;White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19′).

Take the cases of George Floyd and Ahmad Arbery. The former seems to be a clear case of police brutality with malice; the latter seems to be a clear case of stupidity and possibly racial profiling on the part of civilians recklessly trying to make a citizen’s arrest without legitimate cause. All that many in the media needed to know, however, was that black men were apparently wrongfully killed by white men. Then they ran with the predetermined narrative and indicted not only those particular white men but also the whole system. They did not even seem to want to know anything about the backgrounds of the white men, whether they may have expressed any racist views or were affiliated with any racist organizations. They did not need to know if there were any particular specific policies or procedures or laws that intentionally and explicitly promoted racial bias in either case. All they needed to know was that black men were apparently wrongfully killed by white men, period. As Kmele Foster, himself a black man, says, that presumption and the promotion of that narrative by the media is not only unhelpful and distracting, it is dangerous (again see the video link above). And the proof is in the nihilistic and murderous rage that has engulfed our nation and set so many of our cities ablaze.

There are elements of society that simply want to burn the whole thing down by any means necessary. Some, including clergy, have made excuses for the rioting, looting, and violence. Some have heaped praise upon it and continue to add fuel to the fire. Some are comparing the riots, which have hijacked and perverted legitimate peaceful protests, to the Boston Tea Party. There was a very direct relationship between the British government and the British East India Company that allowed the latter a monopoly. This included taxes without the represented consent of American colonists. I’m not sure how this is like the relationship between federal and local governments and Target, Aldi, Wendy’s, Auto Zone, and many other small businesses, many of them owned by minorities in minority communities. And what about a church being set on fire? I can’t see how the Boston Tea Party is so similar.

But what the analogy does tell us is that many see this as a political revolution. And they are willing to incite, encourage, and support riotous and violent rage toward those ends. And the violence has in some cases led not only to attacks against police but also savage beatings of private business owners, men and women, young and old. We must reject this violence totally and absolutely and also the leadership of those who makes excuses for it. If this is what some will do to gain power, what do we think will happen if they actually succeed by intimidating enough george-floyd-and-minneapolis-protests-live-updates-41c2ce6citizens to give them a bigger stick?

They say there can be no peace without justice, but there can be no justice without truth. But so many have retained a notion of justice while rejecting the notion of truth or at least its necessity to bring about real justice. The real danger in this whole movement is that it may sweep up the whole nation into a spirit of rage and revenge and its all consuming, devouring fire. God invites us to be saved from the inferno by repenting and receiving the Spirit of reconciliation, the Holy Spirit of forgiveness, peace, righteousness, justice, and . . . truth.

Racism may be America’s original sin; it is an inexcusable sin, but it is not the unforgivable sin. Deliverance from evil is not possible apart from forgiveness. May God have mercy on us and save us from the spirit of rage so that cooler heads may prevail. Come, Holy Spirit and blow your cool refreshing wind into our hearts and over our land.



The Killing of George Floyd

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on Monday was unjustifiable. It was extremely disturbing. It was heartbreaking to watch. It really looks like murder.

It defies any explanation I can think of to believe that it was in any way necessary for the police officer to drive his knee with the full weight of his body behind it into the neck of a man lying face down on the pavement with his hands cuffed behind his back, much less for as long a he did. The police officer who chocked the life out of Mr. Floyd should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The other officers who stood by and knowingly allowed it to go on for so long should be prosecuted as well. It is incredible that they were not immediately arrested when the video evidence came out.georgefloyd

What happened to Mr. Floyd was wrong. By all appearances it was a cold and callous crime on the part of the officers involved, especially the one directly involved. Racism is also wrong. It is evil. But that the murder of George Floyd was racially motivated should not be assumed. It may have been; but that conclusion should be the result of a thorough investigation. And this particular case is not in itself proof that the entire Minneapolis police force is hopelessly racist, much less every police force across the country or the country as a whole itself. But with cases like this some have predetermined conclusions that racism is the main cause regardless of the facts or the lack thereof.

Our country has a horrible history of racism. And although we have made great strides to correct some of the systemic racial injustices of the past, racism still lurks in the hearts and minds of some people today to one degree or another. But the sins of generations past should not be used to predetermine the motives for crimes of whites against blacks in the present regardless of facts and evidence. I just cannot lend support to these kinds of predetermined narratives.

What I can do is condemn racism in general because it is contrary to the gospel of God who created all of us in his image and likeness and who redeemed all of us in Christ to be a part of his multi ethnic, multi-colored family. It is a sin against our common humanity and dignity as human beings. I can also condemn racism when facts reveal that to be a motive for crimes in particular cases. I will not assume racism, however, every time a white person commits a crime against a black person any more than I will assume racism when a black person commits a crime against a white person. The fight against racism would be better served by conclusions that are proven through investigation rather than just being assumed prior to any investigation.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, it is not clear that white police officers are more likely to use deadly force against black suspects than black police officers. This was a finding that surprised researcher Roland Fryer Jr. in a study he reported in 2016 (see link below). Blacks are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police officers in general, but it is not clear that racism is the primary reason why. Fryer found that police officers are more likely to use non-lethal force against black suspects, but also found there was no difference when considering lethal force. He also discovered that black police officers were more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than white police officers. The difference was statistically significant, but is not easily explained simply with reference to racial prejudice. Neither are the actions of white police officers against black suspects easily and simply explained by racism. This is not to say that racial bias plays no role, but it is not as self-evident as some want to assume.

Researchers in another recent study also found that white police officers are not more likely to use lethal force against blacks than black police officers. As reported by NPR, one of the researchers suggested that bias against black suspects may still be an issue, even for black police officers. The question is why? Is it simply because of skin color or are there other factors that play a role? The racism theory is not as self-evident as some politicians and media pundits tend to portray it. Of course, no study is the be-all-end-all. As reported in the NPR article linked above, criminologist and bias trainer, Lorie Fridell, says the case is far from settled because “we don’t have any definitive studies on this.”

It is irresponsible to assume racism as a predetermined conclusion regardless of the facts of a situation. Conclusions should be the result of investigation. It is even more irresponsible—sinister really—to use a predetermined narrative to stoke the fires of racial tension and use it to encourage and excuse violent rioting, the destruction of public and private property, random looting of businesses, and violence against innocent people. This only further damages minority communities.

The killing of George Floyd is unjustifiable, but it does not justify spreading an unsubstantiated narrative and encouraging violent riots in the streets. And the rioting in no way mitigates the killing of George Floyd. It seems that the country is unified in its condemnation of the deadly force used to choke the life out of George Floyd. It could be an opportunity to have an honest conversation. Are there enough people honestly willing to have it?




Minding What Matters

Two weeks ago today, my family and I moved into a new parsonage in a new community. Moving a family of seven and Grandma (my mother), who will be staying with us for a few weeks until her nearby independent living senior apartment is ready, not to mention our dog and two cats, was no easy feat. It took many weeks to get prepared logistically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to move; it will take a few months or more to get settled into a new place as well. We have had very good help and support all along the way though, for which I am very grateful.

I can’t say that the past two weeks have been completely smooth and uneventful, but they have been blessed with the presence of God manifested in God’s people. As I am writing this right now, I am waiting for a phone call from a mother who just lost her 65 year old son, who passed away at a Hospice facility yesterday, to plan a funeral for Thursday morning. This will be my second funeral since we moved here two weeks ago.

The first was of a beloved 95 year old woman who fell in her carport after a trip to the grocery store. She crushed her hip in the fall and was not able to call for help. She laid there in the carport using a roll of toilet paper for a pillow for too many hours for her frail body and weak heart to recover. I went to the hospital to pray for her on Wednesday, the day after we moved in. But before I could pray for her, she expressed a prayer for me. After I introduced myself, she said, with joy on her face in spite of the pain and discomfort pulsating through her body, “I pray that you have a fruitful ministry at Clarksbury church.” She went on to be with the Lord the next day. I led her funeral service last Tuesday, a week ago today, which was a few days before my first Sunday in the pulpit at Clarksbury Church. Indeed, may God answer her prayer in abundance.

Last Thursday I drove my 15 year old daughter, Grace, back to the area we had moved from, so she could attend the birthday party of a close friend from her old high school, a young African American kid, in Gastonia. It was well over an hour drive. Many of the same kids in attendance were at Grace’s birthday and end of school party at our house a few weeks before. Her circle of close friends also included a girl from a Buddhist Chinese family, two brown skinned young men, one of them Filipino, the other Mexican American, a beautiful young lady from Puerto Rico, her white girl friends, two Southern Baptists, the other Pentecostal, and a white boy, nicknamed Pinto. 13646678_1387636964584961_211382524_o

When I dropped Grace off for the party at her friend Aramis’ house, I pulled in behind Dave, a conservative white Southern Baptist police officer who was dropping his daughter off for the party as well. Dave and I went in to speak with Keisha, Aramis’ mother, about when would be back to pick up the kids.

After that I dropped my son, Ian, off a few miles up the road at Raj and Abhi’s, his two dark skinned Hindu friends from his old middle school. They all enjoy playing basketball and video games together. My son knows that he can respect their beliefs without denying his own, and that they can still be friends.

After I dropped Ian off, I went to run a few errands and stopped by a book store for a cup of coffee and to go over my first sermon for Clarksbury church before picking Grace and Ian up a few hours later.

Later that evening when I got home I was winding down for the evening but happened to catch the sniper attack on police officers in Dallas, TX on the news as I was exercising my thumb. I’ve been quite busy over the past few weeks, but I had seen a few reports of a black man who  was killed by police in Louisiana. I had also heard something about an incident in Minneapolis, but not enough to know exactly what had happened. I had seen a few posts on social media suggesting, if not explicitly declaring, that police had “murdered” black men “senselessly” because of racism. Many of the posts were coming from liberal clergy colleagues. It was all very similar to what had happened immediately after the incident in Ferguson, Missouri. Lots of quick condemnation and accusations before anyone really knew all of the facts. In that case a long investigation proved that many of the early accusations were simply false, yet even then it did not stop some from continuing with the narrative that it was a case in point of black men being “senselessly murdered” and just “mowed down” in the streets by police.

When I saw what happened to the police officers who were working the protests in Dallas, with my smart phone in my hand, I posted the following on Facebook:

“We are living on a powder keg. Yes, black lives matter. Police lives matter too. Lord, have mercy. The devil is stoking the fire to turn people against each other more than they already are. Don’t take the bait. Pray against the enemy of all people for whom Christ died. Lord, deliver us from evil, in the name of Jesus.”

For that I was lambasted by some of my progressive friends for not saying anything when the black men were killed by police earlier in the week. I was accused of being racist and not really caring about black lives.

The reason I didn’t say anything about the other incidents is because I refuse to jump to the conclusions that the political left wants us to jump to when it comes to white police officers’ engagement with black men. I think police officers, white people in general, and “the system”, the American culture and system of governance and jurisprudence those on the left are so quick to condemn, need to be given  the same courtesy that the political left rightly insists must be given to the Muslim community and Islam when a Muslim man commits acts of terrorism. I think American police officers, no matter their color or ethnicity, should be given the same courtesy I saw some of my liberal/progressive friends and the director of Homeland Security and the President ask for the Black Lives Matter movement after Micah Johnson murdered 5 Dallas police officers. Everyone involved in that movement should not be condemned based on the actions of one man. Neither should police officers and the entire American “system” be condemned based on individual incidents, especially not when they involve police responding to a call from a citizen who says he was threatened by the suspect with a gun, who when confronted resisted arrest and wrestled with police officers who thought he was reaching for his gun.

It is not racist to not jump immediately on the bandwagon and lend support to irresponsible, rhetoric, and hasty condemnations when all of the facts are not known, and certainly when the facts that are known don’t support the narrative of white police officers simply “mowing down” or even “murdering” black men for purely racist reasons. While some condemned the actions of the Dallas sniper, others also sympathized with him saying they understood why he did it. Disturbingly, someone even said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it does make it even!” I heard a progressive black activist, Richard Fowler, say last night that someone overseas told him blacks were being advised not to come to America because police are “mowing down” black men in the streets. Fowler seemed to be trying to proffer this as “proof” for how bad things really are, rather than how the media/social media has falsely portrayed things to be.

The immediate and larger contextual facts don’t support such a narrative. The New York Times reported a study yesterday done by a black Harvard professor, who found, to his surprise, that whites were more likely to be killed by police than blacks, even after controlling for the much larger general white population. He did find that blacks were more likely to be treated roughly by police. Racism to some extent may indeed play a role in that, but there are certainly a whole host of factors that need to be considered before jumping to the conclusion that racism is the sole or even main factor. If it is found that a police officer of any color has indeed killed someone recklessly or maliciously, they should be prosecuted and punished as was the police officer in SC who shot a suspect several times in the back who was running away.

I do agree with the sentiment that black lives matter, although I do not support the official movement by that name because too many seem intent to perpetuate a certain narrative regardless of the facts of individual incidents. This does not mean that I don’t believe blacks lives matter, which Van Jones, a black progressive activist, says should have had the word “too” added to the end for clarity. It also does not mean that I don’t believe that racism is still a problem; It is. Our society has obviously made great strides, but racism still lives in the hearts and minds of many. Yet it is also evident to me that some are intentionally stoking the fires of racial division and looking for and finding racism whether it is there or not. In the second term of America’s first black President, who won both times fairly easily, America should be seeing the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream; instead it looks like we may be more on the verge of fulfilling the “Helter Skelter” nightmare of Charles Manson.

While I do not support the political organization “Black Lives Matter,” black lives do indeed matter to me. The life of my daughter’s friend mattered to me and her enough to drive a very long way for her to celebrate his birthday with him. The life of his mother, Keisha, who has a painting of a black mother cradling her child, in her living room, matters to me enough to get to know her and have Christian fellowship with her as a sister in Christ, knowing and sympathizing with the fact that she may have concerns for her son’s safety that my wife doesn’t have for our sons. The life of my African American roommate and very close friend from many years ago mattered enough to me, as did my life to him, that he was a groomsman in my wedding, and I in his when he married a Mexican American woman, to the chagrin of some in his family and hers. Our lives mattered enough to each other that he invited me and my wife to be there when his new wife gave birth to their first child together for moral and spiritual support. His and his wife’s life mattered enough to me that we treated each others children as our own.

The lives of all black people have mattered to me enough to preach and teach against the evils of racism as being contrary to God’s design in creation and our common redemption in Christ, the gospel which is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed by being brought back together in the family of God, to be one people under one God (Genesis 12; Revelation 7). Every black life matters to me enough to teach my children and my churches that interreligious marriage is a problem condemned in Scripture, NOT interracial marriage, as the Bible actually provides positive examples of the later, but not the former.

When someone in a Bible study warily asked me if I would be okay with my daughter marrying a black man, I without hesitation said yes, as long as he was a good man and a devout believer. And when my oldest daughter, Grace, was asked by a woman, the mother of another student in band, who was driving her to a football game last fall, what I as a minister thought about interracial marriage, Grace, without hesitation, said that I have no problem with it and explained in detail why. Black lives matter to me enough to explain to my children the evils of racism and have long discussions with them about our sordid history in America and the Western world.

Black lives also mattered to me enough to confront racism boldly but as gently and as lovingly as possible any time it has come up in conversation and in the church. They mattered enough to me that I helped an all white church welcome an interracial couple and receive it’s very first black member. I think it is a travesty that we don’t have more churches where blacks and whites and people of other ethnicities worship and minister together, although there are many churches that are like that.  Black lives matter to me enough to take criticism and risk the disapproval of some for preaching and teaching the truth of the multi-colored kingdom of God.

The black lives of the ladies who worked at the group home less than a mile down the road from the church mattered to me enough to visit with them and pray with them and help them and bless them any way I could. When one of their residents, a highly functioning, but very obsessive autistic white woman from their group home joined our church, many of them came with her to worship. One continued to come after she stopped working there, and they were grateful for my ministry and preaching, and they, themselves, could tell you of times when I preached against racism and explained how it is contrary to the very heart of the gospel of the New Covenant, as could any who have been in my churches and who really know me. My life also meant Elizabeth Group Home at Puettenough to them that several of them came together for my last Sunday at that church and blessed me with a gift and a note of appreciation for what I meant to them. They said they were going to drive over an hour to my new church every once in a while because of their appreciation for me. I love them and they love me. We all genuinely matter to each other.

Black lives also mattered to me enough to spend the last two days helping a sister in Christ in Kenya who is in ministry with her husband and trying to care for orphans the best they can get connected with a United Methodist District Superintendent in Kenya to see how they might be able to partner together in ministry with each other and with me. Black lives also matter enough to me to begin praying and planning with my United Methodist brother and fellow clergy and district superintendent in Kenya to help them in their efforts to train more pastors there, both with teaching and fundraising. With God’s help, I will do what I can. Why? Because black lives do matter to me too.

Truth also matters to me. I will support black lives and the lives of all people for whom Christ died any way I can, but I will not lend support to falsehood to further a certain political agenda. I will not support a movement that uses irresponsible rhetoric and pushes a very specific narrative regardless of the facts. I will not support a movement that condemns and convicts police officers before the gun cools down after an incident where someone is resisting arrest. If certain government officials don’t want to jump to conclusions about the motives of the sniper in Dallas, even though he stated clearly what his motives were, they should extend that same courtesy to the police officers engaged in a struggle with someone resisting arrest. As Dallas police chief, David Brown said, “words matter.” May we all use them responsibly and truthfully. I’m praying with him that we do.

Police Chief David Brown gettyimages-545531520
Getty Images

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