News, views, notes, and quotes

26 June 2015  •  No. 27

Invocation. A different “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” (Since I Lay My Burden Down).  —Staple Singers

Photo at right: Jacob Kerr, Huffington Post

Pride history. While posting this edition, news of the US Supreme Court’s decision validating the right for same-sex couples to marry. [photo cap: Jacob Kerr, Huffington Post]
        This news comes only days after another milestone moment: “Nearly 46 years after powerful protests there galvanized the modern gay rights movement, New York City's historic Stonewall Inn has been granted official landmark status. It was June 28, 1969, when police raided the Greenwich Village bar that served gay clientele in an era of intolerance toward homosexuality.” —Deirdre Fulton, “Stonewall Inn, Celebrated Birthplace of Modern Gay Rights Movement, Gets Landmark Status

¶ “Columbia University on Monday announced that it would divest from the private prison industry and ban reinvestment in companies that operate prisons, making it the first college “ to divest. “The announcement follows 16 months of campaigning by the prison abolitionist group Students Against Mass Incarceration, which launched after a number of students discovered in 2013 that the school had invested roughly $10 million of its endowment in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and G4S, two for-profit companies that operate private detention centers and prisons around the world.” —Nadia Prupis, “Following Student-Led Campaign, Columbia to Divest from Prisons”

God Bless America—the song. Isaiah Berlin’s patriotic song, “God Bless America,” was first written in 1918 but not released until 1938 in the lead up to the US entry into World War II. The song was often sung at labor organizing rallies and in the early days of the civil rights movement. Berlin donated the song’s royalties to the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA. One of the song’s critics, Woodie Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” as a rejoinder. The song has occasionally been played at professional sporting events as a substitute for “The Star Spangled Banner,” and numerous Major League Baseball teams play it during the seventh-inning stretch.

Art at right.

God Bless America—the political benediction. In The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America, authors David Domke and Kevin Coe report that prior to President Ronald Reagan, the use of “God Bless America” was used only once in modern political history (beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration), by Richard Nixon, as he attempted to extract himself from the Watergate scandal. The phrase is now something of a political piety. —See their article in the 29 April 2008 edition Time magazine

The use by politicians of “God bless America” is typically spoken as a kind of entitlement and backdrop to the use of the word “exceptional” in describing American presence in the world. Some years ago I wrote to biblical scholar/activist Ched Myers, asking him about this presumptuous usage.
        His research turned up the fact that “Of the 41 appearances of the Greek verb eulogeoo (literally ‘speaking a good word’), only twice do we find it in the imperative mood. In neither case does it involve God. It does, however, involve us. In Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Plain he invites his disciples to ‘Bless those who curse you’ (Luke 6:28). These instructions are later echoed by the apostle Paul: ‘Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse’ (Romans 12:14)." Blessings are to be commanded not to me and mine but to them and theirs. (See Myers' “Mixed Blessing: A Biblical Inquiry into a ‘Patriotic’ Cant”)

“‘What to the Slave is the Fourth July?’  by Frederick Douglass [5 July 1852] is not only a brilliant work of oratory. It speaks to our every frustration spurred by the gap between the ideals of the United States and the reality we witness every day. . . .  As Douglass says, ‘Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.’” —Dave Zirin, The Nation, 4 July 2012

For a review of how US patriotism and free marketeering press-ganged Christianity into service in the mid 20th century, see “How ‘One Nation’ Didn’t Become ‘Under God’ Until the ‘50s Religious Revival,” the National Public Radio interview with Kevin M. Kruse, author of One Nation Under God.

There are two great ironies behind the “Liberty Bell,” associated with the founding convictions of the United States of America. (Continue reading “Proclaim Liberty: Two ironies behind that iconic bell.”)  See also “Proclaim Liberty: A litany for worship around US Independence Day

Lection for Sunday next. Here in the US, the shadow of our nation’s 4 July Independence Day almost always overshadows the assigned Scripture text for the day. If you’re looking for a principal alternate text, I recommend Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land and unto the inhabitants thereof.” Tell the story of the “Liberty Bell.” (See the note above for background.)

“The doors are open at Emanuel this Sunday, sending a message to every demon in Hell and on Earth that no weapon, no weapon, shall prosper!” —Rev. Norvel Goff, named interim pastor at Emanuel AME Church following the 17 shooting, referencing Isaiah 54:17: “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, says the Lord.”

This 12+ minute video features Rev. (and state senator) Clementa C. Pinckney reviewing the history of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest black church in the South outside of Baltimore. (Thanks, Buddy.) The state of South Carolina banned black churches in 1834 out of fear that such communities would foster slave rebellions.

“As President Obama told the nation’s mayors Friday, ‘Every country has violent, hateful or mentally unstable people. What’s different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.’ The president’s remarks about Charleston marked his 14th statement about shootings—11 of them in the US—since he took office.” —Rem Rieder, “No, not ‘too soon’ to talk about gun control"

In the surge of writing following the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the most significant may be Roxane Gay’s “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof.” I think it most significant not because I agree but because it states what so many assume because of a culturally-warped reading of Scripture. (Continue reading “Forgiveness is not forgetting.” )

Ceremonial tears and politically-feigned regrets. “[T]his forgiveness [of Dylann Roof by family members of those killed at Emanuel AMC Church in Charleston] should not be misinterpreted as a dismissing of the greater evil. The forgiveness in Charleston is also an act of resistance to the attempts to lay the blame for this horror at the feet of one man.” —Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, “Justice After Charleston

“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” —Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people in Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church

"Make no mistake. Hate crimes are the original domestic terrorism.'' —US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, during a recent visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama

“To quote [Martin Luther] King about the "beloved community" and not get serious about gun violence in America is, at best, empty rhetoric, and at worst, a malignant mangling of his message. If you're going to quote King, then vote King: Get serious about gun control.” —Tavis Smiley, “5 Lessons Charleston Can Teach Us About Race, Guns and Healing”

Demand a plan to address to gun violence. One minute of fed-up celebrities talking about guns is worth your time. “They packed more pissed-off celebrities than I could count into a 1-minute video for everyone to see.”

This photo (right) is from the early 1920s, probably in Portland, Oregon, in which robed and hooded Ku Klux Klan members share a stage with members of the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, a Klan auxiliary for foreign-born white Protestants. A large banner reading “Jesus Saves” occupies a prominent position on the wall at the rear of the stage and testifies to the strong role that Protestantism played in the KKK philosophy of “100 percent Americanism.”

Preach it. “Without truth, no healing; without forgiveness, no future. —South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Cascading changes in the Confederate flag’s public presence.
        • In South Carolina on Tuesday, lawmakers voted to take up legislation to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds, one day after Republican Governor Nikki Haley made similar remarks.
        • Also Tuesday, the governors of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia announced they would no longer be issuing state license plates featuring the Confederate flag. On Wednesday both of Mississippi’s US Senators called for removal of the state flag, which contains the Confederate flag.
        • Retailers Walmart, Amazon, Sears, Ebay and Etsy announced bans on the sale of Confederate flag merchandise.
        • One of the nation's largest flag manufacturers, Valley Forge Flag, on Tuesday also said they would no longer produce or sell Confederate flags.
        • In Mississippi, House leader Philip Gunn (R) called for the Confederate emblem to be removed from the state flag.
        • Tennessee lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are calling for the removal of statue of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest from the statehouse.
        • In Kentucky, the Republican nominee for governor, Matt Bevin, is urging the removal of a statue honoring Jefferson Davis from the Capitol.

Call to the table. “Forgiveness is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.” —Hannah Arendt

Art at right ©Julie Lonneman

Benediction. “My church and my country could use a little mercy now / As they sink into a poisoned pit it's going to take forever to climb out / They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down / I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now.” —Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

Proclaim Liberty: Two ironies behind that iconic bell

Proclaim Liberty: A litany for worship around US Independence Day

Forgiveness is not forgetting: Charleston’s challenge

In the Shadow of a Steeple: Time for a post-national church?

©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor. Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

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