Tag Archives: racism

Happy Juneteenth!

In this time of racial unrest, where genuine, peaceful efforts at positive reform get intermingled with violence and ideologically-driven “critical theory” gone mad, it is difficult to parse through what Christians can actively support, versus those things we should reject. However, today marks an emerging holiday celebration that we can all get behind: Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1865, Unions troops led by Major General Gordon Granger, entered Galveston, Texas, to officially deliver and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation had been first declared in January, 1863, but the Civil War delayed efforts to effectively announce that enslaved persons throughout the “slave states” had been freed. Now that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox a few months earlier, the way was now clear to more peacefully correct the injustice endured by countless African Americans.

It is important to remember, though, that Juneteenth was but one step towards racial reconciliation. When the Emancipation Proclamation was first made, in 1863, it ironically did not apply to Union-held territories in the South, at that time during the war. For example, in my hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia, the Emancipation Proclamation had officially freed slaves living in James City County, in Confederate territory, but it did not free slaves living in York County, which was then in Union territory. Therefore, slaves living south of Duke of Gloucestor Street, in James City County, were free, but slaves living north of Duke of Gloucestor Street, in York County, were technically not! It was not until the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, later in December of 1865, that slavery was officially ended everywhere in the United States, without exception.

In a way, the incompleteness of what Juneteenth accomplished underscores the fact that official proclamation might be one thing, but the reality on the ground can be something else altogether. Considering that America is still undergoing race related trials over 150 years after the end of the Civil War confirms this fact. The ramifications of racial-based slavery, that many Christians were complicit in, supported by the acceptance of some really bad misinterpretation of the Bible, has had far reaching effects beyond questions about race, that plague us today. We as Christians would do well in continuing to remember Juneteenth.

On my bike ride today, I rode near the Charles City County, Virginia courthouse. Charles City County is one of the oldest communities, founded by the English in the early 17th century. It is also home to several stately plantations, that dot along the James River, a few of which are open to visitation today. These plantations were supported by hundreds of African American slaves, whose descendants make up the majority population in the county. Below is a photograph I took of the Confederate war memorial, with the newer courthouse building in the background. Below that is another photograph, taken only a few hundred feet from the courthouse, where Isaac Brandon, an African American with a wife and eight children, was awaiting trial, after being charged with assaulting a white woman. Brandon was taken from the jail and lynched by a white mob, in 1892, on a tree, on this hillside. No one from the mob was ever charged or arrested for their activities.



George Floyd, Robert E. Lee, and the Danger of Forgetting History

Events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd, a victim of police brutality, have triggered a massive wave of protests across America, and across the world. Even more despairing, extremists on both the far right and far left have taken advantage of the situation, igniting hatred by attempting to hijack the protest movement, through senseless acts of violence, that only makes the situation worse for the poorest among us. The misinformation, often relayed through irresponsible use of social media, and media in general, has generated confusion in the process, leading to some misguided response by law enforcement. We live in desperate times.

Even in my home state, the crisis has reached a boiling point in nearby Richmond, Virginia, the home of the Confederacy. As marchers have descended on Richmond, there have been long-standing calls for the removal of confederate statues along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue, a prominent feature of the Richmond landscape. The most significant of these statues is that of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, dressed in full military regalia, mounted on his horse, Traveler.

Virginia Governor Northam announced today that he will seek removal of that statue.

There are mixed thoughts here. On the one hand, the Confederate “Lost Cause” narrative has itself hijacked the story of Robert E. Lee, thus serving a particular version of history, that has fueled unchecked racist-oriented police brutality for decades. THIS MUST STOP. On the other hand, by removing the statue we are endangering our collective memories, by threatening to silence the story about Lee that needs to be told and re-told. If God can chasten and change a man like Robert E. Lee, God can change the heart of anyone.

Robert E. Lee fought for the Confederacy, defending his native Virginia, but like many in his day, he was conflicted about slavery. He came to the conclusion that God, in his providential way, would judge him personally, regarding the outcome of the war. When defeat of the Confederacy became imminent, Lee concluded that God had judged against him, and that upon to returning to Richmond, he should take off the military uniform and work for peace and reconciliation. He spent the remainder of his life in civilian attire, promoting the restoration of college education in the American South.

Might I suggest that Governor Northam consider replacing Lee’s military statue with a different statue of Lee in civilian clothing, as Lee, the Chastened Soldier turned Educator?  Inaccurate and incomplete knowledge and ignorance of history has impoverished our communities, particularly in our churches. In our efforts to rectify the wrongs of history, let us not forget the lessons that such history teaches us.

I have included some links below to previous Veracity posts, that tell the story more fully:

Here, we learn about the last time Robert E. Lee wore his Confederate uniform, and put it away forever:


The Madness of Crowds

In the introduction to his brilliant book, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, British author Douglas Murphy, begins by saying:

“We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant….”
“[Yet] the origin of this condition is rarely acknowledged. This is the simple fact we have been living through a period of more than a quarter of a century in which all our grand narratives have collapsed.”

“One by one, the narratives we had were refuted, became unpopular to defend or impossible to sustain. The explanations for our existence that used to be provided by religion went first, falling away from the 19th century onwards.”

“Then over the past century the secular hopes held out by all political ideologies began to follow in its wake. In the latter part of the 20th century we entered the postmodern era. An era that defined itself, and was defined, by its suspicion towards all grand narratives. However, as all schoolchildren learn, nature abhors a vacuum, and into the postmodern vacuum new ideas began to creep, with the intention of providing explanations and meanings of their own.

What makes Murphy’s observations so strangely poignant, is that he is not a professing Christian. Rather, he is an openly practicing gay atheist. Yet Murphy manages to highlight the following quote, by G. K. Chesterston, a Christian, who was also one of the most profound cultural critics of the modern world, back almost exactly 100 years ago:

“[The] special mark of the modern world is not that it is skeptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it.”

Chesterton had prophetic insight in his own day. Douglas Murray revives that same insight for where we are in the 21st century.

In The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray lays out what he sees is a new, post-modern religion, that has sought to supplant Christianity in the West. But it has only starting to emerge, with its full-throated dogmatism, somewhere within the past ten years or so.

I recall about ten years ago, when the controversial Mormon and conservative news commentator, Glenn Beck, cautioned Christians to beware of churches that promote diversity and social justice. “I beg you look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words…

My response to Mr. Beck’s critique then, just as it is now, is that Mr. Beck simply does not understand what the Bible is talking about, when it is talking about “social justice,” or specifically, “justice.” As I had learned years ago, the language of “intersectionality” and “identity,” as interpreted through the lens of Scripture, were simply intellectual tools, to help us to understand the fallen world in which we live, and make sense of the lived, life experiences of those who face oppression or misunderstanding, who have yet to experience the full reality of being made new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). As I have outlined elsewhere, the concept of “social justice” actually has its roots in the Bible.

But times have changed, and the pace of that change is unrelentingly fast. In particular, I have been increasingly learning, that words can alter their meanings over time, and such words can be spun very differently, in different contexts. What were once merely helpful intellectual tools have morphed into becoming ideological markers, whereby rationality is sacrificed on the altar of sentimentality, and justified on the basis of Neo-Marxist philosophy. When the Biblical concept of social justice gets uprooted from its essentially Christian, Scriptural context, a new religiosity gets formed, promoting a form of dogmatism, just as bad, if not infinitely worse than the most wooden, legalistic forms of Christian fundamentalism.

What is so scary about this, is just how pervasive it is in all levels of society. Take for example, this easy experiment that Douglas Murray shows in his book, as to how Silicon Valley has embraced this new religiosity, and smuggled it into our iPads and iPhones, without most of us ever knowing it. Type into Google’s search engine, “straight couples,” and look for images, and you will immediately notice that a large number of the top hits will be either gay or lesbian couples, with relatively few heterosexual couples to be found. On the other hand, if you type in “gay couples” instead, you will get exactly what you are looking for, countless gay couples, and no straight couples anywhere to be found. Nevertheless, we all know that “straight couples” far outnumber “gay couples” throughout society. So, why are the Google search results so skewed in favor of “gay couples” over and against “straight couples?”

This is “intersectionality” as an ideological project at work, going way beyond the more helpful notion of “intersectionality” as a tool. In oh-so-subtle ways, the world of social media is forming our minds, with the new religion defining the new dogmatism. The supposedly unbiased nature of machine learning algorithms, that tech giants like Google (and they are not alone!!) use to sort their search results, are being employed to further this post-modern agenda.

One could suggest, as Douglas Murray does at times, that such language of “intersectionality” and “identity” has always been rooted in non-Christian, Marxist ideology. Yet this would be news to the writers of the Old and New Testament, such as when Christians make reference to the fact that Christians have a new “identity” found in Christ, as taught by the Apostle, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, mentioned above. But we now live in a world where the new forms of social media, driven by Silicon Valley, available 24/7 on our smart phones, are causing a whole new generation of young people to lose those long held connections to a Christian frame of mind.

Murray’s point is well taken, in that much of the talk of “intersectionality” and “critical race theory” today is decidedly not Christian today, but rather unashamedly Neo-Marxist. In his 1960s “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. argued for a Christian vision of a colorblind society. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But Murray’s central contention in The Madness of Crowds is that the contemporary, ideologically-driven “social justice” movement has flipped King’s colorblind vision upside down upon its head, and freedom of speech has suffered as a result.

The silencing and bullying that seeks to suppress free speech is horrifying enough. The fact that such promotion of this type of “intersectionality” rhetoric shows very little, if any shame, only heightens the analysis that Douglas Murray displays in his prose. But it is not merely shameless, it is frankly unbelievable, or as the title of Murray’s book suggests… it is madness.

Perhaps the most troubling message in The Madness of Crowds comes in Murray’s chapter on “On Forgiveness.” In this new, ideologically-driven “intersectionality” movement there is no opportunity for forgiveness. Once someone has been identified as being a person of privilege, due to their gender, race, etc., the only “moral” way forward is to ally with the identified non-privileged. If such a person of privilege “sins,” in this religious paradigm, not even an apology is acceptable.  Even “sins” of the past can never be forgiven. Unlike the Christian faith, there is no opportunity for redemption. There is only condemnation. This new religion is a view of the world without hope or forgiveness.

The Madness of Crowds is not for the most squeamish. There were moments, when reading The Madness of Crowds, where the author was very explicit in matters delicate and morally degrading, to the point where I felt uncomfortable. But there is a purpose here. Murray is not gratuitous, for he chooses his words carefully to make his points, which are sadly necessary.

As an aside, in the Audible version of the title, Douglas Murray reads his own book. Just listening to the cadence and his British accent adds to the effectiveness of driving Murray’s argument home.

While The Madness of Crowds was not the most profound book I read this year, it is surely the best book I read that was released this year. Concerned and thoughtful Christians need to push this book to the top of their reading list.

I have Douglas Murray to thank, to help expose the elephant in the room, regarding how the post-modern phenomenon of political correctness and identity politics gone viral has poisoned the hearts and minds of so many in our day. Unlike Murray, I have not given up on what Murray calls “religion,” which I find to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as the true antidote to our difficulties today. Yet many Christians seem to be blithely unaware of what is being propagated, in much of the social media in our post-modern age. Sometimes, when the Church finds it so hard to figure things out herself, God can even raise up a gay atheist, to tell us the truth.

Get this book, and read it.

 

 


Jamestown: 1619 Remembered

Growing up in Williamsburg, Virginia, I pretty much took nearby Jamestown Island, the 1607 site of the first successful English settlement in North America, for granted. Yet sadly, I still meet people who know very little about Jamestown, and its historical importance. So, it is very exciting to remember Jamestown on this day, when many of the world’s eyes are upon this island.

On July 30, 1619, a very hot day indeed, the very first democratic English assembly was held, in the “New World,” known as the House of Burgesses, the forerunner to today’s Virginia General Assembly.

Aerial look over Jamestown, Virginia, in the 1950s, showing the beginning of modern archaeological work being performed on the island. 20-years later, as a middle school kid, I worked on one of those archaeological projects (taken from the book, New Discoveries at Jamestown, by archaeologist J. Paul Hudson and co-author John L. Cotter).

1619 was a big year in Jamestown for other reasons. The small colony established at Jamestown was starting to stabilize, but with very few women around, a lot of the men wanted to leave (for understandable reasons). In response, the Virginia Company of London ordered that “…a fit hundredth might be sent of women, maids young and uncorrupt, to make wives to the inhabitants and by that means to make the men there more settled and less movable….” By 1620-1621, women started to show up at Jamestown.

It was a tough sell to get women to come live in an area, centered in a mosquito-infested, swampy island. Some women were secretly kidnapped to bring them to Virginia, but a more voluntary arrangement was needed for the colony to survive. What effectively was a “mail-order” bride system, to provide incentives for impoverished English women to make the journey across the Atlantic, saved the day for the young Virginia colony.

Barely a month after the first House of Burgesses meeting, in July, 1619, the first Africans arrived at Jamestown. What is particularly notable was that among this first boatload of Africans, were actually prisoners taken from a Portuguese slave ship. These Africans were originally treated as indentured servants. In principle, these Africans could purchase their freedom.

But over the following decades, the rules gradually changed. What started out as customs, here and there, eventually became Virgina colony law, as the indentured servanthood status of dark-skinned persons was transformed to make them slaves for life.

There was some resistance to these legal changes. For example, it was not considered proper for a Christian to enslave a fellow Christian. So, if an African person was baptized, they could claim a right to their freedom. Yet as regretted now, in our day, even that exemption was eventually eradicated. Even racial intermarriage was outlawed in 1691.

I wonder what would have happened if those slavery laws were never passed in the Virginia colony. I wonder what it might have been like, if Christians in Virginia would have studied their Bibles a bit more closely, to learn that racism has no actual basis in the Scriptures. Perhaps they might have rethought the whole slavery business, and the inherent racism that undergirded it.

It is worth thinking about… and remembering.

Other posts about Jamestown: (a) Musings about the parallels between Jamestown’s Captain John Smith and the ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, (b) Jamestown and the first Thanksgiving, and (c) Veracity co-blogger, John Paine, takes us on a YouTube video trip to Jamestown, to help us learn some lessons about the historicity of Jesus.


Our Lady of Kibeho

From William and Mary’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho

Are apparitions of Mary real? What do they signify?

When I viewed a recent College of William and Mary theatrical production of Our Lady of Kibeho, written by Katori Hall, I pondered these questions. Based on a true story, in 1981, there were reports of at least three girls in a Rwandan Catholic school, who all claimed to have received visitations from the Virgin Mary. At first, these visions were positive in character, emphasizing the love of God. But soon, the visions turned dark, depicting a future time when the land of Rwanda would become killing fields, overwhelmed with violence. The visions were warning the people to repent. Initial skepticism of these visions eventually gave way to fear.

Thirteen years later, in 1994, Rwanda descended into mass genocide, where somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi’s were murdered by Hutu tribes people, which was soon followed by reprisals and civil war. The 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda, tells the story of these atrocities. Some say that the visitations of Our Lady of Kibeho were prophetic warnings that predicted this immense human tragedy. In 2001, a local Roman Catholic bishop deemed these Marian apparitions to be authentic.

Immaculée Ilibagiza, whose family was killed during the genocide, survived this ordeal, hiding in a pastor’s bathroom, along with several other women, for weeks. Ilibagiza was a speaker at the Bill Hybel’s Global Leadership Summit, that our church, Williamsburg Community Chapel, satellite hosted, this past summer. Ilibagiza, herself a Roman Catholic, travels the world, sharing her story, the challenge of forgiveness, and the story of the Catholic school girls involved with the Our Lady of Kibeho visitations.

As a Protestant evangelical, affirming the principle of sola scriptura, I have my doubts about the authenticity of visitations by the Virgin Mary. I see nothing in the Bible that would lead us to expect the Mother of Jesus to make visionary appearances to Christians in our day and age. To claim such apparitions to be authentic must somehow account for that fact that there are no such visitations to Protestant Christians, at least to my knowledge.

Nevertheless, these African girls did see something. I know that some Protestant Christians might think of these extraordinary experiences as being something demonic, but given the message of the visitations, a more moderate and positive view makes more sense. The call to the Rwandan people to repent of their racism was prophetic, and entirely consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures.  It is sadly horrible to think that so many people of Rwanda, many who called themselves Christians, were unable to hear and obey that call to repentance.

But such a warning should not be limited to Rwandans.  Jeremiah 17:9 points to the problem that all humans have, and not just the Rwandans involved in perpetrating the genocide: “The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I may not be able to fully explain the claims of the Marian apparitions, but I can affirm the teaching of the Scriptures that calls sinful humanity to repentance.

William and Mary’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho was an A+, in my view. If you ever have the opportunity to see Our Lady of Kibeho, you should do so, even considering the fact that the subject matter is indeed disturbing. The following two videos flesh out some of the stories I highlight here, first a three-minute interview with the William and Mary actors, explaining why the story of Our Lady of Kibeho needs to be told, followed by a twelve-minute CBS interview with Immaculée Ilibagiza.

 


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