Politics

Religious Liberty in the U.S. and cat pictures

I ran across this paper I wrote for a Religious Liberty class at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University. I didn’t think it was half bad, so I’m posting it in my blog. It’s a little thick, so I’m adding some cat pictures.


Historical Context of the Controversy
The religion clause of the U.S. Constitution states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It is included with freedom of the press, free speech, and the right to assemble and petition the government. It is the part of the first amendment upon which concepts of religious freedom—which I use interchangeably here with religious liberty—are based. According to Davis, religious liberty in the U.S. is based upon the overarching ideal of separation of church and state (p. 81). He cites a religion historian who called religious liberty, “America’s great gift to civilization and the world” (p. 81). Interpretations of the religion clause have evolved since ratification in 1791 primarily through rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on cases involving two concepts: establishment and free exercise. As Flowers explains, cases vary according to topics, such as taxation, school prayer, human resources, and insurance—but all of these share a tension of whether the government violates establishment when it supports religious organizations or free exercise when it does not.
Understandably, decisions passed down by the Court are influenced by its makeup; it has in fact changed its position over time. Nearly eighty years ago, Justice Hugo Black famously declared, “In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by laws was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and State’” (in Davis, p. 84). Over the last decade, however, the idea of religious liberty itself has undergone an odd reversal. No longer is its chief principal the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs and practices protected by the wall of separation from the government. Rather, religious liberty is now evoked by conservative Christians in order for them to freely exercise their right to discriminate against individuals or groups whose ideologies do not align with their religious beliefs. These Christians are, then, seeking establishment via rulings to substantiate discrimination, which they consider free exercise. Tracing the course of the transformation of religious liberty is beyond the scope of this paper. From my own historical memory and research, I trace it to the overt courting of the religious right in the South by Nixonian republicans in 1968, culminating with Ronald Reagan’s alliance with the Moral Majority that led to his victory in the 1980 election—in which he unseated an incumbent President who is unequivocally a devout Christian. This was the beginning of the narrative shift of religious liberty that supports the blatant politicized overreach we see today. For this paper, I did a Google search for “religious liberty.” I focused on articles and blog posts whose topics related directly to the cultural cooptation of the idea of religious liberty as I describe it above. Left of center publication, The Week, writer Joel Mathis sums up the premise of my paper:
The term “religious liberties” sounds anodyne enough: The First Amendment guarantees that Congress shall not prohibit the free exercise of faith. And conservatives frame the recent debates with a libertarian gloss: Government shouldn’t make religious folks violate their faith-informed consciences to provide contraception to employees or make wedding cakes for gay couples. On the surface the message is: “Leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone.” What could be more American?
But that message isn’t honest.


Unless you’re a Christian — and let’s be honest, unless you’re a conservative Christian — conservative advocacy of religious liberties is a big con, a consolidation of rights and privileges not meant to be shared with Muslims, atheists, or other religious minorities.
You don’t have to reach far for examples. (https://theweek.com/articles/784953/conservatives-religious-liberty-con)
And I did not. What follows is a sampling of what I found.
Competing Arguments
The day I was writing this, May 22, 2020, an op-ed piece popped up on CNN’s website: This Isn’t About Religious Freedom (Graves-Fitzsimmons). It outlines issues surrounding Covid-19 religious liberty litigation, written as a response to President Trump’s push for governors to allow churches to re-open. The president’s invocation of liberty, prompted the author to note, “From a wider perspective, the Covid-19 crisis also reveals a new dimension to how some conservatives have distorted our treasured American value of religious freedom” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/14/opinions/religious-freedom-lawsuits-on-social-distancing-graves-fitzsimmons/index.html). He goes on to cite examples of the exploitation of religious liberty to further conservative agendas, he lists groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom that spent 54 million to argue the Masterpiece Cakeshop anti-LGBTQ case at SCOTUS. Graves-Fitzsimmons connects Covid-19 religious freedom lawsuits to current and pending cases involving whether “religious or moral beliefs of an employer should be an acceptable excuse to deny people birth control and whether taxpayer funds may be used for faith-based foster care agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people” (ibid). He points out what is a recurring theme in my research—discriminatory conservative agendas are out of sync with public opinion surrounding these issues. The twisting of religious freedom, according to the author, is about winning the culture war and thereby bolstering the conservative voting base, Trump’s lifeblood. He concludes with a call to expose the bigotry behind the thin veil of religious freedom that covers it and “reclaim a religious freedom that does no harm” (ibid).
My research led me to The Berkely Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, an organization that examines, “the intersection of religion with global policy challenges of diplomacy, democracy, development and dialogue” (https://charterforcompassion.org/berkley-center-for-religion-peace-and-world-affairs?gclid=CjwKCAjwtqj2BRBYEiwAqfzur7FiTtxXPCn-_a4r4LjVhNdG9NLoy1QudwMV5MKW8mNOBRXOBabq3xoCW6gQAvD_BwE).

I found three essays in response to the Politics of School Prayer post in the Center’s Forum that address what one calls the “false narrative” of religious freedom. This pre-Covid post uses as a prompt President Trump’s announcement on 2020 “Religious Freedom Day” of new guidelines regarding school prayer during non-instructional time and the rights of students whose “freedom to pray has been violated” (https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/politics-of-school-prayer). Additionally, he announced plans to remove “regulatory burdens” on faith-based social service providers that are supported by the Department of Health and Human Services—that is, by taxpayer dollars. The post suggests that while Trumpian Republicans have conducting an offensive front in the culture wars, Democrats have spent (frittered?) their energies trying to “connect with evangelical voters,” a heretofore fruitless effort.
The first response, The Debates Over Religious Freedom in the United States: What Debates?, by James W. Fraser, refutes the president’s claim of burdensome regulations of religious freedom by pointing out the new guidelines were nearly identical with previous guidelines issued by the G.W Bush and Clinton administrations. Fraser argues that the president’s fanfare over existing guidelines has deeper motives—first, to “warp the truth to stay in power,” that is, to fire up his conservative White Christian base, many of whom believe themselves to be discriminated against by progressives. If Trump can maintain the fiction of an “assault on faith” and the greater fiction that he alone can fix it, he will keep the support of his base. An even darker motive, according to Fraser, of touting his guidelines was to serve as a “cover for other policies which represent a dangerous infringement of rights”
(https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/the-debates-over-religious-freedom-in-the-united-states-what-debates). He concludes with this stark statement, “…the obvious conclusion is that retaining voting blocs is more important to the administration than any concern for the rights of American citizens, religious or otherwise. We are better than that” (ibid). One hopes, but are we?


The second response, A False Narrative of Religious Freedom Threatens Americans’ Rights, by Rob Boston, begins by pointing out ways Trump’s school prayer guidelines in fact differ from Bush’s and Clinton’s, most significantly, that student- and teacher-initiated prayer at school functions may be legal. He then quickly turns to the problem of terminology in the evolving narrative of religious freedom, namely, that as it is used today demands religious privilege, which is very distinct from liberty. Boston offers a helpful definition of what religious freedom has historically meant in the U.S.: “the right to worship (or not) as you see fit, as long as you don’t harm others. It means the right to join together with fellow believers to build houses of worship, spread religious messages, and create a sense of community bound together by shared beliefs” (https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/a-false-narrative-of-religious-freedom-threatens-americans-rights). Conversely, today’s conceptualization of religious freedom is a coersive and compulsive denial of the rights of others [and] is alien” to our core values (ibid). He points out that Americans are used to wrangling over issues, but this is a different age—one where polarization makes old ways of debating obsolete. When it comes to the minority voices of conservative White Christians, he concludes, “It is dangerous to accept even a little bit of oppression based on religion. The answer is always to resist it, by all legal means” (ibid).
The final article I examined from the Berkley Center Forum was A Free Exercise Argument Against Trump’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Rules by Peter Henne. His approach is somewhat different from other responses, as he approaches the issue with the onus of rectifying the cooptation of religious liberty on progressives. “The problem is that progressives have accepted the conservative framing of religious freedom”
(https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/a-free-exercise-argument-against-trump-s-religious-freedom-rules). He charges us to retake a narrative whose subsequent policies discriminate against all but a small group of Christians. When progressives begin asserting that our own religious freedoms are infringed upon, the historical conceptualization will re-emerge. Practically, Boston proposes this: “Rather than religious freedom vs. non-discrimination, it would be a debate over the nature of religious freedom. And Trump-wary conservative Christians are more likely to be responsive to progressives explaining their approach to religious freedom than they are to calls to curtail religious freedom” (ibid). When my tax dollars go to an organization that refuses, for example, to allow a gay couple to adopt a child because they are gay—and since my faith tradition, the UCC, welcomes everyone, “Whoever you are, and wherever you are on life’s journey,” my religious liberty has been breached.


My Position
I argue that conservative White Christian America seeks to be sanctioned by the State through strategic SCOTUS rulings on the First Amendment. Let me be clear: not all conservatives nor all White Christians seek to twist the First Amendment. My complaint is with those of the population who overtly and intentionally seek to deploy the concept of religious liberty to discriminate. If we correlate them with Trump’s hardcore base, which I am taking the liberty of doing, it ends up being around 40% of Americans (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/). I am old enough to remember when Religious Liberty did not have the topsy turvy meaning it has now. Growing up a white child in the South in the 60s and 70s, God and Country had distinct meanings for me; we were a “Christian Nation.” By the 2016 election, I began to have the disappointing realization that the country I live in is not the one I thought I grew up in. As Black and Brown Americans could have told me, my imagined America was never real; it was only a narrative that kept social and political hierarchies in place. I agree with the argument that upholding both the establishment and free exercise components strengthens religious practice in this country. I hold the position that the current rally cry of “Religious Liberty” signals a license to discriminate and thereby to enforce through subterfuge a morality code that bolsters white supremacy nationalism. This is not Christian.
Again, not all conservative White Christians are white nationalists. Just as politicians like Leader McConnell who actively work to pack the judiciary with conservative judges are not all actively forwarding a religious agenda. And yet, these groups are strange bedfellows.


As Bill Clinton reminded us in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.” But how might corporate-forward politicians get plain folks to vote against their own economic interests? By appealing to their/our values. In 1980, when the Republicans actively courted religious leaders like Falwell and Robertson to get Christians on board, they promised Christians would have a friend in the White House, a seat at the table—that they would have a voice in governing. So Christians voted Republican. There was no real seat at the table, so the strategy changed to grassroots campaigns and gaining control of the judiciary. Aside from one setback on same-gender marriage from Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, they have been overwhelming successful in influencing politics, which, of course, include the Courts. In his dissent of Obergefell, Justice Alito forecasted—or perhaps signaled—the ruling would have an “inevitable conflict with religious liberty” argument. I am not a political scientist, but my gut tells me that the LGBT victory with Obergefell helped the narrative shift; there would be new, more creative, ways to discriminate. If same-gender marriage was established by an unelected federal judiciary, so too then would cases be decided where refusal of services, for example, be equated with free exercise of religion.
Impact on Local Ministries
A 2019 brief from the Center for American Progress entitled Religious Liberty Should Do No Harm argues that policymakers have a responsibility to enact legislation that will, “ensure the right of religious liberty for all Americans without infringing on the rights and religious freedoms of others”
(London and Saddiqi, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/reports/2019/04/11/468041/religious-liberty-no-harm/). They offer suggestions for building a framework of inclusive, non-discriminatory religious liberty.

One option relevant to local ministries is to consult faith communities in local policymaking. This might be through the formation of interfaith councils, working groups, and task forces that represent a diversity of faith traditions, “in order to ensure that the many voices of the faith community are considered in policymaking” (ibid). This idea gets to the crux of the matter, writ large. Local politics are unduly influenced by conservative White Christians; local municipalities are unable to oppose Republican governors to mandate business closures during a pandemic, let alone establish interfaith policy consulting councils. If we were at a place in this country where rural Alabama had interfaith advisory groups, it might be a good sign that religious liberty was alive and well. But we are not.
My religious affiliation is with the United Church of Christ (UCC), an Open and Affirming (ONA) denomination toward some of the populations against whom religious liberty is being used as a weapon. The most obvious impact religious liberty laws have on my local ministry involves providing sacred spaces of radical welcome who are being discriminated against. My congregation would not only make a cake for a same-gender couple, we would perform the wedding and host the reception! As important, we would show up in solidarity at the state capital.
As Flowers and some of the writers above note, the establishment clause ensures the religious liberty of all who wish to freely exercise religious beliefs, not just of a small subset who would seek to manipulate the First Amendment to suit themselves. For example, this is not a fight for religious liberty of Muslims. It is important that local ministries be vocal in opposition to misuse and misinterpretation of religious liberty. We must, then, employ our own religious liberty to re-establish the concept of freedom inherent in it.
I will end with a story. My congregation is literally on a hill; drivers by cannot see us from the street. As one drives up the hill to the building, we have displayed really powerful signs about being the church and proclaiming that we are an ONA church. Once or twice we tried to put the signs at the foot of the hill; that way, people could see what we stand for. Both times, the signs disappeared. We do not hang a rainbow flag outside our building or display the UCC “Rainbow Comma” logo on our marquee. We do not display Black Lives Matter signs. London and Siddiqi end their brief with this cautionary word, “If policymakers do not ensure that religious liberty protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans, it will continue to be weaponized as a tool for discrimination and political gain and weaken nondiscrimination protections” (americanprogress.org). A “city set on a hill” (Mt. 5:14) can be hidden if it wants to be. We can be visible by being the church, or we can watch as inclusive religious liberty slips beyond our grasp. The work happens at the foot of the hill.

World’s Greatest Anti-Racism, Restorative Justice Resource List

Ucc.org

As part of my UCC Sacred Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) class, I collected these resources from online sources. Although I blatantly lifted them, I have cited the source links. It’s a lot~~so keep scrolling for the hot links!

I will start with resources on the UCC Racial Justice website, compiled by Rev. Dr. Velda Love https://www.ucc.org/racial_justice_resources_2020

Lynching Justice in America

The Cross and the Lynching Tree Webinar Video

READING RESOURCES

  1. Van Sertima, Ivan, They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, (New York, NY: Random House, 1976).
  2. Ortiz, Paul. An African American and Latinx History of the United States. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).
  3. Higginbotham, Leon A., Jr., Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process, (New York, NY: Oxford Press, 1996).
  4. Morrison, Toni, The Origins of Others, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).
  5. Boesak, Allan Aubrey, Curtiss DeYoung, Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book, 2012).
  6. DiAngelo, Robin, What Does It Mean To Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012).
    ________ White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).
  7. Resmaa, Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, (Central Recovery Press: Las Vegas, NV, 2017).
  8. Mills, Charles, The Racial Contract, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).
  9. Baptist, Edward E., The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2014).
  10. Cerrotti, Dennis Lyle, Hidden Genocide, Hidden People. (Wellesley, MA: Sea Venture Press, 2014).
  11. Villanueva, Edgar, Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance. (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2018).
  12. Newcomb, Steven T., Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008).
  13. Katz, William Loren, Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. (New York, NY: Atheneum Books, 2012).

VIDEO AND READING RESOURCES BELOW

  1. Ibram X. Kendi on the History of Racist Ideas in U.S. Stamped from the Beginning

Online Reading Resources

  1. Everyday Racial Microaggressions
    https://world-trust.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/7-Racial-Microagressions-in-Everyday-Life.pdf
  2. Coates, Ta-Nehisi, “The Case for Reparations,” The AtlanticJune 2014
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.

THEOLOGIES, CHRISTOLOGIES, AND GOD OF CULTURES

Womanist Documentaries

  1. Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology Legacy of Womanist Theology
  2. This is My Body: Black Womanist Christology in Perspective Black Womanist Christology in Perspective
  3. Eradicating Misogyny, Heterosexism, and Homophobia in Black Churches  Eradicating Misogyn, Heterosexism, and Homophobia in Black Churches
  4. Dr. Renita Weems: [Scream] Trayvon Martin Rev. Dr. Renita Weems Sermon “Scream” Trayvon Martin

Womanist Readings

  1. Introducing Womanist Theology – Stephanie Y. Mitchem
  2. An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation – Nyasha Junior
  3. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenges to Womanist God-Talk – Delores S. Williams
  4. Enfleshing Freedom, body, race, and being, — M. Shawn Copeland
  5. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation & Transformation – Emile M. Townes
  6. Women Race and Class – Angela Davis
    Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement

The James Cone Collection

  1. For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church: Black Theology and the Life of the Church (Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Black Book
  2. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian
  3. A Black Theology of Liberation – Fourtieth Anniversary Edition
  4. Black Theology and Black Power
  5. God of the Oppressed

Latinx and Mujerista Resources

  1. Mujerista Theology – A Theology for the Twenty-First Century, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz
  2. A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, Maria Pilar Aquino
  3. Decolonizing Biblical Studies: A View from the Margins, A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament, Fernando F. Sergovia
  4. Racism and God-Talk: A Latino/A Perspective – Ruben Rosario Rodriguez
  5. The Ties That Bind: African American and Hispanic American/Latino/a Theologies in Dialogue – Anthony B. Pinn and Benjamin Valentin
  6. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America – Juan Gonzalez

Asian and Asian American Resources

  1. Heart of the Cross: A Postcolonial Christology, Anne Joh
  2. Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology, Mihee Kim-Kort
  3. Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, Soong Chan Rah
  4. Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women’s Religion and Theology, Rita Brock
  5. Postcolonial Bible (Bible and Postcolonial), R.S. Sugirtharajah
  6. Voices from the Margins, R.S Sugirtharajah
  7. The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism, Rosalind S. Chou and Joe Feagin

For more Racial Justice Resources and information contact Rev. Dr. Velda Love Lovev@ucc.org

Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi

By: R Rattusnorvegicus Chicago Public Library Community-created list

“This anti-racist syllabus is for people realizing they were never taught how to be anti-racist. How to treat all the racial groups as equals. How to look at the racial inequity all around and look for the racist policies producing it, and the racist ideas veiling it. This list is for people beginning their anti-racist journey ..” Ibram X. Kendi (author of “How to Be an Antiracist”)

“A Reading List for Ralph Northam”. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/antiracist-syllabus-governor-ralph-northam/582580/

Fatal Invention How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century by Roberts, Dorothy

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Kendi, Ibram X.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by DiAngelo, Robin J.

Locking up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by Forman, James

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Angelou, Maya

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by X, Malcolm

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Mock, Janet

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Cooper, Brittney C.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Laymon, Kiese

The Fire Next Time by Baldwin, James

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Lorde, Audre

Between the World and Me by Coates, Ta-Nehisi

The Fire This Time by Kenan, Randall

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, From Womb to Grave, in the Building of A Nation by Berry, Daina Ramey

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Foner, Eric

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II by Blackmon, Douglas A.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Alexander, Michelle

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Muhammad, Khalil Gibran

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Rothstein, Richard

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Sugrue, Thomas J.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Wilkerson, Isabel

A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Theoharis, Jeanne

Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy by Dudziak, Mary L.

Too Heavy A Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 by White, Deborah G.

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Giddings, Paula

From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Hinton, Elizabeth Kai

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Davis, Angela Y.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Stevenson, Bryan

Roots by Haley, Alex

North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 by Litwack, Leon F.

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and A New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Lowery, Wesley

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta

Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Berman, Ari

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Anderson, Carol

Antiracism: An Introduction by Zamalin, Alex

How To Be An Antiracist by Kendi, Ibram X.

The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism & Engage in Collective Healing by Singh, Anneliese A.

The Wellbeing Handbook for Overcoming Everyday Racism: How to Be Resilient in the Face of Discrimination and Microagressions by Cousins, Susan

The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness by Magee, Rhonda V.

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Horace, Matthew

Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Butler, Paul

Citizen: An American Lyric by Rankine, Claudia

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Glaude, Eddie S.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Cooper, Brittney C.

Fire Shut up in My Bones: A Memoir by Blow, Charles M.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in A World Made for Whiteness by Brown, Austin Channing

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become A Good Ancestor by Saad, Layla F

My Midnight Years: Surviving Jon Burge’s Police Torture Ring and Death Row by Kitchen, Ronald

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Moore, Darnell L.

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by Mckesson, DeRay

Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement : My Storory of Transformation and Hope by Woodfox, Albert

So You Want to Talk About Race by Oluo, Ijeoma

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Dyson, Michael Eric

Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Bennett, Michael

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (white) America by Jerkins, Morgan

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Young, Damon

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Khan-Cullors, Patrisse

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Tatum, Beverly Daniel

Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Rowe, Sheila Wise

This Book Is Anti-racist by Jewell, Tiffany

I Am Not your Negro: A Major Motion Picture Directed by Raoul Peck by Baldwin, James

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Glaude, Eddie S.

An Antiracist Reading List NY Times, compiled by Ibram X. Kendi

BIOLOGY

FATAL INVENTION: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century By Dorothy Roberts

No book destabilized my fraught notions of racial distinction and hierarchy — the belief that each race had different genes, diseases and natural abilities — more than this vigorous critique of the “biopolitics of race.” Roberts, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, shows unequivocally that all people are indeed created equal, despite political and economic special interests that keep trying to persuade us otherwise. New Press, 2011

ETHNICITY

WEST INDIAN IMMIGRANTS: A Black Success Story? By Suzanne Model

Some of the same forces have led Americans to believe that the recent success of black immigrants from the Caribbean proves either that racism does not exist or that the gap between African-Americans and other groups in income and wealth is their own fault. But Model’s meticulous study, emphasizing the self-selecting nature of the West Indians who emigrate to the United States, argues otherwise, showing me, a native of racially diverse New York City, how such notions — the foundation of ethnic racism — are unsupported by the facts. Russell Sage Foundation, 2008

BODY

THE CONDEMNATION OF BLACKNESS: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America By Khalil Gibran Muhammad

“Black” and “criminal” are as wedded in America as “star” and “spangled.” Muhammad’s book traces these ideas to the late 19th century, when racist policies led to the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of blacks, igniting urban whites’ fears and bequeathing tenaciously racist stereotypes. Harvard University, 2010

CULTURE

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD By Zora Neale Hurston

Of course, the black body exists within a wider black culture — one Hurston portrayed with grace and insight in this seminal novel. She defies racist Americans who would standardize the cultures of white people or sanitize, eroticize, erase or assimilate those of blacks. 1937

BEHAVIOR

THE NEGRO ARTIST AND THE RACIAL MOUNTAIN By Langston Hughes

“We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame,” Hughes wrote nearly 100 years ago. “We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.” We are all imperfectly human, and these imperfections are also markers of human equality. The Nation, June 23, 1926

COLOR

THE BLUEST EYE By Toni Morrison

THE BLACKER THE BERRY By Wallace Thurman

Beautiful and hard-working black people come in all shades. If dark people have less it is not because they are less, a moral eloquently conveyed in these two classic novels, stirring explorations of colorism. 1970 | 1929

WHITENESS

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X By Malcolm X and Alex Haley

DYING OF WHITENESS: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland By Jonathan M. Metzl

Malcolm X began by adoring whiteness, grew to hate white people and, ultimately, despised the false concept of white superiority — a killer of people of color. And not only them: low- and middle-income white people too, as Metzl’s timely book shows, with its look at Trump-era policies that have unraveled the Affordable Care Act and contributed to rising gun suicide rates and lowered life expectancies. 1965 | Basic Books, 2019

BLACKNESS

LOCKING UP OUR OWN: Crime and Punishment in Black America By James Forman Jr.

Just as Metzl explains how seemingly pro-white policies are killing whites, Forman explains how blacks themselves abetted the mass incarceration of other blacks, beginning in the 1970s. Amid rising crime rates, black mayors, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs embraced tough-on-crime policies that they promoted as pro-black with tragic consequences for black America. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017 (Read the review.)

CLASS

BLACK MARXISM: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition By Cedric J. Robinson

Black America has been economically devastated by what Robinson calls racial capitalism. He chastises white Marxists (and black capitalists) for failing to acknowledge capitalism’s racial character, and for embracing as sufficient an interpretation of history founded on a European vision of class struggle. Zed Press, 1983

SPACES

WAITING ’TIL THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: A Narrative History of Black Power in America By Peniel E. Joseph

As racial capitalism deprives black communities of resources, assimilationists ignore or gentrify these same spaces in the name of “development” and “integration.” To be antiracist is not only to promote equity among racial groups, but also among their spaces, something the black power movement of the 1960s and 1970s understood well, as Joseph’s chronicle makes clear. Holt, 2006

GENDER

HOW WE GET FREE: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective Edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

WELL-READ BLACK GIRL: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves Edited by Glory Edim

I began my career studying, and too often admiring, activists who demanded black (male) power over black communities, including over black women, whom they placed on pedestals and under their feet. Black feminist literature, including these anthologies, helps us recognize black women “as human, levelly human,” as the Combahee River Collective demanded to be seen in 1977.

SEXUALITY

REDEFINING REALNESS: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

I grew up in a Christian household thinking there was something abnormal and immoral about queer blacks. My racialized transphobia made Mock’s memoir an agonizing read — just as my racialized homophobia made Lorde’s essays and speeches a challenge. But pain often precedes healing.

Atria, 2014 | Crossing Press, 1984

By not running from the books that pain us, we can allow them to transform us. I ran from antiracist books most of my life. But now I can’t stop running after them — scrutinizing myself and my society, and in the process changing both. Ibram X. Kendi

Anti-Racism Resources: Educate Yourself https://www.projecthome.org/anti-racism-resources

Trainings & Courses

Articles and Essays

Resources for Parents and People Who Work with Children

Videos and Film

Podcasts and Audio

  • 1619 (NY Times Podcast)
  • Code Switch (NPR)
  • Show About Race (Panopoly)
  • Intersectionality Matters! (Kimberlé Crenshaw)
  • Momentum: A Race Forward (Color Lines)
  • Pod Save the People (Crooked Media)
  • Fare of the Free Child (Raising Free People)
  • Small Doses (Amanda Seales)
  • Therapy for Black Girls (Dr. Bradford)
  • Seeing White: Scene on Radio (Podcast series on whiteness)
  • Talking about Whiteness (Eula Bliss, On Being)

Social Media


Books

Where to begin (designed for white allies):

  • Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahesi Coates
  • Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • How to Be An Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi  
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race, by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarnation in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  • Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Paul Kivel
  • Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving
  • White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, by Tim Wise
  • Witnessing Whiteness, by Shelly Tochluk
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin Diangelo
  • Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color, by Andrea Ritchie

Going Deeper

  • killing rage: Ending Racism, by bell hooks
  • When They Call You a Terrorist, by Patrisse Cullors
  • Eloquent Rage, by Brittany Cooper
  • Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, by Charlene A. Carruthers
  • Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  • The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
  • Learning to Be White: Money, Race and God in America, by Rev. Thandeka
  • The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  • They Can’t Kill Us All, by Wesley Lower
  • Many here Ibram X. Kendi Antiracist reading List

Mental Health Resources

A Detailed List of Anti-Racism Resources

Book, movie recommendations, and more

By Katie Couric

JUNETEENTH RESOURCES

“What is Juneteenth?” by Derrick Bryson Taylor for the New York Times

“Juneteenth Is a Reminder That Freedom Wasn’t Just Handed Over,” by Brianna Holt for the New York Times

“No, Trump did not make Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating slavery’s end, ‘very famous,’” by DeNeen L. Brown for the Washington Post

Miss Juneteentha new movie about a former beauty queen and single mom preparing her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant in Texas

“Miss Juneteenth Exclusive with Nicole Beharie,” an interview with the star of Miss Juneteenth by Miles Marshall Lewis for Ebony

“Juneteenth by the Numbers,” by Toby Lyles for CNN

“The Johnsons Celebrate Juneteenth,” an episode of black-ish

“Juneteenth,” an episode of Atlanta

Juneteenth Jamboree,” a PBS series about the holiday

“An American Spring of Reckoning,” by Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker

The 1619 Project in the New York Times

“9 Books To Celebrate The Spirit of Juneteenth,” by Keyaira Boone for Essence

“The Belated National Embrace of Juneteenth,” an episode of Slate’s “What Next?” podcast

Spotify is celebrating Juneteenth by highlighting Black artists

The 2020 Juneteenth Virtual Music Festival is presenting a full-day of programming


WHAT TO READ

Articles:

Books:


WHAT TO WATCH

  • The Hate U Give, a film based on the YA novel offering an intimate portrait of race in America
  • Just Mercy, a film based on civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s work on death row in Alabama
  • The 1965 debatebetween James Baldwin and William F. Buckley
  • My hour on the history of Confederate statues in Nat Geo’s America Inside Out
  • Becoming,a Netflix documentary following Michelle Obama on her book tour
  • Let It Falla documentary looking at racial tensions in Los Angeles and the 1992 riots over LAPD officers’ brutal assault on Rodney King
  • When They See Us, a Netflix miniseries from Ava DuVernay about the Central Park Five
  • 13th, a Netflix documentary exposing racial inequality within the criminal justice system
  • I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary envisioning the book James Baldwin was never able to finish
  • Selma, a film that chronicles the marches of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Whose Streets?a documentary about the uprising in Ferguson
  • Fruitvale Station, a film with Michael B. Jordan about the killing of Oscar Grant
  • American Son, a film with Kerry Washington about an estranged interracial couple waiting for their missing son
  • The Central Park Five, a documentary from Ken Burns
  • A Class Divided, a Frontline documentary

WHAT TO FOLLOW

WHAT TO LISTEN TO

  • My podcast episode with Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, and Bryan Stevenson about Just Mercy
  • Still Processing, a New York Times culture podcast with Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morrison
  • Seeing White, a Scene on the Radio podcast
  • Code Switch, an NPR podcast tackling race from all angles
  • Jemele Hill is Unbothered, a podcast with award-winning journalist Jemele Hill
  • Hear To Slay, “the black feminist podcast of your dreams,” with Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • Pod Save The People, organizer and activist DeRay Mckesson explores news, culture, social justice, and politics with analysis from fellow activists Brittany Packnett, Sam Sinyangwe, and writer Dr. Clint Smith III
  • The Appeal, a podcast on criminal justice reform hosted by Adam Johnson
  • Justice In America, a podcast by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith on criminal justice reform
  • Brené Brown with Ibram X. Kendi, a podcast episode on antiracism
  • Come Through, a WNYC podcast with Rebecca Carroll
  • The Kinswomen, conversations on race, racism, and allyship between women, hosted by Hannah Pechter and Yseult Polfliet

RESOURCES FOR KIDS AND TEENS

Watch

Read

Anti-Racism Resources

UNC Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Resources for parents to raise anti-racist children:

Books

Podcasts

Articles

Social Media

  • The Conscious Kid: follow them on Instagram and consider signing up for their Patreon

Additional Articles:

Videos to watch:

Podcasts to subscribe to:

Books to read:

Websites to Visit:

Films and TV series to watch:

  • 13th (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix
  • American Son (Kenny Leon) — Netflix
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution — Available to rent
  • Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 — Available to rent
  • Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu) — Available to rent
  • Dear White People (Justin Simien) — Netflix
  • Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) — Available to rent
  • I Am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin doc) — Available to rent or on Kanopy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) — Hulu
  • Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton) — Available to rent
  • King In The Wilderness  — HBO
  • See You Yesterday (Stefon Bristol) — Netflix
  • Selma (Ava DuVernay) — Available to rent
  • The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) — Hulu with Cinemax
  • When They See Us (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix

Organizations to follow on social media:

More anti-racism resources to check out:

Care for Black People:

Alabama Gilead: The Beguiling of Conservative Women

for Jenny Nixon

Last weekend, I attended the National Gathering of the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ, a denomination with a history of social justice advocacy that dates back to colonial New England. The UCC has always, to my knowledge, ordained women ministers, and it is a space where I feel welcome to offer and develop my gifts of leadership. One evening at dinner, I gravitated to a woman dining alone and asked if I could join her. I didn’t join her because she was alone; I joined her because I had been in a previous session with her and heard some of her story. I remember she had said: I was in Alabama during the Civil Rights years, and the League of Women Voters kept me sane. I wanted to hear more.

Her name is Jenny Nixon, and she is a resident of the Uplands Retirement Community in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, which, if you ask me, is one of the best kept secrets in retirement living. Jenny was hard to miss all weekend because of her booming voice, head of solid gray hair, piercing blue eyes, and the shape her body has decided to take as she got older, which required her to use a walker. Yes, I’d appreciate your company, she told me. I eat more slowly than most people these days. I fetched us a couple of pieces of strawberry short cake for us and sat down.

League of Women Voters, feminist, feminism, voting rights, women, women's history

League of Women Voters, 1970’s

Jenny was born in Oregon in 1933 but had gone to college in California and lived for some time in Washington State. I’m a Westerner, she told me with a glint in her eye. What attracted me to her was that she had been a women’s rights activist in the 1960s and 1970s. It isn’t too often that I get to meet a feminist–a real feminist–from the “women’s lib” era. But that wasn’t the only reason I wanted to hear more of her story; our stories, as it turns out, had something in common: Alabama. Will you tell me more about your time in Alabama? I asked her. I think it’s important, and I know it’s interesting! That’s all it took. I will recreate her narrative here with only minimal interruptions of my interjections and comments.

My first husband was an aerospace engineer, and “Mr. Boeing” sent him to Huntsville, Alabama, where he worked on the rocket that sent us to the moon. It was 1964. Kennedy had been assassinated, but worked progressed on the space program. We lived in South Huntsville. Our kids eventually went to Chaffee Elementary School, White Middle, and Grissom High~~all named after the astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 fire at Cape Canaveral in 1967. Of course, that was my first husband. The only things we had in common were our kids–and bridge. We were an unbeatable bridge team! I am very proud that I always spoke well of him to my children. That was very important to me, that they kept a relationship with him. He was a good father. 

League of Women Voters, Feminism, Feminist, Women, Women's Rights, Handmaid's Tale, Alabama, Kay Ivey, Abortion, Alabama Abortion Law, Conservative, Conservative Women, New York Times

I searched for a photo of Jenny, and I believe she is seated just to the left of the column.

In those days, the senior engineers had a choice of moving or not, and most of them chose not to. So there were communities of young families with young children. Before Boeing, before NASA, Huntsville was a cotton town; once we got there, it was a city of 20- and 30-somethings. I had young children, my husband was an engineer, I was college educated. I needed something to do because I couldn’t just stay at home. The League of Women Voters really did keep me sane. My husband didn’t really approve of the amount of time I spent working, but I did it anyway. I was president of the local chapter. In those days I could mimeograph flyers at my house. We met at my house over the years.  

I was in Huntsville the year the President signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. We worked hard. One of our projects was a weekly bi-racial lunch, where we went to lunch as a group of Black women and white women–together–to a restaurant. In Alabama in the 1960s that was a radical act. You just didn’t do it. My husband’s job was integrated because it was the federal government, so they hired Black engineers. George Wallace was governor during that time, and it was not easy. 

I used to tell my friends in the West that not everybody in Alabama was racist, that there were people there who worked for civil rights. I tried to bring my children up that way; of course, sometimes the teachers reported that they were being disrespectful. They didn’t say “ma’am.” But they turned out fine. Eventually, more of the women went to work outside the home, so there were fewer of us who could do volunteer work with the League. When my husband was transferred to Washington State, that was the end of my Alabama years. 

By that time, we were finished with our shortcake. I’m keeping you, I said. Yes, I’d just as soon go home now, she replied mater-of-factly, as she asked me to dial her current husband George on my cell phone. George, this is Jenny. You can come and pick me up now in front of the cafeteria. Five minutes, yes. Goodbye. Spoken like a Westerner.

Last month, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law the harshest abortion bill in U.S. history. According to the Washington Post, only three women had a voice in the Alabama state senate, where all 25 votes cast in favor of the bill were from white, Republican men. This in a state where although 51% of the population is made up of women, only 15% of the legislature is–one of the worst ratios in the country (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/15/typical-male-answer-only-women-had-voice-alabama-senate-men-passed-abortion-ban/?utm_term=.8fd84fe87878).

This morning, an opinion piece from the New York Times popped up in my news feed called Where Are the Socially Conservative Women in This Fight?
The American family needs defending and right now men are leading the charge. Written by Helen Andrews of the conservative Washington Examiner, a central them was a critique of the “Two Income Trap,” a term coined by Senator Elizabeth Warren in her book by the same name. Andrews opines:

Marriage simply no longer offers the financial security it once did. The consumer goods that singles buy have gotten cheaper, but the things that middle-aged parents spend the most money on — houses, education, health care — have gotten more expensive, while wages have stagnated. It has become difficult for a family with one breadwinner to afford a middle-class standard of living. “Mom’s paycheck has been pumped directly into the basic costs of keeping the children in the middle class,” Ms. Warren’s book “The Two-Income Trap” explained. The mass entry of women into the work force is one reason for this financial insecurity.

Look at that last sentence again. It’s important, as Andrews turns her argument for the emergence of conservative women toward women’s desire for marriageable men. She references the now-viral quote by Fox’s Tucker Carlson: “Study after study has shown that when men make less than women, women generally don’t want to marry them. Maybe they should want to marry them, but they don’t.” Andrews expounds:

As it happens, there is an abundance of data on Mr. Carlson’s side. Wendy Wang is the director of research at the Institute for Family Studies, and before that she worked at the Pew Research Center, where she co-wrote a report about unmarried Americans. “The number of employed men per 100 women dropped from 139 in 1960 to 91 in 2012” among never-married Americans 25 to 34, her report found. “In other words, if all never-married young women in 2012 wanted to find a young employed man who had also never been married, 9 percent of them would fail, simply because there are not enough men in the target group.”

Poor white men. No one wants to marry them. And why not? Because women have taken their jobs!

Here’s another jewel from Andrews, citing an MIT study: When women’s wages went down relative to men’s, marriage and fertility actually went up. I do not have to paint the phallic imagery here, do I?

So, rather than build an economy built on sustainable infrastructures, living wages, affordable health care and child care, paid leave for parents of all genders, tax payer funded college tuition, and jobs in a 21st century world–Alabama leads the rest of the country in this ignoble approach to economics, which, make no doubt about it, it is. Abortion legislation is not about morality or religion or the salvation of Alabama souls. It is political, for it will keep the good Christian people voting Republican–against their own financial and reproductive interests. And this, friends, will keep the Republican coffers full.

Feminism, Feminist, Women, Women's Rights, Handmaid's Tale, Alabama, Kay Ivey, Abortion, Alabama Abortion Law, Conservative, Conservative Women, New York Times

The Alabama bill, along with Andrews’s call for conservative women to take up the call to put women back at home rearing children while their men go off to work, is dangerous. Under the guise of fighting for our “right” to stay home and raise children–and do the majority of domestic labor without pay as part of the contractual obligation to which their marriageable men are entitled–women will be demanding to have our rights revoked. Rights that people like Jenny Nixon worked–from her home, while her children were at school–to make available to us. And, women like Governor Kay Ivey, who have the facade of power, do the bidding of male legislators. If you want to see what the world will look like when this retro-vision is enacted, look no further than the Alabama legislature. Or the list of Fortune 500 CEOs, or the U.S. Senate.

Feminism, Feminist, Women, Women's Rights, Handmaid's Tale, Alabama, Kay Ivey, Abortion, Alabama Abortion Law, Conservative, Conservative Women, New York Times

There’s another place you can look. Watch The Handmaids Tale, Seasons 1 & 2. It was not Commander Waterford who was the architect of Gilead. Rather, it was his wife, Serena Joy, who was the power and talent of the movement. In one chilling scene, which I’ve included below, Serena uses her charismatic speaking talent to turn a group of college student protesters to her conservative vision. Keep watching, though, to see how it turns out for her after she cedes her power. See how she lives in Gilead. The cost of equity and equality is high–we continue to pay it. But there is also a cost to maintain our liberty, and part of that cost is vigilance. Margaret Atwood noted in her book the wages of inattentiveness. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

Have you written your story down, recorded it somewhere, I asked Jenny. No, she said. I thought about it but haven’t. I still remember it, though. I pray that we will all remember, before we boil in a bathtub of our own making.

The Power of a Conservative Woman: Serena Joy Waterford, The Handmaid’s Tale

NYT: Where Are the Conservative Women

‘A typical male answer’: Only 3 women had a voice in Alabama Senate as 25 men passed abortion ban

Inflaming the Christian Right: Franklin Graham, Pete Buttigieg, and Changing Our Mind

It should come as no surprise that they’re coming for Pete Buttigieg. He’s smart, frank, funny, personable, courageous~~everything in a politician that would constitute a threat to the one of the least popular incumbent presidents history. Strategically that’s why he’s already under attack. How he’s under attack represents low hanging fruit politically. Pete Buttigieg is a gay man. It’s low hanging fruit because this fact inflames–really inflames–the roughly 25% of Evangelical Christians in America who make up the president’s strongest base.

On April 25, 2019, Franklin Graham Tweeted (naturally) a response to Buttigieg’s candidacy, “God doesn’t have a political party. But God does have commandments, laws & standards. Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized….”

Pete and Chasten Pic

Pete and Chasten

Earlier in April, an NBC report suggested that Graham’s view is out of sync with that of most Americans. Polling data indicate that almost 70% of Americans would be either  “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” voting for a gay or lesbian candidate (USA Today). The remaining 30% is Trump’s hard core base and includes the 25% Evangelicals who enthusiastically support him regardless of evidence of impropriety. The Fox News/fake news true believers. My people.

I come from generations of Fundamentalist Christians, growing up in the Church of Christ~~a denomination that historically refrained from political engagement beyond the civic duty to vote. But even voting was private~~between you and God. We believed that “rendering unto Caesar” meant that our faith was personal and would come full circle on Judgement Day. All of that began to change with the campaign of 1980, when Ronald Reagan challenged the Son of a so-called New South, Jimmy Carter. Precisely because our denomination had not been political, the shift was very noticeable.

On April 26, David Gushee, Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at the McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, and Director of its Center for Theology and Public Life, spoke with CNN’s Don Lemon in response to Graham’s Twitter attack. Gushee’s book Changing Our Mind traces his personal and theological journey toward inclusion of LGBTQ Christians (it’s in my Kindle as we speak!). (Franklin’s remarks, incidentally, make Changing Our Mind doubly applicable in light of the United Methodist Church’s February 2019 decision to exclude LGBTQ members from ordination and marriage.) A disclaimer: I am a student at McAfee working toward an MDiv and certificate in Christian Ethics, and I will take Christian Sexual Ethics with Dr. Gushee in the spring. His ethics are grounded in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and outlined in the seminal book on the subject: Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (2016), co-written with the late Dr. Glen Stassen. Although he wouldn’t do it because of his ethical convictions, I would put David Gushee’s understanding of Jesus’s teachings up against Franklin Graham any day. But again, I have a dog in the hunt.

I had an “ah-ha!” moment as the CNN interview concluded:

LEMON: ...I think it’s interesting that you say that the Christian right has been in the grip of the Republican Party for 40 years now and it’s getting worse….

Forty years. Reagan, the Moral Majority, Trickle Down Economics, strengthening the military-industrial complex, unregulated capitalism, corporate tax cuts~~the most significant political and economic ideological shift in U.S. history~~and I was there. I saw. From the pews of a little country church in North Alabama. My people~~those 25% die hard Trump supporters~~were the strategic targets of the Republican machine in 1980, and we remain in its grip today. I am not suggesting we are absolved of our complicity; we have not yet repented of our collective sin of racism, for example. I’m saying the Republican Machine (not persons who vote Republican, whom we love as Jesus loves) is like a crooked preacher: it knows the Bible well and uses it to sway the sheep. It uses cultural context or insists on literalism, whichever best advances its agenda–which is, again, to inflame good people to vote. Over nearly half a century, it has accomplished an astonishing goal, really: creating god in a Republican image and we, my people, worship at its feet. That’s called idolatry, y’all. Gushee’s Kingdom Ethics suggests a different way, a Jesus way, to do politics together as a people, but to see it we will have to melt the Golden Calf of the Republican god.

My people believe~~really believe~~that electing a gay man as president will doom the U.S. as God turn’s His (no gender free God here!) back on us. In fact, we see plenty of examples of how He is already exacting His punishment on us as a call to repentance~~a call to return to being a Christian Nation, God’s U.S. chosen people. I know a good man~~a Godly man~~who believes God is sending a meteor toward Earth as retribution. “We better turn back to God,” he says, “or He will destroy this sinful nation!” When Franklin Graham reminds Evangelicals that God’s “laws, commandments, and standards” supersede political parties, he gives them no option save worshiping the carefully crafted Calf. And yes, he precisely politicized Buttigieg’s sexuality. I know what my people will say to an interpretation of scripture toward a new Christian Ethic where Pete is evaluated as a candidate by his qualifications rather than as a person based on his sexuality. They will say, “Even the demons believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). They will be suspicious; they will believe they are being tricked by fast talkers and twisting scriptures. They will gather more closely around the Calf.

Changing Our Mind Cover

In a speech in early April, Pete said his relationship with Chasten had made him “more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent.” He then directly addressed Mr. Pence, “as one man of faith talking to another,” the New York Times aptly puts it: “And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.”

That’s my favorite part because I identify with it. My relationship isn’t just a good fit in which I found a life companion~~it has brought me, in-relation, closer to God. It is in my relationship that I can feel the kind of love that God pours down on us, the kind God expects us to pour on each other. Not only that, it inspires me to act with love and compassion to others~~that’s pretty big! Jesus Ethics can be planted and take root in places where we talk to one another about compassion and decency and relationships that bring us closer to God. We can change our minds and decide to love.

Kingdom Ethics

David Gushee with CNN’s Don Lemon on Franklin Graham’s attack on LGBTQ Christians

USA Today: Franklin Graham calls on Pete Buttigieg to repent for the ‘sin’ of being gay

NYT: Pete Buttigieg, Gay and Christian, Challenges Religious Right on Their Own Turf

(Un)Holy Saturday: A Community Lament Psalm

dark cross

It is Holy Saturday, God, the day good Christians celebrate Jesus’s body lying in the tomb while his soul descended into hell, the Harrowing of Hell, they call it. Holy Saturday is coming home from a funeral. Everybody is exhausted, and the loss is starting to get real. You have to eat~~people have brought food~~but you are not hungry, might never be hungry again. After Big Mama’s funeral, I sat at the familiar kitchen table with her old friends, who told stories. Those of us at the table laughed until we cried, but the sisters—my mother and Lois and Mary and Judy and Barbara—were in the dark bedroom where their mother had taken her last breath; they did not laugh. They could hardly hold themselves up, so they held each other. It was raw and ugly, and if any of them had dared, they might have cursed you, God. They were groaning in their utter desolation. Holy Saturday started like that, with women holding vigil in their sorrow.

There is another word I first (and pretty much only) heard in the Bible: iniquity. Iniquity is to wickedness what groaning is to grieving. You are good, God, and trust in your goodness outweighs my worry; but my fundamentalist conscience tells me our United States will give an accounting for our iniquity. We sin together, all of us: we are inhospitable to neighbors at our borders, we march in hatred to maintain an apartheid state, and we lay offerings at the feed of corporate gods. We do not merely turn our heads as our poor fight to live—and often lose the fight—but we defiantly jut out our chins at them because they got what they had coming. It helps that they are different colors than we are. We incarcerate young men of color to prove our point. We busy ourselves with what goes on in one room of the house—the bedroom—with little concern with what goes on in the rest of your world. Longsuffering God, batter our hearts, as the poet cried (John Donne). Lay us bare again so that in our nakedness the only place our eyes can turn is to you. On this Holy Saturday, harrow our souls toward reconciliation with you as we keep vigil for the terrifying Resurrection we (don’t) know is coming. Amen.

Where Have You Gone, Jed Bartlet?

Sarah and I have recently taken to binge watching The West Wing. She’d never seen the entire series; I had, but after this presidential election, I wanted to watch it again. That doesn’t really capture it. I felt compelled to watch it again. Even during the presidential debates, I started getting the feeling that in some way reality was slipping away from me and my country. Here was the heir apparent, the presumptive winner of the whole shebang, Hillary Clinton. She looked like a president; she talked like a president; she had all the experience and credentials one (well, a democrat one) would expect and hope for in a president. She appeared in debates with Nondescript White Guy and Bernie Sanders, a socialist senator from Vermont. A socialist senator from Vermont??? But, Bernie kept her–and us–honest.  I never for one minute thought he was electable, but we need politicians like Bernie Sanders to influence the Democrat platform toward equity and access.

On the Republican side there were more candidates than a stage could hold. The thing is, I’m a firm democrat, but there were a few Republicans that I could have resigned myself into voting for if, say, it was uncovered that Hillary had broken the law or was indicted before the election. As I’m writing this, I find it incredible that I just talked about a voting option pending my candidate being indicted for a felony. The signs, you see, were always already there. Anyway, one by one TV celebrity and real estate tycoon Donald Trump picked off credible Republican candidates. He bullied, he lied, he badgered, he mocked, he was dismissive, until at last, there was only him. He was the Celebrity Apprentice host!!!

Election night at our house looked a lot like the SNL skit the following week. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/SHG0ezLiVGc. We had barely gotten our election night snacks out before the tide started to turn. The story that night, for me, was less that our highly qualified candidate lost, or even that the unfit, unqualified, unprepared, and undesirous candidate won. The story was the shock and despair of the commentators and pundits. When James Carville and Rachel Maddow tell us we’re in trouble, we’re in trouble. Like the (white) people in the skit, our night devolved as it went on.

Then came the 75 days of blissful collective denial. Never have I heard so little talk–so little acknowledgement–of the transition of presidential power. We were a country living a Diana Ross song: just walk away in the cold morning light but let us have the warmth of this long, last night.

And then the inauguration happened. So we turned to our president for solace and wisdom–our president of choice, that is. As we watch our nightly West Wing episodes, astonishingly, the “current” events of the show are again and again eerily similar to current events in our new un-reality. I understand that WW characters are blessed with good scripts–smart, educated, professional, savvy, clever, introspective, commanding–and the genius of Aaron Sorkin.  It’s when I turn it to MSNBC that the badly scripted please-don’t-let-this-be-real-reality show begins. It’s not that a television series presents a more desired reality, it presents a more realistic reality.

Yesterday, I found a Buzzfeed post from one year ago this week, 28 Jed Bartlet Moments We All Need To Be Reminded of Right Now (www.buzzfeed.com/robinedds/let-bartlet-be-bartle). Now that I think about it, it’s not that I need to be reminded of Jed Bartlett moments, it’s that I just so badly want to be. And, I’m not the only one. I’ve mentioned my realistic reality hypothesis to several friends, and they often reply that they too are re-watching the series seeking their own Jed Bartlet moments. These moments model statesmanship and diplomacy, negotiation and compromise. They show a flawed president, his seat-of-the-pants staff, a nettlesome press, and an entrenched, polarized congress–making government work. Making democracy work. I think here’s the part that makes the realities so stark for me: when called upon to make certain very hard decisions, Bartlet grapples with his integrity, his ethical compass. He makes the decision but he does so loathsomely. Our current president shows no sign of grappling–in fact, no sign of an ethical compass. There is no sign, even, of an acknowledgement that any decision was difficult. We do not know how this president comes to a decision, and how one comes to a decision is sometimes as significant as the decision itself.

Where Bartlet feels such a profound sense of accountability to Americans that it visibly weighs on him, there is no evidence of such a sense on our current president. So I will end this post with the obvious: if he doesn’t have one, we’ll provide it for him. We must not normalize this unrealistic character who has crafted the most elaborate reality show in U.S. history, and we must hold him accountable–by insisting that the press call him on every word, every move. In one marvelous scene (of many), Jed’s Chief of Staff reminds senior staff of a core maxim by writing on a yellow pad, Let Bartlet Be Bartlet. Leo knew that Bartlet’s character was an intangible asset to be factored into the hard work of governing. So I say Let Trump Be Trump, for his character, too, will manifest so that its effect upon government can no longer be ignored.

Below is a YouTube link to the Feckless Thug scene of Two Cathedrals. Enjoy.

https://youtu.be/dVgK5HKj3P4

On X-Men and Orlando

On X-Men and Orlando

I’ve been making my family watch a lot of X-men movies this week, as a kind of research project for the new X-Men: Apocalypse. One of the themes throughout all the movies is good versus evil (another theme, especially in X-Men: The Last Stand, is marginalization of people because of their mutation–a clear parallel to homophobia and reparative therapy often forced upon LGB people–but that is another story…). For example, there are good mutants and evil mutants, good humans and evil humans. Sometimes, the evil forces come out on top. But sometimes, Professor X, Charles Xavier, gets through to them. “Don’t do this,” he persuades telepathically. “It isn’t who you are.” Occasionally, he gets through, even to Magneto.

Evil is among us. Whatever prompts us to reject our ethical thinking toward one another by supporting unregulated weapons purchases, or failing to commit meaningful resources to domestic violence and mental illness, or reinforcing homophobia through reframing it as “Religious Freedom”–that is evil. If those issues had been addressed through ethical, social responsible action, then the shooting on Sunday morning most likely would not have happened. They are the root cause–not one person’s or a group’s faith-beliefs toward the Holy Being. We must hold each other accountable, must remind and encourage each other–through real, responsible action, that this is not who we are. Like Professor X, I believe our world depends upon it.

Protest and Privilege

Last night, we sat in front of the television and watched the announcement of the Grand Jury decision from Ferguson, Missouri. From the time the broadcast started, there was a split screen, one camera on the crowd and another on the DA who was reading the lengthy statement. For a while, we watched the people straining to hear what he was saying on their radios and phones. Then, when he got to the point and announced that the Grand Jury had voted not to indict the white policeman who shot Michael Brown, we watched the people process the information, at first in stunned silence. Then the protests started. Even as I write that, just like the camera crews, I realize was expecting them to begin almost on cue. We were waiting. So, I watched them start up, then heat up, and Sarah tracked them all over the country on Twitter.
Then, at around 11:00, we called it a night.
That, friends, is one example of what is known as White Privilege. I had built my evening tv viewing around the press conference and coverage of the “event.” After about the second round of teargas had been shot into the crowd in Ferguson, Sarah looked up from the string of protests starting in every major U.S. city and said, “I think I’m just going to sit here in my white privilege.” I, caught up in the unfolding story, asked her what she meant. “I don’t HAVE a riot outside MY door.” I can be thick as mud sometimes.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Ferguson is the 21st Century version of “Selma,” a cry for justice that in one word captures the collective voices of the disenfranchised. And last night, for me it was there for my viewing pleasure. A few weeks ago, Pastor Kim preached a sermon about it; I shook my head, wrung my hands, and felt sufficiently bad, but not bad enough to stay for the continued Sunday School discussion the following week. That’s part of my white privilege too: I can join up with a church committed to social justice and have the audacity to think that I’m “covered” just by signing the roll. When really, PUCC is a place for me to re-charge and build up my strength to go, to do, to live justice.  Thing is, I don’t really know specifics on how to do that, or maybe I do deep down, but the White Privilege is that little voice inside me that tells me that I don’t—or that it activism can be terribly inconvenient.
I’ll tell you what I couldn’t look at last night, still couldn’t look at this morning when I was seeing all the posts on Facebook. I couldn’t look at the pictures of Michael Brown’s family in what I understand as pain at hearing the verdict. I do not get to share in that pain, don’t get to try to empathize and feel it. I don’t get to feel it because my White Privilege means I can conveniently shut the feelings off whenever I want to. And not just feelings—if I wanted to, at least until the awakening of the Just God, I could live my life for the most part without ever encountering injustice based on my race. I have for half a century, after all. In all likelihood, my son will not be shot by a policeman when he wears his hoodie or has his hands in his pockets. And if that ever happened, I would not be expected to be a stately presence on tv who represents all White mothers everywhere. So, to me, I don’t get to look upon my Black sisters’ and brothers’ anguish now, although, to me, I MUST hear what they are saying. It sounds to me a lot like what Jefferson said 200 years ago. Tremble, country, for God is just.
I’ll end by sharing link to a blog post entitled, “12 Things That White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson.” Ferguson is now, like Selma was in the 60s, a complicated and contested issue. But if “doing” is what is needed, and I believe it is, then here is a “do-able” way to start. The link is
http://qz.com/250701/12-things-white-people-can-do-now-because-ferguson/. Anti-racist activist Tim Wise (see www.TimWise.org) points out that racism hurts everyone, and that until White people understand that, we will not really become invested in living for a world that is just for everyone. This is a hard knowledge, not a warm fuzzy one. But in the end of this church year, where we have fallen short of the promise of peace on earth, good will toward all people, it is a realization we might—no, must—seek.

The Gay Agenda, Or, The Zoo and Me

First of all, let’s just get it out there: there IS a gay agenda. Sort of. But it’s probably not what you’re thinking. When anti-gay people speak of a “Gay Agenda,” they make up some items to maintain the politics of fear that have proven successful. Gays getting married. Gays having children. Gays in schools. Gays in the military. Gays in the workplace. Gays in church. Gays in the government. Gays parading. Gays everywhere. Wait. No, that’s not scary enough, not to mention that it’s already the case. Gays converting your children. Gays converting YOU. Gays in YOUR church. Gays being treated like they are normal, even when everybody-knows-what-they-do-in-bed. Gays running sex dens and converting you and your children as you are mesmerized by sequins and disco music.
None of that is my gay agenda, neither the real nor the absurd, nor the in-between spaces where sexuality, gender, and everyday life interact fluidly and contingently. FOX News is making stuff up.

Our gay agenda looks a lot different from that, which has become more apparent since we found Spike just over a month ago. Now, Sarah is an activist. She is very connected to LGBTQ (she knows all the letters of representation) groups in Cobb County and Atlanta, regularly meeting with organizations and attending functions. She performs with the Atlanta Freedom Bands, and wrote the Safe Zone training manual for her university. She’s an advocate for campus equality for LGBTQ students, and she is a presence for students on campus. She forwards me a half dozen news and policy updates from online media every week. And me? I teach LGBTQ-themed classes in KSU’s Gender & Women’s Studies Program and queer-up just about everything I write about. My activism is a little more sedentary. Regardless, if anybody should know about a gay agenda, it’s us.

This topic reminds me of a line by John Proctor in The Crucible. “If there is a faction, then I must find it and join it.” If there is a sexy, provocative Gay Agenda, I’d sign up for it.  But I’m pretty happy with ours. We talk about it; rather, we note it, at the oddest times. For example, for the first month, we had to “poop” the cat. Baby cats rely upon the mama cat to help get its bodily functions going (I’ll leave it at that). We had to assume that role and responsibility since Spike was abandoned. So, while I was holding the kitten over the sink and proceeding, Sarah leans over and says, “THIS is some gay agenda!” Sometimes when we’re up to our elbows in cooking dinner or doing dishes, we’ll make the same observation. Or when we’re loading three animals into a small car to transport to South Atlanta for the weekend–and then repeat at 5:00 AM on Monday morning. This is SOME gay agenda. Or when we FINALLY get a night out to go to Pride because Spike is FINALLY getting litter box trained and we end up volunteering to help close up the booth for KSU’s fledgling (and terrific!) LGBTQ Resource Center. While we were there, Sarah mentored a young trans student and set up his schedule for spring semester. THIS is SOME gay agenda. Or, finally, when we made it to the concert area, spread our blanket under the stars to listen to music and one of us says, “Gee, do you think it’s time to go and check on Spike?” And the other says, “Yeah, I was just thinking that.” And we go home to play with zoo before bed. To sleep because we are so exhausted from living the gay agenda. Our gay agenda.

The point is, for me–I think for us–the gay agenda is living a life. Finding happiness, following our bliss. This is NOT to say in assimilationist fashion, “See, we’re just like everybody else….” We aren’t. But as for marriage, adoption, employment equality–those are not “gay rights” or items on an agenda. Those are human expectations, needs, and/or choices. I think, maybe, that the gay agenda involves being-human-with-one-another. And if that is the case, it is one I am happy to promote.

On the Couch With Bill O’Reilly

Last night after our traditional family Christmas drama, daddy referred to something I had mentioned in passing–that I see a therapist. The second he asked about it, I regretted it. Actually, I thought he knew; my mom has known for months, so I assumed they had talked. No. So, he asked me about it. He asked me why I’m going to a therapist. “What are you going for?” he asked. Two things here: If I knew why I was going to therapy, I wouldn’t need to go. And also, it’s none of his business why. I thought everybody in the world knew to have enough tact not to aske this question. It is right up there with age and weight. But my daddy does not mind asking questions.

So, despite spending the previous hour processing Xmas drama by using tools from the past year’s work, I knew I might as well give him some sort of reasonable sounding answer. He asked me specifically if it was for anger, which gives me pause because I don’t put that reason high on the list despite being asked about it by 3 other people including the therapist. Maybe I’ll bump it up. Anyway, I talked about needing confidence and tools to trust my decision making ability. I said I wanted to be more productive and explore why I avoided writing, when it is something I really want to do. And, I said–which is the highest actual reason on the list–that I wanted to explore what it was about me that had made me succeptible to losing myself as a young woman in a marriage that I just barely escaped. I still have dreams that I haven’t yet, and it terrifies me. Whatever I said, daddy nodded, but I could see the situation was just beginning to gel in his mind. This was not going to be the end of the matter. He asked me whether it was loneliness. “Would living closer to family help?” I had to restrain myself not to say “GOD no!” He kept looking for the “Big Issue.” There isn’t always a “big issue.” When my voice started to quiver because I was breaking up in spite of myself, we turned our attention to anything else.

Tonight, while reading Bill O’Reilly’s book on Lincoln, he said, “Hey, talkin’ about your therapy, is your therapist, a Christian or a athiest, or do you know? I’m just reading here, you know Lincoln got down during the war and he said the Bible was his best solace and counsel. Of course, I don’t understand.” I know what it is. Daddy is afraid I’m searching for something. Happiness. The Meaning of the Universe. What’s It All About, Alfie. So I told him; I’m not. And, I don’t exactly need a moral compass or spiritual strength. I am really truly a Bible believer. Already. So I told him my therapist suggested prayer and the Psalms, which seemed to be enough for tonight.

A year ago when I told Mother I was seeing my therapist, she thought about it and then over coffee one day said, “If you’d just get back in church you wouldn’t need a therapist.” I didn’t have a good reply to that either. But then, 6 months ago, she had reconsidered. We were talking, like we do, about nothing in particular and everything all at once. I said that I always felt like they didn’t know quite what to do with me. And she said something I will never forget; it cut right to it. “No, we never did know what to do for you.” That kind of changed everything. Then she ended with, “I want you to keep on going to that therapy.” I’m thinking back on this, now that I am coming out to my daddy as a therapy patient.

I know Lincoln fought his demons, which is how I consider depression and meloncholy. Lincoln was a quipper, and he had a public persona and a private self and he was expert at keeping them separate, most likely even from Mary. Or maybe especially from her. Yet, he spoke–and I think really believed in–the better angels of our nature. I like this very much. Faith and hope that came from somewhere very deep. When Bill Clinton was physically moving into the White House, he said he was going to set about doing what every new president must: “get in touch with his Lincoln.” I’ve been doing that a little too. But all of this I cannot express to Daddy.
More on this later.

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