I am a graduate of The Ohio State University and I watched in horror when our campus was attacked Monday morning. I walked those grounds for years; sometimes going to class, at others to a lady’s dorm room hoping for a kiss. This was personal. I just knew the attacker would be a white male and yet it was a Somali immigrant, a Muslim. That discovery made this piece harder to write. The Trump crowd will welcome this as a validation for their xenophobia and anti-Muslim crusade; that makes me uncomfortable. The reality is Islamic terrorists do pose some threat to us. It is also true that America has done quite a bit to create terror by its actions and at times, inaction. The OSU attacker expressed some of those grievances and the question we face in this age of Trump is whether we can be empathetic to a Muslim and hear him out.
At the root of the massacre in Orlando is religion. We struggle to admit that because we seem not to know that our holy texts provide theological justification for such violence. Recognizing this is especially difficult because we’ve largely created 21st century versions of our faiths; versions which omit sacred texts unpalatable to our 2016 tastes. It is a faith in which Muslims preach the virtues of Islam but pretend the Quran doesn’t specify crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam (Quran 5:33). It is a faith, for Christians, which highlights the liberating power of the gospel while ignoring Torah’s imperative to execute gays (Leviticus 20:13) or Paul’s command that women be silent, not have authority over men or teach (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
Pastor Jamal Bryant apparently can’t keep it in his pants, evidenced by a new paternity test showing him to be the father of a new child out of wedlock. But that’s really not the issue here. The reality is that Bryant’s platform for activism, television appearances and even political efforts stem from his position as a pastor. Unfortunately, powerful black institutions outside of the church are scarce to non-existent; because the church provides a realistic shot at prominence in the black community, people like Jamal Bryant latch onto it and if they should happen to choose a lifestyle outside of the Christian bounds, their voices are lost. It’s time for the black church to step back and for blacks to embrace leadership from people who don’t hold up Bibles as an accessory to their activism.
Paula White is a thin, white, barbie-like preacher who became popular by learning to preach like and appeal to black churchgoers. She’s been married three times (full disclosure: I’m divorced myself). She divorced her first husband soon after becoming a Christian. Along with her second husband, she started what grew to be a megachurch, largely attended by black folks. Paula’s lifestyle grew to include million dollar condos, private jets and so much swag that even Congress felt the need to investigate her. Paula now pastors another majority black megachurch and still makes her living from black dollars. She also became the latest high profile endorser of Donald Trump. So why are those negroes in her church still?
Over the past week, Kim Davis again surfaced in the news. A federal judge ordered the governor of Kentucky to decide whether marriage licenses altered by Davis are valid, given that Davis changed them by dropping her name from the forms. Davis, as you know, first galvanized the nation because she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, as the law dictates that she must. Citing her Christian beliefs, she refused to do so and was jailed and ultimately released. Such conviction. Such bravery. Such bullshit.
I was raised Pentecostal and learned very early that the Bible was everything to folks around me. I always struggled with that. The Bible seems to say much about a lot of things. Problem is, if you have a belief you’d like to support with scripture, there’s a good chance you can do that. Do you believe slavery is morally wrong? So did my ancestors, who found inspiration in the Exodus story. Do you believe slavery is okay? Exodus 21 is a quick fix: you can own and beat the hell out of a slave, so long as they recover within a couple of days. No worries! In the aftermath of the Pope’s visit, I’m again wrestling with how religion and public policy intersect and if they should in the first place.
I have a dear loved one who is very deep into their faith and unfortunately, wrestling with challenges in the area of mental illness. Certainly mental illness is complex and still taboo, particularly for black folks. It’s not something we discuss and more importantly, this means we often don’t seek help. In that the black experience is, historically speaking, deeply religious, it’s fair to ask whether or not religious devotion helps or enhances the risk of mental illness.
There is a long history in the U.S of masking crimes, hatred and atrocities with a thin veil of Christianity. That tradition goes all the way back to eradicating an indigenous population and “Manifest Destiny,” in the name of God. I could go on, the record is replete. The evangelical movement is but the latest cloak for evil. Despite all the talk of God, faith and values, the subtle (and not so subtle) machinery of white supremacy and bigotry is evident in the movement, nationally.