Why Do the Baptists Show Up and Liberal Religionists Don’t?…or…This Is Not About Polity (#FergusonOctober)

Elz Curtiss asks me if part of my agitation is polity related. Her point to me was:

It would be helpful to know what you are looking for when you bemoan the anti-racism silence of UU officialdom. The feeling I get is that our lack of a pope or bishops — someone who can stand up and deliver a strong position without fear of push-back — has been mistaken for silence and lack of concern.

And whenever Elz asks me to think about something, I sit with it.

The reason I said that this (timidness on the subject of race) is a thing in liberal religion’s DNA is because this crosses polity lines. The Episcopalians and the Quakers (who are as presbyterian as presbyterian can be) and the Anabaptists-Pietists have the exact same issue. This is not just a congregationalist issue. If this were a congregationalist issue, then the Baptists would have the same issue, or the Disciples; they don’t (at least not as overtly).

However, I do wonder why the President of the UUA can’t stand up on issues of race the same why that he (and eventually, she, ghe/gher) stands up for other things that are self evident like climate change or same-gender loving.

Is saying that there is something about how this country polices black and brown men that dehumanizes them that is controversial? If so, why? How many more black and brown boys/men have to die at the hands of agents of the state before that statement is not controversial?

Or am I asking for too much as a black woman who has a number of black and brown men in her life?

I still believe that there is something in liberal religion’s DNA that makes race something to be avoided.

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Why Liberal Religion Will Always Be Behind The 8-Ball On Racial Issues (#FergusonOctober)

There was exactly one person from UUA Headquarters here in St. Louis over the 4 days of Ferguson October. It was not Peter Morales.  In fact, institutional Unitarian Universalism has been almost deathly silent over the events that have happened since July 17th–the day that Eric Garner was chokeholded to death by the NYPD. (one statement a month later–on Michael Brown– and a video shown on Friday evening do not really mean much in the grand scheme of things and doesn’t constitute speaking on the subject) Never mind that there has been no mention from Headquarters about the facts in a report that came out recently which showed how racist BOSTON policing practice is.

Last month I wrote a post on how I thought (and continue to think) that the UUA is haunted by the Black Empowerment Controversy. That however only looks at part of the issue. This post will broaden this out to look at liberal religion (not just Unitarian Universalism) as a group.

Did you know that there are four times as many Quakers in Kenya as there are in the U.S.? Keep that little factoid in mind while I continue.

Those of you who are familiar with 19th-century U.S. religious history know that certain religious groups–mainly the Baptists and Methodists, but the Lutherans and Presbyterians were also in the mix–were very good at founding ethnic congregations. In the case of the Baptists and the Methodists, African Americans created entirely new denominations; that’s why there’s the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. and all of its offspring along with the A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion, C.M.E. and their offspring.

Homegrown religious groups such as the Restorationists (any church/denomination that comes out of the Stone-Campbell movement), Mormons, New Thought (Christian Science and the like), Spiritualists (while they are new thought, there are differences), Adventists and the like have a mixed history when it comes to minority members and congregations.

But there is one group of religious people who studiously avoided starting ethnic/minority congregations or truly letting in those who didn’t fit a very narrow type; the liberal religionists (or the dissenting end of the dissenting tradition)–the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Unitarians (and Universalists to a lesser extent), Quakers, Anabaptists and Pietists, and so forth. Yes, I know that there are a smattering of black Episcopal churches and the largest church in the UCC is overwhelmingly black, so don’t write a comment trying to correct me on that. You know what my point is. Yet, if you look at the numbers (with the exception of the UCC and the UUA), all of these denominations have much greater membership in African and Asian countries than they do in the U.S. A big part of the reason for this is that most of these denominations sent missionaries out to those “remote” places around the world in order to “Christianize and civilize the natives.” But there has to be something more.

Why has liberal religion always had a hard time with race and racial issues in this country, yet had no problem going on overseas mission trips to countries where they would be confronted with the very same people they studiously avoided at home? What is it in liberal religion’s DNA that makes this cognitive dissonance possible?

Because until this is resolved, liberal religion is going to be flailing around and being irrelevant.

Just Because You’re Paranoid, Doesn’t Mean You’re Wrong pt.3 (Eric Garner, John Crawford, Mike Brown, and the Value of Video)

With the news yesterday that the grand jury in the Michael Brown case is under investigation, it seemed like a good time to look at the broader situation going on between law enforcement and the African American community.

Since July 17th (the day Eric Garner was chokeholded to death), there have been at least 8 incidences of fatal or near-fatal encounters between members of law enforcement and African Americans. Remarkably, a number of them are on video.

Since I’ve been writing about the situations around Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and John Crawford there have been some who have written me privately telling me that I don’t understand these incidents from the law enforcement perspective and that, in essence, I (and many other African Americans) really am being paranoid.

Is it really paranoia when one sees video like this? And even if it is paranoia, is it really wrong?

At what point do African Americans get the benefit of the doubt when giving their stories of encounters with law enforcement?

The police who killed John Crawford will not see trial in state court in Ohio even though the video shows that he was doing nothing wrong inside that Walmart.

Eric Garner was walking down the street and the video shows that at the time the police encountered him, he was not selling “loosies” (as it is said the police were going to arrest him for).

Levar Jones (the video above) was parked in a gas station and getting out of his car when confronted by a state trooper who, had he been a better shot, would have killed him.

But the only reason we know about these is because of video.

There is no video in the case of Michael Brown. And the standard tropes are being pulled out by supporters of Darren Wilson. You know them, right? Mike Brown “lunged” at him. He tried to “get his gun”. He was “menacing”.

Yet I wonder if the situation would be any better if there was video. If the cops who killed John Crawford didn’t get charged; we have no idea what the grand jury in the Eric Garner case is going to do; and there are now questions of misconduct in the Michael Brown grand jury.

So it is really paranoia to believe that the system works against African Americans, no matter what kind(s) of evidence exists.