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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Rick Warren, Ignorance, and Apologies

This week Pastor Rick Warren posted a culturally inappropriate Facebook (FB) photo. Not only was the original post racially ignorant, but his reaction and defensiveness to pushback was disheartening. Here, I try to summarize events and reactions, relying heavily on excerpts from the excellent writing of Kathy Khang and Sam Tsang. Their original posts can be found here, here, here and here, as well in some of the links below.

The Image
Monday morning, the follow appeared on Warren's FB wall:

The image is of a woman in the Red Guard, a propaganda image of the Cultural Revolution. In posting it, Warren demonstrated an ignorance and disregard for the horrors that such an image represents. Tsang asks "Does Warren mean that his staff is like the Red Guard woman here who persecutes him daily, or does he mean that his staff is marching forward like good little Red Guard in the Cultural Revolution, killing of their kinsman in the process?"

Tsang elaborates:
"Imagine, Mr. Warren, the Chinese in your congregation both here in the US and in Hong Kong. Do you know what narrative is behind this picture you just posted? Has any Red Guard ever raped your mother? How about having your joints dislocated and quartered by horses?...How about having your arms hung up in an awkward position until they’re dislocated while being beaten merciless with all sorts of torturous devices? How about being made to stand near naked in freezing temperature outside?...From the above images, Mr. Warren needs to think about just the Chinese descent members of his church. Why did they immigrate to the US? They did to get away from that image you just put up, Mr. Warren! You just reminded all of them the nightmare they left behind and for what? For a joke on Monday? I know your your intent is not to make light of suffering but the effect of your post has done exactly that."

The Comments
Read more on the Red Guards
Within hours, the post had reached thousands of followers. Many approved, many others objected. Still others object to the objections. Khang summarizes many of the comments:
  • "Don’t you know this is a joke? This is funny. Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • I didn’t mean to offend you. BUT…Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • Why are you attacking “fill in the blank with well-intentioned White person’s name here”? Don’t you know how many people said person’s ministry and life’s work has touched and brought to faith? Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • If you are a Christian, show “fill in the blank with well-intentioned White person’s name here” some grace. Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • Don’t be so politically-correct. Be a Christian first. Don’t make this about race. Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny."
These types of responses are all too familiar. We often hear such reactions after racial offense is pointed out. Unfortunately, this time the responses are from Christian sisters and brothers, and are almost indistinguishable from responses we've come to expect in the secular world.

Khang notes that "The FB comment thread was disheartening. There is nothing quite like watching your family’s dirty laundry aired out over FB, and that is what it felt like. There is no joy in showing the world that indeed Christians are imperfect, rude, and in desperate need of the very Jesus we tell everyone else they need."

Indeed, disregarding the hurt expressed by those objecting to his post, Warren doubles down:
"People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines – jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!”

In open letter to Warren, Khang articulated the frustration that many were feeling: 
"The image of the Red Army soldier is offensive. It isn’t funny. And it does have racial implications. I know you are a thoughtful leader, so why not choose an equally funny/not funny image of Hitler Youth who look just as cheerful, focused and determined (and perhaps, dare I say, more like your staff?) Because it was easy to use the Red Army image? Because you didn’t think it was a big deal to connect your Christian staff with the Chinese Red Army? Because you have someone of Chinese descent on your staff and he/she didn’t think it was a big deal?

Please reconsider your comments that essentially told many of your brothers and sisters in Christ to get over it, to get a sense of humor, to lighten up, etc. Please take a moment to hear us out because you don’t get to tell me to laugh about the Communist Red Army because it isn’t funny. There is no irony. Do not compare me and others to the self-righteous who did not get Jesus’ humor as you did in your FB defense."
Eventually, the image and comments were removed with no attempt to engage in the issue or to help followers understand the issues at play.

Khang notes that "what could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to help his followers understand that leaders of international influence make public mistakes, don’t get the whole cross-cultural thing which is pretty important to missionaries, that he made a mistake, that he apologizes and asks for forgiveness and would they, his followers, who thought the whole Red Guard thing wasn’t a big deal, should do the same, has the appearance of a bunch of online activists shutting him down."

The Apology
Two days after the original posting, Warren wrote this, among other updates, on his Facebook wall: "Finally back home. Staff handed me a hard copy of an email from someone offended by a picture I posted. If you were hurt, upset, offended, or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry. May God richly bless you."

Many, including Tsang, have indicated a willingness to accept such a statement as an apology. Nevertheless, it is again reminiscent of a long tradition of non-apologies. Again from Khang:
"There is no 'if'. I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed, not just because “an” image was posted, but that Warren posted the image of a Red Guard soldier as a joke, because people pointed out the disconcerting nature of posting such an image and then Warren then told us to get over it, alluded to how the self-righteous didn’t get Jesus’ jokes but Jesus’ disciples did, and then erased any proof of his public missteps and his followers’ mean-spirited comments that appeared to go unmoderated. 
I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed when fellow Christians are quick to use Matthew 18 publicly to admonish me (and others) to take this issue up privately without recognizing the irony of their actions, when fellow Christians accuse me of playing the race card without trying to understand the race card they can pretend doesn’t exist but still benefit from, when fellow Christians accuse me of having nothing better to do than attack a man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom. 
When apologizing you do not put the responsibility of your actions on the person who is hurt, upset, offended, or distressed. You do not use the word 'if'. You do not communicate that the offense was to one person when, in fact, it was not. You clarify and take the opportunity to correct those who mistakenly followed your lead. Your apology is not conditional on the 'if' because you should know because you have listened, heard, and understood the person you hurt, upset, offended, or distressed."
A Christian Response?
As Christians, our role is not to defensively cling to our own perspective, but to repent, and to ask
forgiveness when we have caused each other pain. We need to listen and humbly learn from one another. We ought to be able to model this behavior to world, rather than falling prey to the same hackneyed racial responses that perpetuate pain and marginalization.

In his book Kingdom Come, Allen Wakabayashi asserts, “the world needs to see that our faith really does make a difference for life, especially as we deal with some of the most vexing social struggles, like race, gender, and class suppression.”

Too often in moments of racial controversy, the Christian response to those hurt by such events has been either muted, late, nonexistent, or even in defense of the oppressor. We fail to manifest Christ’s love in solidarity, and at our worst, we add to the voices second-guessing the cries of racism. We leave the marginalized to wonder if our sermons about unity and diversity were just for show.

Feel free to leave your perspective in the comments section, where I have also added a few addendums and asides that didn't quite make it into the main text above. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Atlantic's #1book140: Race in the US

Woah. Huge thank you to J. Nathan Matias for including me as a recommender in this month's #1book140 book club at The Atlantic. Head over there to check out some great titles to read on race in the United States.

The other folks recommending books (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Latoya Peterson, Baratunde Thurston) are admittedly waaay out of my league, but I appreciate being invited. What a treat to be included with the big kids for a day!

BTSF's work for racial justice and reconciliation would not be possible without the many who have come before and who continue to offer their wisdom today. Check some other books I recommended that didn't make it onto The Atlantic's list:

The Bluest Eye (Morrison)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X)
Ceremony (Silko)
Kira-Kira (Kadohata)
Racism without Racists (Bonilla-Silva)
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (Tatum)
Lies My Teacher Told Me (Loewen)
The Color Purple (Walker)
House on Mango Street (Cisneros)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Díaz)
Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Alexie)
Invisible Man (Ellison)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Jacobs)

Anyway, head over to The Atlantic to choose what book you'd like to discuss for this October's #1book140 discussion and then stay tuned next month to read, learn, and grow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friday Fruit (09/27/13)

Matthew Eisman/ Getty Images
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:
  • Stay Tuned: This week's kerfuffle with Rick Warren's Facebook post will be addressed Monday.

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, September 22, 2013

Disparity By The Numbers (Part 2)

This is the second half of our examination of the stark numerical realities of race in the United States. Having previously looked at income, employment, and education, lets see what other arenas are disparately affected. There are a lot of statistics here, so I'd love to hear any stories that might give life to the numbers in the comments section:

Click to enlarge
Families of color are more likely to live near landfills and hazardous waste treatment facilities. Children of color are 60% more likely to suffer from asthma, and twice as likely to experience lead poisoning. When renting, Latino, Black, and Asian American renters are much less likely to be told about and shown potential properties than white counterparts. Renters of color are more likely to be quoted higher rates, or are offered shorter/less secure leases.

In homeownership, Black owners receive 18% less value for their houses than do white owners. Indeed, for every $1 Black families spend on a house, they will receive 82¢ for what their white counterparts receive, a phenomenon known as 'segregation tax.' Black and Latino homeowners are also more likely to receive bad mortgage deals (53% and 43%, respectively) than white homebuyers (18%), and thus are more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure. 

Though Black folk represent only 13% of drug users (paralleling national racial demographics), they account for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of those sent to prison on drug possession charges. Indeed, even though 72% of drug users are white, black men are 13 times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offence than white men.

Almost 50% of prisoners serving life sentences, and 38% of all prisoners, are black (iconograph). Again, these numbers reflect neither total US population demographics, nor the demographics of actual crime being committed (eg. marijuana convictions). Furthermore, courts are more likely to impose the death penalty when the victim is white, clearly demonstrating which lives are more valued.

Physical and Mental Health
Differences in health and healthcare access across race go beyond what can be accounted for by class. Babies of color are at greater risk for low birthweight, as well as increased infant mortality. Babies born to black women are three times as likely to die in infancy as those born to white women. High blood pressure is twice as common among blacks as whites, and is even worse among Latinos in the United States. By far, people of color die younger and with more disease complications that white Americans. 

There are also severe mental health disparities resulting from the constant toll of racial inequality. Rates of stress, depression, mental illnesses, and suicide attempts are significantly higher for Asian Americans than for other races in the USA. American Indians have the highest rates for completed suicide: 25 per 100,000 population at age 21, compared with 14 for white persons of the same age. Black and Latino residents of low-income areas are also more likely to be committed to mental health institutions by law enforcement than any other racial group.

Putting It All Together 
On practically every measure, there are substantial disparities between racial groups in the United States. There are historical and societal reasons for these establishment and persistence of these differences (see posts: Generational Advantage and Slavery by Another Name). Accumulated advantage is passed down through the generations, and subtle biases prevent substantial restitution or gains in equality.

In the face of these disparities, we're left with a choice. Do we believe there are inherent differences between these groups that causes one set to be more lazy, stupid, or undeserving? Or are there other factors at play to create an uneven playing field?

When we put today's racialized world in historical context, it becomes clear that there has never been a moment in United States history in which everyone has had equal opportunity. We continue to live in such an unequal setting today. The legacy of these disparities will continue for centuries without conscious and deliberate efforts to counteract them.

Watch this video to see how accumulated disparity can have profound effect on our lives.  What can you do in your life to begin to combat some of these injustices?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Friday Fruit (09/19/13)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for
you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

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, September 16, 2013

When Churches are Bombed

Denise McNair. Cynthia Wesley. Addie Mae Collins. Carole Robertson. 

Less than three weeks after King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, 4 little girls were murdered while attending Sunday school at their church.

These children assumed they were safe as they learned to love and follow the Prince of Peace. They assumed that a house of worship was sacred ground. They assumed Christ's ministry of love would yield a world unified by His grace. They were mistaken.

The bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church took place the Sunday after the first racial integration of classrooms had occurred in Birmingham. In addition to the four girls killed, dozens of others were badly injured. In the aftermath, two other young black boys were killed, one of whom was shot by a white teenager--an eagle scout. Both before and after the bombing, Birmingham was a racially divided town. On which side did white Christians stand?

The shattered face of white Jesus in
the bombed stain glass window
"The deaths…in a sense are on the hands of each of us," noted a Milwaukee editorial the day after the bombing. "Who threw that bomb?" asked a Birmingham lawyer, "The answer should be, we all did it." But for white folks, "The overwhelming reaction was one of distancing and denial."

But as with so many recent incidents, the perpetrators were written off as lunatics, rather than as the products of a racialized society for which we are all responsible. The Christians that Jesus had charged with caring for the 'least of these' had failed to protect and defend these Sunday school children from hatred and violence. They had not taken seriously the cries for justice from their black sisters and brothers.

The scripture scheduled
for that Sunday: Luke 23:34
Peniel Joseph notes that "the murder of four black girls in Birmingham reflected the value the larger society placed on black lives." This undervaluing continues today. Joseph goes on to assert that "the circumstances that lead to the injury and killing of black children have changed, but the outcomes remain debilitating and, in certain instances, deadly" and "racism's pernicious effects on the hopes and dreams of African-American children remain." What cries for justice do we dismiss and invalidate today?

Black children continue to be "viewed by myriad institutions in society -- school, courts, police -- as potential predators and prisoners rather than future leaders." White Christians continue to look the other way when it comes to issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, the war on drugs, and stop-and-frisk. They continue to be perplexed by black folks' reactions to incidents like the murders of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

Does your church remember 4 little girls? Are their names and stories mentioned from the pulpit? Chances are, the answer depends on the race of your church (and of your pastor).

Was the recent shooting at Oak Creek Temple addressed in your church? Did your community actively speak out or take action against it? How do we continue to downplay the laments of the oppressed today?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Fruit (09/13/13)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:
  • On the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Church Bombing:

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, September 9, 2013

Disparity By The Numbers (Part 1)

Click to watch video:
Racial Discrimination in Everyday Life
In a 'colorblind' world, it is often tempting to believe we live in a 'post-racial' society. We want to believe that race doesn't matter anymore when it comes to shaping someone's chances at succeeding in life.

So what do the data say about having reached racial equality?
Let's take a look at some of the numbers:

Income and Employment 
Unemployment rates for Black folk have been double that of white Americans for decades. The statistics that Martin Luther King Jr. quoted during his marches are almost exactly the same today. Black men working full time earn 72% of what white men make at the same job (the disparity grows for black women). The Latino unemployment rate has increased two times faster than whites’ since 2000. People of color are less likely to be interviewed, hired, and promoted than white workers with comparable resumes.

Black children are three times more likely to live in poverty than white children. American Indian and Latino families are more likely to live in poverty. And there hasn't been much improvement over the years. While Latino households made about 76% as much as white households in 1980, it had further decreased to 72% by 2005. The median income for white households was $50,622 in that year,  but was $30,939 for Black households, and $36,278 for Latino households.

Income by Race:
Click to enlarge
The poverty rate was reported at 8.3% for white Americans, but was 24.9% for Black folk, 21.8% for Latinos and 11.1% for Asian Americans. Though it is popular to state that the median family income for Asian Americans is the highest of any race, this statistic is carefully constructed to obscure the true disparity. Per capita, Asian Americans make 20% less than White Americans, and the statistic further crumbles when broken down by nationality.

Indeed,  "Asian Americans top whites in family income only because Asian families have on average more people working per household." Change “family income” to “personal income, and you get a very different story. Given that Asian American poverty is rarely represented on TV and in the news, the pressing needs of many in the community remain invisible and unassisted (See post: Model Minority).

Black and Latino students are more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white students. Latino, Black and American Indian students also have the highest dropout rates. Economic disparity means more students of color must maintain jobs while attending school in order to contribute to family income. And the pervasive school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately shuttles students of color into the judicial system. Students of color are also less likely to be offered gifted programs, AP courses, or college counseling

Click to Enlarge
Here again, the 'model minority' myth works against Asian American students. An individual's misfortune is more likely to be seen as an anomaly of personal failing than as a consequence of a broken system. This perception leads to under-funding of assistance programs/scholarships for a large chunk of Asian Americans that do not fit the stereotype. Teachers are less likely to offer special help, or even to check in on their Asian American student, leaving them to fend for themselves. But Asian Americans, like Black students, have to stay in school longer to get paid the same as a white person.

How should Christians respond to these statistics? 
What can the Church do to combat systemic racial disadvantage?

Continue to part two to look at housing, incarceration, and health disparities...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Friday Fruit (09/06/13)

Learn more
Like what you read on BTSF and want to learn more?

Join us at 'Embracing Diversity 2013' hosted by UM Church for All People in Columbus, OH October 26-28.
Mention 'BTSF' at registration and get a $25 discount!

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, September 1, 2013

Labor Day

Once per year the USA celebrates Labor Day, a national holiday originating from 1800's celebrations of trade workers and the social/economic benefits they bring to our society. So, is this holiday only an antiquated excuse for an extra time to sleep in?

Let's use the day to examine the serious economic and labor struggles that still plague our country.

It is increasingly difficult for the average worker to support a family. In most states, minimum wage is well below the living wage (there is a big difference between the two). Ironically, thousands of folks will go to work on Labor Day because they need the money and can't afford a day of rest.

When folks are desperate for work, they will endure any number of abuses or indignities. They may work in dangerous environments, or be paid less than promised. Workers may be given insufficient training, leading to injury or embarrassment when they don't perform to standards.

Employees may be held at work long after their shift is over, if that is what the boss deems necessary. Maybe they need to pick the kids up from school, but they don't dare leave and risk losing their jobs. Workers may be required to maintain an open schedule to be placed in shifts as is convenient for the company, but may not be told their schedule until the last minute, and so cannot line up child care or other jobs.

Folks may spend an hour on the bus to get to a job, only to arrive and find out they aren't needed that day. Or they work for two hours and then get sent home. "Try again tomorrow." And if they don't show up for that chance, they know they loose the opportunity for later.

There are serious consequences of this labor disparity. Workers skip meals so that their children may eat. Folks turn to loan sharks to make ends meet, entrenching themselves in a spiral of debt. Families make tough choices to cut out "non-essentials" like medicine (see post: healthcare reform), clothing, and nutritious food.

And as the nation bemoans the 7% unemployment rate, unemployment in communities of color remains at 13%. Indeed, while analysis fret about about the housing market, there continue to be huge disparities in homeownership across race.

Take a close look at the words of Jeremiah 22:13-16. Woe to we that profit from injustice and gain economic security at the expense of others! We "who make our neighbor serve us for nothing and do not give them their wages." Jesus himself urges that "the workers deserve their wages." And yet, as more states put an end to collective bargaining, the wealthy receive a smaller tax burden now than they have in the last 80 years.

Part of our problem is that we have a very warped perspective of economic reality. Particularly since housing in the United States is largely segregated by economic standing, people look around themselves and feel that, on the whole, there is equal opportunity and prosperity for everyone.

PBS News Hour recently conducted an informal survey, asking people identify the sort of economy that exist in the USA. Their findings are telling. Also, Jon Stewart points out the huge economic disparities that most folks gloss over. Both of these videos are embedded below.

Take time this week to give thanks for your own economic security, no matter what level it is at.
For more insight into the issue mention above, read Barbara Ehrenreich's 'Nickel and Dimed' or play this excellent interactive game to see what choices you would make given some stark realities.

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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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