Beyond Anti-Racism 101?…or, Black Theology for Religious Liberals

Between being utterly stupefied with the enduring white fascination with blackface and adjusting to having a 2-month-old around*, I’ve been thinking about the end of the Whose Faith Is It Anyway conversation where we were asked about books/authors or artists we would recommend to people.

So often in doing this work liberal religious groups get stuck. Stuck in Anti-Racism 101; introducing basic concepts of critical race theory and U.S. racial history to those who don’t have a clue. Don’t get me wrong, that is noble work. But it is exhausting and soul depleting. And I think that part of the reason it is soul depleting is because the things we read are about things outside the congregation; the powers and principalities (including denominations). What liberal religious folk don’t do enough is talk about spiritual liberation; the theologies and practices from marginalized communities that helped sustained them. Liberal religious congregations might talk about the Black church vaguely when they mangle King, and they might pull out Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas”, but a sustained engagement with Black theology (much less any other liberation theology)….yeah no.

What would it take for liberal religious communities to take liberation theology seriously? Engage with it? Is that even possible?

Can liberal religious communities move beyond Anti-Racism 101?


(*–I have not had a baby. It’s my newest cousin.)


Strange Fruit…or, Why We Are Still Having To Deal With Blackface

Anthony Pinn wrote, “Black bodies are complex signs that represent something both appealing and repulsive for the society in which we dwell.”

The beginning of Black History Month has been a doozy, I tell ya.

If you have followed this blog for any time at all you will know that I stand firm in my belief that the South won the Civil War, even though the North won the military engagement. This past week shows why.

The week starts out with Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of Empire, surviving a racist and homophobic attack that involved a hood, a noose, and bleach.

The week ended with pictures of Virginia governor Ralph Northam in his medical school yearbook either in blackface or in a Klan robe and hood. (if you don’t think he is one of those men in that picture, I have swamp land in Arizona to sell you)  And yesterday, Gov. Northam said that he wasn’t in the picture BUT he did go blackface a little later in the year in a Michael Jackson imitation contest. He also said that he knew the problems with using shoe polish to do the blackface. (did you catch that?)

I’ve been meditating on Dr. Pinn’s quote a lot this week. Because the U.S. still doesn’t know how to deal with Black/black bodies. The need to control/mimic Black/black bodies is a constant.

This is the strange fruit of the United States.

Every few hours/days/weeks/months some outrageously racist action takes over the news cycle. And those of us who know the history of racism in this country have to point out that there is nothing new in any of these actions. Those who have been in denial act as if it is surprising that none of this is new. The cycle repeats.

And all of this keeps us from having the real discussion about racist policy and practice. Don’t misunderstand me, the racist actions need to be talked about. However, until we get to the harder conversation about policy and practice, little will change.

Who We Learn

I should be writing about the attack on Jussie Smollett, but all I can see is that noose around his neck. So I won’t write about that

I have a question for the religious professionals reading this.

Were you required in seminary (or whatever educational institution one went) to take a class in theologies of people who are not white? Pastoral care with non-white people? Youth ministry with youth of color? Faith development in marginalized communities? History of ethnic churches/denominations?

One thing we who have theological education don’t talk about enough is how seminary/theological school curricula assume that the person in the pew is going to be a particular type of person. Namely white. [this, of course, is not true for non-PWIs*] Hence, because most whites do not have to read authors or scholars of color in order to be considered educated, the wealth of writing and research that has been done by people of color usually only gets read by those who go out searching for it.

Who we learn is just as important as who we learn from. Dismantling white supremacy in our religious institutions means actually reading and learning from those from the margins.

Who did you learn?


[*PWIs—primarily white institutions, in education-speak]

One More Thing…..(Don’t Preach King On King Sunday pt.2)

Dr. King’s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 90.

On Monday there is the national holiday to honor him. But in some states, Dr. King doesn’t get the day to himself. Because in those states, Dr. King shares the day with Robert E. Lee.  Let me repeat that so you understand.

On January 20, 2019, in some states, Dr. Martin Luther King has to share the day with Robert E. Lee.

And people wonder why “race relations” are the way they are.

If you know me in real life (or if you’ve read this blog long enough), you know that history is my thing. I truly believe Faulkner was right when he said, “the past is not dead. it isn’t even past.”

Part of the reason the United States is in the position it’s in is because too many people want to believe that our past is dead. Or, more precisely, that our past isn’t our past. That white supremacy is not a feature of our system, but just a bug.

So…if my last list of suggestions for things to preach this Sunday didn’t do anything for you, I have another idea for you.

This year, instead of preaching King, do a sermon that juxtaposes the two Kings: Dr. King and Rep. Steve King from Iowa. And your reading assignment is the last chapter of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America, “The Propaganda of History”. Here’s a piece from near the end…..

…..In order to paint the South as a martyr to inescapable fate, to make the North the magnanimous emancipator, and to ridicule the Negro as the impossible joke in the whole development, we have in fifty years, by libel, innuendo and silence, so completely misstated and obliterated the history of the Negro in America and his relation to its work and government that today it is almost unknown.
     This may be fine romance, but it is not science. It may be inspiring, but it is certainly not the truth. And beyond this it is dangerous. It is not only part foundation of four present lawlessness and loss of democratic ideals; it has, more than that, led the world to embrace and worship the color bar as social salvation and it is helping to range mankind in ranks of mutual hatred and contempt, as the summons of a cheap and false myth.

There are statutes honoring Confederates all over the country, including Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. There are U.S. military bases named after Confederate generals. And a sizable portion of the U.S. white population believes that slavery (the expansion of it to be more correct) was not the cause of the Civil War.

So look here, white minister friends. There are so many things you can preach about Sunday. Please, as a favor to everybody, do not do the same tired thing and preach the palatable King.

Don’t Preach King On King Sunday

King Sunday is rapidly approaching, hence I need to ask white ministers to do something that would seem counterintuitive.

Don’t preach about Martin Luther King Jr.

Instead of preaching ABOUT King, preach about the things King would have preached about; the American Empire. Preach about the multi-headed hydra of materialism, racism, and militarism.

Or you could preach about Jazmine Barnes, the 7-yr-old who was killed while sitting in her mother’s car by a white man in a truck. and connect her to the 16th St Baptist Church bombing victims or Emmett Till.  (you can find info about Jazmine’s murder here, or here) There is even news that this may not be the first time this murderer has struck.

Or you could preach about Cyntoia Brown and how she is still in prison.

Preach about the children who have died at the hands of Homeland Security in the last month.

Preach about the U.S. government’s support of Brazil’s new President; who has promised to strip away the rights of Indigenous Brazilians and other marginalized groups there.

If the shutdown is still going on, you could preach about that.

If you’re determined to preach about a person, pick somebody that most in your congregation have never heard of. It could be one of the many women who sustained the Civil Rights movements. It could be one of the men from the generation that King learned from.

You could preach on the fact that 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in a British colony in North America.  Or you could preach about the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer of 1919. [if you’ve never heard of the Red Summer, you can start here at the Wikipedia page.] Talking about Red Summer would also allow you to talk about the fact that anti-lynching legislation JUST passed in the Senate LAST MONTH.

And if you are just determined to preach King (because I know some of you are just hard-headed), here again are some rules you should follow:

1. Before doing anything else, read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (you can find it here)

2. Do NOT use the “I Have a Dream” speech. I repeat, do NOT use “I Have a Dream”.

3. If you are going to use a King speech, it must be post-1965.

4. Understand that King understood that there is both personal sin and collective/systemic sin. If you are not comfortable saying the word “sin”, do NOT use King. King believed in sin.

5. Read “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and “Why We Can’t Wait”

These are serious times. If you are going to preach King, please preach him responsibly.

What Empires Do (A Holy Innocents Day Thought)

Unless I’m reading my calendar wrong, today is the most meaningful day in the liturgical year for me; Holy Innocents Day. And never has the traditional lectionary selections for this day been more prescient.

First is Jeremiah 31:15-17…..

15 Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.
16 Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord:
   they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
17 there is hope for your future, says the Lord:
   your children shall come back to their own country.

Then there’s 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 fulfill 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.’

Now, I normally don’t say “X” is about exactly “Z” when it comes to the Bible, but this Holy Innocents Day the lectionary passages are striking.

Trump is Herod. And the American Empire–like the Roman Empire–in the hands of a madman will slaughter all the marginalized innocents in its (majority’s) path. Just this month there have been two refugee children, Jakelin Caal (age 7) and Felipe Alonzo (age 8), have been allowed to die while in the hands of agents of the Empire.

But lest we get comfortable thinking that this will change once the Trump madness is over, it won’t. Because empires, no matter who is at the top, will work to destroy its marginalized innocents. If you don’t believe that, just remember that Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water 5 years and many lead poisoned children later. (and that’s just one example)

Empires are evil friends. That’s why the Prophets spent so much time talking about how Israel should treat its own people, and how they transgressed.

So, the next time the American Empire does something (like continue to support the starvation and slaughter of Yemenese children), remember Herod. The reason he ordered the slaughter of the innocents was because he was scared and wanted to stay in power.

The United States Is Not A Democracy. Stop Calling It One.

Before you jump in the comments to say that it is, answer this question:

When have African Americans had unfettered access to the vote?

With everything that is going on in Wisconsin, and Michigan. With the voter purges (of mostly Black and Brown people) in Ohio and other places. With North Dakota enacting a voter ID law that makes it plain that it was targeting First Nations. With Florida trying to reverse the vote that re-enfranchises 1.4 million people (most of whom are Black and Brown). Outright election rigging/theft in North Carolina. And let’s not even get started talking about Georgia. After this year’s midterm elections, one thing comes to mind…

The U.S. is not (and never has been) a democracy. It’s time to stop saying that it is one.


Don’t Front…..You Send Your Children To A “Segregation Academy” Too

… just use different words to describe it.

It’s Election Day in Mississippi today. And a lot of people outside of Mississippi are caught up in the news of Cindy Hyde-Smith. First, there’s the video where she talks about sitting front row at a public hanging. Then there’s the tape of her talking about how things would be better if the vote of certain students could be suppressed (for those of you who don’t know which students she was talking about, she was talking about students at Jackson State and Alcorn State–historically Black colleges). Finally came the news that not only had Hyde-Smith attended a segregation academy, but that she sent her daughter to one as well.

It is the reaction to the last one that bothers me. (the reaction to the other two just exasperate me). Why, you ask?

Because most white children go to segregation academies, whether they are formal or informal. Public or private.

New York City has the most segregated schools in the nation. Not Mississippi.

Of the top 10 most segregated school systems in the country, at least 7 of them are in the North.

So, before you decide to form words to condemn Cindy Hyde-Smith and her segregation academy experience, look at the schools YOUR children go to. I can almost guarantee, they aren’t much different.

First Meditation On Forgiveness (Of Our Spiritual Strivings pt.2)

I have been a Universalist all of my life. I was a Universalist before I knew the word “universalism” existed. I think it’s important to point this out because this post is about forgiveness.

I am also a brooder. It’s important to point that out too. So I’ll start with the most recent thing I’ve been brooding over first.

On Tuesday, Megan Kelly asked why a white person going around in blackface was racist. Ah, blackface. Welcome back into the national conversation again, old friend.

Yesterday morning, Kelly apologized for her comments. (no, I did not watch)

Apology not accepted. At least, not by me.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, UUA Board Secretary Christina Rivera and her child were sent a nasty, violent letter while they were here in Boston for meetings. Far as I know, the person who didn’t have enough courage of their convictions to sign their name to their vitriol hasn’t apologized or asked for forgiveness.

And, I hope that Christina and her family don’t forgive this person.

Some things are not forgivable.

Too often, wronged people are pushed to forgive things said or done quickly. Before they’ve even had time to process what has happened. [think about how quick the families of the Charleston 9 were asked if they forgave Dylann Roof] And yet, the person who does the wrong is seldom asked if they have repented. Because pushing for people to forgive regardless of whether or not the person who committed the wrong has repented is the very definition of cheap grace.

And I haven’t even gotten into the power dynamics of forgiveness. That will happen in another post.

Part of the reason I am a Universalist is that I believe in the power of forgiveness. But forgiveness takes time. And it takes repentance. They go hand-in-hand.

There is more I want to say, but it’s scrambled in my head, so I’ll end here for now.


The Valley of the Shadow (#ArethaHomegoing Reflection 2)

Some things about Aretha’s homegoing didn’t really hit until the next day. Rev. Jesse Jackson’s words was one of them.

Linda Brown died earlier this year (in March, if I’m remembering correctly). Her name might not be familiar to you, but she (and her family) are important names in American history. Linda Brown is the reason we have the case Brown v. Board. Linda Brown was 75.

Aretha Franklin was 76.

Emmett Till, had he not been murdered, would have been 77.

Jesse Jackson is 76 (his birthday is later this year).

John Lewis is 78.

Maxine Waters just turned 80.

Diane Nash is 80.

Marian Wright Edelman is 79.

Andrew Young is 86.

What hit me Saturday morning was that the younger end of the Civil Rights generation is leaving us (Andy Young would more technically be in the middle). And we are still fighting many of the same battles they were. The same is true in Unitarian Universalism.

Psalm 23 talks about walking through the shadow of death. Aretha’s homegoing was a celebration of fearing no evil. Of knowing that Aretha felt she really had a shepherd. Of knowing that Aretha felt she was going to rest in the bosom of G-d.

Yet, it wasn’t just about Aretha. It was about us too. About knowing we belong to somebody. Of know that, even in the midst of the shadow, there is no reason to fear; G-d is with us (whatever one calls that which is beyond us).

So…even though Aretha is gone, she is still with us. Her spirit walks beside us as we continue to walk through the valley of the shadow and fight the fights that need fighting.