ABOLITIONISTS & The Wesleyan Movement of young pastors who asked “Can you give you life for the cause?”

(Notes on a lecture by Bob Black, Ph.D., at the CCDA conference, Detroit, 2017.)

By Francis Asbury’s death in 1802, the Methodist Church had become the largest church in America. Still, the bishops decided not to rock the boat by opposing slavery, so prevalent in the south. A presiding elder, Orange Scott (what we would call today a district superintendent) opposed slavery on biblical grounds as well as citing John Wesley’s strong condemnation of slavery.

Feeling he could no longer remain in the Methodist Church, Orange Scott  started a magazine called “The True Wesleyan.” He also called for the formation of the “Wesleyan Methodist Church,” titled thus because it was “Wesley’s view of Methodism.” There would be no slavery and no bishops. The movement, though organized in the north, began to appeal to anti-slavery Methodists in the south. A church of 40 antislavery Methodists in North Carolina ask the Wesleyan Methodist Church to send them a pastor because not pastor would lead them.

Adam Crooks, a not yet fully ordained 23 year-old minister in this new movement, left to pastor the North Carolina church stating he was glad he did not have a wife or family because he then did not need to worry about surviving. Within six months had built a church called “Freedom’s Hill” in Snow Camp, NC. Soon they planted eight more anti-slavery churches. In High Point Adam found noose with a likeness of him handing from a tree. He was poisoned and in the church he preached there were bullet holes in the door.

The Freedom’s Hill Church and the other churches in the network became stations on the underground railroad.  Many of these young pastors were harangued, attacked and even hanged. Still, the movement grew under the example of young people who, like Adam Crooks, asked “Can you give you life for the cause?”

 

DISCRIMINATION & A Review of James Cone’s theological response to the dark history of lynchings

When He Died Upon the Tree: James Cone’s seminal book gives a theological response to the dark history of lynchings in America.

by Bruce Fields, Christianity Today, 8/16/17.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree is the most significant theological perspective on lynching—which includes not just hanging, but also “burning, beating, dragging, and shooting—as well as torture, mutilation, and especially castration.” Based on impressive research, Cone argues that the lynching tree is a viable reality/symbol for reflection on the cross of Christ. According to Cone, understandings of the cross and lynching tree can mutually inform one another and explain how events of trauma and injustice can still inspire hope for the African American community.

Cone’s book begins by advocating for confronting white supremacy, which is evident even in the church. He claims that the cross placed alongside the lynching tree could “help us to see Jesus in America in a new light.” He first engages lynching in the United States from a historical perspective, which was used a means of reminding blacks “of their inferiority and powerlessness.” Cone then considers the “Christian realism” of Reinhold Niebuhr, seeing a potentially useful theological perspective. Cone applauds Niebuhr’s focus upon matters of “self-interest and power” in human relationships, but faults Niebuhr for not addressing lynching as an obvious example of sinful human abuse.

Cone moves on to discuss how Martin Luther King Jr. saw the cross and the resurrection of Christ as inspiration for his ministry, though ”it did not erase the pain of suffering or its challenge of faith.” Cone then explores the tension between Christian truth claims and the reality of the black experience as expressed in the black literary imagination and also the ministries of women like Ida B. Wells who, at the risk of their own lives, fought against lynching.

Cone concludes with a message of hope: “God took the evil of the cross and lynching tree and transformed them both into the triumphant beauty of the divine. If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation there is hope ‘beyond tragedy.’”

Read more at … http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/august-web-only/reflections-on-cross-and-lynching-tree.html

DISCRIMINATION & how can I be a stronger ally to those who suffer?

“For our white friends desiring to be allies”
by Courtney Ariel, Sojourners Magazine, 8/16/17.

Author’s Note: I’m writing this in hopes that it can be used to lighten the load of marginalized folks, keeping in mind that not all marginalized people want to engage in the ally conversation, and that is perfect as well. For those who do, my prayer is that when someone asks you the question, “how can I be a stronger ally?” you might choose to save your breath/energy and send this in its place.

I have been asked by two dear friends, “how can I be a stronger ally?” Being the slow emotional processor that I am, I wanted to spend some time with this before I answered them. I surely appreciate and love these two individuals, and I appreciate their vulnerability in asking me this question.

1. Listen more; talk less. You don’t have to have something to say all of the time. You don’t have to post something on social media that points to how liberal/how aware/how cool/how good you are. You are lovely, human, and amazing. You have also had the microphone for most of the time, for a very long time, and it will be good to give the microphone to someone else who is living a different experience than your own.

2. For one out of every three opinions/insights shared by a person of color in your life, try to resist the need to respond with a better or different insight about something that you read or listened to as it relates to their shared opinion. Try just to listen and sit with someone else’s experience. When you do share in response to what someone has shared with you, it can sometimes (not always) feel like “whitesplaining” — meaning to explain or comment on something in an over-confident or condescending way. This adds to the silencing of the voices of people of color.

3. Being an ally is different than simply wanting not be racist (thank you for that, by the way). Being an ally requires you to educate yourself about systemic racism in this country. Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and so many other great books and articles that illuminate oppression and structures of white supremacy and white privilege. Use your voice and influence to direct the folks that walk alongside you in real life (or follow you on the internet), toward the voice of someone that is living a marginalized/disenfranchised experience…

Read more at … https://sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies

RACISM & Each dot on this map is a place where a person of color was lynched.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Many Caucasians have not understood how lynching has been used as domestic terrorism to intimidate people of color. For example, a Marion, IN white police officer jokingly kidded a black colleague by tying a noose in a rope. The white officer was taken back by the immediate and deserved backlash. Take a look at this map to better understand.

By Adele Peters, FastCompany Magazine, 1/26/17.

…In total, in the century after the Civil War, as many as 5,000 people of color were lynched by mobs in the United States. In the 1890s, on average, nine people were lynched each month. A new website documents each known death on a map, often along with gruesome details about the killing and the size of the crowd.

RJ Ramey, who created the site, was inspired by a book about the history of lynching called At The Hands Of Persons Unknown.

“It blew me away,” Ramey says. “I thought of myself as a history geek, and I thought of myself as well-educated, but I had never really realized the breadth and depth of the atrocity.”

“…This is our history,” he says. “Every high school kid should know about it.”

Read more at … https://www.fastcoexist.com/3067374/change-generation/each-dot-on-this-map-is-a-place-where-a-person-of-color-was-lynched and http://www.monroeworktoday.org/

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BIAS & Why It is Hard to Grasp, When You Haven’t Historically Experienced It

Saturday Night Live, SNL, 11/12/16.

RACISM & Everything I Know about Racism I Learned in the Church #ChristenaCleveland

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In addition to writing the popular article, “Everything I know about reconciliation, I learned in the church,” Christina Cleveland wrote a previous article (below). To you understand spiritual and physical reconciliation, we need to heed this message equally.

WHEN I LEARNED THAT I WAS A NIGGER

by Christena Cleveland, 8/5/13.

Every summer, my mom would sign us up for vacation bible school (VBS) programs at local churches so we could experience God in diverse settings. The summer I turned six, we attended VBS at an all-white church in a neighboring city. During recess, my brother and I were so engrossed in our tetherball game that we didn’t hear the teacher calling us to return to the classroom. Exasperated, she yelled at the top of her lungs, “Get in here, niggers!!” Being six and all, I had no idea what the word nigger meant; I just knew that it referred to me and that it was negative. I ducked my head in shame and ran toward the classroom. The teacher’s words violently contradicted the VBS theme: “God loves all the children in the world” and made me question whether God’s love was meant for me too.[i]

The church taught me that God’s love is only for the white kids.

WHEN I LEARNED THAT ALL BLACK PEOPLE RAP

Many people recall junior high as a dark and stormy stage in their identity development timeline. But as one of two black girls in my class at my Christian school, I had the unenviable task of figuring out who I was and where I belonged while surrounded by a sea of white classmates who only interacted with me long enough to ask to touch my hair. Feeling different and excluded, I signed up for choir class, hoping to find a place to belong.

That year, the Christmas musical script un-ironically called for a “Rapping Angel” who rapped Luke 2:14. Without holding auditions for the part, our choir director (with obvious support from my classmates) cast me as the rapping angel, saying, “You can do it, right Christena?”

Nope, I couldn’t.

But since I did not fit in with my classmates, I was desperate to prove that I belonged to another relevant social group – namely, black people. So I went along with our director’s decision and now have the distinction of being the most woefully miscast Rapping Angel in the history of cheesy Christmas musicals.

The church taught me that I belong nowhere – not even in the tiny stereotypical box that they tried to stuff me into.

WHEN I LEARNED THAT I WAS OVERLY SENSITIVE

When I was a high school student, I walked into a local pastor’s home and was immediately assaulted by the sight of a large confederate flag hanging on the wall. I gasped and asked them why they had a confederate flag. With disarming matter-of-factness, they told me that they liked the colors, the aesthetic and the “rebel” image that it projected. I tried to explain (as best I could as a frazzled teen) that the flag invokes painful images of black oppression but they remained committed to their blissful ignorance. Ultimately, they shoo-ed me away, telling me that I was making a big deal out of nothing and that I focused too much on negative events that were resolved long ago. The flag remained mounted on the wall for years.

The church taught me that my perspective is invalid and that the pain of my people is unimportant.

WHEN I LEARNED THAT RACISM IS HILARIOUS…

Read more at … http://www.christenacleveland.com/blogarchive/2013/08/everything-i-know-about-racism-i-learned-in-the-church?rq=everything%20i%20know%20about

RACISM & Preaching To Confront Racism by retired bishop Dr. Will Willimon

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By William H. Willimon, excerpted from Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism (forthcoming from Abingdon Press, February 2017)

Moralism (substituting law for gospel, exhorting better human behavior without dependency upon God’s grace) is no match for racism. While urging us to preach justice, Lutheran James Childs warns: “Preaching that always goes directly from sin to salvation or from cross to resurrection without ever stopping off at sanctification is missing something of crucial importance…. The grace of God in Christ, which justifies, also sanctifies … The good tree bears good fruit … (Matt. 7:18).” (Childs, Preaching Justice, 2000). I thank God that I am a Wesleyan Christian who, after admitting that I’m guilty of the sin of racism can say that’s not all I am. I’m someone in whom the grace of God is actively, daily, persistently at work healing me of my sin, perfecting God’s intentions for me, in spite of me.

Moralism is unavoidable if a preacher conceives of the congregation as good people who come to church to be even better. The Christian faith is presented as common sense with a spiritual veneer. Moralism is notoriously anthropological rather than theological in its assumption that listeners already have all they need in order to be good. History, structural injustices, the human propensity to self-interest, the various psychological binds in which we are caught, human feelings of vulnerability and threat are all ignored in moralism’s appeal to our “better angels.” The sermon is in the imperative mood as the preacher fills the air with should, ought, must.

As Chuck Campbell points out, preaching on social issues tends to imply that good people of good will have the power to solve their own problems (a thought dearly loved by liberal white people who enjoy thinking of ourselves as the masters of our domain). Moralistic preaching overlooks how structural, systemic, principalities and powers have us under their sway. Campbell urges us, “always rely on the power of God, not on our own strength, in resistance.” (Campbell, The Word Before the Powers, 2003).

Sermons whose intent is to build guilt are universally resisted. Not only does Jesus tend toward forgiveness rather than guilt but also preaching that provokes guilt backfires as hearers are encouraged to become more introspective, more obsessed with ourselves and our histories, more egotistical, not less. White people ascribed far too much power to our egos and are already narcissistic without help from the preacher. The default Christian position with regard to guilt is to confess sin, offer it up and then allow ourselves to be unburdened by the justifying grace of God and to be spurred on by sanctifying grace in our acts of contrition.

Conservative, Reformed pastor, John Piper’s sermon, “Racial Reconciliation” begins by asserting (without citing support) that, “There is strong evidence that stressing differences does little to improve race relations, and may even exacerbate them.” The rest of his sermon attacks the notion of racial difference. Using Scripture, Piper asserts that, “God made all ethnic groups from one human ancestor,” and that all “are made in the image of God.” Your “ethnic identity” is of no consequence when compared with the biblical truth that we are all created “in the image of God.” That’s why programs in “diversity training” “backfire.” We ought to teach our children to put all their “eggs in the basket called personhood in the image of God and one egg in the basket called ethnic distinction.” The problem is not the sin of white racism, the problem is a failure to think about our humanity in a biblical way. Though Piper is a strong Calvinist, there is nothing in the sermon about confession of sin, forgiveness, repentance or the need for the grace of God.

While it’s good that Piper attempts to think theologically beyond rather limp, secular notions of “diversity,” Piper’s exhortation to color-blind Christianity overlooks that persons of color did not come up with the idea that skin color was a valid way of defining humanity in order to oppress nonwhites — that nefarious idea came exclusively from white people. Piper, perhaps unintentionally, bolsters white evasion of engagement in issues of systemic racial injustice when he ends his sermon with a stirring call to “banish every belittling and unloving thought from our minds,” “to show personal, affectionate oneness” with Christians of all ethnic backgrounds, and to be “salt and light” “with courageous acts of inter-racial kindness and respect.”

We don’t need “diversity training” because racial reconciliation is a personal matter of individual piety in thoughts, speech and kindness, according to Piper’s sermon. We wouldn’t have racism if Christians refused to acknowledge the reality of race. This is the call for “reconciliation” white folks love to hear.

“Reconciliation” too often focuses, as in Piper’s sermon, upon interpersonal reconciliation without focus on systemic and structural justice. Many black people push back against the call for “reconciliation” because it presumes there was a time when we were in a right relationship. It also implies that we work toward reconciliation from an equal footing. “Hospitality” also implies that we, the powerful, are the hosts; the less powerful are the guests, outsiders whom we graciously welcome. Talk of reconciliation without recognition of power arrangements degenerates into sentimentality. (see Jennifer Harvey, Dear White Christians, 2014). And speaking of my church family, sentimental accounts of human nature, racial harmony and Christian ethics is killing us. Recently a United Methodist told me that her preacher had preached a sermon on racism.

“What did you learn from the sermon?” I asked.

“That we ought to be nice to black people,” she responded. Far from being confrontation with the sin of racism, sentimental narrations of racism and sentimental appeals for white people to be nice are a primary means of avoiding conversations about race among United Methodists.

A white male (Paul Tillich), preaching to white males, preached a famous sermon: “You are Accepted,” (Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, 1963) as if unconditional acceptance were the core of the Good News. That I am graced, loved, and accepted by God, just as I am, racism and all, at first sounds charitable. But there is a more sinister side to such cheery, sentimentally blissful ignorance. Preaching is also a call to conversion, transformation, detoxification. The evil we face is more than wrong thinking about ourselves; it’s our captivity to principalities and powers.

Grace, Wesleyan grace, is not a paternal pat on the head; it’s the power of God that enables us to live different lives than the lives we would be condemned to live if we had not been met by God in Jesus Christ.

As Luther said, apples do not come from a thorn bush. Good deeds arise from good people. At our best, we preach to defeat racism every Sunday because every Sunday’s sermon contributes to the character of Christians. That’s why some of our best preaching against racism will not seem to the congregation a direct attack on racism. Preaching’s value is often in the subtle but powerful ways it forms us into people who have empathy for others, who assume responsibility for the needs of strangers, who feel that they are under judgment from some higher criterion than their own conscience, and who believe that, with the Holy Spirit set loose among us, who believe that we can be born again.

Before consideration of the obviously ethical “What ought we to do?” preaching considers the theologically determinative and ethically formative, “Who is God?”, “What doth the Lord require?” Human action is responsive reaction to God’s initiatives. Our discipleship is our human affirmation of how God is already busy in the world. It’s not for us to defeat the sin of racism; God in Christ is already doing that. Our chief ethical question is, “Will I join with Christ in his world-changing, world-ending, resurrection-work or not?”

Chuck Campbell, speaks of preaching in the face of powers like racism as “exorcism”:

Don’t many folks — preachers included — long to be set free from the powers of death that have us in their grip and won’t let us go — powers from which we cannot seem to free ourselves no matter how hard we try? After all, this is the key characteristic of demon possession: We are no longer agents of our own lives, but go through the deadly motions dictated to us by the powers of the world that hold us captive — that “possess” us. And we need a word from beyond ourselves to set us free from our captivity. (Campbell, “Resisting the Powers” in Purposes of Preaching, 2004).

The challenge is for us to move beyond being non-racist to being actively anti-racist, always remembering that,

We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

That’s why it’s not enough for us to share our personal story or to exhort the congregation to greater striving for justice. “We don’t preach about ourselves. Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord…” (2 Corinthians 4:5). In Campbell’s words, “We need a word beyond ourselves to set us free,” Jesus, the Word made flesh, God’s word in action.