BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Refugee Thanksgiving

There is a fear. A fear that they will arrive poor, needing to be taken care of. That they'll be ignorant of our customs and culture. That they will take our jobs, or be dependent on our charity. That they'll bring disease and violence, that they intend to do us harm. That our own hard working residents will have to support them with welfare, and what is ours will be stolen. That once they cross the water, they'll never go back.

And yet, this week we give thanks for a time when hundreds of undocumented immigrants flooded to this land. They failed to assimilate. They scorned the dominant culture. They spoke their own language and refused to adopt the language of the land they had entered.

They brought disease. They brought violence. They brought terror. They were dependent on the social welfare handouts of those who had worked hard to get what they had. What wasn't freely given, they stole. They refused to go back to their own country. But we celebrate them each year on Thanksgiving day.

So which is it? Do we honor immigrants or revile them? Do we value helping those in need, or is it a sign of our weakness? Do we share what we have, or do we hoard it in barns? Do we welcome the stranger or do we send them packing?

I suppose our answer simply depends on which side of the border we find ourselves.

A month from now, there'll be another holiday.  One that also celebrates a refugee. A Middle Eastern child whose undocumented parents smuggled him across a border to keep him safe from the slaughter that was happening in their homeland. This Holy Family fled to Egypt, where also there had once been a baby that was hidden in a makeshift boat to escape violence and oppression.

We are a Church whose history is filled with refugees who have been the pillars of our faith. Indeed, we pray to a God that does not heartlessly tell us to "go away," but says instead tells us "welcome home." We are foreigners that have been welcomed into God's Sovereign State. Will we not offer others the same?

You cannot honor the Thanksgiving story and slam the doors of the country at the same time. Are we a 'nation under God with liberty and justice for all?' Or do we imprison and abuse? Do we say “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or do shout in the face of Christ  "Not this Man, but Barabbas."

There is a fear. A fear that if we open our arms, it will destroy who we are. But we should be more afraid of what happens if we won't.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday Fruit (11/20/15)

Jamar Clark
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Compromised in Missouri

Israel wanders in the desert for 40 years
As Christians, we understand that history matters, that the mistakes of the past have repercussions for us today. Scripture laments that "our fathers have sinned...and we have borne their iniquities," and we read stories where God "punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

When God's people built themselves a golden calf, the next generation bore the consequences as well. Surely the younger group said among themselves "it's not our fault that our parents were so sinful. We know better now." And yet, they continued to wander the desert.

White text on black background: "I stand with Mizzou; #IStandWithMizzou"
So when we read current events, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of the history and context out of which they've emerged. Missouri has been the center of so much of the news in this latest chapter of our racial history. The killing of Michael Brown. The militarized show of police that followed. Since then, the deaths of VonDerrit Myers and Antonio Martin. And now, the racism on the University of Missouri's campus that has highlighted the painful realities of being #BlackOnCampus across the country.  So what's the historical context that has led us to wander in this desert? 

Missouri's history is famous for the 1820 'Missouri Compromise' that allowed it to join the United States as a slave state, thus perpetuating the institution in the U.S. and indeed allow it to expand further to the southwest. While the statute did prohibit slavery in northern territories, the Kansas–Nebraska Act essentially nullified that effect in 1854.  It was mostly from Missouri that pro-slavery settlers flooded into neighboring Kansas to influence its becoming a slave state (a scandal referred to a "Bleeding Kansas," due to the subsequent violence that would foreshadow the impending national civil war). 

Dred Scott
In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that the federal government could not regulate slavery in the federal territories, officially rendering the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. It was a case that had originated in the Missouri courts after Dred Scott filed suit for his freedom, having traveled there with his master as well as to other free states. The Supreme Court ruled that regardless of slave status, a Black person was not a citizen and therefore could not sue for freedom, or for any other purpose. This ruling had huge ramifications for all people of color in the U.S. for decades to come. 

During the U.S. Civil War, Missouri was claimed as part of both the Union and the Confederacy, with two competing state governments and was represented in both the U.S. Congress and the Confederate Congress. This situation inevitably led to more conflict and bloodshed, not the least of which at the expense of Black people living in the state. 

The NAACP has records of 81 lynching in the state of Missouri in the 27 years between 1889 and 1916. In 1901, after a white woman was found dead Pierce City, a mob armed with guns and torches cleared out an entire black neighborhood of its residents, all of whom left their property behind and never came back. 

Joplin city logo with motto "Proud of our past, shaping our future"Two years later in Joplin, Thomas Gilyard was lynched from a telephone pole and hundreds other Black residents were driven away from the area. In 1906, a mob in Springfield removed three Black men from jail to the same end. The men suspected of the murder were all quickly acquitted. There are dozens more instances just like these.

Over the span of ten years, terror tactics such of these had driven out over 30% of the area's Black residents. Today, Joplin is 90% white, the surrounding county is 92% white. The motto of the city of Joplin is "Proud of Our Past, Shaping Our Future." I have no doubt. 

Like other states, Missouri was significantly affected by redlining, the War on Drugs, and other 21st policies that created a direct lineage to the strange fruit it bears today (more about Missouri's racial history can be found here and here ). This history brings context to the dehumanization of Black people that leads to their murder in our communities, to their treatment as second-class citizens in the courtroom, to the scare tactics they face on campuses, to the shows of force that make Black residents fear for their lives and property.

But the point is not to single-out Missouri itself. Indeed, every state has its own racial history that has significant consequences today. Take some time to look into the racial history of your own state, your own city, even your own block.

Redlining map of St. Louis.
Ferguson is clearly visible in the top right.
Was your neighborhood redlined at any point, or was it is a green-lined part of town? Was there white flight to or from your area? Was your city a sundown town that forced all people of color to leave by sundown or face lethal repercussions? What sorts of local and federal sentencing laws enforced the War on Drugs in your city?

Look at the property records for your home and for your church. Is there a Racial Restrictive Covenant in the history of the property where you live? Was your church's land bought using proceeds from the sale of slaves or their property?

This history is important. It puts our current events into a context that informs our interpretation of what we are seeing all around us. Just like our biblical forebearers, we inherit the consequences of generations past. The question is whether we will take definitive steps to break the cycle today. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Fruit (11/13/15)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

From Awareness to Action (Part 2)

The 'first steps' mentioned last week (prayer, relationships, education), are sometimes where we want to end. We feel good. We feel more aware. And we can we can even feel like we are becoming reconciled with each other. But these steps are just the beginning toward true redemption of our racial history and relationships.   

Next Steps: Changing Behaviors
Prayer, relationship, and education are the critical foundations for what comes next. It's from there that we begin to change our behaviors, both as individuals and as groups. There are many arenas in which to do this. Here, I simply highlight a few ideas. Feel free to share your own in the comments section below.

  • Empowering leaders
    • Take active steps to promote and empower young leaders of color, strengthening them and giving them the support they need to lead effectively.  Introduce them to your networks, systems of support and platforms (see this week's #SeaofWhiteness and #SpeakersofColor for one example of the issues faces). Mentor them through their professional development and be vigilant against the subtle biases that may hinder them. Promote institutional equity in the church when it comes to seminarians, pastors, and denominational leaders.  
  • Showing up
    • At the guidance and invitation of leaders of color, show up when called upon. Build a culture of justice within your congregation, such that when national racial tragedies occur there is precedent for your church to show up in solidarity. Attend marches and other public witnesses for immigrant rights, voters rights, living wages, budget priorities, etc—wherever leaders of color point. 
  • Spending Responsibly
    • Use the power of your money wisely. Fast from national chains and corporations, instead patronizing small local business, especially those owned by people of color. Give time and money to university departments and organizations that support students, histories, cultures of otherwise underrepresented groups. Support organizations like the Kirwan InstituteRace Forward, and others that are committed to research and activism toward racial justice. 
  • Examine your media
    • Media plays a powerful role in shaping our we perceive and interact with the world. Change your behaviors to seek out magazines, movies, and TV shows that feature and affirm a range of beauty standards and cultures. Be sure you get your daily news from multiple sources, particularly those run by producers from underrepresented backgrounds. Fast from sporting events and broadcasts that feature racist or appropriative mascots. And ensure that the art in your church, on your church website, in your church bulletin and in power points also reflect the inclusive body of Christ, rather than perpetuating harmful cultural defaults. 
Big Steps: Changing Society
As we change our behaviors as individuals, but must also work to change our systems and institutions as a whole. This takes time, dedication, and a willingness to step out against the status quo. The task is great, but some of these steps can help make a dent. 
  • Advocate
    • At the direction and invitation of those affected by injustices, directly advocate for changes in laws, systems, and policies. Enlist your church and personal networks in advocacy work around issues of racial disparity. Learn about local policies around harsh school discipline, police weaponry, or prison sentencing, and get involved with the work already happening to move such legislation. Examine your personal spheres of influence to see where your voice may make a difference.
  • Sponsor
    • Invest financial and social capital to significantly move the needle for individuals affected by systems of inequity. Support young students or professionals of color in their career development goals (CEUs, speaking engagements, introductions to book publishers). Help them attend conferences and training events (eg. support the WoC Retreat at the CCDA conference this week). Consider becoming a trained foster parent or guardian ad litem to help older children through difficult transitions. Talk to your congregation about launching a  Freedom School in your area. Steps like these require significant investments of time and money, but have the potential to make significant difference for the individuals affected. 
  • Take Risks
    • To make meaningful change we must be willing to put our reputation, money, employment, and leadership opportunities at risk. In particular, those in positions of privilege must set aside opportunities they’ve been offered that do not reflect God’s vision for the inclusive body of Christ. They must speak up when it's 'meddlesome,' divest when it's 'unwise,' and take a stand when it's 'inappropriate' by the established standards of doing so. It takes getting risky with what we'd like to take for granted. 

In many ways these steps mentioned in these two posts are interdependent. Advocacy without relationship is empty. Education without changed behavior is hollow. Sponsorship without humility and trust is misguided. These steps aren't so much a progression, as they are a cycle. They all relate back to each other and cannot be done in isolation from each other.

This week, no matter where you are in the journey, pick one new thing that you can commit to, and do it. Write it down. Share it is the comments section. Get plugged into the good work already happening, and take that next step for justice and reconciliation in this world.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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