“A man with the Bible in one hand and a whip in the other will use the Bible to justify the whip.”
A good book can change your questions, even if you’re not entirely convinced by the author’s answers.
By Alan Bean
Like many of you, I switched to a different network on election night whenever a commercial came along (I hate commercials as much as I hate political ads). The talking heads on every station were sounding the same message: due to changing demographics, the Republican Party must reach out to minorities if it is serious about long-term survival.
Democrats won over 90% of the African American vote and close to three-quarters of the Hispanic vote (over 80% if non-Cuban Americans are excluded from the calculation). And this after President Obama largely ignored the criminal justice system (a major problem for black voters) while presiding over the unprecedented mass deportation of undocumented residents.
Obama wins the minority vote (including 62% of the Asian electorate) by sitting back and letting Republicans be Republicans. (more…)
By Alan Bean
The American electorate is more racially divided in 2012 than at any time in the recent memory. This encourages the simple conclusion that white Americans prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama because Mitt is white. But a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute paints a far more complex portrait of the white American voter.
As has been widely reported, white women are about equally divided between the two candidates; it’s the men who break strongly for Romney. In 2008, Barack Obama carried a higher percentage of the white vote (41%) than any Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Moreover, working class whites give Mitt Romney a favorability rating of 45% compared to Barack Obama’s 44%; among college educated whites, both men are favored by 49% of those surveyed. If white America throws its support behind the Republican candidate in tomorrow’s election (as they assuredly will) it has little to do with a birds-of-a-feather firing of mirror neurons.
The white electorate divides sharply along five distinct fault lines: education, gender, age, geography and religion. The Public Religion Research Institute Survey compares the white working class to college educated whites. College educated white voters favor Romney, but by a scant 2 points; the white working class favors Romney by 13 points (48-35).
In other words, when we are talking about “the white electorate” we are primarily talking about white working class voters. In this election, 80% of minority votes will go to the Democrat; Romney will be the overwhelming favorite of the white working class; and white college educated voters will fall somewhere in between these extremes. Since white middle class voters comprise 36% of the voting population, their clout is difficult to exaggerate. White college educated voters account for 21% of the electorate, black voters, 11%, and Latino voters, 13%. (For the poll under discussion 11% of white voters are neither working class or college educated).
As we have seen, white women are far more likely to favor Obama than their brothers, boy friends and husbands; and this applies just as much to the white middle class (41%-41%) as to white college educated women. White working class males, on the other hand, will favor Romney by 27 points (57%-28%). It should be noted, however, that working class males making less than $30,000 divide their votes evenly between Obama and Romney while working class males who have received food stamps in the past two years, favor Obama by a margin of 48% to 36%. The authors of the study use this data to argue that the white working class, contrary to popular opinion, do not always vote against their perceived interests. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Bud Kennedy, a columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recently submitted a column linking J. Frank Norris, the infamous Fort Worth hell-raiser, to the Ku Klux Klan. It has often been noted that leading fundamentalists of the first half of the 20th century tended to be anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and thoroughly racist, but is there a logical link between fundamentalism, as a religious phenomenon, and racism?
The fighting fundamentalists of the 1920s and 30s (Norris in Fort Worth and Detroit, T.T. Shields in Toronto, W.B. Riley in Minneapolis, John R. Rice in Dallas and Illinois) supported racial segregation and railed against evolution. But as Randy Moore pointed out a decade ago, a dumbed-down version of Darwinism was used by self-conscious racists to support the doctrine of white supremacy long before evolution became the whipping boy of racist fundamentalist preachers.
The link between religious fundamentalism, anti-evolutionary rhetoric and support for segregation was more sociological than logical. The common folk who flocked to the fundamentalist movement were reassured by talk of an inerrant Bible, support for white supremacy and opposition to scientific theories that appeared to undermine biblical authority. Men like Shields lashed out at evolutionists for the same reason they supported racial segregation–it put butts in the seats. For self-promoters like Norris, that was always the bottom line.
Pandering to the fears and enthusiasms of the ignorant is still a smart marketing principle for professional religionists, but appeals to white supremacy are no long in vogue. Fundamentalists like Al Mohler oppose evolution in part, because it has been used to support the doctrine of white supremacy.
Sixty years after his death, we are still learning about America’s first over-the-top radio preacher.
We know the Rev. J. Frank Norris crusaded from Fort Worth against liquor, liberals, commies and, yes, Catholics.
We know he killed a man in his First Baptist Church office and successfully claimed self-defense. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has issued a thorough and sincere apology after referring to Black pastors like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as “race hustlers” and implying that racial profiling is justified. Land also says he regrets plagiarizing a Washington Times columnist in the course of his tirade.
Lands comments were sparked by media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.
After issuing a half-hearted and unconvincing apology in April, the Southern Baptist opinion leader sat down with a number of prominent Black pastors, including Arlington’s Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church. That meeting appears to have made a deep impression.
How do we explain this about-face? Is Land merely fighting to save his job or attempting to placate angry Black pastors?
I don’t think so. This apology sounds and smells like the real deal.
The real question is why the Baptist ethicist was so upset by the tidal wave of concern unleashed by the Trayvon Martin story, and that one’s a no-brainer. Land was living in the bubble of Southern white conservatism. Inside that segregated world of moral discourse, any reference to racism or racial profiling feels like an assault on the American way of life.
Land’s thinking was transformed by a close encounter with the world of Black evangelical moral discourse. Suddenly the issues were humanized and Land felt the pain his remarks had caused.
This is a testimony to the power of integrated moral conversation. We are a story-telling species. We don’t reason our way to a moral position; our ethical conclusions emerge from the value-laden stories we hear.
Richard Land’s Trayvon Martin rant shows how ugly things get when we are walled off from moral narratives shared by people who don’t look like us, sound like us, or live like us.
If you remain convinced that Land is just another Baptist bureaucrat fighting for his job, I urge you to read the full text of his apology:
“I am here today to offer my genuine and heartfelt apology for the harm my words of March 31, 2012, have caused to specific individuals, the cause of racial reconciliation, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the ministry of The Reverend James Dixon, Jr. the president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a group of brethren who met with me earlier this month, I have come to understand in sharper relief how damaging my words were.
“I admit that my comments were expressed in anger at what I thought was one injustice — the tragic death of Trayvon Martin — being followed by another injustice — the media trial of George Zimmerman, without appeal to due judicial process and vigilante justice promulgated by the New Black Panthers. Like my brothers in the Lord, I want true justice to prevail and must await the revelation of the facts of the case in a court of law. Nevertheless, I was guilty of making injudicious comments.
“First, I want to confess my insensitivity to the Trayvon Martin family for my imbalanced characterization of their son which was based on news reports, not personal knowledge. My heart truly goes out to a family whose lives have been turned upside down by the shocking death of a beloved child. I can only imagine their sense of loss and deeply regret any way in which my language may have contributed to their pain.
“Second, I am here to confess that I impugned the motives of President Obama and the reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. It was unchristian and unwise for me to have done so. God alone is the searcher of men’s hearts. I cannot know what motivated them in their comments in this case. I have sent personal letters of apology to each of them asking for them to forgive me. I continue to pray for them regularly, and for our president daily.
“Third, I do not believe that crime statistics should in any way justify viewing a person of another race as a threat. I own my earlier words about statistics; and I regret that they may suggest that racial profiling is justifiable. I have been an outspoken opponent of profiling and was grief-stricken to learn that comments I had made were taken as a defense of what I believe is both unchristian and unconstitutional. I share the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that all men, women, boys, and girls would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Racial profiling is a heinous injustice. I should have been more careful in my choice of words.
“Fourth, I must clarify another poor choice of words. I most assuredly do not believe American racism is a ‘myth’ in the sense that it is imaginary or fictitious. It is all too real and all too insidious. My reference to myth in this case was to a story used to push a political agenda. Because I believe racism is such a grievous sin, I stand firmly against its politicization. Racial justice is a non-partisan ideal and should be embraced by both sides of the political aisle.
“Finally, I want to express my deep gratitude to Reverend Dixon and the other men who met with me recently for their Christ-like witness, brotherly kindness, and undaunting courage. We are brethren who have been knit together by the love of Jesus Christ and the passion to reach the world with the message of that love. I pledge to them — and to all who are within the sound of my voice — that I will continue to my dying breath to seek racial justice and that I will work harder than ever to be self-disciplined in my speech. I am grateful to them for holding me accountable.
“I am also delighted to announce that as a result of our meeting, the ERLC, in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, will initiate regular meetings to discuss our common calling to heal our nation’s racial brokenness, work for meaningful reconciliation, and strategize for racial justice.”
Did Dr. Land say everything I might have wanted him to say? No, he didn’t. But he said everything he could say without receiving a personality transplant. His strong repudiation of racial profiling warms the cockles of my Baptist heart.
Thanks to the Black Southern Baptist pastors who cared enough to speak the painful truth.
Ken Camp with The Baptist Standard has an excellent discussion of the relationship between race and faith featuring faith leaders in the Dallas Fort Worth area and beyond. My blogging on the subject is part of the mix, and some strong words from Fort Worth pastor Michael Bell figure in the discussion. It is good to see the intersection of racial justice and Christian faith receive a thorough airing in the Baptist press. Pictures from the civil rights movement of the 1960s demonstrate how far we have come; the typical response of white America to the Travon Martin story shows us how far we have to go. Alan Bean
|By Ken Camp, Managing Editor|
|Published: April 27, 2012|
|A neighborhood watchman in Florida shoots and kills a hoodie-wearing African-American teenager. Two white suspects in Tulsa, Okla., confess to the Easter weekend shooting of five people in a predominantly black neighborhood.
Periodically, racial tensions that have simmered beneath the surface bubble up, some Christian leaders note, illustrating just how far-removed modern America is from the “beloved community” envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr.
“We can legislate fairness, but we cannot legislate love. That is up to us,” said Mark Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., and president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
Christians must lead by example to improve race relations, he said.
“I believe that all truly Christian churches must be open to racial inclusion and human compassion. We sing, ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. …” This is true, so we must, too,” said Croston, an African-American.
Croston points to the vision in the New Testament book of Revelation of people representing every nation, tribe and language worshipping Christ. If Christians are serious when they pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he said, they must “with intentionality work toward this reality.”
But the heavenly vision seems remote for many, and racial divisions remain a clear and present problem, some observers noted sadly.
When stories about racially inspired violence capture public attention, events follow a predictable pattern, said Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice.
“When the status quo is threatened by systemic racial bias, the propaganda machine goes into overdrive. This normally involves the assertion that a liberal media is making excuses for thuggish behavior. If the folks on the receiving end of unjust treatment can be redefined as one of ‘those’ people, the horrific details no longer matter,” Bean, an American Baptist minister in Arlington, wrote in a recent column for Associated Baptist Press.
As the stories gain media attention, he continued, “America quickly divides into protestors claiming that the narrative du jour is a prime example of systemic racism, and debunkers insisting it is nothing of the kind.”
The church’s role
Historically, African-American churches have played a central role in providing a voice for people who have felt victimized and for exposing racism. In many cities, a particular church or a few churches continue to play a key role as ombudsman in the African-American community, said Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
“It’s where people go for direction when they are seeking resolution of difficulties and solutions to their problems,” said Bell, a past-president of both the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Texas African-American Fellowship.
More specifically, African-Americans know which churches are able to do something substantive about their problems, he noted.
“They go to a church where the pastor has a reputation as being a prophetic voice,” Bell said. “My church expects me to speak up. I have never received a negative email, text or letter from a church member complaining that I was too involved in community issues outside the church.”
However, in many—perhaps most—predominantly white churches, pastors do not feel that same degree of freedom, he added.
The African-American church has become even more relevant and gained increasing influence as racial tensions have heightened in recent years, Bell insists.
“Distrust and suspicions that had been under the surface have bubbled up. Racism has become more overt and evident in in the last few years,” he said, comparing racists to “roaches so bold they don’t run from the light anymore.”
A cloud of suspicion
Relations between white and blacks, even among Christians, suffer from a failure to address deep-seated issues such as the way African-Americans often are viewed with suspicion—a matter brought to the forefront recently when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., he observed.
“It’s like putting cold cream on cancer. Unattended, the malady will intensify, because it hasn’t been addressed. We try to move on without really dealing with it,” Bell said.
“We (African-Americans) have a historical memory informed by a hermeneutic of suspicion. Periodically that will come to the surface, and the obvious issues will be addressed. The symptoms will be addressed without dealing with the disease. We won’t go beneath the surface. …We fear it will take too much out of us.”
Some African-American ministers note the fear young men in their communities feel about being stopped by police for “DWB—driving while black.”
In a video on the American Baptist Home Mission Societies website, Executive Director Aidsand Wright-Riggins appeared in a hoodie to tell stories from his own experience about the cloud of suspicion under which African-American young men live.
Wright-Riggins recalled how he was stopped by police officers—once while knocking on the door of a white church member and once while approaching his own home. He also told how his son was pulled over twice driving between his parents’ home and his university dormitory.
“I appeal to all of us, as we look at the millions of persons around us, and particularly those of color—particularly black boys—that we don’t make an automatic assessment because they might be dressed differently or look different or somehow feel that they are out of place in our society,” he said, “that we relegate them to the margins or, even worse, that we assign them to the morgue.”
A troubling divide
The Trayvon Martin case illustrates “a troubling divide in public perception,” Bean wrote in a recent blog on the Friends of Justice website.
“On one side of the fault line, people identify with George Zimmerman’s suspicion of young black males wearing hoodies. On the other side, folks identify with a victim of racial profiling and vigilante justice,” he wrote.
In his opinion column written for Associated Baptist Press, Bean noted: “Real-life narratives are messy because life is messy. Victims of injustice get caught up in the mess. They don’t play their roles with the disciplined panache of a Rosa Parks. They talk back; they fight back; they come out swinging. And that’s when bad things happen. That’s when the tragedy quotient gets high enough to catch the media’s attention.”
“Why did George Zimmerman feel called to defend his neighborhood from intruders?” Bean continued. “Why did he see Trayvon Martin as out of place, an anomaly. Because he was wearing a hoodie? Because he was walking with a particular gait? Because he appeared overly interested in his surroundings?
“Eliminate Martin’s blackness from the equation, and it is impossible to imagine Zimmerman reacting as he did. Zimmerman defined criminality in racial terms. Who, or what, taught him to think this way? … Our national conversation will continue to revolve around messy narratives.”
By Alan Bean
Richard Land, the voice of the Southern Baptist Convention, is in hot water over a recent rant against the Black pastors in connection with the Trayvon Martin story. Land’s comments have angered Baptists like Arlington’s William Dwight McKissic as much for what they implied as for what was clearly stated.
The following quote from Gerald Schumacher appears in the comments section of Pastor McKissic’s website. I have corrected the spelling, but otherwise this verbatim:
I am not a great fan of Richard Land, but If Mr. McKissic thinks what Richard Land said was racist then this is going to knock his socks off.
Richard Land spoke the truth originally although he has back peddled because of pressure. For that I do fault him. The truth is that if the black community would start training their children to live a productive moral godly lives instead of what a large percentage become and stop living in the past using the race cards this nation could heal a lot faster. Blacks make up about 13.6 percent of the population but about 40.2 percent of those in prison are black. The problem is with the black community not racism and it is way past time for the black pastors to start dealing with it in their congregation as well as communities instead of pointing fingers.
How many Black parents would have to quit their lowdown ways before Black pastors get the right to address racial injustice? If, say, the teen birth rate dropped by 15 percentage points, would that do it? Or are Black pastors relegated to the social sidelines until Black and White incarceration rates are the same?
This argument is of ancient origin. Slaves shouldn’t be freed because most of them can’t read and write and lack experience handling money. Jim Crow laws should remain in force because crime rates in the Ghetto are higher than the national average.
Now the mass incarceration of young Black males precludes Black Southern Baptists from questioning their White betters.
This was the kind of logic that put Tulia, Texas on the map. It didn’t really matter whether undercover agent Tom Coleman was telling the truth, if his targets had kids outside of marriage they forfeited their civil rights.
Tragically, this Alice in Wonderland logic drives the criminal justice system. It is also one of the big reasons why the Black incarceration numbers are so skewed and why so many of the men and women exonerated by DNA evidence are African-American.
This morning I had coffee with Anthony Graves, a Texan who spent 18 years in prison, twelve on death row, for a crime he didn’t commit. The indignities didn’t end when Graves stepped back into the free world. The following is from a Houston Chronicle article published a year ago:
After he was freed in October, the Texas comptroller’s office refused the compensation provided by law for those who are unjustly convicted.
Then the Texas Attorney General’s Office began garnisheeing his wages for child support that a judge decided Graves owed even though he was on death row at the time. But when they blocked payment of the $250 fee he earned for a presentation to students at Prairie View A&M University, it was too much.
Graves’ attorney accused Texas AG Greg Abbott of being a vindictive monster. Maybe so. But Abbott had little reason to fear a public backlash. Most influential Texans think a lot like Gerald Schumacher, the guy who thinks Dwight McKissic should go mute on racial justice until every Black parent has his or her act together.
Fortunately, the Schumacher doctrine doesn’t always win out. Anthony Graves finally received restitution money for his near-death experience, the Tulia drug bust was overturned, and, massive White support notwithstanding, Richard Land still has some ‘splainin’ to do.
By Alan Bean
Stories can bring us together, and they can drive us apart. Unfortunately, narratives related to racial justice almost always reveal a yawning gulf between white and minority perception. I have never seen a single narrative separate America into polarized camps like the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman affair.
Richard Land, the head of the ethics division of the Southern Baptist convention, recently apologized for remarks about the Martin-Zimmerman case that have enraged Black Southern Baptist leaders. The Rev. Dwight McKissic, the Arlington, Texas pastor calling for Land’s ouster, isn’t buying what he calls a “non-apology-apology“.
- Land hasn’t apologized for calling Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson “race hustlers” and “ambulance chasers” because they responded to requests for help from Trayvon Martin’s parents.
- Land hasn’t apologized for accusing President Barack Obama of ginning up support in the black electorate by commenting on the Martin case.
- Land hasn’t apologized for suggesting that black males deserve to be racially profiled because black men are statistically more likely to engage in acts of violence. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Media narratives are conversation starters; they energize American opinion leaders to reveal their true colors. And when those true colors come shining through, it ain’t always pretty.
Two Associated Press stories appeared side-by-side in the print edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram this morning. In the first, Richard Land, the semi-official mouthpiece of the Southern Baptist Convention, condemned black pastors like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for rallying to the defense of Trayvon Martin’s parents in a crude attempt to gin up the vote for a black president who is in “deep, deep, deep trouble.”
According to the article, Land “defended the idea that people are justified in seeing young black men as threatening because a black man is ‘statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.'”
Asked to comment on Land’s remarks, the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, said Land’s rash comments have set back Southern Baptist attempts to bridge the racial divide. McKissic is so incensed, he is threatening to introduce a resolution at the SBC’s June convention calling for the denomination to repudiate Land’s position. “If they don’t, we’re back to where we were 50 years ago.”
In the second article, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, lashed out at the media for focusing obsessively on racially charged violence while ignoring the victims of routine violent crime. Violent crime is a fact of life across America, LaPierre opined, “but the media, they don’t care. Everyday victims aren’t celebrities. They don’t draw ratings, don’t draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does.”
The conflation of the NRA and the SBC suggests an appropriate response to Dr. Land: “Statistics don’t kill people; people kill people.” The fact that George Zimmerman didn’t see a lot of young black men in his gated community did not give him the right to pack heat, stalk his victim, and spark a dangerous confrontation. It matters not whether Trayvon Martin resorted to violence; Zimmerman was the sole author of the encounter and bears responsibility for Martin’s death.
Which brings me to Mr. LaPierre. It is certainly true that the vast majority of American homicides leave little media footprint and that the victims of these crimes are left to grieve alone. The Martin case wouldn’t have been newsworthy if George Zimmerman had been arrested. In fact, until Trayvon’s parents decided to take their case to the nation, the media ignored the fact that Zimmerman walked away from what is now considered a second degree murder without consequence.
Dr. Land’s inability to empathize with his black Baptist colleagues becomes particularly striking when you try to imagine the SBC leader taking on the NRA. The Trayvon Martin case isn’t just about racial profiling; it’s also about dangerous Stand Your Ground laws that have received bipartisan support in a number of state. Can we imagine Dr. Land excoriating his Republican bed mates for supporting dangerous legislation that has allowed a number of gang members to walk away without so much as a slap on the wrist when their beefs get out of control and some mother’s son lies gasping in a pool of his own blood?
Land would never take on the NRA. Sharpton and Jackson stand with president Obama, not because they agree with him on every issue (they don’t), but because the Republican Party has no tolerance for civil rights leaders. You can be black and Republican, but only if you aren’t concerned about racial justice.
It should also be said, that both Sharpton and Jackson have regularly been involved in public events designed to tackle the problem of gang violence and black-on-black violence. If the media fails to give these initiatives the attention they deserve, the Reverends cannot be faulted.
The Trayvon Martin case didn’t create the lamentable cleavage between black and white Baptists, but mirror image reactions to the story have certainly exposed the racial divide in religious America.