I will not be silent

I will not be silent
in the face of injustice.
I will stand up 
for the oppressed,
for people of color –
children of God.

I will stand up against
the lie of white supremacy
the sin that begat slavery
the sin that begat lynchings
the sin that begets inequality
the sin that begets injustice.

In this land where
liberty and justice
are not for all
I will protest freely
I will act justly
I will love mercy.

I will be an instrument
of Your peace.
Where there is hatred
I will sow love.
Where there is darkness
I will be light.
I will not be silent.

Pillars of Caste: Divine Will

Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.

Isabel Wilkerson

In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson identified eight pillars of a caste system. I would describe these “pillars” as beliefs (or excuses) that are used to justify treating one group of people as inferior to another on the basis of something as insignificant as skin color. A caste system is not necessarily based on race. It can be based on gender, age, religion, social class, etc.

The first pillar Wilkerson discussed is “divine will and the laws of nature.” She began by describing the divine justification for the Indian caste system. In an ancient Indian text, Brahma, “the grandfather of all the worlds” was said to have created the highest caste, the Brahmans, out of his mouth or head. The lower castes were said to have been formed out of lower parts of the body – the arms, the thighs, the feet. The “untouchables” were considered so low, they were even beneath the feet of the lowly Shudra, “the servant, the bearer of burdens.”

In America, Christians historically used what has been called the “curse of Ham” as justification for enslaving people with brown skin. If you read the biblical text, the curse of Ham was actually Noah’s curse of his grandson Canaan, Ham’s son. Noah was angry at Ham for telling his two brothers that he saw Noah naked. The curse was not a curse of God and it had nothing to do with Ham or Canaan’s skin color.

Christians have used selected scripture as a pillar supporting the withholding of privileges from women in ministry. One day, when a woman gave the sermon at my church, I saw a man turn to his wife and say, 1 Corinthians 14:34. I immediately knew that he was referring to the verses that have been used to justify preventing women from speaking in church. “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

I have struggled to understand why Paul would write that women should not be allowed to speak. I found a compelling response to the question, Are women to remain silent in the church? in a blog post by Dennis Regling, an evangelist. He wrote that Paul often quoted other people before refuting what they were saying. Paul would use the Greek symbol ἢ before refuting the previous passage. The symbol basically means nonsense! or say what?

Both of these examples illustrate how important it is to use discernment when you hear someone attempt to use the Bible to justify something that you know is not consistent with who God is. Our response should be an emphatic . Nonsense! God created human beings in his image. We are to love one another as we love ourselves, to treat other people the way we want to be treated.

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Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

Toxins in the Permafrost

After the racial protests of 2020, I began reading to learn more about racism in America. The most informative book I have read so far is Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Part One of the book begins with a powerful analogy. In 2016, a heat wave hit the Russian peninsula of Yamal. So many children were getting sick from a mysterious illness, the authorities declared a state of emergency. Then scientists discovered that the extreme heat had eroded the permafrost, exposing Anthrax, a toxin that had been buried in the carcasses of reindeer since 1941.

Racism is a toxic pathogen. For much of my life, I believed that America had largely buried it. But just as unusually hot weather in Siberia exposed long-buried anthrax spores, rising heat in human hearts exposed long-denied racism in the United States. What reignited the flames? Wilkens pointed to one catalyst: the U.S. Census Bureau’s projection that by 2042, the U.S. will no longer be a white-majority nation.

The prevalence of racism today is often attributed to institutional or systemic racism, the embedded social practices that lead to discrimination against people of color. According to Wikipedia, the term institutional racism was first used in 1967 in the book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Institutional racism is much more subtle and harder to detect than individual racism. Today many whites quickly condemn individual racism as immoral but are not so quick to condemn the racist practices embedded in our culture.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited India, he was introduced to a group of high school students as “a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” King was surprised and a bit peeved to be described as an untouchable. But he realized it was true; he and other black people had been consigned to the lowest caste in America for centuries.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it.

Isabel Wilkerson

Years ago, missionaries visited my church to talk about the Dalits, India’s lowest caste, once known as the “untouchables.” We were given clay cups to remind us of the daily oppression of the Dalit people, who aren’t allowed to drink from the same cups as people in the higher castes. The oppression of the Dalits seemed like an other world problem. Now I realize that caste is very much a part of my world. It is not a foreign problem.

In Caste, Wilkerson draws parallels between the unnamed caste system of the United States and those of India and Nazi Germany. As described by Wilkerson, the upper caste consists of white people of European descent, the middle caste is made up of Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, and the lower or bottom caste is made up of black people of African descent. White people have historically been the dominant caste, the favored caste, the ruling majority. Black people have historically been the subordinate caste, the disfavored caste, the powerless minority.

In another powerful analogy, Wilkerson compared America to the stage of a long-running play.

The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them. The people in these roles are not the characters they play, but they have played the roles long enough to incorporate the roles into their very being, to merge the assignment with their inner selves and how they are seen in the world.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

White people have become accustomed to our dominant roles. We take little notice of the people in the back unless they try to veer from the script; then we step in and put them in their place. If they protest too much, we silence them.

Caste makes distinctions among creatures where God has made none.

A native of India

The American caste system is a tragedy. As a nation, we have an ugly, horrific history of dehumanizing people based on the color of their skin. And although those of us living today did not create this system, we inherited it and may unwittingly play a role in keeping it in place.

The caste system thrives on dissension and inequality, envy and false rivalries, that build up in a world of perceived scarcity….A caste system builds rivalry and distrust and lack of empathy toward one’s fellows.

Isabel Wilkerson

Today, we can see the American caste system at work in the restrictive voting laws that are being enacted all over the country. I believe that these bills are designed to keep the ruling majority in power. Others have pointed out the symbolism of the governor of Georgia signing a bill that restricts voting rights while surrounded by white men standing in front of a painting of a slave plantation.

I agree with Wilkerson that understanding the American caste system may be the key to dismantling it. In part three of her book, Wilkerson describes what she calls the eight pillars of caste, the beliefs and practices that keep a caste system in place. I will reflect on each of these pillars in future posts.

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Photo by Daniel Born on Unsplash

Good News in Bad Times

I pray for church pastors who are charged with leading their congregations during these difficult times. They know that the congregation, like the country, is divided politically and that many people are frustrated and angry.

A couple of weeks ago, my pastor encouraged the church to spend more time with Jesus than we spend with our sources of information, whether that be social media or a news/opinion network on TV. He made a really important point. How can a weekly sermon at church override the negative influence of everything we are exposed to outside the church on a daily basis?

I have to admit that I spend more time watching or listening to news/opinion shows every day and reading articles than I do reading my Bible and praying. I know that constant negative news and exposure to the toxins of social media aren’t good for me.

Too much exposure to bad news and negative people can take our eyes away from the hope we have in Jesus.

The kingdom of God has come near. Turn away from your sins and believe the good news!

Jesus, Mark 1:15

No matter what happens in this world, the good news of the gospel is still Good News!

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Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

A Disciple of Jesus Christ Rejecting and Resisting Christian Nationalism

Something has been bothering me and I have to get it off my chest. A couple of days before the Presidential election, a member of my old church shared a post from a former pastor in which he wrote, “This week I will be voting for the sanctity of life, for religious liberty as understood by our founders, for the sanctity of marriage, for our constitutional order and original intent, and against the growing influence of socialism and cultural Marxism in our nation.” This statement disturbed me because it is a clear example of Christian nationalism and a Christian endorsement of Donald Trump, a man who is the antithesis of Jesus Christ.

I can’t believe that after four years, I am still asking myself, how can Christians support a man whose behavior is the complete opposite of Jesus Christ? How can they accept his racism, xenophobia, hatred and cruelty? While many Christians complain that our culture has taken Christ out of Christmas, sadly many Christians have taken Christ out of Christianity.

The man who made the Christian nationalist endorsement of Trump is now the president of a Christian university with the ability to influence thousands of young minds. For years, I looked up to the woman who shared his post and admired her for her caring ministry. Now I see her as just another Christian who conflates religion with politics. It is disappointing and disheartening but I should not have been surprised.

Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

Christians Against Christian Nationalism

I just read Drew Straits’ review of the book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry. The authors describe four orientations to Christian nationalism – Rejecters, Resisters, Accommodators, and Ambassadors – and confirm what I have observed in too many of my Christian friends: it’s all about power and not about true religion. As Strait wrote in his review, Christian nationalism is about acquiring and using political power to influence “issues like Islam, immigration, abortion/patriarchy, militarism, gun control and sacrificial allegiance to the flag…”

Obsession with power explains why Ambassadors and Accommodators overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election while overlooking the many ways that Trump’s personal life is at odds with Christian ethics. Again, Trump’s personal religious piety is of little significance—what matters is that he pulls the right ideological levers to shape America into the image of Christian nationalism, to reclaim a mythical past. 

Drew J. Strait

I knew after the 2016 election that I was in the minority of Christians who oppose and resist the wickedness of Donald Trump. Since then, I have been encouraged to hear from other followers of Jesus Christ who believe that political ambition is not more important than being true to our Savior and sharing his inclusive message of love and redemption.

In What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey wrote, “Like fine wine poured into a jug of water, Jesus’ wondrous message of grace gets diluted in the vessel of the church.” Yancey quoted David Seamands, who noted that many evangelical Christians fail “to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness” and fail “to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people…”

I believe in the sanctity of life and I believe in the sanctity of marriage. And yet I know that Christians and non-Christians alike, fall short of the glory of God. No law and no government can change the hearts of people; only God can do that. I do not live in fear of socialism and cultural Marxism.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

I will not be dismayed by Christian Nationalism. I reject it and I resist it.

I want people to see the love of Jesus reflected in me.

I want to live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness.

I want to give out God’s unconditional love, grace and forgiveness to others.

With all of this in mind, I will be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people and for those who have not seen the love of God in the church.

I will put on the full armor of God so I can take a stand against the devil’s schemes.*

I will stand firm, with the belt of truth buckled around my waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 

In addition to all this, I take up the shield of faith, with which I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. In this stand against Christian Nationalism, I will take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

*Ephesions 6:10-18