Friday, August 28, 2020

Psalm 137 - Sermon for week ending August 29, 2020

Our reading is Psalm 137, verses 1 thru 6
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Today we are taking a look at Psalm137, which is the only Psalm that is about an actual event in the life of the Jewish people, the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians besieged Judah, they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and carried its treasures back to Babylon. They also took into captivity the king and his family, the priests, all the elites, plus soldiers and artisans, and they lived in Babylon for 50 years until Cyrus of Persia conquered it and allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The psalm is a lament by the exiles who could not bring themselves to sing and play the familiar songs of Zion, their homeland, where their God Yahweh resided, in this strange and hostile place. They couldn’t sing. They couldn’t celebrate. All they could do was weep for what they had lost and vow to never forget their home and their God. I chose these verses for today because we have been apart for 25 weeks, almost 6 months, exiled to the land of covid 19, which is also a foreign one, unlike anything any of us has ever seen. We are isolated from each other and from our church home. We experience loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. We miss being together, hugging, sharing, singing, and eating, all the familiar things that make New Vision home. Everything that we used to take for granted when we arrived on Sunday mornings is gone. We remember. And we weep for what is lost. Like the exiles, we don’t see an end to our situation any time soon. And in the worst moments, we fear we might never get back together. What the exiles in Babylon were weeping for, though, they also still had, not the physical place, but the place in their hearts. They still had their community, even though they were physically separated. Their faith, and their love for one another and for God, was still available to them. Home is not always a physical place. Home is where our hearts are. And our hearts are with one another.  I think about us every day. I know you do too. And we do connect, by phone and email and video and Facebook and Zoom.

We even celebrate communion together, though we are apart. And this connection in this strangest of times is what keeps us together. And it gives us hope that someday, what we lost will be restored. In the book of Jeremiah, Yahweh tells the exiles that what they are going through will not last forever, saying: “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears. There is hope for your future. Judah and all its towns shall live there together, and the farmers and those who wonder with their flocks. I will satisfy the weary, and all who are faint I will replenish.” Eventually, the exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the symbol of their faith. But it was different from what it had been before. The economic situation was dire. There was conflict with the Samaritans, and with their own people who had married outsiders and abandoned their Jewish faith. It took patience and perseverance for their community to be fully restored. When we all get back together physically, it will likely be different too. Even with a vaccine, we don’t know exactly what it will look like. So it will take patience and perseverance from us too. But I have no doubt that we will do whatever it takes, because we are not just members of a church. We are a family. I imagine that the exiles, while weeping for what they had lost, also held onto a glimmer of hope that it wouldn’t be like this forever. And we do too. And that Hope is what we hold onto to get us through this dark time. Hope is what carries us when we are weary. I found a poem of hope for our time, written by Father William Hendrick, entitled, On the Other Side of the Virus: “All over the world people are waking up to a new reality. To how little control we really have. To what really matters. To Love. So we pray and we remember that Yes there is fear. But there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soul. Yes there is even death. But there can always be a rebirth of love. And we are always encompassed by Love. So, open the windows of your soul, and sing.” To how little control we really have. To what really matters. To Love. So we pray and we remember that Yes there is fear. But there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soul. Yes there is even death. But there can always be a rebirth of love. And we are always encompassed by Love. So, open the windows of your soul, and sing.” We can sing our songs while exiled in this foreign land. We can celebrate the special connection we have with one another. Although we are physically apart, our hearts are together. And someday soon, our New Vision family will be fully restored.

Friday, August 21, 2020

White Too Long 3 - Sermon for Week ending August 22, 2020


Our reading for this week is by James Baldwin, from The Fire Next Time.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection or myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born into the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honestly with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors.

The tendency has been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing. One watched the lives they led. One could not be fooled about that. One watched the things they did and the excuses they gave themselves. And one felt that if one had had that white man’s worldly advantages, one would never have become as bewildered and as joyless and as thoughtlessly cruel as he.


Robert Jones, the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, ends the book on a note of hope with the story of two churches in Macon, Ga, his parent’s hometown, First Baptist Church of Christ, a white congregation, and First Baptist Church on New Street, a black congregation, just around the corner from each other. They began as one church, First Baptist Macon in 1826.  All of its charter members were slave owners, and for its first two decades, they brought their slaves to church with them. The slave owners sat in the front, and the enslaved people sat in the back. But in the 1840’s, amid tensions around secession and slavery, and with black members outnumbering white members, the whites segregated the blacks into a different building on New Street. These congregations sat almost back to back, through the Civil War and Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and ‘white flight’ from Macon’s city core with no meaningful contact. Until 2014, when a mutual acquaintance urged the two pastors, Rev. Scott Dickison of First Baptist of Christ, and Rev. James Goolsby, of First Baptist on New Street, to meet. They did, and their early conversations led them to connect to The New Baptist Covenant, a group that was started in 2006 by former president Jimmy Carter to help black and white Baptists begin to heal their divisions and work together for social justice. The two churches began joining for social events like Easter egg hunts and potlucks. But other seemingly low-risk joint gatherings revealed just how little they understood each other. When no teenagers from First Baptist New Street signed up for a joint trip to Universal Studios in Florida, planned by First Baptist of Christ, Dickison asked Goolsby, “Why?” And Goolsby told him that he and many church members were parents of teenage boys, and since the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, due to Florida’s stand your ground laws, no black parents would allow their children to go. He said, “You put a hoodie on my son, and it’s just Trayvon, and there is no way in the world I am going to let my son go to Florida without me.” But that event, and the honesty from pastor Goolsby, opened up a conversation about just how out of touch most white parents are with the lives of black parents and their children. 5 months later, the two churches held a joint service and signed a covenant to work together toward racial justice and healing. 3 weeks after that, when white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered 9 members of Emmanuel AME in Charleston during their bible study, both Macon pastors joined a local rally denouncing white supremacy. When it was discovered the next year that the original First Baptist Church of Macon had sold some of its enslaved members to pay its bills and even to build a new building, Rev. Dickison was open about it, telling his congregation that in order for any progress to be made, it was necessary to get the truth out into the open.

Some white families left the church during these years. Others still argue that uncomfortable conversations about race are pointless, since none of the people currently attending were involved in slavery. In 2018, in their commitment to more directly confront the history of racial violence, 21 people from both churches, ranging in age from their twenties to their seventies, took a trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (also known as the Lynching museum) n Montgomery. (I know some of you have visited it, and when this pandemic is over, I want us to take a group trip there)  In their pre-trip discussion the night before, many African Americans expressed fears that it might stir repressed memories of family members going missing  or of seeing names that they recognized. And some white people were apprehensive about being confronted with all that truth right in front of them. The trip was a meaningful experience for both congregations, and in addition to their ongoing work with the New Baptist Covenant, they are in conversation with the Equal Justice Initiative and are committed to joint racial justice work. The story of these two churches and what they have done together isn’t earth shattering, although for Macon, Georgia, it’s a pretty big deal. But it is a testament to the importance of white Christians being honest about our white supremacist past, and having uncomfortable conversations, without getting defensive. And it can serve as an example for us, to take the next steps, to try to repair the damage and heal the divisions that white supremacy has caused. So that we can work together for justice for everyone.


Friday, August 14, 2020

White Too Long 2 - Sermon for Week ending August 15, 2020

Our reading for this week is from White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, by Robert Jones.

Underneath the glossy histories that white Christian churches have written about themselves, is a thinly-veiled, deeply troubling reality. White Christian churches have not just been complacent; they have not only been complicit; rather as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality. The historical record of Christianity in America reveals that Christian theology and institutions have been the central cultural tent pole holding up white supremacy. And this legacy remains present and measurable in contemporary white Christianity, not only among Evangelicals in the South, but also among mainline Protestants in the Midwest and Catholics in the Northeast.


We return this week to the book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, which challenges us to take an honest look, without becoming defensive, at the Christian Church’s past complicity in white supremacy and racism, to see the ways that it continues in the present, and then to get to work making real changes, so that we can leave something better to future generations. Last week, we talked about the Southern Baptists, the author, Robert Jones’ former denomination, and mine. But as he points out, white supremacy has existed and still exists in all branches of Christian religion. For example, the Southern Methodists, like the Southern Baptists, split with the Northern Methodists because they disagreed about slavery. But both Southern and Northern white Methodists agreed that black people should hold a subservient place in society and in the Church. The roots of the Catholic Church are in colonization. Many prominent slave holders were Catholic, and in 1940’s Harlem, black Catholics were segregated into one parish, regardless of where they lived, and the color line was enforced by priests wielding bullwhips. In the 1940s and 50s, white Presbyterians and Episcopalians used their church- sponsored neighborhood councils to keep black people from moving into white areas.And in 1963, The Lovett School in Atlanta, GA, affiliated with the Episcopal  Church, notified Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that his six-year-old son was being denied admission because of his race. During the Civil rights era, there were leaders of mainline Catholic and Protestant denominations that spoke out against racism, but local congregations carried on as usual. And as the Democratic party became the party of civil rights, white Christians moved to the republican party.


What about now? So many people say, ‘The past is past. We weren’t involved in that.’

But have white Christian attitudes changed that much? According to Jones, they haven’t. They just aren’t as blatant as they once were. As I said last week, Jones is the founder and CEO of the Public Religious Research Institute. In chapter 5, entitled Mapping, he puts his research skills to use to try to answer, with data, the question, “How prevalent are racist and white supremacist attitudes among white Christians today?” The biggest hurdle with public opinion surveys, Jones said, is that you can’t get accurate results from asking respondents outright if they are white supremacists or racists. So they first asked white Christians how warmly they felt toward African-Americans on a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 is cold and 100 the warmest. Mainline Protestants and Catholics averaged 67 In warm feelings toward African-Americans.

And white evangelicals were even warmer, 71 out of a 100. But then, the survey asked more specific questions, about symbols of white supremacy, economic and social inequality between white and black people, and the criminal justice system.

And those answers didn’t coincide with the first ones. For example, 75 percent of white Christians said that the Confederate Flag is more a symbol of southern pride than of racism. 83 percent said the Confederate monuments were more a symbol of southern pride than of racism. When asked about the killing of black men by police, 64 percent of white Christians believe that the killings are isolated incidents rather than a broader pattern. When asked how they felt about the  protests of police killings by NFL players taking a knee, 72 percent believe that professional athletes should be required to stand during the National Anthem. 76 percent of white Christians believe that racial minorities use racism as an excuse for economic inequalities more than they should. And 62 percent disagree with this statement: `Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.’ The conclusion, Jones says, is that while white Christian profess to have warm attitudes toward African Americans, ‘they embrace racist and racially resentful attitudes that are inconsistent with that assertion.’ No wonder there is so little justice for African Americans in America. Too many people, too many Christians, don’t want it. They prefer a society where they can maintain their white privilege and supremacy. And this, I am pretty sure, would make the Jesus we see in the gospels weep. And wonder how those who claim to be his followers are thinking and doing the opposite of what he taught.

And perhaps turn over a few tables and declare that this has gone on long enough.

It is time to change. I think that is our charge, and the charge of every white Christian today, to wrestle with and conquer whatever demons of racism handed down to us by our family, our culture, and our church that we still hold on to, and then to go about dismantling this legacy of white supremacy, and helping to create the kind of world that Jesus wanted for us, a world of justice and equality and love for all people.

Friday, August 7, 2020

White Too Long - Sermon for Week ending August 8, 2020


Our reading is by Frederick Douglass, describing his experience of American Christianity, from Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

"I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies that everywhere surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.  The man who wields the blood-clotting cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. He who sells my sister stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babies sold to purchase bibles for the ‘poor heathen,’ all for the ‘glory of God and the good of souls."


We are starting a new sermon series this week, using this book,  White Too Long:  The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, by Robert Jones. And we are considering reading it for our New Vision book study. Thank you Debbie for recommending it. Robert Jones is the founder and CEO of Public Religion Research. He also has a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Seminary and a PhD in religion from Emory University. He defines white supremacy as “the continued prevalence that white people are superior to black and other non-white people, and that white people’s superior nature entitles them to hold positions of power over black and other non-white people.” Jones grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and it wasn’t until he was in seminary that he learned about its white supremacist roots. And it wasn’t until he was working on his PhD that he felt he could speak honestly about it, which I understand, as it is also my former denomination. Jones begins his discussion about white supremacy and the Southern Baptists, which is just one section of the book, at the dawn of the Civil War, with Reverend Basil Manly, who was one of the top religious leaders who supported slavery, believing that it was part of the ‘divinely ordained order of Christian society.’ It was under Manley’s leadership that Baptists churches in the South withdrew from their Cooperative Fellowship with the North and established the Southern Baptist Convention. In his sermons and his writings, Manly claimed that slave owners, as the superior human species, were protecting black people by enslaving them in a benevolent environment. And the Southern American culture was the ideal setting for both slaves and slave owners. We heard differently in the reading by Frederick Douglass. After the Confederacy was defeated, in order to maintain their belief that they were favored by God, they developed the religion of the lost cause, which you have probably heard of, comparing their military defeat with the crucifixion of Jesus, and saying that just as Christ rose from the grave, the noble Confederacy, which was God’s ideal for human society, would one day rise again. Over a century later, during the struggle for civil rights
for black Americans, white Southern Baptists were still staunch supporters of white supremacy. I know because I was there.  Jones uses as an example the First Baptist Church in his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, who in 1962 claimed 3 of the most influential segregationists in the whole South, including Mississippi governor Ross Barnett, who in his campaign, claimed that God was the original segregationist, and that God made black people different in order to punish them.

30 years after that, in 1995, The Southern Baptist Convention publicly apologized for its long legacy of racism, which Jones says was a good first step. But it was followed by what he calls, the ‘White Christian Shuffle,’ which emphasizes lament and expects absolution, but says nothing about justice or repair or even change going forward. An example of this one step forward, two steps back shuffle was  in 2012, when the director of the Convention’s ethics commission and one of those who wrote the 1995 apology, said on his radio show, commenting about the murder of Travon Martin, that President Obama had poured gasoline on the fires and that Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were ‘race hustlers who were using the case to try to drum up the black vote for an African American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election.’ Jones says that Al Mohler, the current president of Southern Baptist Seminary is also caught up in the White Christian shuffle. In 2015, after white supremacist Dylan roof murdered 9 black people at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, Mohler posted on the schools’ website that racial superiority was Christian heresy, and he commissioned a report that admitted that the founders of the seminary were deeply involved in slavery and in defending it, and that their successors believed in the inferiority of African Americans. But, in another article during that same year, he wrote that he gladly stands with the seminary’s and the convention’s founders and their affirmation of Baptist orthodoxy, calling them, ‘titans of the faith’ and ‘consummate Christian gentlemen.’ And, as of this writing, he has refused to even consider renaming the campus buildings that were named for them.

The Southern Baptist Church is evolving, slowly, but it is still overwhelmingly white and conservative. As I said, we talked about evolving in our New Vision zoom book group this week, And Jennet said and we all agreed that in order for any real change to happen we have to admit that things need to change. It is not enough to just confess and apologize for the historical roots of racism in the church. We have to recognize our role in allowing racist systems to continue. And then we have to do the hard work of making change happen.

New Vision and Progressive Christianity

 New Vision is a Progressive church. That doesn’t mean that you must be progressive to be a member here. It mainly means that your pastor an...