Slavery Apology--One Step Forward
Sojomail - July 31, 2008
Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.
- Seth Jones and Martin Libicki, authors of a Rand Corporation study criticizing the Bush administration's "war on terror," arguing that law enforcement strategies are more effective than military campaigns in stopping terrorism. (Source: The Washington Post)
Slavery Apology - One Step Forward
Tuesday, for the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an official apology for slavery and segregation. Over the past few years, five southern states have apologized, but efforts in Congress had failed. Congress has issued apologies before, to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, writes an Associated Press reporter. In 2005, the Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws. But never for slavery.
It is appropriate, because ultimately it was government policies that were both complicit in and directly responsible for this great inhumanity and injustice. Nobody alive in America today participated in slavery, many have no ancestors who did, and large numbers of families came to this land only after slavery was officially abolished -- but all white Americans have benefited from the poisonous legacy of slavery and discrimination.
The language of the resolution is clear on the importance of apologizing as a step forward. After recounting the evil of slavery, it concludes:
I hope the Senate will quickly pass a parallel resolution and that President Bush will publicly endorse it. It would be an important day in U.S. history.
Before the May immigration raids in Postville, Iowa, the Agriprocessors plant there run by an Orthodox family supplied 60 percent of the nation's kosher beef and 40 percent of the kosher poultry. Stories are pouring out of Postville about the inhumane treatment of the immigrant workers. Underage workers were arrested in the raids, some as young as 13. Many workers were forced to put in overtime without extra pay or breaks. Vulnerable people were exploited by religious business owners who systematically violated immigration and workplace laws. Rabbi Morris Allen had firsthand experience with the workers and their conditions in Postville and decided a moral response was necessary.
While many evangelicals celebrated Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott as martyrs who died for their Christian convictions at Columbine High School, I wonder if we will extend the same heroism to the victims in Tennessee? Evidently, usher Greg McKendry shielded the children performing selections from "Annie" and took the brunt of the shotgun blast. A retired schoolteacher, Linda Kraeger, also died from gunshot wounds. She was merely visiting the church. In both Columbine and Knoxville, the cowardly shooters took out their grudges upon innocent victims. Those with a conservative faith died at Columbine. Those with liberal beliefs perished in Tennessee. We mourn for them all.
The Dark Knight, unlike many summer blockbusters, is actually an astonishing movie -- a stunning fusion of craft and entertainment, which manages to be both gripping in an edge-of-your seat fashion, and philosophically interesting. It's a violent film in which none of the brutality is played for the audience's pleasure, and although it's a comic book story, it takes place in a world that feels authentic -- one of phone books, champagne glasses, and real crime happening to real people. ... But The Dark Knight is much more than this. It's one of the most politically interesting (and provocative) films of recent years -- but it seems that only The Wall Street Journal has noticed. Only half-marks to the WSJ, I'm afraid, for although they recognize the fact that this film relates nothing less than the story of the "war on terror," they go on to suggest that it is a "paean of praise to President Bush." I beg to differ, for although it's impossible to tell whether or not the movie is pro-neocon without getting inside the head of co-writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, just because Batman does something doesn't mean we're supposed to like it.
Assad and Sa'id used to collect the tank shells, things of ugliness, which Israel fired on them as they tended to their goats and fields. They would paint them, fill them with flowers, and turn them into vases -- things of beauty. "The day they started doing that the Israelis almost completely stopped firing at us," Assad's wife told me. As soon as the media spread pictures of their act -- turning death into life, ugliness into beauty -- the shells stopped falling. When the men were detained, so were the vases.
All of us who choose to vote must base our vote on something. For some people, it's party. They're Democrats or Republicans and from election to election, they support whomever the party serves up. For others, it's a litmus-test issue -- abortion, homosexuality, war, whatever. For others, it's fear or hope or some other "gut-level" appeal -- whoever scares or inspires them the most gets their vote. And for still others, it's a "group thing" -- they belong to a group (a race, a religion, an interest group, trade union, a social class, or whatever) that issues a statement on which candidate is most attractive to their group, and that's who wins their vote. For many of us, none of these factors are satisfying.
Andrew Berg, an International Monetary Fund African department policy adviser, is a nice man. I know this because he spent some time talking earnestly with me after an IMF press conference in which I'd asked a pretty confrontational question about Malawi, whose 2002 famine is often partly attributed to IMF (and World Bank) advice, and whose current bumper crops are attributed to ignoring it. Berg looks a tiny bit like The X Files' Agent Skinner, but what this conversation brought into focus for me is that the IMF is not a vast conspiracy of evil, cigarette-smoking men. It's a large, overly influential group of people who earnestly push policies that are often disastrous.
For years, I have said to publishers that someone needs to put out a volume of Bible Stories Your Mother Never Told You, a collection of stories about the grit and the realism and grandeur of the Bible as it is, not as we have sanitized and trimmed it to be. But there is also another book I have only recently begun to say needs badly to be written. That one is a collection of all the Bible Stories Your Mother Should Have Told You To Read. The most dangerous thing that can happen to a religion, much less to those who follow it, is for that religion to become socially acceptable. Once that initially-welcomed shift in cultural acceptance has occurred, so too has the process of secularization, accommodation, and enculturation begun.
Impatience can be destructive. But it can also be a catalyst to work for social change. In this sense, one could argue that impatience can be holy in some respects. As a Sojourners intern, this summer is my introduction to Capitol Hill, to the rich landscape of D.C., and, yes, to the bewilderingly slow grind of Washington politics. For the last month or so, I have been tracking the progress of proposals to address the housing crisis.
Wisdom is the key ingredient in the revival of talks under way between the government's party (ZANU-PF) and the opposition MDC. These two parties signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which sets down the framework for talks about a future government for Zimbabwe. The language of human rights, the dignity of the person, and freedom of speech and press, etc., makes this document a "foreign language" in the context of Zimbabwean politics!
Would any Mennonite church group ever invite a group of Muslims to use their meeting house on Fridays? I wondered this as I stood last month in the Kyk Ota Mosque in Serabulak, Uzbekistan, because it happened in reverse in 1881, when the imam offered refuge for nine months to a wandering and very needy bunch of Mennonites. I was in Uzbekistan with 15 other Mennonites from the U.S. and Canada to visit scenes from an amazing 2,000-mile journey a group of German/Russian Mennonites took by horse and wagon in the late 1800s. After a punishing months-long trip from Ukraine through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, they had one nine-month stopover in Serabulak, Uzbekistan. There, the local imam gave them temporary shelter in the area around the mosque.
Maryknoll Sisters Enrollment Cards.
Share the gift of prayer and show someone you care with an enrollment card from the Maryknoll Sisters. Sympathy, remembrance, health and peace. Click to order.
Sojourners Job Openings Sojourners seeks qualified applicants for a variety of positions in our growing work to articulate the biblical call for social justice. Click here to learn more.
Subscribe to Sojourners and save! Order now and save $10 off the regular subscription price. Sojourners offers award-winning commentary on faith, politics, and culture - plus Bible study, humor, and more! Click here to subscribe!
|GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.
GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today