Martin Luther King Jr. Believed In Miracles. That’s Why He Wasn’t A Unitarian.

Now that the weekend designated to whitewash MLK Jr. and the Civil Rights movement is over (thank goodness), I thought it was time to talk about some issues that don’t get talked about publicly much in UU churches.

Rev. Thomas Perchlik has written a post on his blog asking whether Dr. King was Unitarian. Read it, comment on it, think about it.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. But before I get into my thoughts on it, I think maybe it would be good to remember what Dr. King actually said on the subject of liberal religion:

There is one phase of liberalism that I hope to cherish always: its devotion to the search for truth, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason. . . It was . . . the liberal doctrine of man that I began to question. The more I observed the tragedies of history, and man’s shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin. . . I came to feel that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism. I also came to see that liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. . . Liberalism failed to see that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man’s defensive ways of thinking. Reason, devoid of purifying power of faith, can never free itself from distortions and rationalizations.

So let’s say it out loud. No, Dr. King was NOT Unitarian; at least in the modern sense. And there is a reason for that.

There is a communal experience of G-d in the African American psyche that liberal religion has a hard time dealing with. It is an experience of G-d borne in slavery, matured through Jim Crow, and is redefining itself in the era of the new Jim Crow. While individual African Americans might have problems with G-d , there is a vocabulary that that communal experience gives which helps us navigate what can often be a very hostile world. [and before you write comments about African American humanists, I know they exist; they have always been around. But I should remind you that the uber-humanist, WEB DuBois, wrote a book of prayers]

This G-d is the G-d of liberation theology. And the G-d of liberation theology is a critique of the G-d of liberal theology. This is a G-d who suffers and weeps WITH its creation; a G-d that picks people up when they are down and broken; a G-d that provides manna when we are wandering in the wilderness. In other words, this is the G-d of “the least of these.” This is the G-d of the afflicted.

The G-d of the Unitarians (and Universalists to a much lesser extent), on the other hand, has mostly been the G-d of the comfortable. It’s easy to talk about “the free mind” when you are not somebody else’s property and under the constant threat of bodily violation.

Now, on Dr. King, there is a need for a little honesty here. And the truth is Dr. King wouldn’t have survived amongst Unitarians (and later Unitarian Universalists). First, his theology would have gotten him run out of most U/UU congregations of the time. But second, if history is anything to go by, his being African American would have been an equal stumbling block. What’s really sad is that, if we faced facts, both of those would still be issues. While things have gotten better, how much better have they really gotten?

4th Mass Shooting Since January 1st…Can We Have The Honest Conversation About Guns In The U.S. Now?

There has been ANOTHER shooting at a school, this one at Lone Star College outside Houston.

Can we have the honest conversation that needs to happen about guns in the U.S. now?

Here are a few numbers… 2011:

32,163 people died because of guns

11,101 people died through gun homicide

19,766 people died through gun suicide

Now…to put this into a broader conversation….

India…a country of 1.1 billion people had a little over 6,000 total gun deaths in 2011, 3,200 of those were homicide

The only countries that had more gun homicides than the U.S. were Mexico (11,309), Brazil (34,678), Columbia (12,539), and Venezuela (11,115).

I think there is a component of this that is not discussed enough; every country that has a high gun homicide rate is somehow involved in the U.S. drug war (yes, Brazil is involved in the drug war, it’s just not talked about much). And if you added in the numbers for Guatemala (5,009) and Honduras (5,201), there is definitely a pattern.

So while Newtown “changed everything”, nothing changed. We continue to talk around guns (and drugs, to a lesser extent)  and focus on everything else.

Can we have the honest conversation about guns now?

Should Churches Be ‘Gun-Free Zones’?

Representatives of both the NRA and the Gun Owners of America have said that one way to stop the types of shootings that happened in Newtown is to eliminate ‘gun-free zones’ around schools. I don’t really want to talk about that, but that line of argument raises a different issue with me.

Is there any place in society that should be a ‘gun-free zone’?

Should churches be ‘gun-free zones’?

My home church has security patrolling the parking lot, but iirc, that person only steps inside the building to let the church administrator know that they have arrived.

No church in the ‘hood (that I know of)  has armed security on church property.

Yet there have been shootings at two UU churches and a few non-UU churches (most recently the Sikh Gurdwara last August) in the last 7 years.

Is there a place for guns inside religious buildings?

8 Days In…14 Dead In Chicago…

I’ve been working on a “slaughter of the innocents” sermon for the last few weeks. On the liturgical calendar, Holy Innocents Day falls on December 28th. The gospel passage for that day is Matthew 2:13-18:

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,* he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.* 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

While I know why this is the passage that is used, I actually think that it is more about Herod’s paranoia and abuse of power, so for the sermon I’m working on my main scripture passage would be this:

29 Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.’ 32So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. 35When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.’ 36She said to him, ‘My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.’ 37And she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.’ 38‘Go,’ he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never slept with a man. So there arose an Israelite custom that 40for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.                                                               (Judges 11:29-40)

Why this passage from Judges? Partly because Judges is one of those books that tends to be avoided in churches (along with Joshua, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles and most of the minor prophets). Partly because in avoiding Judges, there are many stories of the human experience that get overlooked.

The longer I’ve thought about it, the more these two passages are a good juxtaposition. Nobody says that the children in the Matthew passage aren’t innocent. But they aren’t the only innocents.

We are eight days into the new year, and if Chicago local news is to be believed, the death by guns total is 14 so far. Eight days, fourteen people.

We don’t know if those who have died are innocent. And I don’t really care if any of them were. What we do know is that any chance for redemption or continued innocence is gone. What we do know is that the cumulative and slow-moving tragedy of places like Chicago or St. Louis or Philadelphia or New Orleans doesn’t capture the national conscious the way that one tragedy in Connecticut does. And we are the worse for that. Just as we the worse for not looking at the Judges story of an innocent’s slaughter when we look at the Matthew story of innocents slaughtered.

New Year…3 Dead In Chicago…Still No UU Response…

I’ve been waiting to see other UU blogs talk about the continuing tragedy of gun deaths in Chicago. Doesn’t seem to be coming. (Bill Baar, I don’t mean you)

Here are the facts: 506 people died because of gun violence in Chicago during 2012. 121 of those were CHILDREN. 6 Newtowns happened in Chicago and there was no national outrage or concern about it. And no UU mention of it.

And since 12:00 a.m. yesterday, 3 people have been shot and killed in Chicago. None of the three were children–they were young adults—but they are dead all the same.

Then yesterday, I read this in the New York Times,

Could it be that the laxity of the nation’s gun laws is tolerated because its deadly costs are borne by the segregated black and Latino populations of North Philadelphia and Chicago’s South Side?

which has been talked about openly in many of the circles that I run in.

There’s a whole lot of hot air expelled in UU-dom about social justice work. All that talk seems to ring hollow in the face of what’s going on. But maybe that’s the real issue. It’s NOT going on where most UU churches are. In fact, most UU churches ran away from where this is happening. (Ron Robinson in Turley-North Tulsa and Don Robinson in SE D.C. are the notable exceptions)

So UUs can you all stop talking about “social justice” until you start talking about the children of North Philadelphia and the South- or West- side of Chicago the same way you talk about the children of Newtown.