As another Fourth of July arrives, what are you thinking about?
Recently President Donald Trump came within minutes of killing hundreds of people in Iran before he realized that he ordered an airstrike that would kill hundreds of people in Iran. Yes, that actually happened.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared last week his opposition to the idea of reparations for descendants of slavery and commented that he saw no reason to make reparations for “something” that happened 150 years ago. Senator McConnell referred to 250 years of legalized chattel slavery during which black men, women and children were trafficked like livestock, brutalized, raped, terrorized, murdered and robbed of the value of their labor as “something,” as if he doesn’t know better and believes the rest of us don’t know or care.
“I refuse to celebrate our national amorality and immorality about justice and mercy and the complicity of religious people in it.”
Vice President Mike Pence – the political poster child for white religious nationalism – and President Trump – the political poster child for white supremacy and patriarchy – blamed Congress on June 23 for inhumane conditions and treatment suffered by Latino children who are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, as if Congress rather than the Trump-Pence Administration is inflicting the inhumane conditions and treatment.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, recently rejected overtures to engage in dialogue with Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons College in Louisville, aimed at reparation for injustices against black people that have been practiced, preached and pushed by SBTS throughout its history.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, currently a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for President, recently expressed opposition to the idea of reparations for slavery then wistfully commented about the “civility” he enjoyed while serving in the U.S. Senate with well-known racists such as Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, adding that “we got things done.” One of the “things” Biden and Eastland “got done” was anti-busing legislation that frustrated efforts to integrate public schools. Another “thing” Biden “got done” – this time with Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina – was confirmation of then Judge Clarence Thomas to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Last week Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from a 7-2 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that overturned the murder conviction of a black man who has been tried six times in Mississippi. The white prosecutor who tried the case used almost all of his peremptory challenges (the ones prosecutors can exercise without demonstrating cause) to strike black persons during jury selection. Justice Thomas was unable to agree that such conduct amounts to impermissible race discrimination.
“The religion of Jesus in this nation has always been infected with white supremacy and bombastic nationalism.”
Except for President Trump, each person I’ve mentioned has been involved with public policy and/or religious life for decades. Unfortunately, these men are the look and sound of political and moral leadership in the United States. They are defenders and perpetrators of blatant inequities in wealth, health, education and practically everything else. Except for President Trump, each claims to be a follower of Jesus.
One would hope that pastors and other faith leaders would challenge the idea that someone can be true to the life and teachings of Jesus while extolling white supremacy. One would hope that pastors and other faith leaders would speak up for the men, women, and children who are being subjected to inhumane treatment. One would hope that pastors and other faith leaders would at least protest refusals by public officials and religious leaders to make reparations for centuries of governmentally sanctioned race discrimination.
But the religion of Jesus in this nation has always been infected with white supremacy and bombastic nationalism. Political leaders have typically been amoral, at best, about justice. At worse, they have been downright immoral. Their amorality and immorality about justice has always been tolerated, if not actively enabled, by religious nationalists in congregations in all regions of the country and in every religious sect.
I intentionally remind myself of that reality each year as the Fourth of July holiday approaches. While many other people, including many congregations, look upon the Fourth of July holiday as a time to celebrate, I do not share that sentiment.
I will not celebrate national – and Baptist – refusals to make reparations for the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow segregation and their current effects.
I will not celebrate the wholesale theft of land, water and security from the indigenous people of this land (and Baptist complicity in that theft disguised as a “Great Awakening” during the 19th century).
“One would hope that pastors and other faith leaders would speak up for the men, women, and children who are being subjected to inhumane treatment.”
In the same way that Frederick Douglass refused to celebrate the nation that permitted slavery, I refuse to celebrate a nation that allows government agencies to abuse desperate men, women and children who are seeking asylum from violence, war and calamity.
I refuse to celebrate our national amorality and immorality about justice and mercy and the complicity of religious people in it. Instead, I recall what Frederick Douglas said in 1882 about what the Fourth of July means.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
This national “holiday” should be a time for somber reflection, confession and repentance. Sadly, that will not happen because too many pastors, religious leaders and their congregants are all too willing to “celebrate” the nation’s amorality and immorality about justice and mercy, and even willing to associate the gospel of Jesus with it.