My Testimony – Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas

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Me and my mentor during my divinity studies, the Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone.

During my second year of theological studies I had a personal and vocational crisis. I began seminary to fulfill my call to ministry that came when I was 12 years old, the same year I began my menstrual cycle. This latter point is very important because it meant that I knew that God knew I was a young girl. My home congregation affirmed me. No one told me that I could not be a pastor because I was a girl.  But, in my second year of seminary, for the first time in my life, people who looked like me questioned my call to ministry. African American male students raised this question and their evidence was found in the bible and church tradition. They were clear that women could not be ordained.

This first experience of sexism was not only extremely painful; it was disorienting because I knew the texts to which they referred: Genesis chapter 2 –“woman was made from man’s side” and so was secondary; Paul in letters to the Ephesian 5:22-24; I Cor 11:3; I Timothy 2: 11-15 basically said that the man was head of the household and women were to be quiet and obedient to her husband. I felt as though I had been check mated by these men, because I believed the bible was authoritative as was tradition.  But, I could not let go of my experience: what about God’s calling of me at the age if twelve. My world fell apart. How could I put together “the word of God” with the “my call by God”?

I decided to do a search for a use-able past and in so doing found an answer that has been incorporated into my life to this day. My embodied strength, wit, and proclivity to speak truth to power is a result of my close relationship to a woman born into slavery, and only freed because of her agency to pick up her bed and walk when her promised freedom was denied.

 

Her slaveholder named her Isabella and like most enslaved black women she did not control her body. She bore 12 children all of whom were sold into slavery so the plantation economy could grow and flourish. Even with all this as part of her everyday life, Isabella remembered the God her mother introduced her to, whose presence was found in the night sky that held the stars connecting her to that divinity and to her mother. Throughout her life she was never alone and in time Isabella heard a call from God to preach.

This God welled up in her on the day of she had expected to be freed from slavery but was told that she had to work several more years. She could not believe that her Christian slaveholder, who she held regard for, would do such a thing. This betrayal and her assurance in the God of her mother is what propelled her under the cover of the awesome dark night to take leave for her assignment to preach God’s word of truth and deliverance. Betrayal led to freedom granted by God and it was not a theoretical freedom but, one of physicality–meaning that her embodied self was freed by God. She packed a few provisions, walked from the plantation, and asked God for a new name. She no longer wanted the name given to her by the slaveholder.

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Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

She desired a new name to signal that she was no longer enslaved and held as property. God answered, “you shall be called Sojourner” and hence forth she no longer answered to the name Isabella.

Living into her new name, Sojourner followed Jesus’ pattern of walking from town to town across this country preaching the good news, offering hope, asking questions, and standing with vulnerable people. She was both an abolitionist and a woman’s rights advocate. Like the prophets and Jesus, she brought a message she was compelled to preach grounded in the truth of the Triune God. She raised questions about God presence in the activities of Christians who practiced chattel slavery and later spoke about women’s equality with men. She responded to anyone who attempted to limit the authority vested in her by God to preach about the relationship between and among those with structural power and those without such power.

When people wanted to know her “full name,” Sojourner asked God “to give her a handle for her name” and the response from God was “Truth.”  This new name, Sojourner Truth, sealed her divine identity and added strength to her gait as she missioned from place to place. It was unusual for a black woman–to freely walk and preach God’s word, but who else could it have been more fitting than a black woman–one who had been scorned and abused, spit upon and reviled and discounted by the authorities of her day (read her famous ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech here).

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A drawing depicting Sojourner Truth preaching.

This woman Sojourner Truth is my spiritual mother. I have been to her grave site and she continues to mentor me always steering me in the direction of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

So why do I mention this now?

Have you been watching the news this past week?

The president of the United States of America denigrated three African American women reporters in one week – women who were simply doing their job by asking appropriate questions on behalf of the American people to hold him accountable.

Are you aware that two Muslim women were elected to Congress, despite the way that as candidate and president used his power to discriminate against Muslims?

Did you note that two Native women were also elected to Congress, just weeks after voting privileges were essentially stripped from Native communities in North Dakota, also won seats in Congress, and one in one of the most conservative states in the country?

Not to mention the slew of female veterans who are going to Congress – Democrat and Republican alike – who have signed a pledge among them to always be bipartisan in their workings with each other?

Sojourner Truth is perched, among the great cloud of witnesses, hiding in the invisible brush that separates her world from ours – and looks upon all of us, strong black women and Muslim women and Native women, approvingly nodding her head with contentment and pride.

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She calls us to remember Hagar, the Egyptian, who with her son Ishmael was sent to die in the wilderness, but was saved by God, she names and told that her son would become a great nation (Genesis 16 and 21:9-20). She encourages us to recall the Syrophoenician woman who was scorned and mocked and clapped-back because she knew the life of her daughter was on the line (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). And of course, we harken back to Mary Magdalene – who witnessed the Crucifixion and was the first person to see Jesus post-resurrection, (although the disciples did not believe her) and was supported by Jesus despite the despicable things people said about her being a prostitute of which there is no evidence in the Gospels (Matthew 27:55-61, 28:1-10; Mark 15:40-47, 16:1-11; Luke 8:1-3, 24:1-12; John 19:25, 20:1-18).

And they’re all there, waving us on.

So we needn’t, and shan’t, fear.

Not then, not now, not ever.

Amen.


fontDr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, scholars and communities as a scholar for thirty-one years. She studies, researches, writes, speaks and teaches about the intersection and mutual influence of culture and religion. Her work is rooted intransitively in a Womanist perspective. An ordained Methodist pastor for 35 years with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from The American University in Washington D.C. and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Dr. Thomas’s work has taken her to South Africa, Peru, Cuba and Russia. She has been recognized as an Association of Theological Schools Faculty Fellow as well as a Pew Charitable Trust Scholar.

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Op-Ed on Martin Luther King, Jr. – Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Trinity United Church of Christ

Dr TAs we leave January, going from the month where we celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into Black History Month, we have a special reflection on Dr. King’s legacy penned by one of Chicago’s own. The Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, closes out this month’s series of blog posts, he leaves us with a crystal clear reminder: Do not de-radicalize King. This message has special significance today, the day of President Donald Trumps first State of the Union Address. The impact that Dr. King had on this country as a justice seeker and a Christian are undeniable, but if we today merely raise hossanahs to King’s name without the same courageous commitment to fighting all social ills, we are merely loud gongs and clanging symbols – especially if we do so despite the obvious presence of evil in our midst. Read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


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Once   again,   as   a   nation,   we   stand   on   the   precipice   of   contradiction   and   conflict.      

This month, across the   nation,   in   various   communities,   and   across   the   City   of   Chicago,  organizations   attempted   to   celebrate   the   legacy   of   Dr.   Martin   Luther   King, Jr.,   and    the   freedom   struggle,   called   by   some,   the   Civil   Rights   Movement.     I use   the   term    “attempted”   because   most   celebrations   will   deradicalize   Dr.   King, into   a   feel-­good    rhetorical   eunuch   who   offers   no   challenge   to   America’s  open   wound   of   racial    animus   and   the   brutality   of poverty.  Dr.   King’s name   will   flow   from   the   lips   of   infantile   political   pundits,   who   offer   horrific myths  about   “manure-­‐holes”   and   ethnicity   while   simultaneously   uttering    the   name  of   a   genuine   prophet   and   morally   courageous   revolutionary   named,  Martin   Luther,   Jr.,   who   was   birthed   into   a nation   that   negated   his personhood.

In   this   moment   where   civic   and political   decency   have   been   recaptured   by  Confederate   ghosts   who   haunt   the words   of   the   president   of   the   United States, we    need   to   salvage   the   true legacy   of   Dr.   Martin   Luther   King,   Jr.,   the power  of   Fannie    Lou   Hamer   and the   brilliance   of   Bayard   Rustin.     The   truth   of   the  legacy,   and   the    impact   of the   above   individuals,   is   the   fact   that King,   Hamer,  and   Rustin   sought   to  disrupt   the   political   and   economic   structure   of   America,  based   on   a   moral vision    drawn   from   the   Abrahamic   tradition,   and   connected  to   the   spiritual work   of   the    anti-­‐colonialism   movement   of   India,   led   by   Mohandas   K. Gandhi.  

Dr.   King,   a   Baptist   preacher,   raised   in   the   Black   theological   tradition   of   resistance,    service,   and   commitment,   set   the   tone   —   nationally   —   for   Black   Southern   resistance    to   disable   vulgar   forms   of   blatant   acts   of   White supremacy.

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Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)

Fannie   Lou   Hamer,   a    former   sharecropper-­‐turned-­‐activist,   and non-­‐traditional   teacher,   came   from   the    same   theological   tradition   as   Martin Luther   King,   Jr.,   but   was   raised   in   the   web   of    poverty   and   sexism;   plus the  frigid   actions   of   racism   in   Mississippi.     Hamer   became    the   guiding   light   for merging   faith,   gender,   and   class   as   an   intersection.

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Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Bayard   Rustin,   who   was   Quaker,   gay,   and   a   believer   in   the   power   of   people organizing   for   change,   became   the   organizing   mentor   and   teacher   for   Dr. King   and    Fannie   Lou   Hamer   throughout   the   movement.     Each   person,   Black and   faithful,   yet    raised   in   different   circumstances   dared   to   offer   a   vision,  not   of   “making   this   country    great   again,”   but   stating,   without   equivocation:

“America   cannot   be   a   city   on   the   hill    without   treating   those   who   have been scarred   by   this   nation’s   racial   glaucoma   with    dignity   and   offering   a   new economic   and   social   vision   for   the   democratic   experiment    we   call America.”

The   rhetoric   of   Donald   Trump   demonstrates   a   deep   moral   fracture   and   flaw   in   our    nation.     The   language   of   privilege   and   undergirding   tone   of   dismissal floats   in   the   air    of   civic   conversation.     In   times   such   as   this,   we   need   not celebration   and    commemoration   of   men   and   women   who   lived   valiantly,   but we   need   to   be    disturbed   and   re-­‐energized;   not   by   the   “safe”   King,   created by   certain   persons   to    tone   down   his   radical   legacy,   but   we   need   the   radical King,   the   radical,   Hamer,   and    the   radical   Rustin.     We   do   not   need   simple slogans,   but   we   must   arm   ourselves    moral   courage,   outrage,   and   a   vision for a   nation   where   the   debilitating   effects   of    poverty,   racial   hierarchy,   and gender   marginalization   are   actively   banished   from    public   policy   and   political discourse.

I   am   not   interested   in   singing   songs   or   stating   what   “we   used   to   do.”

I   am   interested    in   fighting   and   drawing   strength   and   lessons   from   the   ancestors   of   our   struggle   and    planning   a   better   future   for   my   children.

As we celebrate King this month,   I   hope   you   will   do   more   than   remember, but join   the   fight   to   resist   policies   that   dehumanize   those   who   are   incarcerated, and    incarcerate   families   of   the   incarcerated.          Resist   words   dipped   in   fear, designed   to   demonize   “dreamers;”   brilliant   children raised in this country brought to America by parents looking for a better life.

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Resist   economic   policies   designed   to   cripple   the   poor   and   further   enrich   the  wealthy.

Resist   alleged   “bar   stool   talk,”   that   is   nothing   more   than   vile speech,   anointed by   the    racist   demons   of   this   world.        

We   need   the   legacy of   King,   the   power   of   Hamer,   the   brilliance   of   Rustin,   and   most   of  all, in the city of Chicago, we need you.

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100-Most-Powerful-029-Otis-Moss-IIIA native of Cleveland, Ohio, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is an honors graduate of Morehouse College who earned a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary. A product of being invited to give Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale in 2014, his very popular book, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair, has become a staple among many Christian preachers in recent years – demonstrating a homiletic blueprint for prophetic preaching in the 21st century. Currently, he is the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, and he is happily married to his college sweetheart, the former Monica Brown of Orlando, Florida, a Spelman College and Columbia University graduate. They are the proud parents of two creative and humorous children, Elijah Wynton and Makayla Elon.

Christianity in the Era of Alternative Facts – Rev. Ronald Bonner

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This week’s author in African American History month, Pastor Ronald Bonner – who published this time last year as well, knows a thing or two about racism, United States society, and the church. However in addition to talking about the evils of racism, he has used the occasion of our country’s political situation to write boldly about how the recent upsurge in white supremacist rhetoric since the election of our new president has heightened not only the racism, but also the homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia – all the ways that evil tries to divide and conquer God’s children, intersect. And specifically, he talks about the “alternative facts” of white supremacy continue to divide and enrage. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


 

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Chief White House council, Kellyanne Conway, in the interview where she created the term “alternative facts.”

Calling “alternative facts” the truth is like calling arsenic “alternative salt.”

The Bible is clear lying breeds contempt and must be avoided yet we allow it from our politicians, pundits and media sources.  Much of America’s woes and divisions are due to lies.  Racism, sexism, classism, hetero-sexism, are examples of lies or alternative facts that led our culture to accept hate, superiority, and unnatural division as normative.  The use of alternative facts by political and religious leaders serves as a superficial surrogate for the depression and hopelessness that many Americans feel.  Not knowing who to blame, external enemies are created to serve as scapegoats. Alternative facts and hateful speech creates pundits out of persons who have found this fracture in our society and have rushed to fill this void with the venom of blame.

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For 60 million Americans Donald Trump is the new messiah.

For the millions of white Americans and others who have felt displaced or devalued in this society Donald Trump is the personification of their hope.  Many average and below average income white Americans and some others have felt that their rights and prestige has been taken away. They feel that they are the ones whose ancestors built this country on a bedrock of gritty determination.  Only to now passively witness their privileges and rights being compromised and redistributed to, in their estimation, blacks, immigrants, and other less deserving groups of people.

The obviously coded and racially biased message of “make America great again” resonates with their primal fear of an end to the notion of white supremacy. Donald Trump supporters are fearful of losing their self-esteem in society and the world.  Further, these supporters are also fearful of losing their place in history.  They have been taught that the “white race” is the superior race. Yet, for eight years they have had that notion of white superiority undermined by the presence of Barak Obama a man of African descent as the President of the United States of America and his Black family living in the White House.  What these hurting supporters see in the 45th President that they could not see in Barak Obama the 44th President of the United States is a messianic hope for the restoration of white supremacy and the calming of their fear of its annihilation.

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Anti-Obama protest in 2010 – accusing President Obama of not having been born in the US, the same line of attack that started Donald Trumps political career.

The sad truth is alternative facts are not new, they are recorded in the Hebrew and Christian Bible.  The primary form of alternative facts that is admonished in the Bible is lying or bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.   The writers of the Hebrew text took this notion of false witness very seriously and devoted scores of references throughout their work to condemn it and those who practiced it.  However, for those who use lying as a source for personal gain they know that if they can lie enough, they will find an audience ready to listen by creating false fear and attacking the core emotional values of honest hardworking people.

One cannot honor God by lying and engaging in lying.

In early Judaism one could not proclaim devotion to God while violating God’s rules.  To do so would be a violation of God’s Will and declaring that they were in charge and not God.   This was seen by the elders during nascent Judaism as a direct assault against God.  This assault against God had another name, idolatry.

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We see this today with blind right-wing evangelical support for the current presidential administration. It has been reported that one iconic right-wing evangelical leader shamed former First Lady Michelle Obama for having bare-arms while praising the current First Lady for baring it all. In Ephesians 5 the Apostle Paul calls on Christians to be imitators of God.  As imitators, we are required to be critical thinkers and repudiate alternative facts and hateful speech.  It is what Jesus did and it is what is required of us.  The Bible calls on us to heed sound advice and discipline, Proverbs states and restates that requirement of us.  The Bible states that we are to dismiss foolishness, empty acts and coarse joking.  We are compelled by God not to be deceived by vain or empty words.  Lies, which is another name for hate speech and alternative facts, are used in the political arena to distract from the true and important issues facing the general population.

We are commanded by God to dismiss this speech for it is the substance of empty acts and deception.  We are not to listen to it and certainly we are not to follow or act on this negative output.  Because, it is based on lies or a false witness we are required to keep our wits about us and not join them in their wickedness or oppressions. Their sins will eventually ensnare those involved and hold them tight.  Their own evil devices will be their source of ruin.  Consider the gallows that Haman built for Mordecai.

As stated before, in the political arena alternative facts creates division because it is designed to exacerbate negative emotions especially the fear of loss and greed.  Alternative facts serve as an anemic substitute for useful activity and only serves to divide and distract from the truth. Amid dire circumstances, it inflames human ire until it boils over the top and creates unneeded panic, mistrust, and of course hate.  This practice festers because of fear in the unknown based on uneasy current circumstances, creating a sense of instability that only the speaker or their cohorts can resolve.  In most cases the profiteers are proven wrong yet they continue to thrive creating hateful divisions between voters and the general population.  Jesus stated when he was accused of bearing false witness that a house divided cannot stand.

We cannot allow politicians and those in their administrations to divide the nation by lies, alternative facts, and deception.

During this political climate, the stakes are too high for us to rally around fairy tales from false messiahs.  We must hold political figures to a higher standard than in past elections. They must engage in the truth and not political spin that is full of vain and empty promises.  We must see clearly and not be fooled by words that are designed to distract from the truth.  Beloved, when we live in the illuminating light of Christ we can clearly see the stealth of empty promises and alternative facts as the lies that they are.  As the body of Christ, we must take a stand to keep the integrity of and demand the truth. We can no longer accept that politicians bear false witness as par for the course. We need a reformed normal where truth is not diluted or poisoned with the arsenic of alternative facts. Those who want our votes must come to us not spinning the truth to distract us but, speaking the truth to lead us. We as Christians are called to have nothing to do with fruitless deeds or behaviors.

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Former Trump National Security adviser, Michael Flint – before his recent firing after having been caught giving “incomplete” information about conversations with representatives of the Russian government while working on Trump’s presidential campaign.

When politicians come to us with alternative facts, to support their malignant words of fruitless endeavors that lead to higher gas and food prices, lack of health insurance for working class people, increased unrest and injustice God requires we reject them.

When Jesus was confronted by the father of lies in the wilderness Jesus dismissed Satan, we in this political season must be imitators of Christ!


pastorfoto.jpgRonald Bonner, is the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Atlanta, GA, author of No Bigotry Allow Losing the Spirit of Fear: Towards the Conversation about Race and The Seat. And has recently been called as a Director of Evangelical Mission/ Assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA

One Week After the Women’s March: A White Mother’s Take on Next Steps for White Christians – Prof. Aana Marie Vigen, Loyola University – Chicago

Picture 002So much has happened in the last week it has been hard for We Talk. We Listen. to catch its breath, let alone find its bearings. Trump’s inauguration was followed by the Global Women’s Marches, which was then followed-up by Trump signing a flurry of executive orders that affected everything from women’s health services, health care, immigrants and refugees – not to mention his constant spats with the media.  Prof. Anna Marie Vigen’s contribution for this week, however, ties much of this together – reflecting on much of what has happened in the last 10 days as well as how Christians – especially white Chritians – might respond.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


Step One: Take Stock of a Powerful Day

Memory is powerful; it can fuel imagination. So, let me begin by recollecting our Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. My family of three headed to downtown Chicago to join, what we hoped, would be a gathering of 50,000. My nine-year old son chatted happily with friends on the “L”. The excitement exponentially built as marchers filled the car – and every car—to the point of sardines.

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Leading up to the Women’s March, I worried: Would too few show up? Would there be paltry news coverage? Would no one notice? However, my biggest fear was this: Would only white women show up and for only a narrow set of issues? Too often, this shoe has fit our foot. Such tunnel vision played a significant role in giving this unqualified man the election as 54% of white women voted for Trump along with large majorities of white Christians (58% of white Protestants, 60% of white Catholics & 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for him).

The night before the march, I struggled with what to write on my sign. I wanted to be clear that I was not marching for white women or reproductive rights alone. I wanted my sign to send the message that white folk especially must see the connections and become allies for others even more at immediate risk.  I ended writing: “I March for: Black and Brown Lives; for the Planet; for My Child and YOURS!”

My concerns about size and media evaporated as soon as my face was met by the light of the morning. Our plans to meet others from our church and son’s school were impossible to realize.  We happily bobbed along in the middle of a rippling sea of people expressing both hope and conviction, numbering 250,000 or more. The spirit was ebullient—propelled by big smiles, camaraderie, laughter, singing, clever signs, and hundreds of babies and children whose mere presence was enough to showed us plainly why we had come and why it mattered.

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Indeed, what most amazed me was the vast constellation of people: youth, elders, students, parents, immigrants, pastors, teachers, healthcare professionals, scientists, etc.—of every color, gender, culture, religion, and sexual identity. Together, for a few shining hours of brilliant blue sky and balmy 60 degrees, we embodied the UNITED States of America. And we did this not only in Chicago, but across the country and even the globe. On this dazzling day, We the People showed up. We showed up to speak out for human rights, for black and brown lives, for healthcare, for immigrants, for reproductive justice, for equality, for the planet, for our children. And the world noticed. And, apparently, so did this new president.

It has been a head-spinning, wretched week of executive orders and bald lies. Each action has taken aim at hard-fought successes of the Obama administration. The targets, to date, include: women overseas in need of reproductive information and medical care; the 20 million Americans newly insured by Obamacare, including that of coal miners and other workers with no employer-based healthcare options; the independent reporting of proven, credible science; Obama’s efforts to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and pipelines; the well-being and rights of Native peoples; new immigrants and refugees and the cities who have pledged to offer them sanctuary.

What are Christians, especially white Christians, to do?

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Step Two: Call Out Idolatry

White theologian Stanley Hauerwas named publically what many felt in our bones with each new pronouncement: This administration embodies a powerful, idolatrous faith.

With lightening speed and a shocking disregard for democratic principles and processes, it is feverishly erecting golden shrines to false idols that glorify: unchecked ego and concentrated power; the fear of strangers (whether Muslim or Mexican); a twisted (white) nationalism packaged as patriotism; unlimited corporate profits and gushing fossil fuels (over science and prudence). And this faith is reinforced by a glaringly-white inner circle of advisors and spinners of “alternate facts”.

My language is strong because Christianity has had a prophetic obligation and identity since Jesus started turning over tables and calling out the unjust treatment of women, slaves, gentiles, foreigners… Jesus was a refugee, prophet, and messiah. We are called to be his disciples. A German, Lutheran pastor and pacifist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer bore witness to the idolatry in Nazi fascism. His legacy reminds us that we need to be very clear about the faith and leaders to whom we pledge our allegiance.

Step 3: Become Authentic Allies & Take Concrete Action

As many on social media have proclaimed since last Saturday: “Marches are not Movements”.  There is much more, urgent work to do.

In recent weeks, prominent white theologians such as Jim Wallis, Jennifer Harvey, Christian Scharen, Todd Whitmore and Diana Butler Bass, among others, have put a sharp point on how the complacency and flawed assumptions white Christians have put the lives of black and brown people at great risk.

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We need to confess this failure. Starting now, we need to start grasping the complex intersections of injustice (race, socio-economic class, religion, geography, sex/gender). As just one example: It is black and brown women and children—in the U.S. and around the world— who are, and will, suffer the most immediate and worst effects of climate change. In Alaska and Louisiana, their families are losing land to encroaching seas. In Syria, China, and in the U.S., they are losing crops to drought. Women and children are among those most vulnerable to hunger and infectious diseases carried by polluted water and viruses carried by mosquitoes. Climate change is, as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes, the largest public health crisis of the 21st century. Women and children are the ones who are already disproportionately losing homes, opportunities for education, and livelihoods due to the disappearance of schools, farming, trades along with increasing civil strife and unstable governments and economies.

In short, those of us with religious, racial, socio-economic, and geographic assets need to become trustworthy and visible allies to those more vulnerable. And we need to do this both out of a moral duty, but also for the sake of our common future.  Indeed, how we act now will determine what kind of prospects any of us may have—in terms of pursuing any semblance of liberty, happiness, or life.

For our march, my nine-year old wrote on his sign: “I March for My Future.” Let’s join him. I will continue to act for the sake your children—Christian or Muslim; from a family of new or long-ago immigrants; affluent or impoverished; rural or urban black, brown, white. I ask you to act with my son’s future in mind. All of our children need to know we have their backs.

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At the Women’s March in DC.

We owe it to them. Now is the time to be prophetic together.

 


imgres.jpgAana Marie Vigen is an Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Vigen earned a BA in Spanish, Religion, and Hispanic Studies from St. Olaf College, an MA in Theology and Ethics jointly conferred by the Graduate Theological Union and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Social and Theological Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is a member of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Dr. Vigen is also an active lay member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and served on the national ELCA Genetics Taskforce from 2008–2011. She offers courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Baptism and Resistance – Patrick Freund (Candidate for Ordained Ministry, ELCA)

Linda Thomas at CTS event

It is safe to say that the election of Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the entire  United States. He campaigned to build a wall between the United States and Mexico (that Mexico will pay for), to limit immigration from Muslim countries, and has vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act – legislation that has allowed millions of people in the US to have medical insurance. As Christians, though, how do we respond, especially if we strongly disagree with him? M.Div. student Patrick Freund, weighs  in – anchoring his response to Trump’s rhetoric to our Christian baptismal vows. Direct, eloquent, and pastoral. Read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

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“Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”

From the order for Affirmation of Baptism

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On election day, I drove to O’Hare International Airport to pick up a couple of friends whom I had not seen in a year and who were staying with my wife and me for a week. They are both Bosnian nationals residing in Austria. We spent the rest of the night sitting on the living room couch watching the poll returns and wondering if we were dreaming. For our friends, Alice and Jeff,[1] it felt like deja vu. Austria, too, has gone through a long, strenuous, and divisive national election this year: first a runoff election, then a secondary election, and finally a revote of the secondary election. In the end, Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent supported by the Green Party, inched ahead of Norbert Hofer of the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) earning 53.79% of the vote. The FPÖ is a nationalist party that ran much of its campaign by building fears against refugees and other asylum seekers, predominantly Syrians, who have found it increasingly difficult to cross the northern border into Germany since it became re-controlled a year and a half ago. Additionally, the FPÖ has long been known as a party that in my words has tried to “keep Austria Austrian.” Their current slogan is “We make Austria strong.”

Our Bosnian friends were very young when war broke out in their country, and the kindness and welcome they received helped shape them into the kind and generous people that they are today. Alice moved to Germany with her mother where she went to school, learned German, and made friends. Her youth in Germany is what allowed her to later pursue a master’s degree in Austria, obtain a job there, and eventually bring her fiancé and mother from Bosnia as well. During the war, Jeff stayed in Bosnia. He has memories of walking to school and hearing the fighting; bombs exploding on the other side of town. He also remembers receiving Christmas gifts from American children. For both of them, visiting the United states has long been a dream that finally came true this past year.

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In thinking about the incoming presidential administration, Alice and Jeff’s stories are important to me because they illustrate a commitment to welcoming the outsider, and loving the neighbor. The parallels that I see between the Austrian elections and the American elections are important, because Van der Bellen’s narrow win is not a victory for inclusivity and openness. If today, Hillary Clinton was being sworn in to the office of president, today too would not represent a victory of inclusivity and openness. A large portion of the population in both countries is fearful of that “other;” fearful of people like my friend Alice and her family who comes in search of peace and security.

Today, Donald J. Trump will swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States” to the best of his ability, and in doing so, will become the 45th president of the United States of America. Today I will remember the covenant that God made with me at baptism. Through baptism, all believers are called to be priests in this world, living among God’s faithful people; hearing the word of God and sharing in the Lord’s Supper; proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serving all people following the example of Jesus; and striving for justice and peace in all the earth and start claiming our siblings as siblings and treat them as such. It a time to forget us and them, and start being “we.”

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Us and them, however, is a hard habit to break. From the beginning, Donald Trump ran an “us and them,” campaign, drawing divisions between every group of people he could find. Still, I refuse to say that Donald Trump is not my president, despite the fact that I did not vote for him. I will call him my president, because for eight years I have watched and heard detractors from President Obama degrade him and refuse to work with him. As long as I can remember politically, the administrations have come and gone from the White House, as the distinctions between “us and them,” Democrat and Republican, rich and poor, white and black, have grown and become a deeper and deeper chasm. As a U.S. citizen, but even more so as a Christian, it is my obligation to support him when his actions and policies strive for justice and peace, or when he works for the betterment of all at the expense of or to the exclusion of none. I also have the obligation to resist when his policies and actions disenfranchise, and cause strife. His primary call is from the people of this nation. Our primary call as Christians is from God made known to use in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Knowing where our call comes from, this is the time live into baptism; serving our neighbor not because we are commanded to do so (though we are) but because we have been so loved by God that we cannot help but to love other people, and love them so much that we cannot help but hurt when they hurt, and there is a lot of hurt in the world around us. There is hurt in the families of the at least 746 people murdered in Chicago in 2016. There is hurt in thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing their homes to come to a strange place. There is hurt in discrimination that comes along with identifying any way other than cis-gender. There is hurt in divorce, and defaulting on a loan, and losing a job, and losing a family member. Everybody is hurting, and that means that 2017 is also a year to be challenged by empathy. A year to feel empathy for the “drug dealer,” and the “factory worker,” and the “felon,” the Democrat as well as the Republican, the Trumpeter and the Burner for Bernie. We need to be challenged by our empathy, because if the president, the courts, the police, and the legislators won’t protect the rights and the freedoms of all people, we need to be the ones to step in and stand with our neighbors.

I am not a community organizer. I am not yet a pastor. I am a straight, white, cis-gender male, college educated, middle class, in my twenties who over the past two and a half years has come to discover that I benefit from all these labels. I cannot believe that this world is as God would have it so long as some people are discriminated against because of an innate and inherent trait, part of their identity that makes them who they are. In such a short essay, there is no way to discuss the many injustices that are facing us today. Volumes can be – and have been written – concerning racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, abuse of indigenous peoples, xenophobia, abuse of the land, air, and water… And many more will be written. 2017 is not a time to despair. An inauguration is not a time for gnashing of teeth. In this 500th year of reformation, it is a time for Christians to pray that we may be troubled by our sins, forgiven through our baptism, and challenged by our love to use our God given gifts and talents to be co-workers in this creation.

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For this reason, we don’t say, “God bless America.”

We remember Jesus when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy…. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Our primary identity is as beloved children of the crucified and risen One. We have been named and claimed: it’s time to work.

[1]     Pseudonyms in use for the sake of privacy.


1175397_10202066809055372_1572783268_n.jpgPatrick Freund is a third-year M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.