Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What Does Jesus Think about Nuclear Power?

 

It would be nice if the Bible could answer all our questions in a clear and concise way, like “Miss Manners” answers our etiquette questions. 

The problem is many of the pressing daily decisions we must make were unheard of to those to whom the biblical authors wrote, and many of the daily concerns they faced were quite different from our daily preoccupations. 

For example, eating meat that has been offered to an idol, a concern, Paul responds to in 1 Corinthians 8, is not a problem I have ever confronted in my ministry.  I did face a somewhat similar situation when asked by pastors in Vietnam how they can, when invited to a family feast to revere their ancestors, honor both their theological convictions and their Christian commitment to honor their parents, as stipulated in the Ten Commandments.  We took the teaching in 1 Corinthians 8, along with passages about family, and crafted a strategy that would honor both these teachings in their contemporary situation.  They had to balance the competing demands of these passages in a way that honored the full counsel of scripture.  This was not a job for the lazy or unimaginative.

In another example, Moses relates a clear teaching on who may and may not eat the sacred offerings and who may and may not come into contact with those offerings.  There is even guidance about what to do if one eats the offering accidentally (Leviticus 22).  I have had questions about the observance of communion but no queries about sacred offerings.  

Jesus gives clear guidance on the Temple tax (Matthew 17:24), yet I have never had a question about paying the Temple tax in all my years of teaching Sunday School.  I guess people don’t pay that anymore.  

Nor has there ever been a conflict, in my experience, over fraternizing with someone who collects government taxes (Luke 5:27).  It just never comes up.

My point is, many of the daily pressing questions of the people to whom the Bible was first directed are not our questions.  Likewise, many of our concerns were unknown to them: global warming, gun control, cloning, and the availability of health insurance, to name a few.  (One concern that runs through the entire Bible and is front and center in in our day as well is economic inequality; on that issue we have clear and timely mandates.)

On the other hand, many of these original readers’ deepest concerns are ours as well: greed, generosity, loving our neighbors, honesty, forgiveness, grief, economic justice, caring for our families, and how do we use power.  In many ways our lives are not so different.  Still we must often make an imaginative leap from the particulars of their situation to the particulars of our situation because these concerns come clothed in different in different circumstances.

The Bible can still guide us even though our daily concerns may be quite different. I have walked with many churches through conflicts. Picking and eating grain on the Sabbath has never been a bone of contention in these disagreements (Matt. 12:1-8).  Jesus saw this immediate controversy over Sabbath behavior through the lens of the competing claims of mercy and sacrifice.  (Spoiler alert:  He comes down clearly on the side of mercy.) The tension between mercy and sacrifice has often been at the heart of many church conflicts.  One has to imaginatively extrapolate from the grain issue to the matter at hand in the conflict.  It is not a direct application, as in “just do what the Bible says," but one can find some direction in this story.

How would our  lives be different if rather than looking for some proof text we asked what is the merciful thing to do? We must with our hearts and our minds fully engage with the Spirit and apply ancient values to new situations. This is hard work.

The Bible is not just an answer book to which we take our questions and then find a simple unequivocable answer for all people at all times in all places.  In other words, the Bible is not for lazy unimaginative people who wish to “Google” it for one sentence answers.  It is for people who are willing to struggle with multiple texts written to a wide variety of people in a diversity of situations, each with their own distinctive preoccupations.

Under the guidance of the Spirit, serious Bible readers discover values, priorities, and principles that can be applied to new situations.  The Pharisees in Matthew 12 were not willing to struggle with the inherent tension between mercy and sacrifice in the Hebrews scriptures as they sorted out picking grain on the Sabbath, thus they ended up condemning the innocent (Matt 12:7).  They were dull minded and more interested in justifying themselves than in discovering the wisdom of the full counsel of scripture.

So to my original question: What does Jesus think about nuclear power?  This is a good test case for us to apply our Bible reading skills.  We must extrapolate from what the Bible says about related concerns.  The Bible tells us we are to be good caretakers of God’s creation; this gets at the issue of the destruction of the ozone generated by coal-fired power plants vs. the dangers of nuclear waste.  We are to love and care for our neighbor: this raises up the safety of the workers in nuclear power plants and those who live around those plants.  Yet, affordable energy is a positive thing that enhances my neighbor’s life, whom I am to love. Like so many of our concerns, we have to balance multiple biblical themes to find our way.

We are confronted with decisions of which the ancients never dreamed.  So we must work to find answers.  Since this is an imaginative enterprise guided by the Holy Spirit, we will not always agree on everything.  The Apostle Paul gives us some good guidance as we find our way through life:

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:8-13).

Faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these being love.  These are not bad guides to follow for now, particularly the thing about love.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Making a Difference in Burma

 We have all read articles and seen newscasts about the military coup in Burma, which overthrew a democratically elected government.  We have been made aware of the suffering of the people of Burma, in particular the minority ethnic groups.  In our Region we have a number of churches comprised of people from Burmese ethnic groups who had to flee Burma due to government violence and repression.  They have family and friends back in Burma and grieve the atrocities their homeland is undergoing.  These people are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are likely aware that it was an American Baptist missionary couple, the Judsons, who first took the Gospel to Burma.

So what can we do?  Last week you received from the Region prayer litanies, sample letter and other martials you can use.  Below you will another sample letter written by a man in the Utica Karen Baptist Church.  Please look it over and consider adapting it and send it to your representative and senator.

Jim Kelsey--Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State

The Honorable ???

U.S. Representative of New York’s ??? Congressional District

1410 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC  20515

 Dear Congresswoman/man ???,

 We are writing to you on behalf of the Burmese Diaspora churches of the American Baptist Churches of New York State/or the ??? Baptist Church of (your city). These churches represent ethnic minority groups from Burma. They are grateful for the sanctuary they have been given in this country. However, the root causes of why they had to flee their homes and country—attacks and human rights violations by the Burmese military—have still not been addressed.

 The military has just staged a new coup against the democratically elected civilian government led by Aung San Sue Kyi. The new military government has shut down communication channels such as the internet, phone and social media in an attempt to stop peaceful demonstrators and prevent the world from seeing what is happening in the country. The military has also announced martial law in part of the country where peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience movement has grown and has threatened to clamp down on peaceful demonstrators.

And while the world attention has turned to the military coup, right villagers, including many children, are hiding in the jungle following attacks by the Burmese military. The indiscriminate targeting of civilians and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

 

We request that you condemn the coup, make a public call for the military to peacefully return power to democratically elected government led by Aung San Sue Kyi, and for the Burmese military to halt its attacks on ethnic minorities and to lift all humanitarian aid restrictions. We also request that you support the passing of legislation to impose sanctions that will ensure no American company can do any form of business with military owned companies.

We also would like you to consider the following points when deciding your future approach to our country. The U.S government needs to review the support it is giving to the peace process and impose strict economic sanctions on the military-owned companies and all foreign and domestic companies associated with the military in Burma. We believe that the peace process and reforms in Burma, a creation of the military, were never designed to bring genuine peace. The intention was to use ceasefires to weaken ethnic armed organizations and gain access to contested areas, including natural resources. The peace process and reforms were also used as part of efforts to persuade the US and EU to lift economic sanctions.

 

The current peace process in our country has failed. Since it began, conflict and human rights violations in Burma have significantly increased. There has been increased conflict in Rakhine State, Kachin State, Shan State and Chin State. Now even in Karen State, hailed by some as one of the few places where the local populations have seen some benefits from ceasefires, people are once again fleeing for their lives.

 As a member of the Joint Peace Fund, as well as a key political backer of the peace process, the US has a leading role to play. We believe that international financial and political support, including from the Joint Peace Fund, is helping to keep alive a failed process. By keeping this failed process alive, the support the US and others are giving has now become an obstacle to achieving peace, rather than supporting it. It is preventing major reform or replacement of the current process. Each new problem is met with more committees, more processes, and more expense as those involved appear to have expended too much money and political capital to be willing to accept it has not worked.

 If a peace process results in more conflict, it is time for a rethink.  We request that you support our call for the US to suspend financial support for the Peace Process and reinstate sanctions in Burma until substantial changes are made to the current process and the military relinquish power.

 

Communities from conflict zones across Burma are quite clear in what they want to see as first steps. They want to see the withdrawal of the Burmese military from contested areas, and they want to see restrictions on humanitarian access lifted. These should be preconditions before the US and Joint Peace Fund provide any more support to the peace process. This should be the key US priority in its approach to supporting peace in our country.

 There has been welcome attention on the need for justice and accountability regarding the Rohingya. We believe that one of the reasons that the military believed it could get away with its military offensives and human rights violations in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017 is because the international community has allowed it to enjoy impunity for its military offensives and human rights violations against ethnic people for decades. Nothing that was done to the Rohingya by the military had not already been done to the Karen, Kachin and other ethnic groups. The difference was the scale and timeframe, not the type of human rights violations. There cannot be accountability for crimes against the Rohingya but no accountability for the same human rights violations against other ethnic groups.

 We request that you support justice and accountability for all crimes committed by the Burmese military against all ethnic and religious groups and ask the Biden Administration to work with international partners to ensure justice and accountability.

 The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar investigated human rights violations in Shan and Kachin State as well as Rakhine State. It made recommendations to address human rights violations across the country. We are deeply disappointed that the US and other countries have not taken any significant steps to implement these recommendations. We request that support implementing these recommendations is a center point for the US response to human rights violations by the military. This should include imposing sanctions on military companies, building international support for a global arms embargo (doing so ad hoc with willing countries if progress cannot be made at the UN Security Council), and supporting international justice initiatives.

 


Nationally, the number of political prisoners is increasing, including community leaders, such as Naw Ohn Hla. Almost all military era repressive laws are still in place and being used against human rights activists and peaceful protestors.

 We request that you make a public call for the release of all political prisoners in Burma and for the repeal of all repressive laws. In the past, the US played a leading role in mobilizing international pressure on the Burmese military to end human rights violations. As our friends in Burma are once again hiding in fear in the jungle, the people of Burma need US leadership again. 

 We hope that you will support us in their struggle for freedom and we look forward to your response.  We would also welcome the opportunity to meet with you.

 
Sincerely,


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Leading While We Are Still Finding Our Own Way

 



I saw the handmade sign on the wall.  It said “Bible Study” with a time and a place.  Several months
earlier, I had decided to live my life as a Christian. This most recent leg of my path to faith had been a solo journey.  At the time, I was not involved in any church or Christian community. As far as I knew I had no Christian friends. 

It was in reading the Bible that I had found my way to this new stage of faith. So, I thought I should attend the Bible study. 

I went to the meeting, and they were arguing about baptism and 1 Peter 3:21.  The leaders seemed very sure of their position, and they wanted to make sure that everyone believed the same thing. I was not impressed by the gathering.

One person, who was not engaged in this debate, announced that he was leading a Bible study on the book of Romans, meeting on the second floor lobby of the Creative Arts Center on Tuesday mornings.

I showed up with my Bible in hand, the red-letter King James Version I had received in the 5th grade for memorizing all the books of the Bible in order.  There was only and Robert, the leader, and me.  For several months we met there each Tuesday morning and read through the book of Romans and talked about what it meant for our lives.

I had gone to Sunday school for years and had sat through many sermons in my parents’ conservative Baptist church.  I had been a faithful participant in VBS in my childhood.  As I noted above, I had memorized the books of the Bible in the proper canonical order.  I knew the right answers to most of the questions.  And as they say, if you don’t know the answer just say “Jesus.”  You have a 70% chance of being right.

What I did not know was how to live as a Christian.  I had no idea how to take what the Bible taught and apply it day by day in the real world.  I had gotten none of that in my parents’ church.

This was what I discovered with Robert each Tuesday morning sitting on the floor leaning against the rough concrete wall:  I learned how to take scripture and practice it day by day as a college student.  Robert and I were finding our way together.  He was just a bit farther ahead, having been at this endeavor longer than had I.

There were several others in that student fellowship who help me find my way and broaden my faithfulness.  To this day their fingerprints are still on my life and my faith.  I am, after 8 years of seminary and 30 years of ordained ministry, still to a great degree a product of what I learned in those early days of faith at the hands of others who were on the same journey; they were simply more experienced travelers at the time.

I thought about Robert and those others as I participated in the mentor training offered by our Regional Lay Study Program.  We are training people to mentor Certified Lay Minister candidates.  We will soon provide broader training to equip pastors in mentoring all people with gifts for ministry in their churches. 

Robert and those others were mentoring me.  They were showing me how to live as a Christian and how to do ministry.  The real gift they gave was not knowledge.  The real gift was showing me how put into practice in my life what I already knew in my head. 

This is essentially what Jesus did with his disciples.  He invited them to travel with him on a journey of obedience that he had already begun (Mark 1:16—20).  That is what mentoring is: making available to others the wisdom we have gathered along the way.  We walk with them as they travel and build their own bank of experiences.  Someday they will, in turn, walk with others.

Who has mentored you on your journey? All of us are the product of others who have guided and encouraged us.  Is there someone in your church or family or circle of friends that you can come alongside and with whom you can journey together?    Let us keep the cycle going.

Jim Kelsey--Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

We Have a Choice

 

We always have a choice.  

Sometimes we feel we do not. We find ourselves swept up the torrent of cable news, social media postings, loyalty to people with whom we identify, and suspicions of those with whom we do not identify.  We find ourselves carried down the river of division, mistrust, animosity, and fear.  We feel as if we are victims  of irreversible current.

When Paul writes “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus [Philippians 2:5],” he is saying we have a choice.  Wherever we find ourselves, we can choose to migrate to a different place.  We can choose the “mind” we live out.

In another place Paul writes:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect [Romans 12:2].”  Paul is asserting that we can push back against the “Spirit of the Age.”  We can be different; we can be set free.

The beauty of the Gospel is that we none of us are who God created us to be--none of us.  We all carry implicit biases for and against certain people.  We did not choose these mindsets.  Then on the heels of that uncomfortable truth of own flawed nature, the Gospel asserts that we do not have to remain this way.  We can, through the power of the Spirit and an honest look at ourselves, change; we can be made new.  This is a message of hope, water for thirsty souls.

This weekend we remember the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Perhaps no one has with such eloquence and power and candor laid bare the sin of systemic racism in America.

Yet, there was always hope in Dr. King's message. In the midst of his laying bare our nation’s sin, he uplifted those who heard his words--not just black and brown folks, but also white folks.  Why?  Because King believed we could all do better; he knew we could change if we applied ourselves to the hard work of regeneration in our hearts and in our society.  He never wavered in his faith about what God could do in us:

I look to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character-Dr. King, August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial

Dr. King could see it; he took it for granted.  He knew we, all of us, have it in us to do  better.

In times like these, when hope seems sometimes hard to find, we realize what a treasure Dr. King was and still is to our nation. 

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Challenges of the Assault on the Capitol

 


The Event

There are some things that really should go without saying among decent people.  The vast majority of Americans looked upon the spectacle of an armed assault on the U.S Capitol building as a frightening attack on our nation by an internally-spawned enemy.   If it is necessary among us to condemn this—if the jury is still out on that in people’s minds, then we are quite likely already destined for our own destruction.

We certainly should pray for our elected leaders, the various law enforcement workers in the Capital, and all those who live and work in Washington, DC.  This should be instinctual among us.  It is good to remind one another of this, but I hope is it not entirely necessary.

I want to step back a bit from the routinized responses and set all this in a broader context.  If you know much about me, you know I find the lens of Bowen Family Systems Theory helpful.   This way of looking at life reminds us that we are all part of a common emotional and behavioral system.  We all participate in that system; we all contribute, for better or for worse, to what happens in that system.  This is true whether we do or do not directly participate in an event.  Another way of saying this is that we all co-create one another in an ongoing cycle of interactions.

It is easy to look with disgust at armed rioters running through the Capitol building, debasing emblems of our national values.  This creates two challenges for followers of Jesus.  First, we can be tempted to an arrogance that absolves us of any responsibility for or connection to this outrage.  Second, it confronts us with the challenge of loving our neighbor when we find the behavior and values of our neighbor objectionable.

Challenge One: Arrogance that Absolves Us

What happened at the Capitol was, one could argue, the inevitable outcome of a series of choices people have made.  Outrage is an appropriate response, surprise—maybe not so much.  This was not all spawned in a single day of infamy.

Followers of Jesus are to be salt, the light of the world.  We are to be a city set upon a hill to which others look for guidance and hope.  We are to let our light shine before others so that they might see a better path forward (Matt 5:13-16). The Gospel writer John pulls no punches in describing our work as a type of counter-cultural insurgency:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (3:19-21).

Have we fulfilled our role in recent years?  What things have we done or left undone that have made a space in our nation for this clear and imminent danger?  How have we gone along in silence because it was easier and less costly than taking a stand for the things of God—love, peace, mercy, charity, the dignity of all human beings, and justice? 

Perhaps none of us stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday, but how did we contribute to that catastrophe by leaving undone the work of our calling?  This is not a time for self-exonerating arrogance; this is a time for sober reflection. 

Challenge Two: Loving Our Neighbor 

It is hard to love our neighbor when our neighbor is acting in an objectionable way or espousing values that violate the convictions of our faith.  Jesus laid an even more ambitious challenge before us than simply loving our neighbor; we are to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-45).  This does not mean we endure every outrage in silence.  It does not mean we that we stand paralyzed in the face of the abuse and degradation of others.  It does mean that we extend to all people the dignity and regard that is due everyone who is formed in the image of God.  To extend dignity to someone does not necessarily mean we respect their values or condone their actions.  It means that we strive to see buried beneath the armor of their hate and hurt and malevolence that part of them that is irreversibly of God.  

Stephen Carter wrote that any human being “whatever his or her strengths, weaknesses, and simple complexities, is also part of God’s creation.  We should be struck with awe at the fact that we are face to face with a part of God’s work.”[i] It is hard to despise someone who elicits awe in us.  This is our challenge as followers of Jesus, to see God even in the armed violent White Nationalist scaling the walls of the Capital building.  This will take some work.

In Conclusion

Wednesday was a frightening day.  It can, nonetheless, be an opportunity for us to reflect anew on what it means to be the children of light in a world where darkness is always trying to gain additional ground.   It is also an opportunity to stress test, as understood in the world of banking, our capacity to love our neighbors, even the ones who behave objectionably.  As we feel our neighbor slipping into the category of enemy, our task grows more challenging. 

As we see images of those breaking down the doors of the House Chamber, it is an opportune time to ask what does it mean for us to be faithful to the Gospel as the wood is splintering. 

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State



[i] Carter, Civility, 101.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Winners and Losers on Wednesday

 

Are you “red,” as in Republican red?  Or are you “blue”, as in Democrat blue.  Some people are “purple,” a mixture of red and blue.  I know that real life is not this simple, but these are the colors we have been given.  Let’s go with them.

You may be aware that Tuesday is Election Day.  We have “blue” candidates and “red” candidates and a few “outside the lines” candidates.  In particular, we have a presidential contest where the “blue” guy and the “red” guy are in a closely contested battle with enthusiastic followers.  Only one will win in the end.  We could have an Electoral College tie; in the end, however, a winner will emerge.

On Wednesday, or maybe Thursday or maybe Friday or maybe early January, those of us who voted will wake up feeling, in a way, that we won or lost.  This is inevitable.

So how will these winners and losers have rewarding and reconciling conversations?

One way is to listen with curiosity and understanding.  We will need to do more than simply hear what others are saying and then agree or disagree with it.  We will need to sort out why they say what they say.

Let me give an example, a divisive and highly politicized one:  guns.  We talk of gun control and of the right to bear arms.  Even the terms we use betray our bias.  The language we choose to use to talk about guns is a product of our experiences and loyalties. 

I was talking with a colleague whose father-in-law is offended by the use of the word “weapon” for his gun.  He says his gun is a “tool” he uses as he works his ranch and supports his family.

 I, on the other hand, have lived in populated areas where guns have one function: to shoot people, be those guns in the hands of soldiers, police officers, homeowners, or criminals. So guns, in my experience, are weapons. 

Tool or weapon?  Our word choice reflects our experiences and our loyalties.  I wonder how much more productive our conversations about gun control/rights (both loaded words—no pun intended) would be if we began by asking one another:  So tell me what has been your experience with and exposure to firearms?

As we talk our way into our common future, we will need not just to hear what someone is saying but also understand why they are saying what they are saying.  This does not mean that we will all agree on all things; we certainly will not; there are significant values at stake in our disagreements. It does mean that we can preserve our relationships, heal our communities, and extend dignity to one another in all our diversity.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness [James 1:19-20].

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

Friday, October 2, 2020

White Supremacy is Beyond the Limit

 


Civility

I have been reading and writing about civility in these unsettling times.  I give a robust definition to civility as making room for others in our lives and hearts—particularly making room for those with whom we disagree. 

 Civility is a discipline whereby we create a place in our lives where others can be heard, appreciated, and shown dignity and understanding.  We stake out this space through curious empathy, which fuels civility.  We do this because God has done that with each of us. Mirsolav Wolf writes: “God’s reception of hostile humanity into divine communication is a model for how human beings should relate to one another” (Exclusion & Embrace—A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, 98).

 This “room-making” enterprise is grounded in the dignity due all human beings, each of whom is created in the Image of God (Gen. 1:27).  This dignity is not conditional. It is not dependent. It is not negotiable.  People do not earn it; it is not the product of merit or accomplishment. It adheres to all people in all situations.  This image of God within may be hard to discern sometimes, as the poet wrote “buried deep with the old man’s lined face was the heart of a child.”  Civility honors this organic dignity inherited from God the Creator.

Respect, on the other hand, is earned writes David Brubaker (When the Center Does Not Hold—Leading in an Age of Polarization, 38).  Respect flows from the content of one’s character and from acts of love and righteousness and justice.

Civility is not in every case the highest value. It does not require us to endure every outrage in silence, accommodate every abomination contentedly, or accept every obscenity without protest.  Jesus extended dignity to all people, but in some cases he subjugated civility to higher priorities. 

In Matthew chapter 23, Jesus sees the religious leaders exploiting and misleading the less initiated and powerful (vv. 4, 13, 15, and 23).  He calls the leaders “hypocrites, snakes, and a brood of vipers”—not very civil language. 

In another place, Jesus clears the temple area in Jerusalem in a not-so-civil way and accuses the leaders of making it a den of thieves (Mark 11:15—17).  The next day he points out how the temple system was, arguably, exploiting a poor widow (Mark 14:41—44).

In a third example, Jesus says that to enter the Kingdom of God, one must become like a little child.  He goes to say whoever misleads one of these “little ones” and causes them to sin would better to have a millstone hung around their neck and be thrown into the sea (Matt 18:5--6).  That is not a very civil image to paint.

In each case, Jesus is confronted with powerful people misleading or abusing less powerful people.  For Jesus, the instinct to protect the powerless and vulnerable takes precedent over showing civility to the powerful and influential who are misusing or misleading them.

White Supremacy

I believe White supremacy is one of those areas where higher values than civility reign supreme.

White supremacy (also called White nationalism) leads to injustice, poverty, violence toward, and even the death of, people who are Black, Brown, or of a faith other than Christian.  We live in a nation still marred by the vestiges of White supremacy; it is baked into our national life with devastating consequences for people of color.

White supremacy in its explicit formulation is, however, more than these damaging consequences.  It is an anthropological categorization of human beings.  It is about who is considered fully and supremely human and who is not.  There are key humanizing characteristics that are found only in White Christians, assert White supremacists.  This is something more sinister than prejudice and racism, and discrimination.

The American Defamation League summarizes the agenda of White supremacists in this way:

White supremacy is a term used to characterize various belief systems central to which are one or more of the following key tenets: 1) whites should have dominance over people of other backgrounds, especially where they may co-exist; 2) whites should live by themselves in a whites-only society; 3) white people have their own "culture" that is superior to other cultures; 4) white people are genetically superior to other people. As a full-fledged ideology, white supremacy is far more encompassing than simple racism or bigotry. Most white supremacists today further believe that the white race is in danger of extinction due to a rising “flood” of non-whites, who are controlled and manipulated by Jews, and that imminent action is need to “save” the white race.

White supremacists can go under a number of names.  The Southern Poverty Law Center includes a variety of other designations as well: the Ku Klux Klan, neo-confederate, racist skin heads, neo-Nazi, and Christian Identity movement.

Self-described White supremacists are advocating something more than simply passively letting the effects of racism continue unaddressed.  They want to bring change inspired by the four clearest historical examples of unrestrained White supremacy ideology in practice:  the American institution of slavery; the Jim Crow regime; Nazi Germany; and South African Apartheid.  They are divided over whether violence is desirable or at least necessary to achieve their goals.

When it comes to White supremacy, I believe there is a higher value at stake than civility.  To borrow form the writer of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to be civil, and there is a time when the demands of decency and justice overrule civil dialogue and curious engagement.

To seek mutual understanding and respect in the face of rhetoric or actions that are repulsive, devastating to communities, and lethal to innocent human beings is beyond the bounds of civility.  I believe White supremacy lies in those bounds.  The only responsible response to White supremacy is condemnation and a call to repentance.

Within the Bounds of Loving Our Neighbor

Loving white Supremacists is within the arena of loving our neighbor.  They are made in the Image of God.  They are due the dignity instilled within them by their Creator.  We are to love them as our neighbor, even if they position themselves as our enemies.

 Here is an opportunity for followers of Jesus Christ to grow ever more into the image of the One who said “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Loving White supremacists, while not tolerating for a moment their actions or crediting their views, is our formidable task.   Believers must resist arrogance and a sense of superiority.  We must labor to see White supremacists as brothers and sisters who, like us, are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  This the challenge of the Gospel in our lives in these days 

We must not, however, give an inch to their beliefs and agenda.  White supremacy is a direct assault on God’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31) crowning achievement in creation.  It is a denigration of the Creator.

 Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of New York State