The racist history of Southern white evangelicalism and the rise of Donald Trump – Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

LYNCHBURG, VA – JANUARY 18: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University January 18, 2016 in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Two weeks after electing Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, America pauses this week for a day of Thanksgiving. No doubt, many dinner tables will be as divided as the election results—as contentious as our anxious streets. But if we listen closely to the prayers of those who are jubilant in this season, we may discern the false religion that blessed Donald Trump’s reactionary campaign. Such discernment is necessary, as we have learned through our cross-racial Moral Mondays movement, before we can experience the moral revival that offers the only way forward together for American democracy.

Franklin Graham, the son of our home state’s most famous preacher, Billy Graham, celebrated Trump’s election with this prayer of thanksgiving: “Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor… While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God’s hand intervened.”

While many progressives scoff at neo-Nazi and Klan celebrations of Trump’s victory, they often fail to comprehend the deep wound race has inflicted on white religion in America. To Franklin Graham, overt racism is anathema. But he thanks God for the same triumph that the white nationalists of the Alt-Right celebrate because Graham inherited a religion which accommodated itself to slavery in America and has morphed over and again for 150 years to fuel every backlash against progress toward racial justice in American history.

[Why some fear this election will do lasting damage to American Christianity]

We cannot make sense of Graham’s proclamation of triumph without recognizing its roots in the Lost Cause Southern apologist religion of the 19th century. Following the Civil War, black and white ministers like ourselves worked together throughout the South to proclaim “good news to the poor” through coalitions that supported public education, economic empowerment, and equal protection under the law. These men (and a few women) were evangelical preachers contributing to the work of America’s Reconstruction. But they were viciously attacked as “political religionists” by a plantation caste that perverted theology to frame their backlash against “Negro rule.”  Proposed changes to the Southern way of life were branded “immoral,” and reactionary politicians euphemistically used the term “Redemption” to rally a resistance.

Even in the violent campaign of 1876, when black votes were suppressed through vicious Klan attacks, the Redemptionists never officially endorsed violence. They always called for peace and a restoration of order. But their false religion worked hand in glove with lynch mobs to inaugurate the reign of Jim Crow.

Heirs of this movement wrote the theology textbooks and published the Schofield reference Bibles that taught America’s Bible-believing Christians to separate their faith from politics, in an attempt to take the edge of biblical demands for justice.  When, following the Great Depression, a Social Gospel movement arose to challenge this division and write biblical notions of economic justice into public policy, the industrial barons who were the heirs of plantation capitalism fought hard against progress toward justice. But they were smart. As Kevin Kruse has shown in his book One Nation Under God, they knew they did not have the moral authority to wage a successful crusade against the Social Gospel. So they hired James Fifield to teach 19,000 preachers a gospel that could warm the heart while damping the fire of justice at the heart of biblical faith.

[I was an evangelical magazine editor, but now I can’t defend my evangelical community]

This is the true story of faith in America. It has not always been on the side of truth. In every era, reactionary forces have exploited faith to push back against the very progress that God requires of us.

God did not intervene on Trump’s behalf in this year’s election, but the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association did. Organizing prayer rallies in all 50 state capitols, Graham spent $10 million in 2016 to rally a backlash against President Obama in God’s name. It was a strategic investment. Eighty-one percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Just weeks before Election Day, when Graham concluded his national tour here in North Carolina, he stood on the steps of our old state capitol and told thousands of faithful followers that they needed to know the true name for those of us who call ourselves progressives: atheists.

Sadly, our brother Franklin believes that a god who does not bless white America’s fear and nostalgia is no god at all. But right here on the very capital grounds where Graham uttered his heresy, we have witnessed the power of God to unite a diverse coalition of people committed to justice and mercy through Moral Mondays. That movement, which produced the nation’s largest ever state-government focused civil disobedience in 2013, spread to 32 other states through this year’s Moral Revival. As Trumpism swept the South with Graham’s blessing, North Carolina’s Pat McCrory was the only Republican incumbent in the nation to lose the governor’s office.

[The Rev. William Barber’s speech but the audience at the Democratic National Convention to its feet]

As ministers who grew up on opposite sides of the color line in North Carolina, we know the power of religion to divide and conquer the heart of democracy. But we have also witnessed the power of “moral fusion,” or organizing across racial and class lines to build a coalition for progress in 21st-century America. Just as North Carolina saw a hard turn to the right in 2012, America has experienced a backlash against our first African-American president in 2016. The months and years ahead will not be easy, but right here in North Carolina we have seen a Moral Movement that can overcome Trump’s extremism. As the false gods of our past are exposed, every knee must bow to the God of justice. We hold out hope that even brother Franklin Graham will see the light and join the Moral Movement. Together, following the Second Reconstruction of the civil rights movement, we can look forward to a Third Reconstruction of racial justice and healing in America.

Acts of Faith newsletter

Conversations about faith and values.

 Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Carolina and President of Repairers of the Breach. He is also co-founder of the Moral Mondays movement, a series of progressive activist vigils held in North Carolina’s capital city, Raleigh. Together with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, he is the author of The Third Reconstruction, newly released in paperback.

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Richard Rohr Meditation – The Importance of Good Theology – September 11, 2016

Brothers and sisters, I believe that behind every mistaken understanding of reality there is always a mistaken understanding of God. If you draw close to someone who is in a violent or fearful state, you will likely discover that his or her operative image of God (usually largely unconscious) is inadequate, distorted, or even toxic. That’s why good theology is still important.

I believe the ultimate purpose of theology is to clarify the central, foundational doctrine of the nature of the One at the center of it all, which many of us call “God.” For Christians, this became “Trinity,” a word not even found in the Bible. Yet it has emerged in the deepest levels of orthodox theology as the best way to describe the “shape” of God, and therefore, finally a study of the very shape and pattern of everything else created in this divine image (Genesis 1:26-27). I will be devoting the next three weeks to this theme, as I think it has tremendous practical, pastoral, and political implications. (Many of these meditations will be drawn from my new book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation.)

Only God in you can know God, so I hope you surround your reading with plenty of silence. You cannot know God in an intimate, experiential way with your mind alone. You are going to need full access knowing, which many of us call the contemplative mind, or even the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

I slowly uncovered over many years the material on the Trinity that I am about to share with you. There were special moments of breakthrough, however. One of these was several years ago, as I was coming to the end of a wonderful extended time in a hermitage during Lent. In the last days, I stumbled upon Catherine LaCugna’s extraordinary book on the Trinity, God for Us, in the retreat center’s library. It was a big book and looked rather formidable and academic. I wondered if I would be capable of understanding it. Even though I had decided not to read during my hermitage, I had a great urge to read it instead of re-reading my journals from the previous weeks.

As I began to read, I had the experience that I’m hoping you might have: I found myself saying, “Yes, yes! This is it! This sums up everything that I think I’ve experienced.”

To barely touch upon the mystery that is Trinity, let me begin by offering you this simple prayer. In some ways it might sum up what I’m going to try to say over the next few weeks.

God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me. 

Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing—
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

Amen.

Praise the Source of Faith and Learning – by Thomas Troeger

Praise the source of faith and learning

that has sparked and stoked the mind

with a passion for discerning

how the world has been designed.

Let the sense of wonder flowing

from the wonders we survey

keep our faith forever growing

and renew our need to pray.

God of wisdom we acknowledge

that our science and our art

and the breadth of human knowledge

only partial truth impart.

Far beyond our calculation

lies a depth we cannot sound

where your purpose for creation

and the pulse of life are found.

May our faith redeem the blunder

of believing that our thought

has displaced the grounds for wonder

which the ancient prophets taught.

May our learning curb the error

which unthinking faith can breed

lest we justify some terror

with an antiquated creed.

As two currents in a river

fight each other’s undertow,

till converging they deliver

one coherent steady flow,

blend, O God, our faith and learning

till they carve a single course,

till they join as one, returning

praise and thanks to you, the Source.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 – Paraphrased by Brother Joseph Schmidt

If I live my life to perfection, doing what is right and good on behalf of others, but act with compulsion and without love, then I am nothing at all. 

If I take care of the needs of everybody in the world, especially the poor, because of my own need to help, but am without love even for myself, then I am nothing at all.

If I am efficient and successful in all that I do for the sake of justice, but act out of drivenness and without love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am cultured and refined, and in touch with the pain of existence, but am absent from the pain of persons in the present moment who need my empathy; and if I act without love and compassion, then I am nothing at all.

If I have the gifts of wisdom, insight, and understanding, but am not engaged with those around me in the present moment and am without a spirit of compassion and love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am faithful, loyal, and obedient, and never deviate from the law, but am judgmental and blaming, and am without love, then I am nothing at all.

If I live in a pain-free world of dreams and plans, enjoying optimism and pleasurable options, but am not addressing present problems and am avoiding people in actual distress and am without love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am strong and powerful, but lose my best self in a spirit of resentment, retaliation, and vindictiveness, and know nothing of the vulnerability of love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am settled and accommodating, holding onto a sense of distance and calm, but am not journeying inward to know and appreciate my weaknesses and gifts, and am neglecting my own legitimate calling to love myself, then I am nothing at all.

Love is always patient and kind;

it is never jealous;

love is never boastful or conceited;

it is never rude or selfish;

it does not take offense, and is not resentful.

Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in truth;

it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

Love never fails, never ceases.

Does Christianity Have a Future? by Marcus Borg

Patheos Blog
Oct. 22, 2013
I have just returned from a lecture event in Houston with Joan Chittister and Dom Crossan. The theme was the same as the title of this blog. None of us tried to predict the future of Christianity, even as we all spoke about our hopes for its shape in the future.

The question, “Does Christianity Have a Future?” is interesting to think about. And the answer is greatly affected by the time span, short or long. Will Christianity still be around a hundred years from now? Yes. Five hundred years from now? Probably. A thousand years from now? Maybe. Five thousand years from now? The further into the future we imagine, the less likely it seems that Christianity will be part of that present.

For many Christians, the notion that there will come a time when Christianity will no longer exist except as past history is a thought that has not been thought.

Christians who think that the second coming of Jesus and the end of this world are near are not at all worried by how long Christianity will last. It doesn’t need to last much longer. Moreover, to those and many other Christians, the thought seems alien. Most of us learned as we were growing up that the Bible and Jesus were the ultimate revelation of God – and thus that Christianity was the exclusive and only revelation, or at least the best. How then could there come a time when it would be no more?

But the realization that there will come a time when Christianity is not (assuming that humans and our descendants are still here a thousand and five thousand years from now) has pedagogical value. It leads to reflecting about what Christianity is, and what its foundational document, the Bible is.

Are the Bible and Christianity the final revelation of God and thus destined to last until time is no more? Or are they humanly-constructed historical products – the fruit of our spiritual ancestors in ancient Israel, early Christianity, and subsequent theological interpretations of what it means to be Christian? Are the Bible and Christianity THE revelation of God, and thus exclusive and absolute? Or one of many revelations in many and perhaps all cultures, great and small, with all of them articulated in the language of their time and place? Is it not obvious that all religions are historical products? They had a beginning and they will have an ending. Just as most ancient religions are no more, so it will be some time with Christianity, whether five hundred or a few thousand years from now.

Though this notion has not been thought by very many Christians, it is not bad news. Rather, it leads to a strong appreciation of what the Bible and Christianity are. They are, to use language from Paul, “treasure in earthen vessels” or in some recent translations “treasure in clay jars.” Of course, Paul was not referring to the Bible (whose canonization had not yet happened) or Christianity (which did not yet exist). Rather, he referred to the messengers of the gospel, including himself. All that we say and proclaim is in earthen vessels, clay jars. The treasure comes to us through human words and human beings.

The treasure is sometimes missed. Often and still today, the Bible and Christianity have been sources of judgment and rejection, brutality and violence, suffering and manipulation.

But at its best, which has happened and continues to happen, Christianity is a tradition of wisdom, beauty, and goodness. The triad is central to ancient Greek philosophy and to the enduring religions of the world. Wisdom about what is real and how then we should live. Beauty in its language, music, art, worship, and architecture. Goodness in lives filled with compassion and passion for a transformed world.

And it is a sacrament. Just as the human products of bread and wine become sacraments, so Christianity as an earthen vessel is a massive sacrament that mediates the reality to which it points, a means of grace and a means of transformation. It is our approximation, in our time and place, of what life with God – and for Christians, life with God as revealed decisively in Jesus – is about.

A Toxic Image of God – Richard Rohr

 

Your image of God creates you. This is why it is so important that we see God as loving and benevolent and why good theology is still important.
One mistaken image of God that keeps us from receiving grace is the idea that God is a cruel tyrant. People who have been raised in an atmosphere of threats of punishment and promises of reward are programmed to operate with this cheap image of God. They need deep healing, because they are actually attached to a punitive notion of God. Many experienced this foundational frame for reality as children, and it is hard to let go. It gives a kind of sick coherence to their world.
Unfortunately, it’s much easier to organize people around fear and hatred than around love. Most people who want to hold onto power view God as vindictive and punitive. Powerful people actually prefer this worldview, because it validates their use of intimidation. Both Catholicism and Protestantism have used the threat of eternal hellfire to form Christians. I am often struck by the irrational anger of many people when they hear that someone does not believe in hell. Threat of hellfire “works” because it appeals to the lowest level of consciousness, where we all start.
Much of Christian history has manifested a very different god than the one Jesus revealed and represented. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but this “cultural” god sure doesn’t. Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven” times, but this god doesn’t. Instead, this god burns people for all eternity. Many of us were raised to believe this, but we usually had to repress this bad theology into our unconscious because it’s literally unthinkable. Most humans are more loving and forgiving than such a god. We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust. The mystical, transformative journey cannot take place until that image is undone. Why would you want to spend even an hour in silence, solitude, or intimacy with such a god?
It’s true that there are some troubling passages of Scripture; even Jesus used dualistic and judgmental statements. Jesus was an honest and wise teacher. He knew that clear-headed, dualistic thinking must precede non-dual or mystical thinking. Jesus was particularly emphatic about issues people normally want to avoid, especially social justice teachings. Here he used dualistic examples like God and mammon (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13), the rich person and the eye of the needle (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25), and the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46). Jesus had to make these points absolutely clear, otherwise it’s far too easy to avoid issues of justice for the poor and inclusion of the outsider.
It seems to me that in Matthew 25, when Jesus appears to make threats of “eternal punishment,” he is making strong contrasting statements about issues of ultimate significance, calling the listener to a decision. The trouble with this passage is that we focus on the threat more than on Jesus’ positive promise of “eternal life.” Jesus presents the teaching first in a dualistic manner. When pressed, he explains it in a non-dual way that encourages universal compassion: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Non-dual thinkers can see that he is creating a moral equivalence between what we do to the least of the brothers and sisters and what we do to Christ. So Matthew 25 is supreme dualism overcome by supreme non-dualism. That is what we need. First do your clearheaded, rational, logical study of all sides of the issue of concern. Then you will see that the issue deserves much more subtlety than taking one side and damning all others. Non-dual thinking allows us to calmly hear, calmly detach, and calmly see from a higher level.
In his book, Inventing Hell, Jon Sweeney points out that our Christian notion of hell largely comes from several unfortunate metaphors in Matthew’s Gospel. Hell is not found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. It’s not found in the Gospel of John or in Paul’s letters. The words Sheol and Gehenna are used in Matthew, but they have nothing to do with our later medieval notion of eternal punishment. Sheol is simply the place of the dead, a sort of limbo place where humans await the final judgment when God will finally win. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, in the end “God will be all in all” (15:28). Gehenna was both the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem–the Valley of Hinnom–and an early Jewish metaphor for evil (Isaiah 66:24). The idea of hell as we most commonly view it came much more from Dante’s Divine Comedy than the Bible. Dante’s Purgatorioand Inferno are brilliant Italian poetry, but horrible Christian theology. Dante’s view of God is largely nonbiblical; however, there are some great insights in theParadiso.
In his book, Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI explains his understanding of the curious phrase in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed: “[Jesus] descended into hell.” Benedict says that if Jesus went to hell, that means there is no hell–because Jesus and hell cannot coexist. Once Jesus got there, the whole game of punishment was over, as it were. One of the most popular icons in the Eastern Orthodox Church shows Jesus with his legs spread, bridging the abyss of hell, pulling people out of the darkness. This is called “the icon of icons” in the East because it shows the highest level of contemplative perspective and the essence of the Good News.

The Sacred Wound – Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

Friday, October 16, 2015

Only the wounded physician heals. –C. G. Jung [1]

When life is hard, we are primed to learn something absolutely central. I call it God’s special hiding place. The huge surprise of the Christian revelation is that the place of the wound is the place of the greatest gift. Our code phrase for this whole process is “cross and resurrection,” revealing that our very wounds can become sacred wounds, if we let them. Read more

Walking in the shoes of the other | Timothy Kurek | TEDxUniversityoftheAegean

Timothy Kurek is a living example that you can only trully understand someone if you have walked a mile in their shoes. He proved exactly that when he decided to pretend to be openly gay in his very conservative community for a whole year. When his experiment ended he had managed to change not only his way of thinking about the homosexuals and any other person who could be different, but also his family’s way of thinking, making of himself a living example of the verse ” Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Timothy Kurek is a passionate writer, tackling some of the front burner issues of our day. His unrestrained style of immersion lends a uniquely empathetic perspective, engaging his audiences with empathy, humor, and refreshing candor. Through his work he unravels a tale of self-discovery, and the perks of questioning ones’ own beliefs. Dedicated to opening the eyes of the broader public to issues of social justice and equality through the medium of story, Timothy shows the way to new ways of thinking and believing.