equality

"Meeting the Challenge of this Decisive Hour" --Honoring MLK's Legacy

By Rev. Mindi

I never knew Martin Luther King, Jr. was controversial until my senior year of high school. Until that point, all I had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. was that he was a civil rights leader, that he had called for the end of segregation, that he had spoken up for blacks in the South and that he was assassinated and when I was in elementary school in the 1980’s he was given a holiday. That was what I knew.

What changed during my senior year? In our Government class, we were asked to name some of our heroes of the United States, and I raised my hand and said, “Martin Luther King, Jr.” Other students scoffed, some said, “he’s not my hero.” I explained that he had led a peaceful revolution and my teacher corrected me: “they weren’t exactly peaceful.” I still remember those exact words.

I was taken aback at the age of seventeen because what I had learned in school so far was a tidy, very white viewpoint of Martin Luther King, Jr. I had read the “I Have A Dream” speech. I had read about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I did not know about the March to Selma, or the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, or the violence that erupted in the South at polling locations when African-Americans showed up to vote. I also didn’t know that people could still be racist. I knew of a few people who were, but overall, I thought we were in a post-racial America. I had believed it, until that day, when I realized that either we bought the version taught in school of a gentle, meek and mild Martin Luther King, Jr. who had a dream for all children, or we bought into the racist view that MLK had started violence and riots because people were equal and that if you talked about race, you were the racist. While many of us reject the latter, we have swallowed the pill of the former.

The problem is, almost twenty-one years after I have graduated high school, white churches for the most part still buy into the first viewpoint. Especially on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, in the liberal-leaning traditional congregations, we read quotes here and there from MLK about peace and justice that doesn’t challenge us, but makes us feel better about ourselves. We sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” or “We Shall Overcome” only on this Sunday and no others. We join in community celebrations and we say we are working for racial justice, but are we just swallowing the pill we have been giving ourselves since his assassination almost fifty years ago?

My white kindred, I urge you to read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I urge you to take seriously the challenges that MLK lays out, in a very Pauline way, of how we have acted towards our kindred of color. And we must examine ourselves—are we putting ourselves in the same position as many of the white clergy leaders MLK was writing to? “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” writes King in his letter. White leaders condemned the actions of King and others, despite them being peaceful, but “because they precipitate violence.” Because white supremacy still exists, and the reaction to black lives protesting, even peacefully, is violence. However, over the past year, since the protests in Ferguson began, and in later New York and Baltimore condemning police brutality, the silence of white church leaders has been louder than the condemnation. 

We need to read all of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, especially the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and remember Dr. King’s call. It is all too easy for those of us in the white church to pick a quote here and there, to sing the songs and believe that it’s all better now, but it is not. We must not only speak but act for racial justice, and most of all, we must listen to our African-American kindred who are still struggling for equality and justice, and listen to their call, all of it, even the parts that make us uncomfortable. 

When Some Isn't Enough

By Brian Carr

If you aren’t willing to stand up for everybody, you can’t stand up for anybody.

I've been thinking about that statement a lot recently. I have been doing a lot of theological reflection lately, trying to flesh out my own theology and convictions, and this statement became a focal point of my thoughts.

If you couldn’t wrap your head around that, or don’t understand what I mean by it, let me explain.

Essentially what I am saying is that if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone who is oppressed, then you can’t truly stand up for any oppressed person.

Here is an example—if you stand up for African-American rights, but not for the rights of women, then are you truly able to stand up for African Americans? One of the first problems becomes what happens when you encounter an African-American female. Will you stand up against those oppressing her for being black, but not against those who oppress her for being a woman? If that is the case then you are simultaneously trying to stand up for her and oppress her. That can’t work.

The other issue is that if you stand up for one group of oppressed people but not another, then you are an oppressor by definition. To me, there is no gray area in the realm of oppression. You are either standing up for the oppressed or taking part in the system that oppresses them. There is no in between.

By not standing up for an oppressed person you are by default oppressing them. Silence is a form of oppression. Gandhi once said that choosing not to speak is choosing to speak and choosing not to act is choosing to act. If you hear someone make a racist joke and stay silent, you are taking part in that form of oppression. You are just as much of an oppressor as the person making the joke because you are allowing that person to oppress others.

Again, there is no gray area. You either oppress or you stand up for the oppressed. You have to choose a side.

Let’s bring this back to the initial statement—if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone, you can’t stand up for anyone.

You must be willing to stand up for every oppressed person in order to break the system of oppression. If you stay silent with even one person, you have become a part of systemic oppression and that fact alone limits your ability to truly stand up for anyone.

In a similar vein, what if I said that if you aren’t willing to love everyone, you can’t truly love anyone?

If your love is limited to certain people and not others, if it is conditionally based on the person you are choosing to love or not love, if it is not broad, then is it really, truly love?

I truly believe that our love is meant for everyone, and if we limit this love then we are not using love in the way it was meant to be used. In the same way, I believe that we are meant to stand up for everyone who is oppressed. So if we only choose to stand up for certain people, then we are not using our ability to help people in the way we were meant to do.

That is the problem.

So now I say more confidently—if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone, you can’t stand up for anyone.

 

Let's Go Dutch

By JC Mitchell

So being a parent of a child with special needs is hard to explain to a parent with a child that is typical (that is physically, neurologically, mentally, typical).   I will be the first to admit at times I have no idea how you deal with the demands of a four year old typical child, for my four year old with autism never talks back and never asks for the newest toy.  Emily Perl Kingley wrote in 1987 this piece that is shared with parents with children with special needs as well as those trying to understand. It is called “Welcome to Holland,”

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

This is powerful, and I hope eye-opening, and the second to last line is just as important as the last.  That is the tension.  You can imagine if you did actually end up in the Netherlands and not on the Apennine Peninsula, you would be angry at your travel agent.  For me, the closest thing to a travel agent would be God, so I would express my angry to God at times.  Yes, I would not want to miss the tulips or the windmills, but I express my frustration about the situation to God.

It is however, not going to Holland that I am angry about any more.  I have mourned that and I enjoy the very lovely things of my landscape.  The difficulty is everyone that has been to Italy only wants to see the pictures of the windmills, and not hear about the frustration to the travel agent.  They want to compare Rembrandt with Michelangelo and not hear how many therapies, extra time, money, tears, prayers, and hard work it took to get a Rembrandt.  I have learned Italian (only metaphorically) but none have bothered to learn Dutch, or even Frisian.  That is actually where my anger lies even more, because that is why I am reminded of the pain and difficulty of raising a child with special needs, when those with typically developing children think nothing of our adventure in Holland.

A great example of this insensitivity is within the current school district we live in.  We had a listening session on Monday night, and one group that admitted to be parents of gifted children stood up and spoke Italian and claimed Holland.  That is one step too far. I am angry.  They said their children also have special needs and held up a bell curve.[i]  They inferred that children with special needs are taking resources from their children and thus claimed Holland: Special Needs.  Because I have been forced to speak their language as well as my new Dutch, I realize what they are saying, that their children have special necessities, but to say they have special needs is to steal our language without understanding what we go through.

To cut any more programs and help to children with special needs means a difference between independence and/or reaching full potential for people, while cutting programs for the gifted, means they need to do independent study or create new group situations.  Having been a member of the National Honors Society, (teacher made me join, go teachers!) I recall that I and other truly gifted students studied and did projects on our own, or through civic organizations.  They all made it to college; and yes, some made bad decisions, but that’s life.  My anger is that the superintendent of schools, or anyone else, did not politely tell these people that utilizing another’s label to take resources from them who desperately need it was insensitive and infringing on civil rights.  That’s correct--civil rights.  The population with various disabilities deserve education and yes it costs more, but trust me, the parents take on a lot of the bill themselves.  To me, it is not unlike white families that say the same thing about an immigrant population.

So in my best Italian, I encourage you to read the piece above again, but go forth trying to learn some Dutch.  

Jesus tells us the neighbor is the one who shows mercy, the Samaritan, a person considered lowly and not of the neighborhood.  The language of the Samaritan was that of mercy and compassion, without boundaries.  We need the gifted to be challenged, but more importantly, we need to have compassion for those with Special Needs and at least provide the basic assistance to bring every child up to their potential.  We are not quite there yet, even with great teachers, parents, allies, and SPECIAL children.

special needs kids of all races and needs.jpg

[i] The bell curve is irrelevant for those with disabilities range on both sides of the curve.  I myself was tested for gifted and special education. While gifted programs are simply for a small amount at the top, some of may even require special needs education be it for a physical, learning, mental, or developmental disability.  I footnoted this for this is absolutely ironic that the parents of gifted children did not understand this, or they are just very clever.  Either way, does not look good.

Obama's Announcement and What It Means for "Liberal" Christians

This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.

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But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

~Pres. Barack Obama

That President Obama’s announcement of his support of marriage equality for LGBTQI people was met with consternation by many in popular Christianity shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. That his “brand” of Christianity fails to be persuasive to a portion of the Christian world should surprise no one either. It is common to dismiss anyone who supports hospitality to those created LGBTQI by God as deluded (at best) and evil (at worst).

What I continue to find troubling, though, is the extent to which people who oppose marriage equality maintain that any support of it by those who call themselves Christian is some kind of hermeneutical dodge. The working assumption seems to be that if you fail to employ some form of traditionally conservative interpretive schema, you can’t reasonably expect to call yourself Christian. Because everybody knows that “liberals” don’t actually believe anything important about God or the Bible or following Jesus; they’re just trying to baptize their godless agenda and impose it upon the unsuspecting majority of real Christians.1 What many people apparently find too difficult to fathom, however, is that some people—among whom I take President Obama to be one—hold these “liberal” positions not in spite of but because of their commitment to following Jesus.

On a “liberal” reading of scripture, “loving one’s neighbor” isn’t a frothy placeholder for moral action nobody cares much more about than to feel it deeply in the heart; it is the very thing of which moral action is an embodiment. Put more simply, to progressive Christians “love” isn’t so much something you “feel” about God or another person, but a way of life that seeks to demonstrate its own authenticity by seeking justice and peace for those kicked to the margins by the powerful—which is to say, by seeking to love those whom God loves, but for whom love in this world is often illusory.

The greater (and more damning) criticism of “liberal” Christians is not that they don’t believe the Bible, but that they don’t live up to their claims about “justice” and “peace.” This is a real danger in progressive Christianity. Talking about justice and peace, without actually going to the trouble to see it realized rightfully leads to charges of hypocrisy—that is, failing to walk the walk.

In President Obama’s case, however, the criticism has for some time been reversed: His words about justice and peace for LGBTQI people weren’t matched by his deeds (e.g., refusing to uphold DOMA, doing away with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, etc.). His failure, according to his critics, was in not being willing to “talk the talk.” In other words, people from both ends of the spectrum were inveighing against him for failing to say in words what he was already doing in practice—a perhaps rarer, but no less damning criticism.

Since I don’t hear the you’ve-also-got-to-talk-the-talk line of argument very often, it got me to thinking about denominational officials, who privately will offer reassurances that they are in support of affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQI folk in the life of the church, but who publicly find it difficult to articulate that support. I understand why taking a stand publicly in support of a controversial issue presents all manner of political land mines, and it makes a certain amount of sense when politicians hesitate to do it. Even religious officials must weigh the political costs of taking, what we religious types call, a “prophetic stance.” But whereas in the case of our political leaders (to our shame, I would argue) we tend to expect political calculations to trump the integrity of personal convictions, one would hope that we haven’t yet reached that level of cynicism about our religious leaders.

Is it to be the case once again that the church can’t quite get its theology straight until the culture shows it the way? Because, let’s not fool ourselves, inclusion is the way things are inexorably headed.

The upshot of it all? If David Kinnaman is right, as Rachel Held Evans deftly points out, what our continued silence risks is the better part of a whole generation coming to the conclusion that they can find better ways to spend their time because they believe the church and its leadership to be “anti-homosexual”. And while I realize that speaking openly about support for our LGBTQI brothers and sisters carries its own risks, I think—like President Obama, it would appear—that silence is a risk no longer worth taking the.


  1. I know that description may sound like an exaggeration of a seriously held position, dear reader, but in my own defense, you haven’t read the kind of correspondence I receive. I do know that there are serious people who disagree with me about the issue of biblical interpretation, but they don’t seem to have maintained good relations with the gatekeepers of the interwebz—since their voices are routinely drowned out by that seemingly professional class of the perpetually aggrieved. ↩