I awoke mentally exhausted from information overload and groggy from a late night and early rise. A full flash drive fulfilled my obligation to the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) but returning home was not an option. My husband could not pick me up until Sunday morning. I sent a text to the event coordinator requesting a meeting, so I could deliver the flash drive.
“Send me the links to the articles you write,” he said.
“My experience has been positive, but you might not like everything I have to say,” I replied. When I made that statement, I had in mind the conflicting perspectives on the African American fight for equality that I observed between the elder and the younger. Little did I know what the day would yield.
I returned to my room and tried to sleep to no avail, so I went back downstairs to attend the end of the morning plenary. Then I had lunch with a friend. She had thoroughly enjoyed every plenary session and workshop that she attended. We scanned the afternoon workshops in CCDA’s program book and discussed several possibilities. I departed for “A Pastor’s CCDA Traveling Guide Into the City.” My friend, active in non-profit work, choose “From Addition to Multiplication: How to Expand the Work from One Community to a Region”.
I walked out of the workshop with a throbbing headache from lack of sleep, so I returned to my room for an Advil and to lay down. I wish I had stayed in my room watching mindless entertainment on television. If I had, I would not be writing a difficult article about the last session I attended.
In the pastor’s opening remarks he apologized for offending some people in an earlier workshop, and then made it clear that he uses hyperbole because it is used in the Bible. Regarding the message he was about to present he said, “I am going to use hyperbole the whole time. That was hyperbole. No, I never use hyperbole.” I think he told us his whole message was hyperbole, and the last two comments were in jest. But it’s also possible that he knew his message would be offensive and left himself a way of escape. If people were offended again, he could say that his message was not meant to be taken literally. Less hyperbole might have been more effective. I walked out of that session serenaded by an orchestra of “sounding brass and clanging cymbals” wondering if I had just heard the most racist stereotyping of a people ever or if I simply misunderstood him (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Before I explain my impressions about his message, I want you to know that I listened to the message twice, listen to it with my husband and discussed it, and then I transcribed his message from the audio copy I purchased. I transcribed it because I wanted to be sure I understood his point. Words can be a cumbersome way of communicating. Unless you know someone intimately and personally it is easy to misconstrue his or her intent. Transcribing the message proved to me that he did not say everything I thought he said, but neither did it change my mind about the error he presented and the racist undertones.
The first bump in the road was a statement that had nothing to do with his message. The pastor said, “Jesus and his family arbitrarily crossed the Egyptian border illegally when he was about a year old.” I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the image of Jesus as an illegal alien in any country. Jesus was in the beginning with God; all things were made by Jesus and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:1-3). How can you tell the owner of all things it is illegal for you to be here? Arbitrary means “chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle”. How was his trip to Egypt chance, whim or impulse? Jesus fulfilled prophecy when his family went to Egypt and later returned (Matthew 2:15). His family left Bethlehem out of necessity. Jesus would have been killed if they had not obeyed God’s instructions to “escape to Egypt” (Matthew 2:13-18). If his statement was a reference to the millions of illegal aliens in America, there is no comparison. Jesus’ family was not looking for a better life, work or welfare. Nor were they abandoning their country to seek citizenship in another nation. Before they went to Egypt, God gave them gold, incense and myrrh to pay for the things they needed until they returned.
After that jarring distraction, the pastor said something encouraging.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed white people in America, to bind up the broken hearted white people, to proclaim liberty to the captive white people, and release to those imprisoned white people, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all those mourning white people, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give them a garden instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
I think this applies to all of us, but in the work that many of us do, in the church and in the field, we typically think of the oppressed, the captive, the imprisoned through media, through statics, through the world as it may seem. But isn’t it interesting that in Matthew it says blessed are the poor in spirit. Luke says blessed are the poor but Matthew says blessed are the poor in spirit. Which one is it? It’s both. There is real poverty in both communities, and there is spiritual poverty in all kinds’ of communities.”
When God gives us a burning passion to meet the needs of a segment of society that passion tends to push other equally important needs into the background. In my brief dealings with CCDA, I did get the impression that God was only concerned about the financially poor. This was the first message I heard during the conference that preached having the same care one for another regardless of who we are and what status we had attained in this life. Wealth cannot buy peace with God. He is concerned about rich people too. Unfortunately, the positive beginning ran aground on contradiction and misguided applications of God’s word.
In the opening statements, the pastor referenced the recent 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and called Dr. King his hero. “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” is one of the most memorable quotes to come from Dr. King’s speech that day. I wondered why this pastor failed to imitate his hero. The balance of his message was a judgment of “white people” whom he perceived as rich, greedy, selfish, and in need of an enema so they could share their wealth.
I am white. Is that who I am? Was I being judged by the color of my skin or by the content of my character? Did the pastor hide racism in the cloak of hyperbole? I don’t have a relationship with this pastor, so I cannot accurately answers to those questions. But I can use his method of hyperbole to communicate my observations about his message. The quotes I took from his message are in italics and in random order.
The pastor argued that Plato is the master of the white American church. Plato taught that human beings were once winged gods that were banished to the evil material world by gods who were jealous of humanities wings and power. The white American church is constantly striving to perfect their lives, so they can get their wings back and attain the divinity once held.
A lot of pale skinned people believed that to be heaven. They believe that kind of thing to be the goal of the Christian faith. There are a lot of people that are perfectionistic and think that is a Christian virtue. I have news for you; God is perfect. God is not perfectionistic. Human beings are imperfect and yet we are perfectionistic. How opposite is that? How moronic is that? All of us are morons. Hyperbole! Hyperbole!
He explained that perfectionism, a Greek fetish, was exported all over the world through well intentioned white American missionaries. This theology produced preemptive self-judgment, which resulted in an entire culture of traumatized people who are uncomfortable in their own skin.
Is there any group of people in the world less comfortable in their own skin than white Americans? This is because Plato is our master, not Jesus Christ. There is no way that we can judge ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ. Here is why: Jeremiah 4:22, this is God speaking in Jeremiah’s voice, “For my people are foolish, they do not know me, they are stupid children, they have no understanding.” See it is not just me insulting people. I follow God. God is my master. You are stupid. OK, three fingers me to. We are stupid children is what God says. By the way should stupid people be judges, magistrates, Supreme Court justices? Some of them are, but should it be in an ideal world. No, it requires enormous knowledge, wisdom, and discernment to be a judge. The average person is simply too stupid and moronic to be a judge of anything lest of all themselves. We are not qualified to judge ourselves moralistically or in any other way, and therefore, we have to give judgment to others.
Based on the scripture in Jeremiah, he concluded that we are too stupid to judge ourselves. Therefore, we must find a community of people we trust and let them judge us. If the average person is too stupid and moronic to judge anything, how can that person judge a community is trustworthy?
Everybody is not stupid. The pastor said the “average person” is stupid. Now we have class warfare between the average stupid people and the elite smart people. How do stupid people know who the smart people are unless the smart people tell them they are stupid? History has repeatedly proved elite smart people become self-righteous tyrants who create empires that enrich the elite at the expense of the average stupid people. This whole line of thinking was contrary to the ideals I had observed at the conference, which strived to value everyone. They presented everyone, regardless of race, education or even handicap, as intelligent people with the potential to be leaders.
God was not talking about the “average person” in Jeremiah 4:22. He was talking about the people he delivered from Egypt, yet they continued to worship the idols of surrounding nations. In fact, they never stopped worshiping the gods of Egypt. Those weak an ineffective gods who could not deliver the Egyptians from the God of Abraham. The people of Jeremiah 4:22 were stupid and did not know God because they worshiped idols, not because they were the “average person”.
And this Bible, what I see in this Bible, is a story of a small group of people, who were the most despised people throughout history. In their time, they did some good things in Egypt. Remember Joseph and how he saved the country because he was shrewd. But a few generations later, all of their hard work and sacrifice was written out of the Egyptian narrative. After a few generations, the Egyptian elite forgot about the contribution of the Jewish people. Intentionally wrote them out of history. Does this sound like Native American history? Would white people be here were it not for the hospitality, the generosity, the kindness, the extension of humanity to white settlers? Yet we have written the Native Americas completely out of our history.
When were the Native Americans written out of history? I was taught about the Native Americans kindness to the white settlers. Every Thanksgiving Day school play I attended or participated in portrayed how the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims to plant corn, hunt and fish. The settlers and the Native Americans held a three day feast when the settlers harvested their first crop, which became the foundation for America’s annual Thanksgiving Day holiday. If Native Americans have been written out of history, it must have happened after I graduated in the 1970’s. I asked by college age son what he learned about the Native Americans in school. “The Native American’s were kind to us and we gave them disease and murdered them,” he said. When was the contribution of the Native American’s written out of American history?
These Israelites then went over to Palestine, and they face all kinds of threatening people. There they had to contend with the Hittites Empire, the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Greek empire that was split up, and then the Roman Empire. And Jesus came in the midst of the most heavy handed empire in the Jewish people’s history. The entire Bible is a chronicle of a small group of people, despised group of people, trying to be faithful to the kingdom of God in the midst of oppressive empires that had its way with its people.
Genesis is the prologue, the introduction to the history of Gods people navigating faithfulness to his kingdom which has not yet fully come and trying to make it, to survive among oppressive empires, one after the other, why have we not understood the Bible as the chronology of a faithful band of oppressed people contending with empire?
Did he just completely write God out of the history of Israel? How anyone could read the Bible and conclude that God’s people were a “faithful band” is beyond my comprehension. If they had been a “faithful band”, they would not have been oppressed by the surrounding empires. God told Israel he was raising up the Assyrians and Babylonian empires to oppress them and take them into captivity because Israel was never faithful to him. They ran to other gods and human kings for help, instead of the God who loved them. (Isaiah 7:17-20, 10:5-20; Jeremiah 2:17-19; Hosea 5:13-15, 7:11-16, 10:5-6, 11:5-7)
Let’s compare what God said about his people to what this pastor said.
And the Lord told him [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 1 Sam 8:7-8, NIV
After 400 years of unfaithfulness, they openly rejected God as their king. Did they ever change? Did the nation ever become faithful? Individuals were faithful. Those faithful individuals were oppressed, and some killed for speaking the truth to the oppressive empire the nation of Israel became. 2 Kings 17 explains why God destroyed Israel and sent his people into captivity. They never stopped worshipping idols. And then along came Jesus, who said to the remnant that returned from captivity, “You belong to your father, the devil, …” (John 8:44, NIV).
The pastor answered his own question, “Why have we not understood the Bible as the chronology of a faithful band of oppressed people contending with empire?” this way:
Why? Because we are the empire. It does not serve us to read the Bible through a post imperial, post-colonial lens because then we would know just how much American Christians are the foot soldiers of American empire. Are we the greatest people on the face of the earth? Are we the greatest country in the world? Or are we the most successful barbarians ever to appear?
One definition barbarism is crudity, but the other definition of what it means to be barbaric is the inability of a group of people to live sustainably on a given piece of territory, so they go marauding from one city to another, from one country to another, from one people group to another raping, pillaging, killing, destroying and when they are done doing their locust thing then they move on. I really want to ask, is American the most civilized country in the world or just the most successfully barbaric country in the world.
What white people did when they came to America is no different than what Israel (that faithful band according to the pastor) did when they left Egypt with a mixed multitude. Israel left Egypt because the ruling elite, the smart people, made the lives of the average stupid people a misery. The stupid people cried out to God, and he sent Moses to teach them how to worship the God of Abraham. When Moses and the elders requested a leave of absence to worship their God (a common request in Pharaoh’s courts), Pharaoh denied them religious freedom. Pharaoh did not know Moses’ God, and could not allow people to worship a god that he did not control (Exodus 5:1-4).
God led Israel to the border of Canaan and instructed his people to show no mercy. Israel destroyed the nations residing on the land that God had promised to Abraham via pillaging and killing (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Joshua defeated 32 Kings and Israel occupied their land at God’s command. Wealthy nations, better equipped and greater in number were driven out by a small group of Israelites because those nations worshiped what God created instead of the creator. By this pastor’s definition, God is the most successful barbarian in all the word. Hyperbole! Hyperbole!
The pastor said, “Confession is the language of the church.” The white American church needs to confess our shame for pillaging and killing and taking land already occupied by people who used hallucinogenic drugs to seek wisdom and directions from spirits. There is one God and they were not consulting him when they ingested peyote.
Some of the Pastor’s points appeared to contradict.
We like to think of ourselves as the most powerful, most sophisticated, the greatest country on earth, and I do love this country. I am a citizen, and I love living here, but that kind of superiority complex is really childish. Only little kids say my Daddy can beat up your Daddy. That is the psychology of this country. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100, 200, 300 years, it just seems to be our, we seem to be perpetual toddlers, in their terrible twos.
The white American church is a toddler stuck in the terrible twos. He already told us earlier in his message that children should not judge themselves because preemptive judging creates a culture of traumatized people.
But when a 5 year old is told to judge himself, shame on you, shame on you, means to look at yourself from outside of you. Look at yourself as adults see you, and see how wrong you are, and then that software is encoded. Year after year, and the childhood of innocence, of unselfconscious life is robbed of that child. What kind of adult will one be? One who is uncomfortable in their own skin.
I must be one of those average stupid people because I am so confused. He condemned telling children shame on you, shame on you, “look at yourself as adults see you, and see how wrong you are.” Then he said White Christian Americans need to see ourselves as adults see us, see how wrong we are and confess our shame. Didn’t that create the rich white Americans problem to begin with? Hyperbole! Hyperbole!
The pastor concluded his message with these words:
I truly hope that some of us will be evangelist and missionaries in some of the richest whitest elitist neighborhoods in this country because if we can get them to be spiritually “unconstipated” there will be a lot of resources that will flow into New Orleans and into the places where we work.
Does he want to raise up evangelist and missionaries because he has equal concern for rich white people? Or does he just want their resources?
There are two problems in this conclusion. First, the problem of coveting. God said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus, 20:17, NIV). We should never look at other people and want what they have. Second, doing so makes us idol worshipers. Are rich white people the reason others live in poverty? Are rich white people greater than God? “You do not have [resources], because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? (James 4:2-4, NIV). God is our source. We don’t need rich white people to fulfill what God has called us to do. God is richer than they are.
In retrospect hyperbole may not be the best way to make a point. I’m certainly no better than this pastor. I used hyperbole the whole time. That was hyperbole. No, I never use hyperbole.