Category: American exceptionalism

Thinking and shouting in Chicago

By Alan Bean

Three Friends of Justice people are attending the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago this week.  Melanie Wilmoth and I are here, as is the Rev. L. Charles Stovall, Friends of Justice board member and associate pastor at St Luke United Methodist Church in Dallas.  Speaking of Methodists, a contingent of 40 United Methodists from across the nation, led by the indefatigable Rev. Laura Markle Downton, are in Chicago for the conference.  These are the folks who recently convinced their denomination to divest from for profit prisons.

I was bone weary when we entered the old fashioned elegance of the Drake Room for evening worship, but I left pumped and inspired.  The highlight of the evening was a stunning sermon on the familiar story of Daniel in the lion’s den from the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.  Watson preaches in the traditional black style.  In the final ten minutes, brief bolts of organ music punctuated every phrase.  “I know it’s late,” he assured us, “and I ain’t gonna keep you long.  And I hope you know that, coming from a Baptist preacher, that don’t mean nothing.”

Dr. Watson didn’t just preach in the old time fashion, he interpreted the scriptures in the old time style, literally.  If God could deliver Daniel, the preacher told us, God can deliver you. 

Normally, this would bother me.  Isn’t this Daniel in the lion’s den thing just a folk story?  I mean, it didn’t really happen, did it?  And didn’t the author of the story refer to King Darius when it should have been Cyrus?  And can I really believe that if somebody threw me into a den of hungry lions I would emerge unscathed?

I wasn’t the least bit bothered by Dr. Watson’s straightforward exegesis, and I’ll tell you why.  So long as the preacher gets the application right, I don’t really care what school of biblical interpretation he follows.  Watson talked about the lions of mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement.  He compared the steadfast obedience of Daniel to the grace Barack Obama has shown when the lions in his world insisted he produce a birth certificate.  When Watson came to the part where knaves use flattery to appeal to a king’s vanity, Watson talked about black politicians who don’t realize they are being used until the game is over.

The story of Daniel, like so many stories from the Bible, is about remaining faithful in the face of oppression.  Black America understands that message.  Earlier in the day, Susan Taylor, Editor Emeritus of Essence Magazine and the founder of a nationwide mentoring program for at-risk children, told us about her visit to one of the fortresses on the African coast where, for centuries, men, women and children waited for the slave ship to come.  In graphic detail, she described the horrors of the middle passage.  She said African Americans need to teach these things to our children and, if we have forgotten, to ourselves.

This is precisely the kind of stuff that makes white Americans profoundly uncomfortable.  All of that stuff happened so very long ago.  It was awful, to be sure, but why talk about it in polite company; it’s divisive, it just stirs things up.  I didn’t own any slaves and none of you have a personal experience with slavery so . . . let’s call the whole thing off. 

Black America needs to talk about the stuff white America needs to forget.  Or maybe we too need to remember, we just don’t know it yet.

Dr. Jeremiah Wright gave the benediction tonight.  Yes, that Jeremiah Wright.  Barack Obama’s former pastor.  The guy who enraged white America by suggesting that America’s chickens might be coming home to roost.  I was riding in a van with several black passengers when the towers fell in Manhattan.  Their reaction mirrored Wright’s.  Black and white Americans live in two different worlds, experientially and religiously.

There are plenty of white folks who share the ethical commitments of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.  We oppose the war on drugs, we think mass incarceration has been a disaster, and we want to address the conditions that foster violence and joblessness in poor urban neighborhoods.  But you would never hear a white person who believes these things preaching like the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson.  Most white progressives would be offended by biblical preaching.  If religion must be referenced at all, let it be generic religion, devoid of narrative content.   None of that Jesus stuff. 

White progressives (with a few blessed exceptions) associate words like Jesus, Bible, prayer, salvation and deliverence with the religious Right.  And, to be fair, the religious folk you see on the television and hear on the radio rarely reflect the kingdom priorities of Jesus.

Unlike their white counterparts, black progressives can, to paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Freddie Haynes, think and shout at the same time. “If you think,” he told us, “you will thank.  Think about how great our God is and you can’t help but get your shout on.”

Why do white Christians have such a hard time mixing kingdom ethics with shouts of praise.  I’m not sure, but the world would be a better place if we got over it.

The Californication of America: A review of Darren Dochuk’s “From Bible Belt to Sunbelt”

By Alan Bean

I received a copy of Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt as a birthday present from my daughter, Dr. Lydia Bean.  She said I’d love it, and she was right.

Like me, Dochuk hails from Edmonton, Alberta, and, like me, his doctoral dissertation focused on Southern religion.  But while I was primarily interested in progressive Christians struggling for social survival in the Deep South, Dochuk turned his attention to evangelicals from states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas who migrated in droves to southern California between the dust bowl thirties to the post-war period when the counties surrounding Los Angeles were booming as a result of massive government spending on military and aeronautical projects.

As a child, Darren Dochuk was driven to the vacation spots of Southern California every summer.  I dreamed of visiting Disneyland, but I never got there.  Still, the brand of Christian Right spirituality described in his book impacted my life in significant, sometimes painful ways.  The California-inspired Jesus People movement was in full flower when I attended the Baptist Leadership Training School in 1972.  It was around that time that my traditionally Baptist parents were attracted to the charismatic movement.  My father repeatedly invited me to luncheon meetings of the Full Gospel Business Men’s International, a loose affiliation of tongue-speaking, prophesying, faith healing neo-Pentecostals founded in Southern California by a layman named Demos Shakarian.

For me, these were bewildering experiences I had largely forgotten until I read From Bible Belt to Sun Belt.  Though I never understood the appeal of this style of religion, my parents informed me that my life would be transformed if I submitted to “the baptism” and received the “gift of tongues.”  I tried my best, but it didn’t take. (more…)

Dreaming a Christian aristocracy: The evolution and meaning of Dominionism

By Alan Bean

Our twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t lend itself to careful analysis of complex social movements.  Rick Perry, the pugnacious presidential hopeful, raised eyebrows when he used a loose network of organizations associated with the New Apostolic Reformation to organize a big religious-political rally in Houston.  Interest quickened when the mainstream media learned that some of Perry’s friends were “Dominionists,” folks who want to bring secular politics (and everything else) under the dominion of God.

The questions couldn’t be avoided.  If elected, will Rick Perry pack his cabinet with Christian preachers?  Since that didn’t sound likely, the pundits too-easily assumed that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are just standard-issue conservatives with close ties to the religious right.  (more…)

The most influential civil rights champion you’ve never heard of

If you’ve never heard of Stetson Kennedy, you’ll feel as if you’ve known the man all your life after reading this wonderful eulogy by University of Florida professor Paul Ortiz.  Kennedy is generally remembered as a thorn in the side of the Ku Klux Klan, but as Professor Ortiz makes clear, his significance is much deeper and broader than that.  Until this morning, I had never heard Stetson Kennedy’s name mentioned in connection with racism, segregation, white supremacy or the civil rights movement.  How can that be?  AGB 

stetson_kennedy_typing.pngBy Paul OrtizStetson Kennedy passed away on Saturday, Aug. 27. He was 94 years old. Stetson died peacefully in the presence of his beloved wife, Sandra Parks, at Baptist Medical Center South in St. Augustine, Florida.

Stetson Kennedy spent the better part of the 20th century doing battle with racism, class oppression, corporate domination, and environmental degradation in the American South. By mid-century Stetson had become our country’s fiercest tribune of hard truths; vilified by the powerful, Stetson did not have the capacity to look away from injustice. His belief in the dignity of the South’s battered sharecroppers, migrant laborers, and turpentine workers made him the region’s most sensitive and effective folklorist.

Stetson was so relentless, so full of life, that some of us thought that he would trick death the way that he had once fooled the Ku Klux Klan into exposing their lurid secrets to the listeners of the Adventures of Superman radio program in 1947. As recently as April, Stetson gave a fiery speech to hundreds of farm workers and their supporters at a rally in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Tampa. Standing in solidarity with Latina/o and Haitian agricultural workers affirmed Stetson’s ironclad belief in the intersections between labor organizing, racial justice, and economic equity. (more…)

Should we be afraid of evangelicals?

article imageBy Alan Bean

Lisa Miller is right to be concerned about anti-evangelical bigotry.  Most evangelical Christians, she notes, aren’t “dominionists” and very know anything about the New Apostolic Reformation, a movement with close ties to presidential hopeful Rick Perry.

Even if Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann make it to the White House, they won’t be trying to replace the US Constitution with the Bible or setting up the 10 Commandments in the courthouses of America.  The separation of church and state isn’t going to disappear simply because America elects a president who doesn’t care for the concept.

But why, if it is such an esoteric and eccentric philosophy, are Rick and Michelle hitching their wagons to the dominionist star? (more…)

A crash course on the New Apostolic Reformation

Last Saturday, Texas Governor Rick Perry addressed 30,000 unusual worshippers at a Houston rally; a week later, in South Carolina, Perry will announce that he is seeking the nation’s highest office.  The mainstream media has associated some of Governor Perry’s religious buddies with some very strange comments about demons, Democrats, a Sun goddess and the ancient Queen Jezebel; but few realize that this odd assortment of prophets and preachers are part of the New Apostolic Reformation, a unified religious movement driven by a “dominionist” theology.

This isn’t just the latest incarnation of the religious right we’re dealing with, folks.  If you want to know more about the New Apostolic Reformation you couldn’t ask for a better tour guide than Rachel Tabachnick, a speaker, writer and researcher with the wonderful people at Talk2Action.  This introductory essay was first posted five months ago, but Rick Perry’s enthusiastic embrace of the movement described below makes it must reading.  AGB (more…)

Why is Rick Perry dabbling in weird religion?

Perrys Prayer RallyBy Alan Bean

“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever, amen.”

Rick Perry used the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer to conclude his own prayer at yesterday’s The Response gathering in Houston.  But after 2,000 years, the venerable old prayer is easily misconstrued.  In the Roman empire, as many first century inscriptions make clear, Caesar was King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  To declare that God, not Caesar, holds the keys to the kingdom was a subversive act.

When you see a would-be Caesar paying metaphysical compliments to God while 30,000 worshippers cheer lustily, there are two possibilities: (a) the Kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ, or (b) a politician is using a currently popular version of God-talk to advance his political aspirations.

I’m going with (b). (more…)

Rick Perry’s Big Gamble

By Alan Bean

It no longer matters whether Rick Perry’s The Response extravaganza draws 8,000 or 80,000 ardent Christians to Houston’s Reliant Stadium; the event will be remembered (if it is remembered at all) as a cynical attempt to build a base by driving another wedge into an already fractured religious community.

Perry’s big event would have been inconceivable during the nation’s formative years, and it is hard to imagine any 20th century presidential candidate thinking he could enhance his political stature by consorting with fringe elements on the religious right.  True, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan courted these same people, but always behind closed doors.

The take-away from The Response is that a Republican presidential aspirant believes an event of this sort is in his political interest.  Rick Perry’s personal religion is irrelevant here; tomorrow’s event is pure politics.

Will the gamble pay off? (more…)

Is Rick Perry having second thoughts about The Response?

You may be wondering what happened to The Response, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Christians-only pray-for-America extravaganza.  This article in the Texas Observer should bring you up to date.

One word of caution.  Although the Observer piece gives the impression that The Response has been an unmitigated disaster for Governor Good Hair (as Molly Ivans called him), Mr. Perry’s political fortunes have risen considerably since The Response hit the airwaves.  The folks associated with the event may sound silly to worldly sophisticates like Rachel Maddow, but it sends all the right signals to the conservative wing of the Republican Party.  In other words, the Texas Governor’s stock is rising with the most powerful political and social movement in recent American history.

Meanwhile, Perry has been balancing the political ledger by supporting New York’s support for gay marriage on states’ rights grounds.  AGB

Is Rick Perry Getting Cold Feet Over the Response? 


Forrest Wilder

You’ve gotta wonder if Rick Perry may come to regret “initiating” The
Response, his Christians-only prayer rally. As I documented in a cover
for the Observer, Perry has thrown in with a strange band of
fundamentalists from the bleeding edge of American Christianity. (more…)

Movement building in an age of scarcity

By Alan Bean

How do we organize in a world of steadily declining resources?  It isn’t just that non-profit organizations are struggling to stay afloat; the economy of the United States has entered a period of decline that will not end in your lifetime or mine.  Dissidents are good at critiquing what is; we aren’t always adept at anticipating what will be.  We can no longer proscribe solutions rooted in the assumption of ever-expanding national wealth.  Storm clouds are gathering on the economic horizon. (more…)