(Southern) Trees Bear Strange Fruit, Blood on the Leaves and Blood at the Root

There  was a literal lynch mob formed last week in Wilmington, North Carolina and nearly dragged out the young man who lived in the house that the mob went to. Lead by a sheriff’s deputy, no less.

Police in Louisville conducted a no-knock raid on the wrong house and killed the young Black woman who was sleeping. The state is now trying to charge her boyfriend with attempted murder because he drew his gun in self-defense.

And on Saturday night, a bullet-ridden bullseye was placed in front of the house of the head of the Nashville NAACP.

And I’m not going to get into the released video of the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery.

So here’s my question, white preacher friends…..

When are y’all gon’ get serious about preaching against the theology that’s behind these actions?

Don’t tell me that you preach about “beloved community” and how we need to build it. F— that.

Don’t tell me that you preach that racism is wrong/a sin. Well, guess what? Lots of things are wrong/a sin.

There was a lynch mob last week in a city that has a long history of racial violence.

But, of course, I can’t be sure any of you know about the Wilmington white riots of 1898. Honestly, I can’t be sure any of you know about ANY of the white riots or lynchings that have happened in the U.S. since the end of the Civil War. (ok, I’ll give you Emmett Till. Y’all probably know about him.)

So…on top of a pandemic that is disproportionately taking Black and Brown and Indigenous lives, we still have to deal with state and quasi-state actors inflicting terror in our communities. (and let’s not get into how social distancing policing is an extension of the terror)

Preachers…it’s time to do your job. There’s a theology behind all of this. You need to be preaching against it.

Ain’t Gonna Study War No More

It’s been a weird couple of weeks.

My father’s twin brother died on Holy Saturday and was buried Monday. However, since the pandemic has made it impossible for large groups to gather, there were only 10 people at the graveside.

My uncle did not die of Covid-related things, yet his death during this time highlights something for me.

So much of the talk about the novel coronavirus is framed in war language. And frankly, all of the war talk is leaving me cold. This is not a war; the virus, while unwelcome, is not an enemy in the traditional sense. Plus, talking about this in war language makes it easier to continue to ignore the real issues that have been present for generations.

Because the war talk has left me cold, the biblical stories that would seem to be a fit for this time don’t work for me either. So instead of the Prophets, I’ve been reading the book of Ruth. Ruth is all about survival and the things we do when pressed into survival mode.

A lot of people are in survival mode right now. For some, this is a new phenomenon. Thing is, for a not insignificant portion of the population, survival mode is their everyday.

I think a lot about those who are essential workers. And how, because America is America, they are at greater risk because the powers and principalities have set up systems to make them more vulnerable.

There is a reason that African Americans, Latinx people, and Indigenous people are more likely to contract Covid-19 and die from it. Multiple reasons, actually. They are most likely to occupy those jobs that are now being considered essential. And they are, through no fault of their own, most likely to have the underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the disease.

This is why the war talk when it comes to Covid-19 falls flat for me. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are not collateral damage in this. When the powers and principalities make it so that the marginalized and despised are the primary targets, this cannot be called a war. It is something much more sinister.

The longer we’re in the midst of this, the more I feel like this is Hurricane Katrina 2.0; marginalized communities are blamed for their conditions and the rest of the country ignores what those marginalized communities have to say about why they are in those conditions in the first place.

Dr. Anthony Pinn has written a piece where he says that this situation can’t be theologized. I agree.  The question I come away with is what will we learn and change?

 

When God Is White, White Is God (What Should Have Been A “Last Day of Black History Month” Thought)

In many white Christian contexts, theology produced by racial minorities comes with an assumption of heresy and heterodoxy. The implicit message from many [conservative] white pastors and professors is that black Christians have theological integrity to the degree they adopt the teachings that come from approved European and white American sources.
–from The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

Right as 2019 was ending, Daniel Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the late Rev. Dr. James Cone a heretic. I don’t know how much news of this made it to mainline/liberal/progressive theological circles, but it’s been on my mind since.

Then, earlier this month, Stanford University announced a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology* by lead researcher Steven O. Roberts which shows a connection between people’s concept of God and who they think should be leaders.

While the first part of the paper talks about how people conceptualize God, what’s really fascinating is something that the authors note:

Again, even in a novel context, and even among adults who do not believe in God (Study 5) or children who have never heard of God (Study 7), beliefs about a god’s identity predicted the belief that those who shared that identity were more fit for leadership. Informed by these data, we propose that across many contexts, the extent to which people believe in a god and attribute a specific social identity to that god might predict the extent to which they conceptualize those who share that identity as god-like. Our data provide strong support for this possibility, though additional research, especially cross-cultural research, will be needed (see below).

Our finding that even young children conceptualize God as more White than Black (and more male than female), which predicts the conception of White candidates as more boss-like, is particularly important for understanding the development of religious ideologies and social biases. The present research demonstrates, for the first time, that U.S. children have beliefs about God’s social identity, which predict their conceptions of human beings. Preventing children from attributing a social identity to God, or perhaps even encouraging them to develop counter representations of God (e.g., Asian woman), may prevent them from making the kind of hierarchy-reinforcing inferences detected here. How to achieve this will be a challenge for future researchers, especially in the domain of gender, given that descriptions and depictions of God as male are so pervasive.

I’ve been around white religious liberals for a while now. And I see how both the Tisby quote and the information from the Roberts paper play out. Quite often, theology of the marginalized is looked at as a novelty (and less rigorous), if it’s looked at at all. And the way marginalized people are looked at if they talk in liberation theology-speak instead of liberal theology-speak is particularly telling. Is it because the God of liberation theology is decidedly not-white?

What does it mean for liberal religion if those who are the leaders (and lay people) in it mostly see God as white? Who is considered worthy? Who gets to lead? What gets preached from the pulpit? What gets taught in Sunday School?

If God is white, is white God?

*–Roberts, S. O., Weisman, K., Lane, J. D., Williams, A., Camp, N. P., Wang, M., Robison, M., Sanchez, K., & Griffiths, C. (2020). God as a White man: A psychological barrier to conceptualizing Black people and women as leadership worthy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

When Affirmative Action Was White…or, Nothing’s Changing Until White People Do the Basic Reading

I have some speaking engagements coming up and I’m re-reading some writings that matter to me as a way of setting my mind in the direction I need to go. This re-reading got me to thinking.

Dismantling white supremacy takes some basic knowledge. The longer I am around liberal/progressive whites, one thing becomes patently clear: white people haven’t done the basic reading. And nothing is going to change until that changes.

Why? Because the ignorance of basic history gets in the way of proper analysis of the current situation.

Take the book that is the title of this post. How many of you have read it?

How many of you have read How the Irish Became White?

(for those of you who are part of one of my religious affiliations) How many of you have read Frances Ellen Watkins Harper? And why is she talked about more in non-liberal religious circles than she is within?

Do you know who Anna Julia Cooper is without going to Google?

(and for God’s sake) Have you read Du Bois?

Nothing is going to change until the majority of white people (especially those who say they are liberal/progressive) do the basic reading. Otherwise, we will continue to stay in the “Anti-Racism 101” loop.

This is not the last time I’ll talk about the basic reading, but that’s it for now.

Can White Congregations Honor Black History Month Authentically?

Happy Black History Month everybody.

Unlike King Sunday in January where I know that white ministers and congregations are going to at least nominally acknowledge the day, I don’t hear about white ministers or congregations doing much  in the way of recognizing Black History Month. And it makes me wonder…..

Can white congregations honor Black History Month authentically?

And by authentically I mean anything other than (badly) singing a gospel song or two.

‘Cuz let’s be honest….how many denominations in the U.S. split (or nearly split) because of slavery and the Civil War? How many denominations only stayed together because they completely avoided the issues? How many white congregations had “Negro sections” in their sanctuaries?

How many white religious people know why Black denominations (AME, AMEZion, CME, NBC, etc.) exist?

How many white religious people know about the pioneering Black religious people in their denominations?

How often are any of these subjects brought up from the pulpit?

So I”m back at my question…can white congregations honor Black History Month authentically?

Don’t Preach King on King Sunday–2020 Edition

It’s 2020 y’all. And January 19th, Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday, is rapidly approaching so I thought I would get this out while you ministers are still thinking about what you will say on that day.

First and foremost, white ministers…..DO. NOT. PREACH. KING. It’s really that simple.

Now that I’ve told you what not to do, here’s some suggestions as to what you can preach about on that day.

Before doing anything else though, your first assignment is to read W.E.B. Du Bois. You have heard of him, right? I ask because I’ve heard a lot of you say things that if you had read him at any point in your life you wouldn’t be saying. anyway….your assignment is to read the last chapter of Black Reconstruction in America, “The Propaganda of History.”

2020 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. If you come from a religious tradition that, in some way, traces its history in this event, I recommend that you use the Malcolm X quote “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us…” and talk about settler colonialism and how that has played out in theology and church organization.

For those of you who are biblical studies people, 2019 was the 30th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Cain Hope Felder’s  Troubling Biblical Waters, so you could use that as a starting point into how biblical interpretation amongst marginalized communities differs from that of white biblicists.  (I am, of course, assuming that you know who Dr. Felder was. That may be a bad assumption.)

2020 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr. James Cone’s  A Black Theology of Liberation, so you could talk about liberation theology and marginalized communities. (again…I’m making assumptions about what you’ve read in seminary and post-seminary. This may be a bad assumption.)

On a totally different track…..2020 is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues, so you could talk about race in sports or how baseball has gone backwards when it comes to the numbers of Black players/managers/front office staff and fans.

There are so many options to choose from. So, white minister friends, do everyone a favor…..DO. NOT. PREACH. KING.

This Country Is Killing Our Children (2019 Holy Innocents Day Thought)

In all the things going on there was a story that probably passed you by.

A new study* from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows suicide rates for African American children ages 13-19 nearly doubled between 2001 and 2017 (numbers are higher for Black girls) . And for children ages 5-12, African American boys have the highest suicide rate of any group of children.

Racism already makes it hard for Black children to survive being born and making it to their first birthday (I’ve talked about that on this blog many times). And we know that racism in all its forms makes it hard for Black people to live healthy lives.

It’s Holy Innocents Day. I try to always say something on this day, but today I’m mostly out of words.

This country is killing our Black children.

The Holy Innocents were slaughtered by decree from a rabid leader. Black children are dying because the whole system is set up to destroy us; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

This country is killing our Black children.

 

*- The study from the American Academy of Pediatrics is here

 

Author’s note 1/02/20: I knew there was the possibility that someone would come to the comments and “well actually…” this post. It happened today. That comment will never appear as I deleted it. You are welcome to “well actually…” the numbers all you want, but you will not do that here. Nor will you make the focus of this the rise in suicide among grown white men. Do that on your own blog or wherever you write.

 

 

Mamas Don’t Let Their Babies Grow Up To Have Their Weddings At Plantations

Well…I do declare…I didn’t know that there were so many unreconstructed Confederates in Unitarian Universalism. I know there are quite a number of race scientists, but the unreconstructed Confederates are a surprise.

Because there can be no other reason that there are so many Unitarian Universalists who don’t see why there shouldn’t be weddings at southern plantations (or, in less romantic terms, forced labor camps). Or are saying that Color of Change was wrong for trying to get entities like The Knot to no longer carry advertisements for plantations.

What I do no understand is why anyone would want to have their wedding at a place that only exists because of forced labor, mass rape, and forced pregnancy and birth? Or why some Unitarian Universalists, who purport to believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, are trying to “both sides” this.

Yet…I really shouldn’t be surprised. Most studies show that whites, including those who call themselves liberal or progressive, think that the Civil War was about states’ right, not slavery. If one looks at the textbooks schoolchildren read, slavery is glossed over, the Civil War happened for every reason besides the real reason (the real reason is slavery, by the way), and Reconstruction gets a paragraph–if it’s mentioned at all. And, with few exceptions, U.S. popular culture doesn’t show how brutal chattel slavery was.

But, back to some of my co-religionists. This shouldn’t be that hard, friends. There are many problematic places in the U.S. (and let’s not forget that the U.S. itself is stolen land), yet none are as romanticized as the forced labor, mass rape, and forced pregnancy and birth places known as plantations. The only reason those places exist is because chattel slavery happened there.

So…unless you are Scarlet O’Hara, do not have your wedding at Tara. And, if you are a Unitarian Universalist, stop supporting people who think that forced labor, mass rape, and forced pregnancy and birth camps are just pretty and “historic.”

 

articles about the Color of Change campaign can be found here, here, here, here

The “Souls of Black Folk” Test

Unless something changes before I head off to AAR (American Academy of Religion) in San Diego next week, this will be the first year in more than a decade that I haven’t preached or been invited to preach in a UU pulpit anywhere.  And I’m asking myself, “Am I sad about this?”

Honestly?  Not really.

It is rather freeing to be able to preach and reference people/work and not have to wonder if the audience has any idea of who the person/work being referenced is. I call this the “Souls of Black Folk” test. And the vast majority of UU congregations fail it miserably.

As I’ve written about before, there is a limited number of non-white references that can be preached from a UU pulpit and not have the majority of the audience give back blank faces. What this year of being away from a UU pulpit has taught me is just how much the modern world (and modern thought) has passed UUism by. For example, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Dr. James Cone’s “Black Theology and Black Power” and next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the English-language publication of Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” I can probably count on both my hands the number of congregations in which either one of those people were referenced, much less any Womanist/Mujerista-Latina/Asian-Asian American women/Indigenous thinkers. And don’t even get me started on the conversations/thoughts on the scriptures of the world’s religions done by people from the “global south.” Or theoethics from marginalized perspectives.

But I’ve been talking about this for a long time. Not much has changed, at least in most UU congregations. And I’m guessing that most UUs are just fine with that.

I think this year of not being in a UU pulpit is a sign. As far as UUism goes, BLUU gives me what I need. AAR feeds me in ways that excite me. And my other religious commitments feed me in other ways.

I don’t know what next year holds, but if it ends up the same as this year, I won’t be disappointed.

Racial Justice at the Pace of White People’s Feelings Won’t Happen

I was going to name this post “Why Unitarian Universalism Must Change or Die,” but this is bigger than just that little corner of the liberal religious (and religious liberal) landscape.

PRRI in late June published survey data which shows that nearly one-quarter of white mainline/progressive Christians believe that businesses should be able to discriminate against African Americans if they are doing it for religious reasons. [the survey also shows results relating to discrimination against Jews,Muslims, queer people, transgender people, and atheists]

I can hear white mainline/progressives now…..”that means three-fourths of us don’t.” True. Not particularly comforting, but true.

The PRRI data brought to mind research from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion* that shows white liberal churches are less welcoming of non-white newcomers. As the authors note in the abstract:
In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black-or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.  

Taken with the PRRI numbers, how should racial minorities look at this?

And then this month, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology** published long-awaited research showing that white people who call themselves liberal talk down (or seemingly less educated/informed) in conversations with non-whites. From the abstract:
Most Whites, particularly sociopolitical liberals, now endorse racial equality. Archival and experimental research reveals a subtle but persistent ironic consequence: White liberals self-present less competence to minorities than to other Whites—that is, they patronize minorities stereotyped as lower status and less competent.

oh…I can hear you now, white liberals. “But Kim, I don’t talk down to non-white people.” Honestly, I don’t give a flying f*** whether you–individual white person–do or not. This research is not presenting a new phenomenon. It has been studied before.

Most mainline/progressive religious denominations are going through some racial justice crisis at the moment. Research shows that racial justice in these places is going to come (if it comes) in spite of white people’s feelings about non-white people, not because of some great change in white people’s feelings. The question becomes how do the denominations deal.

 

*–Wright, Bradley R. E., Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky, Christopher M. Donnelly, Stacy Missari, and Christine Zozula. 2015. “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54 (2): 185–204. doi:10.1111/jssr.12193.

**–Dupree, Cydney H., and Susan T. Fiske. 2019. “Self-Presentation in Interracial Settings: The Competence Downshift by White Liberals.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 117 (3): 579–604. doi:10.1037/pspi0000166.