Saturday, 20 June 2015

Public and religious piety and the Charleston Racist Massacre

I find the pious words and faces of  so-called reporters (in truth they are  "celebrities") following the Charleston Massacre to be nauseating.

You know what I mean:

the visual and verbal "the shock, horror, disbelief" that such a thing could ever happen;

The "tut-tutting";

the "our hearts go out to the people of Charleston";

the rush to analysis; 

the failure to acknowledge that "yes, America is truly like this".

These overpaid and under skilled actors get wide eyed with wonder that such an evil could take place within a Church of all places.

These "Stepford Wives" performers  (of both sexes) have no historical knowledge, or apparent interest in our long history of violence against black people in black Churches.

See:  (from 1966)

and   from 2012  (in Massachusetts).

I am similarly un-impressed by the hastily arranged "Vigils" in public places and churches. They (arranged by extremely well meaning people) have, for me, a dangerous "feel good factor" which can allow us to short-cut and even ignore the deep racism in America and in American Churches.

The biblical prophets would roll their eyes.  Their vigils were in sack-cloth and ashes; their vigils spoke the truth of God's judgment on the oppressive ruling classes of their day.

Should we white Christians be serious about the evil of racism, our vigils would be vigils of  vocal protest in such places as (for example)

the recently opened "up-scale" Mall in Sarasota;

or at St. Armands Circle;

or at our big and prosperous white Churches;

(The  self-identified "progressive" parish I attend is 99.998% white),
It is a place where, in eight years, I have never heard a sermon about the sin of racism.

I've followed various discussions in the social media and on news sites as to whether the man arrested on suspicion of being the murderer should be described as a terrorist.

I get the drift ( i.e. if the gunman had been a Muslim who had shot up a Christian congregation she/he would immediately been labeled "extremist", or "terrorist").

However I believe that the word "terrorist" has been devalued and robbed of deep meaning. Every tin-pot dictator or oppressive oligarchic government in the world describes even the mildest protests against injustice to be the work of terrorists.

This may be in the realm of an academic argument (such a thing in the face of a massacre) so I'll let it go.

But there is a word which should be used, especially so by the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in liberal Churches.  We must resurrect and re-empower the word evil.

The liberal church (I am part of one) has reduced the biblical message to  the slogans: "God loves everyone"  and "Everyone is welcome".

As I have twice said to my local Bishop in recent years, I've had enough of sermons which say no more than "you are O.K. because God loves everyone".  

I am in good company. The late Professor Krister Stendahl in his "Ten Commandments for Preachers"  said  "If the word love is not in the (biblical)  passage for the day, then don't use it in your sermon".

We liberal Christians fail dismally in a refusal to  acknowledge the evil which is in our lives, and which is often in the DNA of our congregations.

The message we give is something like this:

"You may have been unfaithful to your spouse";
"You may  have been filled with greed"
"You may have cheated your cleaning woman, or your employees".
"You may have created or passed on some scurrilous gossip".
"You may have been utterly mean to  a neighbour".
"You may have denied that God's image is to be seen in people from a racial minority".
"You may have been filled with lust for power, possessions, or people"
"You may have had an evil intent towards another person"

" You are in love with wealth and possessions",
but none of this matters because God loves everyone.
Does God love everyone?:   
 I am not sure about this.   
I ask:   "How can God love those who refuse to be loved?".
For whilst I am sure that the Gospel message is about love, I know that there are people who cannot and will not receive that love. Some of them are in our pews week by week.

I know too that the message of Jesus is about repentance, about turning, about amendment of life, about resisting evil.

And that's where the liberal Church often fails.  We are often utterly naïve about the evil, or the potential for evil which is present in our own lives.

I'll say it again "I am often naïve about the evil, or the potential for evil which is in my heart and mind".

Which bring me back to my comments (above) about public and religious piety in the face of events such as the Charleston Massacre.

I wish that we could cease the analyzes (from left and right) about why it happened - (how sad it is that those on the left are saying that it's all because of  conservative policies, and those on the right are saying that it's all because of liberal  policies) -  what a pointless dead end discussion is this!

I hope that the preachers on Sunday 21st  will move away from facile and semi-political analysis. 

I hope that the preachers on Sunday 21st will name this heinous act as EVIL.

I hope that the preachers on Sunday 21st will be honest about the evil in our own lives.

If they are Episcopalians they might think of calling both priest and people to their knees to make  this affirmation of repentance.  (from the Book of Common Prayer)
Celebrant:Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People:I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant:Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People:I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant:Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People:I will, with God's help.
Celebrant:Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People:I will, with God's help.

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