A few weeks back I was speaking to a suburban group, predominately European-Americans about “Race, Culture and Privilege. “ The purpose of the seminar was to help them become better equipped in overcoming the impacts and reality of systemic racism and the creation of Beloved Community.
During the discussion one woman shared how demeaned she had felt in this effort last year at the school where she is a teacher. After a back-to-school picnic the Diversity Officer spent significant time berating the staff for holding a “Picnic” and set-out to teach them how the word “Picnic” goes back to Jim Crow days when people would bring their dinner to eat out side and watch as a mob would “pic-a-nic” to lynch. Lynching IS a horrific part of our not-so-distant history. People DID go to watch lynching’s as entertainment, often bringing their lunch to enjoy as they participated in state-sanctioned barbarity. But, it has NOTHING to do with the word “picnic”
This Diversity Officer, has a serious job, advancing equity for all the students and assisting teachers to overcome institutionally ingrained racism. However he lost credibility by getting all worked up about a myth. The word Picnic, began in France in the 1600’s – initially referring to a fancy potluck. There are so many SERIOUS issues teachers and staff need to address in helping their students achieve success, yet to focus on rumor and falsehoods takes ones eye off the ball, and create false controversies while the real issues go undisturbed.
So now, let me turn to my Evangelical Christian friends and the most recent fear-hyping reaction against President Obama; his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast. Taken on their own merit, the President’s words were factual and motivational to those at the breakfast. Contrary to the rumor, he never equated Christianity to Islamic extremism, except to say extremism that hates and kills has existed for all of humanity.
“So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. “
A friend of mine, a former professional athlete, now national speaker, was at the breakfast. He said the speech was well received and that no one there suspected the speech would be contorted in the way it has.
Truth is Important.
But Rush Limbaugh and Fox News lifted out a sound bite, brought in commentators to talk in circles, all to plant a lie. The subtext to that lie is that “President Obama hates Christians but supports Muslims, and is not taking the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously.” The lie is planted for political purposes (the next election is just 22 months away). If Obama HAD said what the commentators are saying, I would be offended too, but he didn’t. They stole a sound bite, twisted it and used it to plant their own agenda.
I’m sorry to say, many of my Christian sisters and brothers become the carriers of the lie, tools of a corrupt political system that loves to take our eye off the ball. Through fear and mis-information followers of Jesus are distracted from our true mission and become agents of the empire.
I’m sure in some churches the “horror” of the President’s words were the back drop to a sermon filled with fear. How quickly we forget, “God does not give to us a Spirit of Fear, but of Power, Love and a Sound Mind.” (1Timothy 1:7)- or that Jesus declared that by our LOVE people would know we are his followers (John 13:35) (somehow he overlooked the issues we seem to often make more important; such as national allegiance, political party, or doctrine) – or even that our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood… when some can only think of bombing and the escalation of war.
Truth is Important.
In my church, our Pastor challenged us, “… like Moses, to help bring people from captivity to freedom.” We are in a series on reconciliation, beginning with God reconciling us first to himself, and then us to one another. As he spoke I thought of many of my fellow Christians who are captive to fear and prone to fear mongering. I used to be too, and I have found freedom in Good News anchored in Jesus of Nazareth who set us an example in his life – not in Jesus of Philadelphia, a mythical national savior whose good news is centered on the United States of America.
So back to the first point; truth IS important if you want to be taken seriously. What President Obama said IS true. If you’ve never thought about it, it can feel real uncomfortable, but I assure you Jesus already is aware of it and we don’t need to go on the defensive for him.
The world is watching, in the last few days I have had serious conversations with:
- Conservative Muslims who wonder why “Christians, who follow Jesus, a man of peace, can be so hateful?”
- Worried moms who believe their children may just, “chuck all of their faith because they are so sick of “right-wing-Christian-wacko’s”
- Seminary students who are trying to find balance in the Gospel while we live in a society fueled by divisions.
I am not saying ISIS is not a problem, it is a huge threat and yet, not one that the USA can wipe out with more bombs and drone attacks. The Arab/Muslim, and other African Nations must take the lead in this fight, they experience the terror on a daily basis and have the authority to confront it, yet we must assist in every way we can.
However, here in the USA, let’s focus on some of the things Jesus DID say he cares about, economic justice, immigration reform, available and affordable health care and justice in the prison system:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger (foreigner) and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35 – 36)
Think about it, are we being fearful tools of the empire or loving followers of the one who laid down his life for his friends?