Social Justice

But I Say to You

By Rev. Joseph Pusateri

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28, NRSV).

I have been hearing a horrifying thing a lot lately.

Since the rise of Donald Trump’s popularity in the GOP primary race, a significant number of people have been saying in the media (and to me personally): “He’s saying what we are thinking, but afraid to say because of political correctness.”  Now what is horrifying to me is that I had no idea there were so many people with outright hatred and contempt for Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, the Chinese, Democrats, Republican rivals and whoever else has inspired Mr. Trump’s wrath.  Now, I treasure political diversity in our community.  I think it is a gift that we have conservative, liberal and independent people in our congregations and neighborhoods.  I have no desire to tell people how to vote and I think that to do so—especially as a minister—is distasteful and inappropriate.  But it is nothing short of sinful for anyone—especially a disciple of the crucified Jesus—to remain silent about a disturbing phenomenon in this country in the 21st century.

I can think of no plainer way to say it: Jesus commands us to love God and each other, especially those we consider our enemies.  Period, amen.  Whether you believe that larger or smaller government, far-reaching or less intrusive foreign policy, progressive, regressive, flat, low, high or no taxes are better for a self-governing democratic republic as the United States of America strives to be, wonderful.  That is your right and I encourage you to exercise it and engage in a robust and civil debate on how we shape a more perfect union.  But bigotry, xenophobia, religious, gender, racial, orientation or ability-based discrimination is uncivil, sinful, demonic, wrong, evil, un-American and un-Christian.  Even for the Christian who believes only she/he and people exactly like them are going to heaven, and that everyone else is going to hell, is not justified by a single word Jesus ever speaks in scripture to treat anyone on the planet with anything other than love, even to the point of giving one’s life.  Which is, by the way, exactly what Jesus did for people—even those (and especially those) who hated him. 

This is why I do not like so-called political correctness: it hides who the bigots are.  If there are lots of people who hate immigrants, women or people of other races, by God I think we should know who they are.  It gives us a more accurate picture of reality and the work we need to do to repair deep wounds in the social body.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes through a litany of “You have heard it said… But I say to you,” phrases, which inform us of the high moral standard Jesus expects us to abide by if we are to be faithful.  He says, “You have heard it said that you should not murder.  I say to you, don’t even have hatred in your heart.”  In other words, of course we shouldn’t murder people, but if we are all wanting to kill each other and simply not doing so in order to be compliant to the law, so what?  What God is after is your heart.  Don’t hate people.  At all.  That’s what God wants.  And if you don’t hate anyone, not murdering people takes care of itself.  The same goes with lust.  Let’s not wear out our arms patting ourselves on the back for not committing adultery.  Big deal.  The point of God’s intention for faithful, human behavior is to not have lust.  When lust is absent, adultery does not happen as a by-product.  

What has been called “political correctness,” or the rules about what you can/should say or not say about other people is like what Jesus calls the law.  But if we want a civil and prosperous society, the rules about speech (like adherence to the letter of the law) are not the point.  We shouldn’t have bigotry in our hearts.  Imagine Jesus saying, “You have heard it said ‘do not say the n-word.’  But I say to you, love black people like you love your own family.”  The horrifying perversion of this is what we are seeing right now.  People who have been resenting the politically correct instruction not to slur Muslims, immigrants and minorities are celebrating the right to hate openly.  That would be like the people Jesus was preaching to only hearing the first part of the teaching on murder:  “What did you say Jesus?  The old murder law is out?  Great!  Because I can’t wait to kill some people.”

We have a lot of work to do.  Whether Mr. Trump becomes the president or not, the lid has been torn off and what was festering underneath is not pretty.  To be fair, I love Trump supporters.  I really do.  I love them because they are human beings, my neighbors, and God’s kids.  I think most of their grievances are legitimate and deserve to be heard.  But because we have stifled sane, civil dialogue across boundary lines, this horrifying spectacle is the result.  I am pleading with those of you who follow Jesus, to help lead this community, nation and world to a place where the law of love might bind us together.

The Creatively Maladjusted

Given the fact that it is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and injustice toward vulnerable people persists, I thought I might offer a few thoughts about what it means to remain silent in the face of that injustice—and about what it means not to, what it means to be creatively maladjusted.  Disclaimer: My analogy with the Civil Rights movement is only meant to be suggestive, not to establish easy equivalences

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those whowere selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:1319).

Following the first miracle at the wedding in Cana, Jesus and his new disciples take a few days off, then head into Jerusalem.

Where do they go?  Straight to the temple.

What happens?  Jesus makes a whip of cords and starts turning over the tables of the money changers.  He’s ranting and raving about how they’re turning God’s house into a marketplace.  The folks in charge don’t much care for his attitude and say, “Who are you?  What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Then, Jesus commits the ultimate Jewish faux pas by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

What Jesus has done, in effect, after making such a grand splash at the wedding at Cana, is to guarantee that the very people who might have helped promote his ministry are the ones whom he has alienated by his little foray into temple finances.  He’s made some pretty influential enemies in his first trip to Jerusalem.

So what?  What’s the significance?

Well, think about it.  When Jesus cleanses the temple in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it occurs at the very end of Jesus’ ministry—after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and just before being snatched up and crucified on Good Friday—which, if you think about it, makes more sense.  You can see why Jesus would be upset with the religious establishment in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  They’ve hounded him for three years, and are plotting to kill him.  A little righteous indignation seems appropriate.

But in John, the cleansing of the temple comes right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He’s had nothing but smooth sailing up to this point.  Why upset the temple bigwigs right off the bat?  It makes much less sense, from a narrative standpoint, to have Jesus challenge the money changers in the temple just as his ministry is taking off.  Why does John set up the story this way?

John puts the story of the cleansing of the temple right next to the wedding at Cana on purpose.  He’s making some rhetorical hay about the shape and trajectory of Jesus ministry.

What do I mean?

Well, how must the disciples be feeling after seeing Jesus pull a Bobby Knight in the temple? They have to be terribly confused.  They thought they were getting a pretty engaging guru, fun to have around at parties, somebody to keep the open bar open—but what they got instead was a loose cannon, an unpredictable guy who knows his way around the business end of a whip.  Jesus' impatience with the way things are calls to mind what Martin Luther King wrote in Strength to Love:

 “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

Well, Jesus is nothing if not creatively maladjusted.

Jesus explodes our tame, self-aggrandizing expectations about how joining up with him will be the end of our problems.  John wants to show us that just because you follow Jesus doesn’t mean everything magically becomes sweetness and light.  In fact, joining up with Jesus may cause you a whole new set of problems you might otherwise have avoided if you’d just stayed home and watched Jeopardy.  Sometimes we have to follow Jesus into the temple, where only hostility awaits us.

And that bothers us, doesn’t it?  If not, we haven’t been paying attention to what happens to people willing to walk into the teeth of the storm.

In April of 1963, a group of well-meaning (I think) white clergy in Alabama got together and issued a statement calling for the end of demonstrations they considered “unwise and untimely,” by “some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders,” even though this group of white clergy recognized “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today, responded to these clergy in his, now famous, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Not surprisingly, Dr. King’s anger at the unjust social systems made bolder through their embodiment in law is present throughout his letter, raising again the Augustinian question about whether unjust laws—laws that degrade “human personality” and “distort the soul”—ought rightfully to be considered laws at all.

Dr. King reserves his biggest disappointment, however, for the church.  He rightly criticizes white moderates, whom he considered to be “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘justice’; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”   He speaks candidly in his letter about weeping because of the laxity the church, about how “blemished and scarred” is the body of Christ “through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformist.”

At one point, Dr. King recalls with a certain wistfulness “a time when the church was very powerful.”  It’s interesting to note, though, just how he sees the church’s relationship to that power.  The church was at its most transformative, he argues,

when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.  Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’  But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were a ‘colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than humans.  Small in number, they were big in commitment.  They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’  By their efforts and their example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.

It occurs to me that we who have committed ourselves and our communities of faith to seeking justice are the inheritors of that legacy—a legacy that hears the cries of inequity and injustice, and remains incapable of turning a deaf ear.

We are the spiritual offspring of the creatively maladjusted.  We cannot stand by and do nothing.  We join together across the diversity of theological and denominational lines to take our place in the procession—a procession that, just in this country alone, stretches back through the Civil Rights movement, through women’s suffrage, and through the abolition of slavery.

We are people who cannot abide and will not stomach the excuses offered up by unjust systems that somehow “now is not the time,” or that raising a ruckus only contributes to the problem.  We draw together because we’ve been called to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God—not because there is anything necessarily heroic in us, but because we’ve been passed a torch by heroes and saints who’ve gone before us, and who have called us to bear witness that God is not satisfied with either an unjust society or a lazy church “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘peace.’”

There's a constituency within the church today urging caution, who think it "unwise and untimely" to press the issue of justice for young African American men who suffer disproportionately at the hands of the legal system, for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people within the church, for a beloved community that includes our Muslim sisters and brothers—even though this constituency recognizes “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  They believe that taking any kind of a stand will be heavy-handed and disruptive, while failing to realize that, if Jesus is our model, heavy-handed disruption of the existing unjust order is sometimes not the thing we wait for the right time to pursue, but the very thing with which we lead, the thing that sets the shape and trajectory of our ministry.

If we are indeed the offspring of the creatively maladjusted, we will never have a better time than the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to start living like it.

Can Evangelicals and Christians Coexist in America?

I just read an article entitled, “Can Gays and Christians Coexist in America?” Once again, I find myself annoyed by the presumption--the enduring arrogance present in unself-critically asserting that the “Christian position” with respect to LGBTQ people is by definition condemnatory.

This just in: There are Christians who actually believe God created LGBTQ people the way they are. So, I propose a title more representative of reality:

“Can Evangelicals and Christians Coexist in America?”

Oh, now I’ve got your blood boiling--at least some of you. Such a title sounds like heresy to a significant portion of the American Christian population, since in many people’s minds “Evangelical” is but a placeholder for “Christian”; which is to say, in many people’s minds the Venn diagram of “Evangelical” and “Christian” is a single, round circle. And therefore, anything not in that circle, anything not suitably “Evangelical” enough is suspect tout court.

But, I’ve got to tell you, I’m much less sympathetic to the outrage my title elicits from that particular segment of the population than I used to be. After repeatedly seeing evangelicals refer to their take on faith as “Christianity”--unqualified by even the slightest trace of humility that, you know, there might be other ways of reading the Christian faith that don’t necessarily correspond to evangelical interpretations. There’s always a subtle presumption at work among these folks that evangelical theology is the uncut dope, straight from the dealer--no fancy “interpretation,” no ostentatious hermeneutical parlor tricks (like the liberals employ), no “politically correct” weasel words that say “bad is good” and “down is up”--just the unalloyed stuff God intended for us to know and believe all along. Traditional means always and forever--as in, “We stand for ‘traditional marriage,’ one man and one woman, the kind God laid out in the Bible. We don’t go in for all that stupid contextuality stuff. God’s word is unchanging.”

But that is such a craptacular lie! Or if that’s too strong for you, God’s word may be unchanging, but our ability to read it correctly sure as hell isn’t.

Tradition. Orthodoxy. Precedent. These are not fixed theological quiddities, despite all the indignant howls to the contrary; they’re all much more fluid than Evangelicalism seems comfortable acknowledging. For example:

  • There was a time when baptizing people most likely meant dunking them under water, until it didn’t …

  • There was a time when fighting in the military was an unprecedented affront to the peaceful example of Jesus, until Constantine and his heirs came along and a new precedent was set …

  • There was a time when the mother of Jesus was deemphasized, until she wasn’t, but then the Reformation happened and (among Protestants) she was again …

  • There was a time when torture and forced conversion satisfied the rigorous demands of orthodoxy, until it didn’t …

  • There was a time when tradition permitted the owning of slaves, until traditional Christianity opted for a new tradition …

  • There was a time when it seemed clear to a number of the religious forbears of today’s evangelicals that interracial marriage was a grievous strike against God’s unchanging will for humanity, until it wasn’t …

Tradition, orthodoxy, precedent … all have a nasty habit of changing over time, and thus disappointing those who so vigorously contend that “God’s word is unchanging.” So, it seems a more plausible reading of the history of faith to argue that one of the constants of Christian theology over time is not some fetishized constancy expressed in a vacuum, but an ability to engage an ever changing world in new ways that honor the unfolding reign of God’s desire for peace and justice for all God’s creation.

Consequently, if one of the central components of Christianity is the tradition of thoughtfully embracing new traditions when those new traditions seem more fully capable of expressing God’s character and will in new and previously unheard of ways, then one is prompted to ask the difficult question: Can evangelicals and Christians coexist in America?

"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

By J.C. Mitchell


Star Wars was all over social media yesterday.  I like Star Wars, I grew up with that story.   I am not a fanatic and while I know much about the first six, I have not pursued knowledge about this upcoming one.  I figure I will eventually see the movie, mostly because my lovely wife will make sure, and my friends on social media will make sure I know too much about VII, good and bad for the months to come.  


The one thing that did make me interested was a picture of an African-American boy dressed as a Jedi, and a tweet from @afroeccentrix reading “My little bro who is OBSESSED w/Star Wars now gets to see a more diverse cast on screen. #CelebrateStarWarsVII.” And this my friends, has made me more interested in the movie, for how powerful is it to see someone like one’s own self on the big screen as it will be for the boy in the picture.  This is just a movie, but it is also a powerful expression of our culture, our stories.


This is why my son will dress as Chewbacca this Halloween.  My son has limited verbal skills. Recently he has begun speaking two, sometimes three, word sentences without prompting, and also he communicates beyond words alone, just like his beloved Snoopy, Woodstock, and Curious George.  There are many other characters he likes, but these have become very special to him, and it is hard not to notice these famous characters do not use verbal communication, while at the same time they are included.  So we thought we should introduce our son to Chewbacca, and while he has not seen the movie, we got an inexpensive costume using a stocking cap which he will tolerate on his head instead of a mask. I am aware that Wookies like Chewbacca speak Shyriiwook, but how we experience it on screen, the communication reminds me of communication with one who knows basic language, as it is tone that seems to communicate more than Shyriiwook words.


So while the characters our son already loves are cartoon animals, Chewbacca comes from a whole society that speak in a very guttural sounds, and is honored by many.  


But all these role models have fur (or feathers).


I cannot wait to know the Jedi who does not speak. 

 

 


An Open Letter to Church Shoppers

By Rev. Mindi


Dear Church Shopper,

I hate the term “church shopping.”  Shopping implies casual browsing, sampling, purchasing, consuming, returning and exchanging, etc. I know that you have been brought up in a consumer culture, and this is the language you are used to. You want to find the right church like you want to find the right pair of shoes: you want to make sure they are a good fit, and that they feel on the inside as good as they look on the outside. You want to find the church that feeds your needs, your desires, what you imagine church should be. And if your desires are not being met, if you are not being filled, you will move along.

The church is the body of Christ, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12. It is a body. It is an organism. It is something you become part of and participate in, not sample and browse, consume and leave behind. Church is something you belong to, become part of, and it becomes essential and integral to your life. As Paul says, the hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you.”

Unfortunately, for many churches in the United States, they have also bought into the consumer culture. They try to put on a good show to feed your entertainment needs as well as your spiritual needs, but often the spiritual need they fill is to make you feel good about yourself. We all like to feel good. But at times we also need to be challenged and have a kick in the pants when we are not doing our part to help the poor and the oppressed around us.

Sometimes the mainline liberal church has bought into the consumer culture as well. Sometimes we use phrases like “social justice” and “missional” as catch phrases to lure you in to doing work in the community to help others, but we aren’t always good about it. Sometimes we are helping ourselves. Sometimes we don’t listen to the needs of the community and continue to do the same things we have always done rather than meeting the needs of those around us.  Sometimes what we are doing is not social, is not justice, and is not about serving others. Sometimes the church has used bait and switch tactics, without realizing it.


Church is not the pastor. Church is not the building. Church is the people, the body of Christ, coming together to be one. We shouldn’t be church because the building is pretty. We shouldn’t be church because the pastor is inspiring. We should be church because we recognize that we are the body, together, and we have need of each other. And our money shouldn’t be the most important thing—whether it is our individual giving or the church budget. Sometimes, I think the real problem in all of this is that we have given money power over all of us. That is consumer culture in a nutshell.

So please, stop shopping. Join a church community and belong. Of course that might take a little time finding—there is something to be said about theology and mission that connects you—but don’t go for a while and then leave because you hope to find something better elsewhere. Become part of the community. Belong to one another. Be the church. 

(And churches, let’s be the church, too. Let’s stop trying to show up one another. Let’s actually focus outward to do that social justice thing in being part of God’s beloved community on earth. Let’s worry less about entertaining and feeling good, and more about being the church together, beyond our building’s walls).

Be the body. Belong. Become.

25th Anniversary of ADA

By Rev. Mindi

The Americans with Disabilities Act turned 25 years old this past Sunday, the same day my son with autism turned 7. As we celebrated his birthday, I reflected back on the last seven years—he was not yet two when we knew he was different, and three when he was diagnosed. Our lives were already changing direction when he was born, but now it was clear the trajectory was different than what we imagined when he was an infant.

At 25, we have come a long way, but still have far to go with ADA. ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and state and local government services. For more information on statistics on services provided in the United States for the 56.7 million Americans who have a disability, click here. However, we are not there yet. In New York City, only 21% of the subway stations are accessible for persons with mobility difficulties. Many other transit systems across the country are not fully accessible. Unemployment rates remain high among the disabled population. And did you know, disabled persons do not have to be paid the federal minimum wage? There is a Special Minimum Wage that can be invoked to pay someone whose disability impairs their productivity level. Yes, this is the law.

After 25 years, where are we as the church? Most church buildings I know of are still not fully accessible. Some have finally put in a ramp and widened doorways, but all too often it is the back or side door, not the front door. Pulpits and choir lofts remain inaccessible, and pews are often difficult for persons using any mobility assistance to sit in. Lack of funds is the most likely culprit. Historic building preservation committees have regulated accessibility to entries out of sight. Elevators are expensive. Even making bathrooms accessible doesn’t happen in every church.

Beyond mobility concerns for accessibility, how is your sound system? Do you have listening devices for the hearing impaired? Large print Bibles for the visually impaired? How are folks with other disabilities welcomed into the life, ministry, and leadership of the church? As the rate of diagnosis for autism and other disabilities increases, how are you welcoming children, youth, and adults with disabilities? Are they welcomed and given appropriate accommodations in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School?  

25 years. One quarter of a century, and we still have far to go in terms of justice and inclusion for persons with disabilities. Did you or your church acknowledge the 25th anniversary of ADA? What will you do now?

The Resurrection will Not be Televised!

By J.C. Mitchell
The Muppets are returning and we are excited in my house.  Well, my wife and I are; our son knows very little about the Muppets, having even missed Muppet Babies.  He has been told he will be watching it, but of course he will ultimately be the one in control.  It will either be entertaining on its own, or entertaining to criticize it.  I look forward to that show coming into the home again as I remember watching it in our basement in Connecticut on a black and white television.  
However, is not my biggest complaint about the church the line “we have always done it that way?” That, too, must be driven by the same nostalgia that excites me about puppeteers reenacting old characters and ultimately old jokes.  
Many churches are stuck on their 11pm sitcom.  They repeat it over and over, and with or without an endowment will determine how long the show will continue to air.  Every so often there may be an interruption for a joy (a new program, a new active family or group, a new pastor, etc…) or crisis (“we interrupt to bring you breaking news”).  Sometimes there are the great “Kermits” out there that start revitalization of the church in a new way with the old structures.  A revitalized church with an individualized plan may be more sustainable, but too often it ends up being more about the community that grew, than the world we must change.
When was the list of a sustainable church read with these markers?
    Congregants arrested for shielding mosque (or other awesome SJ acts)
    Helped establish healthcare for all
    Homelessness eliminated in the locale
    Prisons are shrinking 
    Work against (internally and externally) racism, sexism, and ableism, as part of the daily struggle 
    Lives are changed in the neighborhood
    The naked (who want to be clothed) are clothed

Instead I am asked about these markers:
    Number of members (worshipping, active, etc.)
    Number of those people you serve (outreach)
    Building looks wonderful
    Enough parking
    Young families engaged
    Funds brought in

The resurrection will not be televised, for it must come from something new out of the death of the old, and it will look nothing like what it was.  Only in our own scars, the scars on the Body of Christ, will we know we are in that new place, called out to be that love that is so shocking. Jesus reminds us when he speaks of the contractor who hired day laborers outside the home improvement store, and paid them all equally despite picking workers at various times.  And when those paid what they agreed to for the entire day saw those who worked a fraction of the time, they were asked by Jesus, “…are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’”(Matthew 20:15b).
“Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.” Jim Henson stated what he knew in his gut, and truly the church cannot simply be a new episode, or even a new fancy movie, it must be start new in one’s gut before it can grow like a blackberry bush you planted in your garden.  

 

love each other


Peace vs. Justice

By Rev. Mindi

Recognizing that I am a white pastor and writer on this blog, and guessing that the audience of this blog is predominantly white, my question is this: do our prayers for peace mean silence?

Often, sadly, I think they do.

In the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s violent death while being in police custody, protestors took to the streets of Baltimore. It wasn’t long before more police were called in, then stones were thrown, then hundreds of police in riot gear, then fires started, then the National Guard was called in. What I hear and see from my white colleagues is “pray for peace in Baltimore.” What I hear and see from my colleagues of color is “work for justice in Baltimore.” Sometimes, I think white Christians think that peace and justice are the same thing. They are not.

True peace comes after the work of justice, not vice versa. I think all too often white Christians quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others about nonviolent protests and do not quote them about anger and the work of justice. We quote Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but not “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which King clearly calls out white clergy who have tried to silence him in the name of peace. We think that if people who are oppressed would just sit down and talk calmly and rationally about their feelings, the oppressors will then listen.

Imagine if Jesus had walked calmly into the temple and sat down at the moneychanger’s tables and said, “Listen, I want to talk to you about how you are cheating the poor by selling them doves that are not acceptable for sacrifice and are not giving a fair exchange rate for the temple currency.” Do you think they would have listened? Or would they have ignored him, or even had him removed?

Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Jesus also turned over the moneychanger’s tables, scattering the coins, and stopped the carrying of merchandise through the temple. If that doesn’t sound like the beginning of a riot, an act of vandalism, an outpouring of righteous anger, I don’t know what does. Jesus didn’t call for the harming of others. But it’s clear that Jesus didn’t care about property, either. He cared about people. And after he threw the tables around, the leaders looked for a way to kill him because they were afraid of him (Mark 11:15-18).

We claim to follow Jesus to the cross, but I bet we never got past the temple doors. We never got to where the message became uncomfortable. We want peace, not the sword of division. But calling out injustice may cause division, uncomfortableness, and anger.

I call myself out in this. I was all set to preach last November as we were waiting for news of any indictment of Officer Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. But I never got that far. Even in praying for Michael Brown’s family, I was asked to not be so divisive. I was asked to pray for the police officers and to pray for peace. And in my own fear of being seen as divisive, of causing controversy, I consented. I still was active in public conversation and social media, but within the hour of worship, I went silent after that. I didn’t want to cause trouble. I failed the church, and I failed the children of color that are part of my church family.

We cannot pray for peace without justice. Psalm 34:14 says “seek peace, and pursue it.” The pursuit of peace is the path of justice. Justice demands that the violence of murder be accounted for. Justice demands that the systemic subjugation and killing of black persons in America be stopped. Justice demands that the cries of the oppressed, through chants and signs to rocks and flames be heard. Be listened to. Be understood. Not simply condemned without accountability for the death and violence that has already taken place.

If you are like me, wanting to speak for justice but afraid to do so, please do one thing: stop simply “praying for peace.” If you want peace, as everyone knows, work for justice. Look to the prophets and preach on justice. Look to your community and find ways of working for justice. Amplify the voices of the oppressed in your community and share their stories (with their permission, of course—or better yet, invite others to come share their stories) with your congregation.  

We can pray for peace, but only if we first have truly worked for justice. Otherwise, our attempts at peace are just to make ourselves, often white Christians, feel better and safer, instead of lifting up the oppressed and seeking justice, as Christ called us to do.

Updating Common Sense: What Christians Really Believe

As a kid I took for granted the fact that popping out of the womb as a male beat the hell out of the alternative. Any girl with half a brain, if given the choice, would obviously opt for checking “male” on the census form.

In fact, so clear was this bit of wisdom, and so desperately did young males my age need it to be true that we used “woman” as a slur: Sissy. Fem. Girly-man.

One time I called my little brother a woman in front of my mom. She said, “You know, woman isn’t a dirty word. There’s no shame in being a woman.”

I said, “Sorry, Mom.” But deep inside I knew she was wrong. Everybody did. The reality of male superiority was woven into the fabric of the universe.

But it wasn’t only women. I also took it as read that being gay made you somehow defective. We used sexual orientation as an epithet, too. You know the ones. I don’t need to repeat them.

We just knew these things, as surely as we knew the earth revolved around the sun, or that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is 180º, or that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time.

We didn’t argue that men were superior to women or that gay people had made some shoddy lifestyle choices any more than we argued about gravity or the law of the conservation of matter or entropy. Because, why would you?

That’s what taking something for granted means: You don’t have to argue about it anymore. It’s the way the world is. It’s not even conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom implies that there might be another side to the story. This stuff is just eye-rollingly obvious.

But then one day that stuff about women and gay people didn’t seem nearly so obvious anymore. I realized that I knew women who were smarter and funnier and more successful than me. I spent time with LGBT folks who seemed much more together, much more empathic, much more generous than I am. Now, a lot of that stuff I once took for granted seems not only laughably false, but something that I should be actively attempting to stand athwart.

We need to take a look at this whole “taken-for-grantedness” thing. We need to update common sense.

I was reading some analysis recently about the HuffPost/YouGov poll that indicates a problem with Americans’ perception of the budget deficit. In short, the deficit has been steadily falling over the last four years -- which you’d never know by asking the average American, 68 percent of whom believe otherwise.

Why the disparity between reality and perception? Because reality changes, while perception very often does not.

People, according to George Lakoff, make sense of reality by relying on a deeply embedded structure of frames. These frames are the taken-for-granted things we use as shortcuts to understand a complex world.

In many ways frames operate as “what-everybody-with-any-sense-knows-to-be-true.” In the worlds they construct and over which they have dominion, these frames are things that no longer even need to be asserted, let alone argued. Everybody just knows.

But we’ve come to understand that some frames are so wrongheaded that we have a moral responsibility to leave them behind -- like the idea that some classes of people are fit for nothing more than slavery, or that women are inherently hysterical and unfit for positions of responsibility outside the home, or that sexual orientation is a choice to be made -- a choice that is open to praise or blame. Obsolete and unchallenged frames can be moral liabilities.

The liability of certain frames is also true when it comes to religion. Christianity, for instance, has long suffered from some popular certainties that need to be shed. The “taken-for-grantedness” of some frames in popular Christianity is no longer just a hidebound inconvenience; it’s an obstacle to faith. But because the fundamentalists who rely on those yell louder than anyone else, their vision of the world sits at the forefront of the public consciousness as “the Christian position.”

Well, some of the frames popularly believed to be “the Christian position” aren’t; they are distortions of what many folks who claim to follow Jesus believe.

So, here is a list of popular Christian frames that come to mind that need to go away:

Christians are credulous dolts, who view science as a threat.

  • In fact, an overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics and white mainline Protestants take evolution to be the way we got here.

  • Across the board, a significant majority of Christians believe climate change is underway.

  • A majority of Christians (Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Catholic) view stem cell research as morally acceptable or as “not a moral issue.”

Christians hate gay people.

Christians are nationalists who hate immigrants.

I’m tired of playing defense against fundamentalism. Fundamentalists don’t occupy “the Christian position,” which requires some kind of special deference, not to mention the expectation of an explanation from those who would deviate. Christianity, in large part, is much more progressive than is popularly taken for granted.

Common sense about what the majority of Christians believe needs an update.

(This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.)

The Dichotomy of Function Hides a Even More

 

By J.C. Mitchell

Years ago I remember sitting around a fondue pot with my friend Dick and many others.  Dick was at that time an octogenarian, and I was in my late twenties, and around the table were people of all ages in between.  One person observed how wise it was that Dick had friends of all ages and it was mostly through church he developed these relationships.  Dick had one rule: the word “old” and “young” were not allowed.  Older and younger were unnecessary, as age is relative.  This was a great lesson I have internalized.  Dick also mixed bourbon and sweet vermouth in a gallon container so Manhattans were easily at hand, but alas I do not have the energy to handle a Manhattan nightly, so I keep my vermouth and bourbon in their respective bottles in my cabinet.


So in the autism world you have heard the dichotomy of functionality.  Sometimes one is referred to as “High-functioning” and others as “low-functioning.”   It may seem descriptive but it is an arbitrary dichotomy that really does not say anything about the individual.  Using the illustration of age, one may call someone old based on their age, their fashion, their attitude, their appearance, or, based on the perception of the one saying the word, old.  This is the same with functionality, and it says nothing about a person with autism.


I must confess, having a son that barely communicates verbally, is far behind academically and socially  and is in diapers, I have desired to use the term “low-functioning” to make it clear what we are dealing with, but I remember my friend’s words about old and young, so I translated it to “lower-functioning” and “higher-functioning.”  But upon reflection this does not translate in the same way as age, for when you use these terms even as a descriptive it is only for those with the developmental delay and not for all people.  Thus even using “higher” or “lower” creates this artificial dichotomy just as much, and I was quite aware of it, but alas whenever talking to people about my son outside of the autism world (yes we have culture and it is just as nasty and nice as any other culture), I feel forced to use these overly simplified terms to help the person I was talking to understand as they felt comfortable.  


I knew it was a problem but until I saw a friend’s Facebook post that read, “Every time you say ‘High Functioning Autism,; I die a little inside,” I realized I had been badgered by the ableist mindset to use their terms, and even with my tweaking to say it more relatively I had been perpetuating the false dichotomy that is part of anti-autism mindset of our culture.  My friend makes it clear it is not a compliment nor a description that has any real meaning.  The only possible meaning is that one with autism who is given the descriptive high or low is not a normal person who simply proves how they function through other means.  The real dichotomy this functional classification is people who are autistic and those that are not, with an assumption those who are not are the most functional.

 
If we are going to say we welcome everyone in our churches (or anywhere) no matter their ability, let us not use language that assumes autism to be less a person.  And like me, let us learn from those that understand this dichotomy do have the voice to teach us, and not assume we understand from our biases. 

 

 tip of the iceberg

tip of the iceberg