A Pivotal Year?

2017 could well go down in modern American history as the pivotal year for a cultural sea change.  The scabs and bandages have been torn off four long term festering sores in the American body politic in 2017.  We need treatment.

We peeked under the first bandage in mid 2016.  Call it, “male predatory sexual aggression.”  Our genitalia grabbing President shrugged off his offenses as “locker room talk.”  But numerous women broke the silence, at considerable risk to themselves, and told us that it was a lot more than talk.  Those women emboldened others to begin telling the truth about the abuse  they had received from wealthy, powerful, egotistical men with whom they worked or that they encountered.  This year it was a movie mogul whose gross behavior was exposed, and more and more women began saying, “#me too,” and describing the abuse that had been inflicted on them by politicians, entertainers and others.  2017’s flood of accusations has placed the issue front and center in our public awareness.

The second bandage was torn away in Charlottesville, VA. and exposed the deep and gaping wound that African Americans, Jews and others have long known as vitriolic racism.  Many have acknowledged and analyzed systemic racism and the ways it is deeply imbedded in our society, but the raw, violent expression of it, veiled and substantially ignored in the last several decades, is now unmistakable in all its nastiness.  Systemic racism has created a social and economic order that stifles the opportunity for thriving of minority persons, even as cries are raised alleging reverse racism against supposedly beleaguered white folks.  Vitriolic racism is now unmasked, an unmistakable expression of the racist fear and hatred at the root of our common life.  We must deal now with both forms of racism.

The gaping wound of gun violence is not new in 2017, but it has reached new levels of unspeakable carnage.  The wholesale slaughter of innocents in Las Vegas, followed closely by a massacre of Texas worshipers and a host of other heinous shootings, show how far down the path of insanity we have come.  It is not as though the sale of guns cannot be regulated effectively, especially to known criminals and the mentally ill.  It is our fear that causes us to buy thousands of weapons and resist any effort to curtail their availability.  Mix that with anxiety and aggressiveness on the part of some, and we have the present disaster.

The fourth festering sore is now unmasked by our convoluted US Congress as it makes dramatic changes to the tax code.  Its name is “Unbridled Greed.”  It has been with us before, particularly in the Gilded Age, and now masquerades cynically as tax cuts for the middle class.  Every analysis exposes its clear results: enriching the wealthy while impoverishing the poor, and pretty much everyone else.  Along with the changes in taxation come the removal of regulatory restraints and protections for the public.  This dramatic change is enforced by restrictions on voting rights and gerrymandered electoral districts which protect those who protect the wealthy.

Predatory sexual aggression, combined with vitriolic racism, the unchecked availability of guns and rigid economic inequality, all point to a deep seated cultural sickness: the compulsion to dominate.  That cancer is fully exposed in 2017, and we will not solve any of its symptoms until we acknowledge the disease.  And, this year will not be pivotal, we will not change, unless we begin to treat it.  That’s the diagnosis and the prognosis.  So, what is the treatment?

Curing the compulsion to dominate is not a matter of legislation or elections.  It is a matter of the heart of individuals and the soul of the nation.  As a pastor I might be expected to prescribe religion as a way forward.  It is maddening to acknowledge, however, that the fundamentalist versions of religion are enablers and encouragers of the compulsion to dominate.  They want to dominate and do not hesitate to use politics to try to do it.

Religious traditions that teach love for the neighbor and seek justice for the poor; religions that believe that all persons are children of God, beloved by God, and deserve to be respected and cherished: they hold the antidote for our disease.  May they thrive and speak their truth boldly.  They may be our best hope to pivot toward the nation of justice, compassion and unity that we aspire to be.  2017 will turn out be a pivotal year only if we begin to address these four crises.  It requires confession, contrition and conversion:  starting with ourselves and advocated to all, especially our cultural and national leaders.  With regard to predatory sexual aggression we have at least made a start.  We must begin to address and reverse the other three as well.

Rev. Rollin Russell

Faith in Democracy

Does it seem impossible to know what to do in the current political landscape? Has the angst reached a recent boiling point that moves you to action? Faith communities have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in restoring and protecting our democracy in lasting ways. How faith communities partner with non-profits and engage with non-faith activists holds a key to transforming our communities and building lasting change.

Please join us in rebuilding and defending “Faith in Democracy.” Session will include:

  1. Legally what can faith communities and faith leaders discuss about the social/political issues? Morally, what are leaders compelled to do? What are the real risks, especially to minority faith and non-faith groups? How is this work rooted in standing up for racial justice?
  2. Why is almost all current state and federal legislation so extreme? How does it threaten our own religious freedom?
  3. How can leaders enable their communities, both inside and outside of the church, to see “political” issues through the lens of faith and become advocates for the good of all, especially for “the least of these”? What does meaningful, ecumenical coalition look like?

Please save the date for one of the following workshops this fall across North Carolina. Official registration is now open. Space is expected to fill quickly so please register here, mark your calendar now, and watch for more information. Workshops will run from 10 am–2 pm:

Monday, September 18- UU Congregation of Wilmington (4314 Lake Avenue, Wilmington 28403)

Tuesday, September 19- Hood Memorial AME (2801 Rose Hill Road, Fayetteville 28302)

Wednesday, September 20- NAACP Office (4130 Oak Ridge Drive, Winston-Salem 27105)

Thursday, September 21- Union Presbyterian Seminary (5141 Sharon Road, Charlotte 28210)

Friday, September 22- Church of the Master UCC (2230 29th Avenue NE, Hickory 28601)

 

Please join your ecumenical and interfaith colleagues for this important event that will build local coalitions at this critical time for our state and our country. Registration: http://bit.ly/2pPotht

 

Sincerely,

 

Jennifer Copeland,

Executive Director

NC Council of Churches

Marcus Bass,

Faith Coordinator

Democracy North Carolina

Bill Mefford

Faith Outreach Director

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

 

 

The Government We Deserve

by Rollin Russell originally published in Planetary Movement

Numerous sages have said it: “In a democracy you get the government you deserve.”  People on both sides of the “dividing wall of hostility”  (see Ephesians 2) that now separates us can agree, one side with satisfaction, on the other with disdain.

On the reddish side of the wall, many feel they have been ignored, manipulated, discounted, taken for granted and left to scramble for existence as the economic rug was pulled out from under them.  The election was, to them, an upsetting of the apple cart of the elites and power brokers, political, financial and cultural, that made their lives miserable for decades.  Trump will change the system, so let the chips fall where he decides.  They feel they deserve this dramatic reversal.

On the bluish side of the wall, the election outcome was unthinkable.  Their pollsters and commentators told them so.  Their sense of justice, mutual respect and equality, their assumptions about a bright, multi-cultural American future told them so.  And now all those values seem endangered.  The xenophobic, misogynist, racist, arrogant narcissist won the election and his victory unmasks those characteristics in millions who supported him.  The nation deserves this painful reality check.

It is a rude awakening.  So, now, instead of dozens of email requests for political contributions, each day we receive the angst filled or, on the other hand, gloating speculations about the political, economic and social future.  I have found two articles that provide some insight and perspective (and that clearly reveal the side of the wall on which I stand).

Two professors from the University of Texas point out how closely Donald Trump and his campaign rhetoric resemble the political Superman of Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings.  They write:

The title of Nietzsche’s book about a superman, who could be a super-president, is usually translated as The Anti-Christ (1895).  A more accurate translation from the German is The Anti-Christian.  The values of Nietzsche’s anti-Christian are the opposite of Christian values: strength, not weakness; pride, not humility; impulsive passion, not controlled reason, war, not peace; and egoism, not altruism.  In short, the creed of anti-Christians is this: “What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself.”     (The Daily Texan, November 18, 2016)

The second insight is not really new.  It is from an Alternet article that describes why 81 per cent of Evangelical Christians voted for the President Elect. (Pugh Research, 2016)  It sights the ideological rigidity of the white, fundamentalist, Christian population that is dominant in the American heartland.

Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems.  Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change.  When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to     outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power.

Rational arguments about qualifications for the office are futile.  Citations of gross behavior, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia are to no avail.  The crucial issues are abortion, homosexuality, male dominance and the makeup of the Supreme Court, which has authorized ‘unthinkable’ change in all these areas.

So, we acknowledge the supreme irony of fundamentalist Christians overwhelmingly supporting a candidate who plausibly can be described as the anti-Christian, would-be superman.  The “dividing wall of hostility,” thus, seems impregnable.  In Ephesians the dividing wall is broken down by a peculiar and powerful sort of love that embraces the poor and outcast, defies the pretentions of power and empire and envisions the reign of justice and peace.

There are still Christians, Jews, Muslims and persons of other faiths and of no faith who are committed to this authentic biblical/ethical vision.  Their voices are currently drowned out by the noise of self-appointed and self-anointed fundamentalist preachers.  But, in them is our best hope for a future of unity and mutuality.  Let those who “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly” (Micah 6) raise their voices and act on their convictions, and let the walls come tumbling down.  One day we may get the government we need rather than the one we deserve.

Rollin O. Russell

 

Opposing HB2

intersection

Why Orange Durham Americans United will fight against HB2:

HB2 is a law in NC that requires people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. The justification of the law was made as a “public safety issue.” Now the state of NC is on a list of place to boycott.  The entire state.

 

  • When NC Senator Buck Newton announced HB2 – he said “Keep NC Straight” showing that the law is not about protecting anyone, it is about vilifying the LGBTQ community. Divide and conquer.
  • #ProtectThyNeighbor is a program within Americans United to stand up against hate and bigotry toward marginalized groups.
  • When the law was championed, clergy from the religious right were present with law-makers to show their support. We are working to organize clergy in opposition to the law.
  • Biblical literalist religious dogma requires a horrific view of any expression of
    homosexuality
    other than chastity.
  • Biblical literalists reject the classical American commitment to equality of all citizens before the law and in society. Fundamentalist faith justifies an exclusivist and punitive attitude to LGBTQ citizens and works to codify that into law.
  • HB2 is not only an attempt to deny basic rights of these citizens, it also wants to forbid local communities from protecting those rights.  This is clearly a law based on fundamentalist religious dogma, a quasi establishment of religion.