Category Archives: Political Jesus

This category acknowledges that this blog transitioned from Political Jesus: Everyday Resistance to Resist Daily: The Everyday Politics of Jesus For Global to eventually Resist Magazine: Jesus. Everyday. For The Global Neighborhood.

Lessons from #Selma50: #1 Medgar Evers and organization #TCUCRBT

This past weekend marked the 50th Anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama by Martin Luther King and others. To commemorate this I have traveled with 18 other students and faculty on Texas Christian University Civil Rights Bus Tour. We made our way through the Mississippi Delta on a path to Selma. Other destinations for the trip include Nashville, Tennessee and Cleveland, Mississippi. While in Jackson, Mississippi we visited several historical sites including Jackson State University, the home of Medgar Evers, and a museum dedicated to Civil Right Movement activities that  had previously been a  school with famous alumni such as Richard Wright. Perhaps one of the most intriguing attractions was the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) headquarters. As we toured the building and its surrounding area I made note of the many quotes that were displaced throughout the building.

 

One of the quotes that was particularly striking came from Bob Moses. He states: ” When you are in Mississippi the rest of America does not seem real. When you are in the rest of America, Mississippi. does not seem real.” This quote exemplifies the unique place that Mississippi has in the Civil Right Movement. In one sense it is completely different from every movement that preceded it. Cultural particularities that existed in Mississippi did not exist anywhere else. COFO research Precious stated that the methods used in Alabama would not work in Mississippi. Indeed throughout the movement’s history the freedom workers resorted to many tactics that addressed the systematic disenfranchisement caused by Jim Crow. The Freedom Movement during the Summer of 1963 acted as just one example of what made the civil rights movement unique in Mississippi. Perhaps one of the more famous yet often overlooked aspect of the freedom movement was the formation of COFO in 1961. COFO combined workers from SNCC, NAACP, CORE, and the SCLC to facilitate change and end segregation in the state of Mississippi. Admittedly it was not a perfect relationship and leaders often came into conflict with one another on a variety of issues. However, they realized that they were more effective if they were united than if they were divided. Their joints efforts were essential in facilitating change that would lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

 

Perhaps, the greatest accomplishment was their ability to unite and mobilize citizens within the local communities. They registered voters and ultimately helped African American gain political power in their own communities. Another note on the uniqueness of Mississippi’s freedom struggle is that it often served as a modern day Africa according to a COFO researcher. It  was plentiful in resources because by the early 1960’s SNCC had a well established presence in the state. Medgar Evers had began to engage the people of as the field secretary for the NAACP. When James Bevel and the SCLC began to make their presence know in the state it had already become a battleground for the next phase of the movement. Members from all four groups knew that Mississippi could be used as the next location for the freedom struggle. In fact this was largely how COFO formed. However, COFO lasted only four years and many of the member of the organization left after 1965 to continue the movement in other locations. Activist Hezekiah Watkins has commented on one of his many perceptions of the movement in Miss. Watkins is noted for being the youngest freedom rider at age thirteen. He noted that many activist including freedom riders were pivotal in the fight for equality, however, he also noted that many of the participants who were not from Mississippi left after they accomplished their goals. They did not have to face members in the community who may have thought that the freedom riders were trouble makers or causing trouble. He also noted that when the outsiders left it was up to him and other member of the communities to deal with the repercussions of their resistance to Jim Crow, as well as to continue the fight on various fronts in the state.

crm mural2
The Freedom Movement in Mississippi was also very similar to other movements during the period as well. The reliance on grass root organizations was reminiscent of much of the work that SNCC had accomplished throughout the country. Bob Moses one of the leaders of COFO believed that community organization was essential to the success of the movement. Moses believed that community organization was actually a big word for talking to the people. Moses first became involved with the movement after seeing the sit-ins in New York. He saw the students and believed they looked the way he felt. He was extremely concerned with empowering the people to gain political power for themselves. This led to one of his major disagreements with MLK and ultimately led to their separation. King was far more concerned with public perception of the movement than Moses. Moses was greatly influenced by his  friendship with Ella Baker. Moses and COFO incorporated group centered leadership. They specifically focused on education programming and voter registrations as a means to empower the local citizens. It was the belief that the individual had the ability to create changed that bared striking similarity to other freedom struggles throughout the United States. Hezekiah Watkins reflected on this point as well. A major aspect missing from the Civil Right Movement today is the absence of grassroots organizations involved in politics. He strongly believes that African Americans in local communities need to be more involved in municipal elections. In essence they need to regain political control over their cities. A major issue with this is that there are not enough African American legislatures at the local level. However, he also firmly believes that having African Americans in political offices is more nuanced than their mere presence. Many who are elected do not actively work toward benefiting their communities and only appeal to them during times of election. Voters are uninformed and are not active. Thus, their only opportunity to advocate for change occurs once every four years. This means that it is imperative in the ongoing struggle for freedom to continually be informed and active.

 

So what can be taken away from the legacy of COFO and the it leaders place in history. For starters the organization provides a blueprint for activism today in one sense. Although I did not reflect on the entirety  of Hezekiah Watkins story from his conversation it was easy to sense his frustration with  the activism post- Freedom Movement. The complexities that modern human rights struggles face in some ways could not have been imagined during the height of the  Freedom Movement in Mississippi. Despite this the imaginative potential to change the world existed in an organization like COFO. That same potential resides within all of us today. It is this potential that allows people with various concerns to unite and advocate for justice in its many forms. Watkins andy many others emphasized the need to shift the focus on activism away from Civil Right to Human Rights. It is only through coalitions intentionally communicating with each other effectively that will help to create this transition. It is important to keep in mind that much COFO each organization does not necessarily have to agree with each other on every issue. Rather, each groups can agree upon as specific end goal of achieving human rights for all to create lasting systemic change.

richard notes COFO hq

Photo Descriptions: #1 (Featured photo: mural of bus tour on a wall, painting of protestors holding signs) #2 (second photo: Photo of marchers on Sunday, lots of fog, signs ranging from concerns about voter i.d. laws to police brutality)

#3 (third photo: photo of author of post, taking notes in Medgar Evers home, found on the TCU Civil Rights Bus Tour facebook page)

The Path of Forgiveness: Inviting ISIS to the Eucharist

 

 

 Adam Schneider is a former seminarian at Seattle Pacific Seminary and is currently a graduate student at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology in Seattle, WA. He graduated with a degree in Political Science from Capital University in Columbus, OH. A hopeful Nazarene, he is passionate about naming and relating our personal stories while deconstructing social categories that prevent us from truly knowing one another.

 

ISIS recently beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. On Monday, 150 other Assyrian Christians were kidnapped in Syria. American politicians, including the President, are still in conflict over how best to respond to the ongoing violence. There is a depressing and frustrating lack of consistency when American politicians and political commentators use Christian faith and/or scripture to justify public policy, particularly regarding military attacks in response to violence. When examined closely, I find that inconsistent application of one’s faith in the US (whether Christian, Muslim, or any other) is unfortunately similar to that of our “enemy,” the “terrorists” that we are so desperate to destroy. Violence is committed when we characterize and dehumanize. These steps are unfortunately more cyclical than linear, lending to a cycle that the more it spins, the less likely we are to stop. For Christians, our best hope for a more coherent and consistent living out of our faith is proper understanding and partaking of the Eucharist. Why the Eucharist? Pope Paul VI answers that question, writing, “If the brotherhood of man, their working together in unity, and finally peace, constitutes the supreme good in the temporal and social order, should not the world discover in the Eucharist the simplest and clearest formula to interpret, define and direct that supreme good?”

 

The impenetrable mystery present in the Eucharist prevents any legitimate violence against another. Jill Peterson Adams, quoted in Braided Selves writes, “Ideally, both ethically and politically, the realization that the other is always that which we have yet to know, is forever unknowable, stays our hand at the moment of potential violence.” At the Lord’s Table, characterization and dehumanization must end. My theology of the Eucharist, informed by Thomas Merton, John Wesley, and others across the ecclesial spectrum, teaches us that violence cannot exist at the table nor can violence be a product or consequence of the time spent there. I recognize that there are Christians who adhere to Augustine’s understanding of “just war.” There is room for this disagreement within the Church. However, my argument is that any violence, whether rhetorical or physical, whether offensive or defensive, is in contradiction to the Eucharist, the “sacrament of peace.”

 

The first step in committing violence is characterization of the person, group, religion, country, etc. against whom one wishes to commit violence. I define characterization as unknowing. Instead of exploring interest in a person in his/her particularity, we categorize. We use our social constructs (gender, sexuality, religion, behavior, etc.) to circumvent the process of coming to know the Other. In doing so we are capable of justifying the violence. At the Lord’s Table, no one is unknown. Jesus entered into the particularity of being human and was crucified because he was not known by the world, not even by his disciples. If we truly were interested in knowing the Other, we would not commit violence. The proof for this statement is the plethora of characterizations we use. One example comes to mind.

 

With immigration, President Obama is as inconsistent with living out or applying his Christian faith as his Republican critics. Immigrants, and those who are “foreign” generally, want to have hope in this President. He recently gave what is to be considered a monumental speech on immigration reform. The tagline soon became a hashtag on Twitter to summarize the reforms: “felons not families.” Illegal immigrants (another characterization) would be allowed to stay in the US to keep families together. Felons, on the other hand, are to be deported. The speech was panned for its use of scripture, or rather, its misuse. Making up a passage altogether and summarizing many others, he said, “…now is the time to reflect on those who are strangers in our midst and remember what it was like to be a stranger.” Two questions: are felons not members of families and are felons not strangers? As Moltmann asks, do we not remember posing the question “What is the truth?” and crucifying it?

 

Dehumanization is what naturally follows from the use of characterizations. We, the good team, are humans and they, the terrorists, the felons, our enemies, are inhuman. They are barbaric, they are godless, they are not worthy of love, forgiveness, or compassion. What does it mean to be human? This column is not the place to answer this enormously important question entirely, but we can start the conversation. What does it mean to be human? It means to bear the image of God. Let me be clear: Muslims, even those considered to be radical Islamists, bear the same image of God as Christians. To suggest otherwise is to question the creation myth in Genesis. The relevant question, then, is to ask a response looks like that recognizes the particular humanity of “the violent.” Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, recently gave a statement that illustrates such a response. He said,

 

“…as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.”

 

What is so confusing about some of the Christian American responses to “terrorism” is their contradiction to God’s responses to our terrorism against Him and His creation. We preach about the covenants of scripture between God and his people and ignore our own responsibility with one another. We’ll love our enemy once we’ve won.

 

Having been responsible for our creation, Jesus’ own experience of violence and death can help us figure out a Eucharistic perspective of violence. Lest we forget, he instructed us to remember this as we partake of the Eucharist. Necessary to this theology is the recognition of the real, actual presence of Christ in the bread and wine that is blessed. If the elements of communion are simply there as a memorial, if Christ is not really present, then we do not remember, we are not transformed through its consumption, and nothing in our world changes. To partake of the Eucharist is to recognize the blood on our hands. The bloodshed of Jesus is enough to bring about the reconciliation of creation in its entirety. It was the bloodshed to end all bloodshed. And because new creation has its own time, we experience the bloodshed of 2,000 years ago in our sanctuaries every time we partake. To justify the bloodshed we commit by our faith is to deny the power of Christ’s bloodshed on the cross.

 

The Christ that Christians claim to follow is not the “macho man” that America has unfortunately developed. Christ is the man who was crucified. Bonhoeffer in Christ the Center reminds us that we consume Christ in “the form of his humiliation or as a stumbling block.” Theologian Kosuke Koyama describes the “mind of Christ” in Ephesians as the “crucified mind.” This conception of Christ and of the Eucharist contradicts present Christian approach to violence. When our courts sentence a person to the death penalty, we are claiming that this person’s identity is the sum total of the crime she committed and that is all that we need to know about her to kill her. See for example, the story of Kelly Gissendaner, who is scheduled to be executed in Georgia on Monday evening. The crucified mind has overcome death, not instituted anew.

 

Do we not recognize ourselves as the perpetrators of violence? The President goes so far as to deny the amount of innocent lives killed by his drone strikes. As we approach the altar, the Lord’s Table, to receive the Eucharist, our similarities become clearer. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Sometimes I wondered if it even mattered whether our communion cups were filled with consecrated wine or draft beer, as long as we bent over them long enough to recognize each other as kin.” We have not spent enough time bent over our cups. The one whom I want, or perhaps feel the need, to commit violence against is my brother or my sister. Even in our defense of a people or a country, we contribute to the fallacy that one is deserving of our hand and the other our sword. Rowan Williams restates this beautifully, saying, “Sometimes, after receiving Holy Communion, as I look around a congregation, large or small, I have a sensation I can only sum up as this is it – this is the moment when people see one another and the world properly…” When we spend too much time away from the Lord’s Table (that is, away from others with Christ at the center), we develop an amnesia that leads to deception of who we are in relation to others. We become “puffed up” (1 Cor 4:18) instead of poured out (Jn 3:30).

 

Speaking of pride, Merton writes in his autobiography, “In the modern world, people are always holding up their heads and marching into the future, although they haven’t the slightest idea what they think the future is or could possibly mean. The only future we seem to walk into, in actual fact, is full of bigger and more terrible wars, wars well calculated to knock our upraised heads off those squared shoulders.” We are walking around headless; no small wonder we fail to see one another properly. Instead of ingesting the peace of Christ in the Eucharist, our lungs are filled with the fumes of violent defense of self. This peace surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7), that is, the understanding of this world that says we have a right to defend freedom, whatever that is, and to attack those who wish to do us or others harm. We decorate with medals our veterans of war as heroes for the violence they committed like a king is crowned at coronation. But as Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, however, “Christians are not called to be heroes or shoppers. We are called to be holy.”

 

            We are called to foster peace and that is not done through violence. Violence does not lead to peace. Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Bobby Kennedy gave a speech about violence in which he said, “…violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.” That cleansing took place on the cross. In order to realize that cleansing, in order to be ready to receive the Eucharist, however, we have to acknowledge our own complicity in death. Each act of violence we commit, individually, collectively, nationally, and/or religiously, is another refusal to acknowledge our complicity

 

Photo description (Photo credit: flickr, European Commission DG ECHO; Massive influx of Syrian Kurdish refugees into Turkey, a line of Syrian Kurdish refugees walking in a desert. Families carrying bags over their heads, etc.)

The State of the Union. A response. #SOTU

President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union Address shed light on various issues that the United States faces today. One of the more controversial ones is immigration reform. President Obama has repeatedly stated the current system is broken and that nothing short of complete reform can fix it. In this vein he has decided to take executive actions amid at helping build a system that allows America to live up to its heritage as a nation founded by immigrants. Regardless of what one thinks about the President’s initiative it is important for each American to understand some of the complexities associated with immigration. Of particular importance is to understand several of the economic aspect that is associated specifically with undocumented workers. Through a better understanding of some of the economic issues associated with undocumented workers it is possible to think through appropriate responses from various perspectives including a theological one.

In developing an analysis of undocumented workers of the United States I have chosen to use true cost economic theory. True cost economics evaluates goods or services while also taking into consideration negative externalities. Negative externalities are the costs of the harmful effects of a good or service on the environment etc. (“True Economic Cost,”The Economic Times, 2015). Taking this into consideration allows one to consider how a good or service can be misused in large quantities without concern for its effect on the environment. As a caveat, any analysis of immigration from an economic perspective has its limitations because human capital although it can function as other forms of capital such as social or economic is inherently different. There is a different set of concerns that one must take into consideration when thinking about undocumented workers. For this reason true cost economics has a twist from a theological perspective as it relates to immigration. As part of the working definition of true cost economic negative externalities should also involve the cost that immigration policies has on moral sensibilities. Negative externalities consider the impact of undocumented workers policies on Christian/ religious values. Ultimately, true cost economics from a theological perspective should involve the moral cost of a good or service. This is especially true when good is used as a generic term to help analyze human relations with respect to economic production.

As debates ensue on the particularities of reforming immigration policies it becomes more important to understand some of its many complexities. Typically when evaluating an issue from an economic stand point a cost-benefit is used. Such an analysis can be helpful here when trying to understand some of the intricacies of undocumented workers. First, it is important to dispel some of the misconception of undocumented workers. Perhaps one of the biggest myths is that no one benefits from the use of undocumented workers. Many have stated that undocumented workers are exploiting the American economy and reaping all of the benefits from hard working tax paying United States citizens. Law Professor Francine Lipman has stated that undocumented workers have actually bolstered the U.S. economy in several ways. They invest in the economy through their purchasing of goods and services and the consumption of various products has actually created more jobs in some respect. Also, contrary to popular belief they do in fact contribute to social security, Medicaid and unemployment programs without being able to fully reap their benefits (Francine J. Lipman, “Taxing Undocumented Immigrants: Separate, Unequal and Without Representation,”Harvard Latino Law Review,Spring 2006).

These immigrants pay social security pay roll taxes without being eligible for the benefits of social security. What many do not know is that each year the United States reserves around seven billion dollars in social security earing in what is called “earnings suspense file.” This money is reserved for W-2 files that cannot be connected to a social security number. This money is usually attributed to illegal worker who never see any of this money (Robert Mcnatt and Frank Benassi, “Econ 101 on illegal immigrants,” BloombergBuisnessweek, April 6, 2006). Another common myth about undocumented workers is that immigrants are taking all of the American jobs and subsequently hurting the economy. These immigrants do indeed consume a large portion of low-skilled labor jobs. However, many American benefit from their consumption of low-skilled and low paying jobs. The cost for food in most restaurants, agricultural products, and various goods has decreased as a result of employer’s ability to pay illegal immigrant far less than American workers. In fact, the negative impact of undocumented workers on the economy is far less than the impact of automated machinery with respect to job displacement. Another benefit of undocumented workers is the de facto effect it has on the American wage labor system. The income of undocumented workers is spent relatively quickly because in many instances banking systems and other services customary to most Americans is not a viable option. This means that the income of undocumented workers does not factor into the earning potential of American workers. In fact employers have the ability to raise the minimum wage of the average worker because of the money they save from paying undocumented workers substantially less .It is estimated that approximately eight million jobs are dependent on the employment of undocumented worker labor (Bureau of Labor Statistic in the United States Department of Labor, News Release, January 16, 2015). This serves as brief overview of some of the economic benefits from of undocumented workers.

Equally important to this analysis is an overview of some of the economic costs of undocumented workers. It has already been established that the majority of Americans would not notice the economic cost of undocumented workers. Various researchers have noted that those without a college education would be the only group that would be dramatically affected by a reduction of undocumented workers with respect to employment. It has been noted by the Center for Immigration Studies that in the year 2000 the influx of undocumented workers had reduced the wages of American workers without a high school diploma by almost eight percent (George Borjas, “Increasing the Supply of Labor Through Immigration: Measuring the Impact on Native-born Workers,” Center for Immigration Studies, April 2004). Another aspect of undocumented workers that is often discussed is its impact on the education system. According to the Congressional budget office as late as 2008 undocumented workers made up approximately four percent of the students in the public education system. It is also a fact that many of these students require ESL classes and extra assistance in other course work to be successful. This causes an added economic burden on the public education system. There are also various studies that explain how costly it can be to detain undocumented workers. The issue of undocumented workers and health care has also become a critical issue for many. According to recent studies less than one percent of Medicaid spending has went to undocumented workers. Although these immigrants typically are not eligible for the benefits of Medicaid they do receive emergency medical care via Medicaid (Will Dunham, “Medicaid spends 1 pct on illegal immigrants: study,” Reuters, March 13, 2007 ). This means that undocumented workers do place a financial burden on the health care system albeit a relatively light one.

What can we derive from this brief cost-benefit analysis of undocumented workers, for this a return back to true economic cost theory is necessary. It definitely appears that there are certain economic benefits for our current undocumented workers policies. It could even be argued that the benefits outweigh the cost of undocumented workers. It also appears that some of the associated costs have been exaggerated by public perception. However, both these cost and benefits must be weighed against some of the negative externalities. Another observation that can be made from this brief analysis is regardless of the cost and benefits undocumented workers the group that suffers the most are the immigrants themselves. The benefits from undocumented workers can at best be described as exploitative of the immigrant labor force. Simultaneously, although the cost of undocumented workers has a somewhat negative impact on the economy it is the immigrants that suffer the greatest harm from its negative effects. This occurs in the form of lower educational attainment, fewer employment opportunities, and few health benefits. In essence fewer opportunities in what has been historically described as the land of opportunities. The exploitative nature of current immigration policies qualifies as negative externality and has implications from a theological perspective.
So what can Christian religious values teach us about how to deal with undocumented workers policies in relation to a cost-benefit analysis? Truthfully this depends on who you ask. While the specifics of an adequate policy will not be discussed here it can start by asking the right question about how to limit the effects of negative externalities. For this a turn to Luke 10: 25-37 is helpful here. This particular passage is the infamous parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is asked “who is the neighbor,” at which point Jesus tells the parable to explicate what precisely a neighbor is. Perhaps this is the question that Christian should ask themselves first as they evaluate the issue of undocumented workers and its policy implications. Through asking this question first it is possible to put the negative externalities at the forefront of an analysis of undocumented workers
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