Getting To Know Your Worst Nightmare

I was recently invited to share my thoughts at a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) church service in California, via Zoom. According to my host, it is a very liberal congregation in a liberal geographical bubble. Apparently members of the congregation run the spectrum of social liberalism including LGBTQ folks, and some who were formerly evangelicals. Bruce, my host, considers himself to be an atheist.

Bruce and I connected through a Braver Angels event and have since talked weekly over Zoom for some six months. It has been quite an adventure for both of us, and not always a comfortable one. I would say our aim has been to understand each other, with permission to each respectfully challenge the other’s opinions.

At some point Bruce got the idea to share what he was doing with his UU church. Then it occurred to him to have me share as well, I guess just to keep it real. His minister was open to having me as a guest, and so we planned a service, which occurred in April, 2021. Below I’ve linked an edited video of the pertinent parts in case you would like to hear what was said.

To their credit, Bruce and his pastor took a risk in inviting me in. They told me about how they’d wrestled with why it was so difficult to invite me in. They knew they could invite a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Rabbi, or an atheist to speak, and everyone would pretty much be fine with it. But for some reason it was daunting to consider inviting a conservative evangelical Christian who voted for Trump twice.

I’m happy to report that the church was very welcoming toward me, and there was a lot of positive feedback afterwards. I did not go into many specifics on triggering issues, even in the Q and A time that followed. My intent was not to trigger people. The point was to inspire people to seek understanding with neighbors or family members who think differently than they do.

I’ll let the video speak for itself. It’s a half hour long but I think you’ll find it interesting. Plus the pastor has a cool Scottish accent. I’d love to hear your feedback.

The Cause of the Divide
If you’ve followed this blog for long you know that I consider American society to be toxically divided. I’m concerned about this and I’m not alone. It is now common to hear people bemoan the loss of civility and respectful disagreement in human discourse, especially in political discourse.

How did we get here? Is there something different going on now than in previous generations?

I think there is. At the risk of sounding partisan, I believe that the divide has been created and nurtured by the far Left, and foisted onto the mainstream. It’s a simple worldview issue. Allow me to make my case.

To be specific, in referring to the Left I am not referring to some fuzzy notion of liberal-ish stuff that I happen to dislike. I’m referring specifically to a neo-Marxist worldview – a view that sees the cause of the world’s inequities and injustices through a lens of oppressor vs oppressed. Whether between economic classes, races, genders, or ideological parties, the Left by definition promotes division and, ultimately, a re-structuring of a supposedly oppressive system via revolution.

So for example, if there is a minority group that is suffering oppression, such as a higher rate of poverty, abuse, COVID deaths, unemployment, addiction, imprisonment, or anything else negative, then there must be an oppressor according to a neo-Marxist worldview.

It would be worth discussing with a neo-Marxist whether or not life is quite this simple.

But Marxism is not what’s new. The America Left and Right have always fought and disagreed. There is something new (and worse) going on here. In previous decades I watched the two sides battle it out in the field of ideas. At their best, opponents would cite facts, history, research, and employ rational discourse. But in the past decade the extreme Left has decided to go around the field of intellectual arguments and go straight to the field of subjective feelings. By assigning conservatives the worst of motives and then leveraging peer/mob pressure and emotional manipulation, the Left has enshrined itself as morally superior.

What’s new is that the Left finally has the power to do so.

Having gained control of mainstream media, the entertainment industry, academia, big tech, and mainline church denominations, the Left now has the means to dominate the societal narrative, propagating the message that to dissent from the “progressive” narrative is to take the hurtful, hateful, oppressor position. We are all now familiar with the charge that to dissent from the “progressive” narrative is to be anti-woman, anti-gay, transphobic, racist, white supremacist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, bigoted, hateful, and so on.

Here’s the thing. All of those things truly are immoral and indefensible. If that list of adjectives accurately defined conservatives, then the Left should be exposing and shaming conservatives for the evil oppressors that they are. The problem (for the Left) is that the only way to get those labels to stick to mainstream conservatives is to torture the English language, re-write history, redefine objective reality, and shut down dissent. In my opinion that is what is happening. Plenteous examples provided upon request.

Republicans, for their part have generally not responded to this like adults. Brasher elements have gone into fight mode, which doesn’t win the middle, and allows the “hater” label to stick. They’ve tried to trump the Left with Trump, placing their faith in a man who couldn’t compete in the field of factual ideas. Instead, he responded in kind, specializing in division and bombastic rhetoric, making an already terrible situation worse. I think the saber-rattling, conspiracy crap, and patriot pumping on the part of Republicans is a reaction to the Left’s strategy of unjustly framing them as the great white cause of all the world’s suffering.

Is anyone ready for something better and more honest? Is anyone tired of watching the pendulum-wrecking ball swing back and forth?

The Solution
We have to talk to each other. Neither side is going to go away. Neither side is going to allow the other to force its will onto the other. Ask yourself what the outcome will be if both sides continue the strategy of “hitting back harder.”

So what is the answer? Whoever you are, right or left, if you believe you have the facts, evidence, and the truth on your side, then you have nothing to lose by seeking mutual understanding with “the other side.” In all likelihood, you will find facts, evidence, and truth on both sides. If that weren’t the case America wouldn’t be split down the middle. There are legitimate concerns on both sides of every issue.

People of radically differing worldviews will not agree on specific solutions. So then what is the point of talking? The answer is that we can at least get back to respectful disagreement as fellow human beings. Liberals need to get to know conservatives. If that sounds one-sided, that’s because it is. In my experience, conservatives generally understand liberals; we just disagree with them. We recognize that liberals believe they are acting out of a sense of compassion and social justice. But the reverse is not true. A great many liberals really do believe that conservatives are racist, anti-gay, anti-woman, xenophobic, etc.

It may be up to conservatives to take initiative in seeking mutual understanding. The end result will probably not be a changed worldview for anyone. But it is a very realistic goal that we can return to a place of respectful disagreement in political discourse if liberals can recognize that mainstream conservatives are not motivated by hate. That would be a win for everyone. We can communicate without the divisive labeling. The video will give you some ideas on how to get there.



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Thoughts for White Conservatives Who Never Owned Slaves

I’m seeing a lot of defensiveness from conservatives regarding racism. This is understandable, as the Left continues pushing to redefine racism to include things such as breathing and having a job.

But being defensive isn’t helping anyone. Is it really too much to ask that we try to see the world from our Black neighbors’ perspective? To empathize with them? To face America’s racist past?

Here’s a clear example of what I’m seeing. Last week I read an article about Max Lucado publicly repenting at length for his ancestors’ sins of racism. The majority of comments following said things like this:

> My dad said his father was a horse thief…do I need to beg for forgiveness for his sin? If I do, do I get to hear honking cars afterwards?

> Lucado is trying to sell more books. No where in scripture does it suggest you repent of the sins of your ancestors… Slavery and racism has (sic) been present since the beginning of time.

> This is ridiculous. Licado (sic) needed attention and sell books (sic)…..that was 150 years ago…get over it.

Stuff I Didn’t Learn in School
I’ve spent the last few weeks re-learning the history of Black America. I was born in 1960 – ninety-nine years after the start of the Civil War. I thought I knew this stuff. What I’ve realized is that I mostly learned about the good parts – the civil rights victories, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and how America finally got it right. I never really learned about just how bad things were for Black Americans during the 100 years after the Civil War, before the “civil rights era.”

I recently listened to a talk by Bryan Stevenson, attorney and author of Just Mercy. Stevenson carries a lot of moral authority with me because of his tireless work on behalf of people on death row who have been wrongly convicted. He contends that America has never truly come to grips with its racist past, and that this is a necessary step in order for healing to actually occur as a nation. I agree with him.

I suppose most white folks, myself included, have assumed that because equal rights have been established on a policy level, then we’ve basically solved the problem. We live and work next to our Black fellow Americans and we all get along just fine now.

May I ask something of you? I am not suggesting that you need to repent of your ancestors’ sins. Repentance is not the point for you today if you do not hold racist beliefs or attitudes, imo. What I think is in order is that we grieve with, feel with, and empathize with, our Black brothers and sisters. I’ve compiled a brief timeline of post–slavery American history. I think you will find some surprises, as I did.

TIMELINE:
1863 – THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION is issued by Republican President Lincoln during America’s Civil War over slavery. The Proclamation declares that slaves residing in the warring Confederate states are “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Southern whites insist that Lincoln’s executive order is illegal and refuse to comply.

1865 – THE 13TH AMENDMENT is ratified, formally codifying the Emancipation Proclamation, prohibiting slavery throughout the United States, “except as punishment for crime.”

1865 – THE CIVIL WAR ENDS. LINCOLN IS ASSASSINATED 6 DAYS LATER. Democrat Vice President Andrew Johnson assumes the presidency but proves to be soft in his commitment to implement Reconstruction efforts and to protect newly recognized Black citizens. Among other things, Johnson opposes Black voting rights.

1866 – WHITE MOB VIOLENCE in Memphis and New Orleans leaves nearly 100 Blacks citizens dead, and some 200 wounded, including at least 5 women raped. White police officers contribute to the violence and killing until federal troops arrive.  

1866 – REPUBLICANS WIN A VETO-PROOF SUPER-MAJORITY IN CONGRESS as a result of public outrage over the Memphis and New Orleans attacks. Progressive Republicans embark on an aggressive civil rights program the likes of which wouldn’t happen again for 100 years.

1866 – THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT is passed, over President Johnson’s veto, declaring Black Americans full citizens entitled to equal rights.  

1866 – THE 14TH AMENDMENT IS PASSED by the super-majority, but will require ratification by 28 of the 37 states in order to become constitutional law. The proposed amendment establishes that all persons born in the US, regardless of race, are full citizens of the US and of the states in which they reside and are entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship, due process, and the equal protection under the law.  10 of 11 former Confederate states reject the proposed amendment overwhelmingly.

1867 – THE RECONSTRUCTION ACTS OF 1867 are passed by the super-majority, over President Johnson’s veto, in response to the former Confederate states’ rejection of the 14th amendment. The Acts require former Confederate states seeking readmission to the Union to fulfill the Acts’ conditions. Former states would be required to ratify the 14th amendment, grant voting rights to Black men, accept federal military rule in the southern region, and draft new constitutions to be approved by congress.

1868 – THE 14TH AMENDMENT IS OFFICIALLY ADOPTED. White backlash, violence, and efforts to maintain white supremacy continue in earnest.

1870 – THE 15TH AMENDMENT IS PASSED – the third and last of the Reconstruction amendments. It states, “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Subsequently, Black voters turn out in droves and more than 600 African Americans are elected as state legislators. The US Congress adds 16 Black representatives, and Mississippi elects the nations first two Black senators. The new racially integrated Reconstruction governments set about repealing racially discriminatory laws. Instability grows as whites in the South refuse to accept what is happening.

1870-71 CONGRESS PASSES A SERIES OF ENFORCEMENT ACTS, including the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, authorizing, among other things, the federal government to prosecute civil rights violations as crimes. Republican President Grant supports progressive Reconstruction and provides federal troops to enforce it, as state governments are powerless to stop widespread violence and upheaval.

1872 – THE SUPREME COURT BEGINS ISSUING RULINGS THAT NEUTRALIZE RECONSTRUCTION.
One of the worst is the 1876 United States vs Cruikshank decision. Incredibly, the Cruikshank ruling interprets 14th amendment protections as only applying to state offenses, not against violence perpetrated by individuals, rendering the Enforcement Act useless. Cruikshank leaves Blacks in the South defenseless against white perpetrators so long as they act privately. As a result, anti-Black violence in the South openly increases as white perpetrators act with impunity, knowing that racist state judicial systems and law enforcement will not punish them. This marks the beginning of the end of a mere 10-year period of hope and positive development for Blacks in America, until the civil rights era of the 1960s.

1876 – THE END OF RECONSTRUCTION. The 1876 presidential election ends in a stalemate between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The Supreme Court and Congress develop a compromise whereby Hayes would become president if he would agree to end Reconstruction. The “unwritten” Compromise of 1877 resulted in all remaining federal troops being pulled out of southern states, and the agreement that the South would have the right to deal with Blacks without northern interference. This leaves southern Blacks with no legal recourse and virtually no protection, relegating them to an inferior status in a hostile society.

Here I will end the timeline, and summarize for purposes of brevity.

In the ensuing decades, especially in the South, a white supremacist society intentionally and often violently terrorized Blacks in order to “keep them in their place.” Despite the fact that equality between the races was encoded into federal law, the notion of white supremacy remained entrenched at every level of white society in the former slave states – in the general population, in the education establishment, in churches, in civil law, in law enforcement, in the legal system, and in state government.

Racial separation and inequality were enforced by many means including:

> rewriting state constitutions and laws, including Jim Crow laws requiring racial segregation

> creating all-white juries to guarantee immunity for perpetrators of racial violence

> physical violence and legal barriers against would be Black voters

> evicting and/or firing would be Black voters and Blacks working for racial equality

> police brutality from officers who were often Klansmen/members of white supremacist groups

> judges who held white supremacist and/or segregationist views

> shutting down public schools to prevent integration, and the widespread creation of all-white schools

> criminalizing peaceful civil rights protests

> sexual violence against Black girls and women

> rioting

> bombings

> lynching

If I may elaborate just a bit on lynching: I had been under the impression, I suppose mostly from movies, that lynching was a somewhat risky and rare phenomenon perpetrated mostly by the KKK under cover of darkness. However, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 4084 lynchings between the years 1877 – 1950. These have been verified from news and other sources from the era. There were unquestionably an untold number of undocumented lynchings and assaults as well.

It seems clear that “terror lynchings” were perpetrated to send a message to Black citizens who had hopes of claiming their newly won rights as full citizens and equals. The message was that if you are Black, this can be done to you or your loved ones if you step out of “your place” as an inferior. The message was that a black person accused by a white person is not worth the time and expense of due process in a courtroom setting.

Many lynchings were public spectacles, with hundreds of white citizens and families in attendance. These were not viewed as fringe acts of extremism, but were mainstream events condoned by white society. Sometimes there would be food and drink, and the victim’s body parts would be handed out to the crowd as souvenirs. This was all openly documented by an often sympathetic press.

What is the point of saying these things now?
This is not the America we live in today. It is true that no one alive today owned slaves or perpetrated a racial terror lynching. No Black person living today was ever a slave. But the appropriate response to Black Americans is not, therefore, “so get over it.” For decades during the post-slavery era, Blacks were left utterly unprotected and what was done to them was horrific, to say nothing of the slavery itself that came before. White America must sorrowfully acknowledge this.

Millions of white supremacist Americans worked tirelessly, voted, and rioted to keep Blacks subjugated. The experience of Black Americans today has been shaped by this history. It should also be said that racial terror and discrimination was not just a “southern problem.” After Reconstruction ended, some 6 million Black Americans fled the South to the North, Midwest, and West, where violence and discrimination often followed – in cities such as East St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Tulsa, and Omaha.

Admitting the horror of America’s violent, racist past is a necessary part of national healing and understanding. Doing so is not an admission that America is innately horrible, or that rioting, or the solutions proposed by left wing groups like BLM or M4BL are correct.

But it might help us to understand the anger and frustration. It might help us to understand the eerie familiarity Blacks may feel when a white policeman unjustly kills a Black man and goes unpunished. It might help us to understand how confederate monuments may be seen as celebrations of white supremacy. It might help us to understand why America remains largely segregated, even though overt white supremacy has virtually disappeared from society and its institutions.

It is a basic act of respect toward Black Americans to not sweep their history under the rug. May God give us all grace and understanding to clean house without tearing the house down.

For further reading I recommend one or all of EJI’s 4 thin books: Slavery in America; Reconstruction; Segregation in America; & Lynching in America.

Thoughts On Racism. (For White People Only). Part 2

Serving up racist stereotypes

Why for white people only? Because we’re told it’s time for white people to listen to black voices.

Plus I don’t want to be guilty of “white-splaining,” or “man-splaining,” or worst of all, “white-man-splaining.”

So maybe if I talk to white people, I’m not splaining. I’m just sharing my thoughts and concerns about things that matter to me. Racial justice and reconciliation happen to matter to me very much.

In my opinion, in the torrent of words on the topic of racism since George Floyd’s death, a lot of ideas are being wrongly strung together on the same string.

Let’s see if we can get some clarity on the issue in one brief blog post. Once again I assert that liberals and conservatives have legitimate points and concerns. Again, I challenge you to see if you can agree with both sides as I present them below. If you can’t agree, I’d love to hear why in the combox.

What Is Racism?
As a white person, you may be questioning your own standing as a non-racist or anti-racist. You’ve been told you may not be able to see your own racist attitudes. I have white friends who are now calling themselves racists because they have uncovered “racist” attitudes within themselves. Could you be unconsciously participating in, and even benefiting from, white supremacy?

In processing the allegedly mysterious issue of racism, I think a look at the dictionary definition of racism is as helpful as anything I’ve heard. Imagine that. Take a look and see if you can agree:


RACISM: 1) a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. (Dictionary. com)

Think about that definition. Notice it has 3 components. It’s pretty specific, and ultimately has to do with a belief in racial superiority.

Take My Racism Test. It’s 2 Questions Long:

TEST QUESTION 1: Do you believe that your race is inherently superior to other races? Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes,” then you are a racist. If you answered “yes” and you’re white, you’re a white supremacist, because that’s what white supremacists believe. Holding a positive belief about racial superiority is a conscious decision. If you think one can unconsciously believe that whites are inherently superior to blacks, I would be interested in hearing your explanation as to how that is possible.

But wait…if you answered “no,” you’re not off the hook. There are two more dictionary definitions for racism:

RACISM: 3) hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

It’s possible to hate “people of color” (POC) without holding to a belief in racial superiority. Maybe you hate black people for some other reason. So…

TEST QUESTION 2: Do you hate black people, or others of differing races?” Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes”,  then you are a racist.

To summarize these two definitions: White supremacy is a belief. Racial hatred is an attitude.

To clarify, if you don’t hold a positive belief in white superiority, or harbor racially hateful attitudes, then, strictly speaking, you are not a racist. It doesn’t help POC to call yourself one.

To clarify further: Can one commit acts of racial bias, prejudice, “microaggression”, or even hold beliefs harmful to other races and not be a racist? Yes, it’s possible (but not ideal, of course). You could be insensitive. You could be ignorant. You could be apathetic. You could be a generally reckless, uncaring asshole. You could be well meaning but mistaken. You could be misunderstood. These things should not be strung on the same string as racism, as defined above.

How is this helpful? Am I simply trying to help white people feel better about themselves?
Not exclusively. I’m trying to help people of all skin tones see their way out of a false narrative. I would hope it would be encouraging, for black people especially, to know that the vast majority of whites are not white supremacists after all. My lifelong experience as a white guy has been that most white people want to see black people succeed. Even if they don’t personally know any black people, I think most whites at least like the idea of liking black people.

The notion that white America somehow wants and needs a black underclass in order to advance is a Marxist idea. It’s not true. White people do not benefit from “keeping black people down.” If you disagree, then please explain how a black underclass benefits whites in today’s supposedly white supremacist economy. It’s obvious how white supremacist slaveholders benefited from a black underclass 170 years ago. But I need someone to explain how this is true today.

But…Systemic Racism
Okay, so if overt racism isn’t nearly as common as liberals want us to believe, then why do such huge racial disparities still exist today?

I believe the answer is frustratingly complex. For starters, there is yet a third dictionary definition of racism; that of systemic, or structural, racism. It has to do with neither beliefs nor attitudes, but with entrenched practices, and participation can indeed be unconscious. Systemic racism does belong on the racist string:

RACISM: 2) a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine [referring the first definition of racism above]; discrimination.

Despite what I hear many conservative commentators saying, I don’t think there is any denying the reality of systemic racism. I don’t think there’s any denying that it stems (or stemmed) from white supremacy in America in that systemic racist practices were originally established with the specific aim of disadvantaging black people.

It’s true that most, if not all, systemic racism has been corrected on paper, and I believe that is the point that conservatives are making. The US has enacted many legal policy changes to correct systemic racism, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act (1968), and the Equal Opportunity Act (1972). Yet huge racial disparities continue to exist, and that is what the current upheaval is about.

I’m contending here that the troubling disparities we see today are the result of past systemic policies and practices, more so than current racial hatred. Institutional racism has done its nasty work, and despite policy corrections having been made at the governmental level, America is living with the aftermath.

It is worth watching this brief summary by Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales. Among other points, he argues that home ownership is a critical measurement of individual wealth where an enormous racial disparity remains.

So-called “systemic racism” is a tangled hairball. Establishing racial parity and justice cannot be a simple matter of passing laws. Because no matter how good the system, we will continue to contend with fallen human nature.

Let us consider 3 significant examples that illustrate what we’re up against.

Example #1 – Paved with Good Intentions
Since the civil rights era, in many cases, policies were established with the intent of helping the black community, and these policies ended up hurting the black community. The now infamous Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is one such example. For sentencing purposes this law made 1 gram of crack cocaine equivalent to100 grams of powder cocaine, which ended up disproportionately punishing blacks. At the time of its passage, black leaders and most of the Congressional Black Caucus supported the act, as a crack epidemic was ravaging black America.

Were these black leaders white supremacists? Of course not. But unfortunately this policy contributed to a dramatic increase in the US incarceration rate, from 319,598 in 1980 to 1,505,400 in 2016. The “tough on crime” United States now has the largest incarceration rate in the world. Today, “woke” people cite the 1986 drug law as a horrific example of systemic racism. But the law was intended to protect black communities.

Example #2 – If You Don’t Have Your Health…
Perhaps more maddening than good intentions gone wrong, the word “systemic” does not refer only to government. It may even be inaccurate to think in terms of “racism.” It could be that any systemic practice that disadvantages the poor will disproportionately affect POC, due to racial disparities in income and wealth accumulation. It’s more complicated than “white supremacy,” despite continual assertions from the Left that racism is the problem.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic the nation was dismayed to learn that infected blacks were dying at a rate 2 or 3 times that of infected whites. Every news report I read blamed this on lack of access to insurance and quality health care, and perhaps the types of occupations in which POC tend to work. Most also mentioned the higher incidence of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and lung disease among blacks, putting them at greater risk.

As tragic as that is, if you’re a conservative, you may be thinking: What about personal responsibility? What about lifestyle choices? To a large extent, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes are preventable through a healthy diet, exercise, keeping weight under control, and not smoking.

But again, it’s just not that simple.

While it may be true that whites are not holding down black people and making them drink Sprite, it is also true that soft drink, sugary drink, and snack and candy companies market disproportionately to POC. Do a Google search. In the soft drink industry alone, Blacks and Hispanics together make up about 21% of the US population, but account for 50% of the fruit flavored soft drink market. White greed may or may not be behind that, but POC are also making consumer choices based on what they like. Is this systemic racism?

Good food benefits black and brown bodies as much as it benefits white bodies, but how do you turn that ship around? Due to residential segregation, many black communities exist in “food deserts,” where, in the absence of good grocery stores, people resort to buying junk food at convenience stores or gas stations. Low incomes and unsafe neighborhoods figure in as well. But even if given the option of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, most Americans will bypass those and go for soda and processed food.

So both systemic and personal responsibility issues are at play.

Example #3 – The Humongous, Defecating Elephant in the Room, That Nobody Wants to Talk About
Finally, in my experience the most counterproductive dynamic in any discussion on racism is an unwillingness to face the most crucial factor affecting racial inequality: family breakdown.

I assume the topic is off the table for “woke” people for political reasons, since the abundant research on outcomes for kids living with their married parents is now generally accepted. But it doesn’t fit the left wing narrative very well. It feels like victim blaming. It feels anti-feminist, anti-gay, and it flagrantly contradicts the tenets of their ongoing sexual revolution. Therefore it is more intuitive for the Left to focus on fixing the system.

Put simply, the conservative argument is that the breakdown of the family is at the root of virtually every racial disparity in America; in regard to crime, poverty, low education, illegal drug use, incarceration, and out of wedlock pregnancy. Kids who grow up with their married, biological parents are at significantly lower risk of experiencing these outcomes. The data is in, and it holds true across racial lines.

The out of wedlock birthrate for black American babies is now around 70%, even with a black abortion rate 5 times that of white women. No subculture of any race can successfully withstand that kind of marriage and family breakdown. But how do you turn that ship around?

Is the breakdown of the Black family due to systemic racism? This also, is not an either/or question. The factors are many. Conservatives are correct to emphasize character and personal responsibility, and liberals are correct in blaming the effects of systemic racism. Some research (Belinda Tucker) indicates that the problem is not an aversion to marriage on the part of women of color, but a lack of marriageable Black men. If that shortage is due to higher mortality rates, incarceration rates, and unemployment rates for Black men, then yes, it is in part a systemic problem.

Love Your Neighbor
White people do need to listen to the Black experience. There are now many Black voices insisting that it is not primarily racism that is holding Black America down, but that it is 1) family breakdown, and 2) blacks believing the left wing victim narrative. I agree with them. Let us not forget to listen to those black voices as well. But please, let no one conclude that if contemporary racism is not the real problem, then disadvantaged blacks are to blame for their own plight. Black America is still suffering the consequences of systemic racism, particularly in the criminal justice system.

Surely the will now exists on all sides to root out systemic racism wherever it remains. Doing so can only help Black Americans. And yet, if all systemic racism were to disappear overnight, kids growing up without both married biological parents will remain statistically disadvantaged.

Clearly, change will have to come from within the black community as well, but now would be a good time for white conservatives to commit to living less segregated lives for the sake of building community. Ask yourself if you’ve ever been inside of a black person’s home. Has a “person of color” ever shared a meal around your table? Maybe being a friend and ally to our black and brown neighbors and co-workers would be a good place to begin the healing process in your corner of America.

Thoughts on Black America. (For White People Only). Part 1

Family values

I created this cover for an alternative newspaper, KC Jones, in Kansas City in 1998. It was during the Clinton presidency and I was raising my family in the inner city at the time. Kinda creeps me out now.

Why for white people only? Because it’s time for me to listen. Because black commentators are saying things like:

You’ve had the microphone for 300 years. It’s time for you to stop talking and listen.

We are tired of explaining it to you.

You can’t understand what it’s like to be black in America, or how much you benefit from white privilege.

So I’m listening. I believe I’ve been listening for about 4 decades.

I’m grieved over the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd. Over the past several days I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to be an ally with the black community. But I get the sense that this is not the right time to reach out and have a dialogue about race relations with people of color.

So I figured I could write a post to white people.

In the wake of the George Floyd incident I think I see white America dividing even further along ideological lines. This comes on the heels of America dividing bitterly and politically over the Covid-19 pandemic – something which I had thought might bring people together. This is tragic to me because I think both sides have important points to make.

It’s almost always the case. There is almost always something true, good, and important about both perspectives of any passionate political divide.

A refusal to accept this is why so many people suck at conflict resolution in relationships.

I think it is worth allowing ourselves to understand – truly understand – an opposing point of view. Doing so doesn’t mean you have to agree.

Test yourself.
In my next 3 posts I’m going to present 3 different emotional and divisive questions around the issue of racism in America. I’ll attempt to fairly present two opposing sides in answer to each question. See if you are able to listen, understand, and agree with them both. If you can’t, I’d like to hear why in the comment section.

Question #1: Who was George Floyd?
Before going any further I hope we can all agree that this question does not matter in the face of what happened to Mr. Floyd. The point of the peaceful protests after Mr. Floyd’s murder is that Americans must not allow law enforcement to be handled in the way Derek Chauvin handled it in the case of Mr. Floyd.

Having said that, a divide has been widening due in part to a video message by Candace Owens, a black conservative commentator, activist, and founder of the Blexit movement. The video came out while the protests and rioting following Floyd’s death were in full swing. It is entitled, I Do Not Support George Floyd. Owens is on fire in the 18 minute video, powerfully articulating a message to black America.

She makes several points, but the thrust of her message is to assert that the black community is the only one that “caters to the bottom denominator of our society…it has become fashionable for us to turn criminals into heroes overnight”. She goes on to point out Mr. Floyd’s criminal record and history of incarceration, facts which I hadn’t heard in any media accounts that I saw, whether liberal or conservative. She declares that George Floyd was not an amazing person…not a hero…not a martyr, but a criminal.

She goes on to discuss numbers, noting that a total of 9 unarmed blacks men were killed by police last year, and states that it is not the police who are killing off black men – it is other black men. She makes an appeal for personal responsibility, saying of the black community, “Our biggest problem is us…we don’t DO personal responsibility in our community – we blame white people.” She ends with examples of remarkable black people like Condoleeza Rice, Larry Elder, and Ben Carson, noting that they are generally not held in high esteem by blacks.

Underneath this and other of Owens’s videos lies her belief that the Democratic “plantation” uses black people and takes their vote for granted, keeping them dependent on the party. At the same time, the Democratic party worsens the plight of black America by encouraging and reinforcing a “victimhood” narrative that keeps black America looking to the government for solutions. She asserts that the BLM movement is a shining example of this by promoting the idea that racism in America is what’s keeping black people down.

A lot of this resonates with white conservatives as conservatism tends to emphasize personal responsibility and content of character.

On the other hand…
But there is more to George Floyd than this. I believe it is wrong to call Mr. Floyd a criminal and leave it at that. I read an article from Christianity Today (CT) titled, George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston. It tells a different story, describing Floyd as a “person of peace”.

Pastors and black ministry partners who knew Mr. Floyd say he “spoke of breaking the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring outside ministries to the area to do discipleship and outreach, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project,..”

Christian hip-hop artist, Corey Paul Davis, quotes Floyd as saying, “I love what you’re doing. The neighborhood need it, the community need it, and if y’all about God’s business, then that’s my business…” After getting out of prison in 2014, Floyd moved from Houston to Minneapolis for a fresh start under a Christian work program, according to the CT story.

But autopsies report that George Floyd had fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cannabinoids in his system, when he died. He appears to have been high upon his arrest. So what’s the truth? What about the “fresh start”?

I don’t see a contradiction between the 2 stories because this looks sadly familiar to me. I have several friends who are believers in Jesus, but who also struggle with addictions. Several of Mr. Floyd’s earlier arrests and prison stints were drug related. If he was a recovering addict, then the CT story makes perfect sense to me. I have no inside knowledge of George Floyd, but it looks to me like he was a guy trying to get his life together and do the right thing, but who was relapsing at the time of his arrest. This makes his death all the more tragic.

It also strikes me as relevant that Mr. Floyd’s family was pleading for people to stop the rioting during the worst of the unrest.

I believe that what black America needs to see from white America in this moment is compassion, empathy, and prayer. Black America does not need a bunch of white Christians posting the Candace Owens video all over social media right now. It looks pretty cold to make that your statement as a white person right now, even if it is true. Owens’s video was a message to the black community, not to you. She has a platform from which to speak hard truth because she is part of that community.

Within the space of just a few weeks the black community has suffered the violent and unjust killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. So, if you’re a white conservative, you know that “content of character” thing that conservatives believe in? Now would be a good time to put that into practice toward your fellow human beings who are hurting and angry.

— Scott Freeman, 6/2020

Big Floyd

“Big Floyd” – Instagram photo by Nijalon Du’Boi.

The Myth of White Evangelical Racism

Jesus was Jewish

There can be no such thing as an evangelical Christian who is intentionally racist. This is true in the same way that there are no Muslim pig farmers, or Mormon brewpubs. Or vegan cannibals. Or feminist sex traffickers. You get the idea.

These things are not merely unlikely – they negate the very definition of the concept.

I recently read an opinion piece by a professor, Anthea Butler, suggesting that liberals should stop puzzling over why evangelical voters are (supposedly) so pro-Trump despite Trump’s flagrantly unchristian behavior. Her answer to this puzzle is simple:

We’re racists.

Professor Butler has a history of making ridiculous and extreme claims, but nonetheless, NBC news saw fit to give her false assertion a hearing. It’s a serious accusation, so just in case anyone is inclined to believe her, I’d like to explain why her assertion can’t be true.

It must be the case that Butler, and others riding the racist-labeling bandwagon, simply don’t know what an evangelical follower of Jesus is. Hopefully the following will be helpful.

Well Understood, Not Secret, Not Mysterious
By definition, evangelicals, white or otherwise, are followers of Jesus who consider the Bible to be authoritative. Look up “evangelical” in a dictionary if you doubt this. At the risk of sounding snarky, this means that they seek to follow what Jesus and His apostles taught in the Bible. If they don’t, then they are not evangelicals. They are something else.

But does the Jesus of the Bible have anything to say about race and racial superiority?

Yes. Tons, actually.

It so happens that Jesus’s greatest commandment and His “great commission” utterly rule out intentional racism. In fact, the defining statements of Jesus and His apostles, and their descriptions of where human history is heading, simply do not allow followers of Jesus to be racists. A racist may attend church, but to the extent that he or she harbors beliefs of racial superiority, he or she is not following Jesus. He or she is following someone else.

The clearly stated aims of Jesus presuppose racial inclusivity and equality. Here are a few indisputable examples:

The Greatest Commandment:
 “…Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).

The Great Commission:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus’s Final Prayer for His Followers, Past and Present:
“I do not ask for these [1st c. disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me… I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23).

Paul Affirming that Social & Biological Distinctions are Obliterated in Jesus:
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).

 Paul’s Statement of God’s Ultimate Plan for Human History:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:7-10).

John’s Revelation of the Future Age to Come:
“…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’… For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:9-17).

For the evangelical follower of Jesus, unequivocal biblical statements like these must settle the issue.

Angel, Evangel, Evangelical, Evangelism
Notice the Great Commission verse about making disciples of all the nations. This undertaking of making voluntary disciples is called “evangelism.” The word “evangelist” literally means “bringer of good news,” (from eu- “good” + angelos “messenger”).

Notice how the word “evangelism” is part of the word “Evangelical”? That’s because Evangelicals are supposed to be evangelizing – spreading the good news of how Jesus has invited all of humankind to be restored to relational unity with God.

Furthermore, biblical evangelism is not about making brown people Western and white. Jesus specifically commanded that His followers spread His invitation to people of different ethnicities. Here’s a statement the resurrected Jesus made before His ascension:

“…and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Notice the progression: his disciples congregated in Jerusalem. The news then spread to the whole region of Jewish Judea. Then to the Samaritans, who were historically looked down upon as “half-Jewish.” Then to all the nations of the earth, including every “race.” There is simply no getting around the fact that God wants to include all people groups in His kingdom.

How Jesus Abolished the Notion of Racial/Ethnic Superiority
Perhaps the most stunning development among the first (Jewish) followers of Jesus is the fact that the (Jewish) apostles officially, as a matter of conscious policy, extended the invitation to salvation to non-Jews. This was a completely unexpected development coming from a group of Jewish followers of the Jewish Messiah, and it was not without some controversy. You can read the whole debate in the book of Acts, chapter 15.

Clearly, everyone assumed that non-Jews who wished to become followers of the Jewish Messiah would have to first become Jewish, and follow the Torah of Moses. However, through a series of signs from God, and as a result of seeing the ancient Hebrew scriptures in light of the actions and words of Jesus, the apostles reached their revolutionary agreement: the gentile nations could enter into Jesus’s new covenant and kingdom, as uncircumcised gentiles!

This development was so unexpected that the apostles thereafter referred to it as a “mystery,” meaning that it was unforeseen, and not clearly explained previously in their Jewish Torah and prophetic writings. Here is one example of (Jewish) Paul speaking of this “mystery”:

“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:4-6).

Pretty clear.

The racially and ethnically inclusive nature of the message of Jesus is not optional. It is not a modern, liberal reading of the scriptures. It was there from the beginning. Any racism in the church of Jesus is a corruption of what Jesus taught. Even the Torah teaches that “all the families of the earth” descended from the same two parents (Gen 3:20; 9:18,19; 10:32). The gospel writer, Luke, affirms this in Acts 17:26.

Of course, one is free not to believe the Bible. My point here is not to prove that the Bible is true. My point is to prove that one cannot truthfully say that the Bible promotes racial superiority of any sort. In fact, the very concept of “race” is man-made, not biblical. There is no white supremacist version of evangelicalism.

History Cuts Both Ways
Historically, there certainly have been white church goers who have misused the Bible to justify slavery and racism. Those people have gone the way of the buffalo. Anthea Butler even acknowledges that the Southern Baptist denomination has repeatedly apologized for and repented of past evils. “But” she says, “statements are not enough.” Her proof that Baptists are insincere in their denunciations of past racial sins? They opened their 2019 Annual Convention with a gavel that was owned by the founder of their seminary, and who was also a slaveholder.

I would expect her to be more concerned with groups that were formerly openly racist, but that continue to exploit and decimate the black American population in the present. An example comes to mind:

For some reason white Darwinian “progressives” get a pass for misusing science to justify racism in much the same way that religious people misused the Bible to justify racism. During the early 1900s, there emerged a popular eugenics movement in America and Europe that was concerned with preserving (white) racial purity. It was a terrible and oppressive Orwellian episode of our history. Some 75,000 “unfit” Americans were forcibly sterilized in the name of racial hygiene and human betterment.

Margaret Sanger, founder of what is now Planned Parenthood, was on board with the eugenics movement. It’s difficult to prove whether or not Sanger was an overt racist, but in her autobiography she reports making a favorable impression at a speaking appearance to the wives of the KKK. She also welcomed Klansman and popular white supremacist author, Lothrop Stoddard, as a co-founder and board member of her American Birth Control League, (renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 1942).

Lothrop Stoddard, Margaret Sanger's colleague

Stoddard’s most popular book. He also published eugenic articles in Sanger’s magazine, Birth Control Review. A content analysis reveals that the magazine’s overriding concern was not women’s autonomy, but societal improvement.

Today, PPFA enjoys a solid “progressive” reputation because it renounces Sanger’s racist/eugenicist statements, just as evangelical denominations have renounced past racial sins. The difference is that PPFA continues to disproportionately terminate black lives, today.

Black women buy abortions at a rate 5 times that of white women, according the Guttmacher Institute. The reasons are unclear. Regardless, the American black population is significantly smaller than it would otherwise be if not for Sanger and PPFA, America’s largest abortion seller. Bishop Larry Jackson claims, “If we [blacks] had not aborted our children, we would be 30%, not 13%, of the population”.

I can’t prove that widespread black abortion also disintegrates belief in the sanctity of black human life in the black psyche, but I can’t imagine how it would help.

Having said this, I don’t believe that pro-legal-abortion ”progressives” are intentionally racist. But I would arguably be far more justified in leveling that accusation against them than those claiming that evangelicals are racist. Maybe both “progressives” and conservatives should focus on cleaning up their own houses when looking for racists to call out.

None of us lives out our compassion perfectly. All of us – white, black, or brown – harbor prejudice that we must work to overcome. We’ll all be more successful if we work together to overcome it.

A Remarkable Memorial Mural and Its Story

MLK mural Indianapolis

Photo copyright 2018 Sierra Gillard, used with permission from photographer and subject.

Here’s a story worth telling, about art and hopefulness.

Although I’m a fine art painter in my own right, I’ve increasingly found satisfaction in facilitating “non-artists” in the enterprise of art making. I’ve developed an inclusive process by which virtually anyone, including small children and people with physical or intellectual disabilities, can be a participant in creating a compelling, monumental artwork. (Of course, skilled artists are welcome as well!) This process necessarily involves large numbers of people.

My most recent story began with a discussion I had with one of my daughters last Christmas. She and her husband were visiting for the holiday, and I wanted to hear about her new job in Indianapolis. She was teaching at an inner city school there in a pretty rough environment. She recounted that one of the students had been shot over Thanksgiving break, and that when school resumed, fights had been breaking out over the incident.

The high school where she was teaching had combined two different high schools for the current school year. Then at the close of the school year, these high school students were going to be moved again, and the school was to become a middle school for the next school year.

My daughter recounted conversations she had with students during a time of sharing thoughts. She told me that pretty much across the board the students feel like nothing they do matters to other individuals. Certainly not nationally, but not even locally. Their voices don’t matter. What they do doesn’t matter.

Pointlessness and hopelessness are not good ingredients for creating a culture of life. Especially for a demographic that has a lot stacked against it.

I wondered out loud about how something like the Fire & Ice Festival murals would go over at her school. For the past 2 years, the small church I attend had been helping me put on these big art-making events, each culminating in a giant public mural. The point of the process is that each individual paints a small square of the larger picture. Each tile bears the personal expression of the individual, while contributing to a larger mural that the entire city can enjoy – a colorful metaphor for community.

We envisioned the possibility that the Arlington High School (AHS) students could see such a mural as both a legacy that they could leave to the incoming middle school students, but also be a way that they could leave their individual mark in a creative, positive, and lasting way. It seemed like these students could use something that would feed their souls; to be part of something big and meaningful. I understood that the staff and teachers at AHS already work hard to deliver this, and this seemed like something that I could contribute, even if from a distance.

I cautioned my daughter that it would be a ton of work for her, but she took it on. She ran it past her principal and then the staff. Even without being able to fully know what was coming they said “yes.” I ran the idea past my pastor to see if our church, Beggars’ Gate, would be willing to cover the cost of my time. The high school would cover materials, installation, and its own time. It was now officially a collaboration between a little church in Loveland, Colorado, and a large high school in urban Indianapolis, Indiana.

The school principal approved a design bearing a likeness of Martin Luther King Jr., which was fitting for this year because 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s tragic assassination.

I completed my part and shipped off over 750, six inch square, prepped and coded tiles to Indianapolis. As the painting began at AHS, the students got into it and so did the staff. My daughter had a friend come in and DJ the painting area to create a good atmosphere. Good things happened. Creativity flowed. Dancing ensued.

community art project

Some kids, “hall-walkers” who have not been able to find their place in an academic setting, found their place in this setting.

At least one kid who is artistically gifted spent over 2 hours on his 6 inch square tile. He said it was the first time he had used paint.

A Behavior Specialist on staff said, “You know what? If we would’ve done this earlier in the year, I think our kids would’ve done better. It’s inspiring. I’m inspired!”

As the individual painting was going on, no one really knew what was coming. A few kids snuck their tiles out, presumably because they didn’t want to give them up. But when the seemingly random pieces all came together and went up on the wall, the result was spectacular. A lot of hugs were exchanged.

Congrats to Principal Law and the staff and students at Arlington High School – you did a great job!  Thank you Beggers’ Gate Church, for your support!

Martin Luther King Jr memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural, painted by the students and staff of Arlington High School. Formatted by Scott Freeman, 2018. (12.5 x 25.5 ft)

Obviously, a mural is not going to solve anyone’s problems. But if, at least for some students, it provided even some sense of being part of something transcendent; of having a unique place in community; of seeing themselves as being mentors to younger kids; of creative potential breaking out; then I think that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s about the most we can expect from art.

inner city high school project

Find your place in the bigger picture

Getting a vision? Contact me about bringing an experience like this to where you are.
My email is scottnmollie@yahoo.com.