bigotry

Celebrating Interdependence

Image via STILLFX/Shutterstock
Image via /Shutterstock

I did not celebrate Independence Day this past weekend.

The truth is the United States has never been an independent nation. Built on stolen land by stolen labor, sacrificing Natives and Africans and their descendants to the mythology of “manifest destiny,” greed, oppression, and white supremacy, this has never been a nation of liberty and justice for all.

The ignoble myth of white supremacy that permeates the foundation of this country and underlies the policies and institutions that form the context of our lives has been rearing its ugly head so much lately that it cannot be as easily ignored or denied as it has been in the past. The recent massacre in Charleston and the burning of African-American churches add even more reasons to the hundreds of thousands to awaken to the reality of racism that undermines best ideals of this nation. Our country has failed to atone for, or even critically examine, its history of racial oppression.

5 Things to Watch as the 2016 Campaign Gets Underway

Photo via REUTERS / Jim Young / RNS
A barn painted with an image of the Statue of Liberty and a U.S. flag in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Photo via REUTERS / Jim Young / RNS

As presidential candidacies multiply and campaigning accelerates, we can expect much tawdriness to occur. These are difficult times in American democracy.

Money will pour into negative campaigning and ideological posturing. Lies will become the norm. Every word will evoke counterattack, and facts will lose their currency. Barbed sound bites will be mistaken for wisdom. Bullies claiming to be “Christian” will be among the loudest. On both sides.

What are people of faith to do?

We can assume, first of all, that truth-telling will be absent all around. We, then, need to be truth-seekers, reading beyond the sound bites and toxic jabs for actual insights into what candidates stand for and what is their character.

We can assume, second, that God’s name will be taken in vain by everyone. Every candidate will tell stories of personal faith, maybe even dramatic conversion. They will quote Scripture and claim to be promoting God’s work.

In fact, to judge by candidates’ behavior, their words will be insincere and their faith a concoction meant to satisfy the sweet tooth of religious leaders. We, then, need to do our own work of discerning whether they have any functional familiarity with Scripture and any real concern for Christian ethics.

Phelps Touched on Fears and Anger Many Feel

Fred Phelps, the 84-year-old founder of Westboro Baptist Church, died last week. Photo court: Rudolf 1922 via Wikimedia Commons.

As anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps passes on to whatever is his reward, we need to ask how he managed to inspire a following.

His was hardly an exemplary life. One neighbor remembers seeing his children in Topeka, Kan., in the 1970s and noticing they were bald. He was told Phelps sent his kids out to sell some product, and if they didn’t make their quota, he shaved their heads as punishment.

Another remembers how Phelps beat his wife and children with his fists, a belt, and a piece of wood.

Many tell how Phelps and his followers at Westboro Baptist Church sent vicious faxes when gay men were dying of AIDS, picketed military funerals with “God hates you” signs, and blamed terrorist attacks and fallen soldiers on America’s growing tolerance of homosexuality.

He was consistent, that’s for sure. Brutish and bullying from home to pulpit to public forum. Filled with anger and hate. And totally unrestrained in how he expressed his rage.

From the Archives: November 1994

I GREW UP in rural Mississippi, a black girl who lived “out in the booneys,” fairly isolated from peers outside school. My God-fearing parents brought me up in an African Methodist Episcopal church that stood just beyond the edge of the woods. At the right age, I waded into a muddy watering hole, only recently vacated by the cows who drank there, and got dunked by the preacher and welcomed into the church and the kingdom of God.

That was my baptism, but I wouldn’t call it a conversion experience. I felt very innocent then, and would until I left home for college in Massachusetts. There I got my first taste of diversity. Most of my classmates didn’t believe as I did. Most of my African-American friends felt as if my faith was some kind of relic from our slave heritage, a white-supremacist trick that I had bought into.

Up until then I hadn’t had any inclination to become political, and life hadn’t given me any reason to be angry. I still haven’t learned these traits well, even though it was in the educated Northeast, not the backwoods of Dixie, that I personally experienced the pain of racial hatred, sexism, and religious bigotry for the first time. ... I’m sure my generation will continue to struggle with meaning, identity, and purpose until they come to realize that, from an eternal perspective, the only equal opportunity that matters is our equal access to God’s grace.

Jennifer Parker was an assistant editor with Urban Family magazine when this article appeared.

Image: Eye, Remus Moise / Shutterstock.com

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