Thursday, April 20, 2017

Who's Really Woke?

Every few weeks I get invited to join a pro black Facebook group. These groups tend to be populated with passionate brothers and sisters who use the larger platform to share their perspectives on the continued effects of colonialism, structural racism, and patriarchy on the black community. The best groups I’ve seen have been saturated with positive messages that hinge on unity, economic empowerment, and black pride. At their best, these groups are a source of daily affirmations for people in the struggle. One negative many of these groups have in common is their almost universal disdain for the black church. There are large blocks of the “new” conscious community who don’t view Christians as allies in the fight for social justice. Divisions inside Christian, Islamic, Afrocentric, and secular black movements aren’t new; there’s never been a time when these groups posited the same solutions to our shared problems, but the complete disregard for the Civil Rights accomplishments made by the black church is disrespectful. The conscious community prides itself on being woke, but in the words of Lil Duval, “Some of y’all need a nap.”

I always advise young Christian activists to accept the fact that they share struggles with people who view their religion as truncated at best, or a fundamental part of the black community’s underlying problems at worst. When Christians are confronted by nonbelievers skeptical of our commitment to fighting systemic racism we have to listen to their critiques and take them seriously. This doesn’t mean you spend all of your time and energy defending the church or explaining your personal journey of faith, but you should engage your allies’ conceptions and likely misconceptions about both. How you answer the inevitable “slave master’s religion question” and how you talk about “Prosperity Gospel” can be the difference between deconstructing the image of the church versus involuntarily taking part in its destruction.

The church has always been judged by the actions of its most visible representatives. When television cameras where pointed at the likes of Dr. King, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and Reverend Wyatt T. Walker the perception of the church was different. These men weren’t perfect and their accomplishments didn’t negate the transgressions committed by the church during the height of their ministries, but their witness helped shape the way a generation of people viewed the church. Social media has enabled those trying to destroy the black church to reduce it to easily shareable memes about Creflo Dollar, the deceased Bishop Eddie Long, and the black pastors who supported Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter how “woke” or active Christians with small platforms are their efforts are invisible to those who view the church through the lens of social media. The silence from mega church pastors about issues important to the black community plays into the myth of a dead church. The fact that one has to do a Google search to find a statement, tweet, or sermon from some of the biggest names in Prosperity Gospel about police brutality or the resurgence of white nationalism is telling. The black church, like the black community, is indicted as a whole for the actions of the minority.

Many of the same people fighting against police racial profiling of black people don’t see the hypocrisy associated with their religious profiling of black people. The anti-Christian sentiment inside the conscious community is more complicated than social media posts and public positions taken by prominent church figures. The black community isn’t monolithic. We share similar struggles, but we don’t share similar thought processes and beliefs. Too often we seek validation in ourselves, and our beliefs, through in-group out-group distinctions that elevate one segment of our community above another. Too many Christians are judgmental and condemning of people who don’t share their beliefs, and too many in the conscious community are condescending and intolerant towards Christians. Instead of us unifying behind the commonality of our struggles we created an artificial hierarchy that doesn’t have any impact on the societal structures we’re fighting. Institutional racism doesn’t care who’s woke and who isn’t. The criminal justice system doesn’t care if you’re a Christian or an atheist. We’re in this together and we need to act like it. As an ordained member of the clergy I admit that there are churches in need of some serious reform, but isn’t it easier to clean a house than build one? The conscious community talks about building institutions and strengthening our communities, but wouldn’t this be easier with a healthy church in place?

We are the freest generation of African-Americans to live in this country, and much of that freedom was paid for by men and women who believed in Jesus. I’ve studied theology and philosophy for over a decade. I understand some of the Ontological arguments for and against the existence of a higher being better than most of the people making them, but I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument for why it’s necessary to diminish the religious beliefs of Christians. Many of the same people who were introduced to Nat Turner through Birth of a Nation are hell bent on destroying the institution that woke him up. I shudder when I think about how many people in the conscious community who didn’t know the name Denmark Vesey before Dylan Roof murdered nine innocent Christians in his church. The theologian Howard Thurman said, “By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.” Thurman was deeply affected by the dehumanizing evil of racism and was acutely aware of how much damage the institution of slavery did to Christianity, yet he was able to connect to the emancipatory message abolitionists pastors and believers found in the teachings of Jesus. Revolutionary Christians have always rejected the notion that slavery was ordained by God.  Believers in the 21st century should attempt to redeem Christianity from the profane uses of the gospel in our time. The legacy of the black church is worth protecting from attacks both foreign and domestic.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


“I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”
Donald J. Trump

What can the left do to win the working-class whites who make up the Trump coalition? Democrats, activists, and political pundits have been asking this question since the election. You can’t watch a Sunday show or visit a left of center blog or website without this topic coming up. Minds greater than mine have engaged in long disquisitions and written 5,000 word articles laying out political strategies to rectify this electoral problem; sadly, for all of the intellectual horsepower that’s been thrown at this issue many of those thinkers have overshot the simple answer: not much! This is an unpopular answer with coastal progressives and the academic left; their penchant for a healthy debate prevents them from accepting the reality that their efforts will be wasted on a majority of Trump’s base. There are blocks of the Trump faithful who have no desire to hear nuanced political and economic arguments: even if they are broken down into campaign slogan sized bites. It’s politically irresponsible for Democrats to ignore the Trump coalition, but I have to be honest and admit that trying to reach some of these folks isn't worth the time and money it would cost. With that said, how do we determine who the politically redeemable are? We ask them about Trump’s golfing!

A lot of persuasive arguments get wasted on the wrong person or group of people. Making an argument in which all of the rhetorical devices are strong, the syllogisms are based in solid logic, and the analogies are easy to understand is worthless if the listener or reader isn’t invested in challenging their core beliefs. We have historically accurate records (election results) of working-class white voters routinely giving their political power to candidates who make getting access to healthcare harder and dismantling unions easier. I’m skeptical of arguments that hinge on better healthcare and wages. The last 8 years have been plagued by refusals to accept federal funds for healthcare and state referendums on “right to work” laws. It's hard for me to believe these folks have been serially misled; they willfully send the same people back to their state houses and Washington. Our arguments aren't the problem their dissonance is. This is a critics dilemma of Foucauldian proportions. If those of us who are embedded in Trump country don't let our coastal allies know what the reality on the ground is they will continue publishing politically useless articles, but if we are too brutal in our assessment some might see our efforts as useless. I choose to be abrasive and hope it wakes people up. Your arguments aren't working!

We can’t ask every Trump supporter where they stand on his golf hypocrisy, but we can poll districts that flipped for Trump ahead of the 2018 primaries. If there are districts where his constant lying has poisoned his electoral well, the DNC and DLCC should disproportionately invest more resources in those senate and congressional races. I’m hoping the Democrats don’t take another midterm election off: I’m not convinced the left can keep up the momentum we’ve seen over the last two months. There are 34 senate seats up in 2018; if we play this right we can reclaim the senate and cut into the huge majority the Republicans have in the House before an important 2020 census year election.

All of Trump’s supporters aren’t deplorable, but I’m not willing to sift through them to separate the dissatisfied and misguided from the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis. The bigots who supported him will do what they do when the opportunity presents itself: ask Jared Kushner, but we may be able to reach the socially liberal conservatives who aren’t wedded to the culture wars. The golf question may seem like a joke, but I’m dead serious. Anyone incapable of being honest about his words and tweets about something as inconsequential as golf is too far into their dissonance for us to waste time trying to flip.

Our arguments are TRASH to people who take Hannity serious.