Baltimore – A Rush to Judgement?


I wish everyone would shut up for a minute.

But probably not for the reason you think.

    I waited a long time to write anything about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri because I wanted to try to understand the issues.   
    But this time, after watching and listening to media outlets talk about what is happening in Baltimore I don’t want to wait.  I am posting now, not because I think I understand what is happening, but because I am convinced that almost no one does.
Every media outlet, every reporter, every politician, and a great many bystanders have taken sides.
    Just like the Ferguson case, and the Travon Martin case, and so many others, everyone seems to be absolutely certain that they know exactly what is happening and why.
Everyone is rushing to judgement.
    They judge the police.  They judge Freddie Gray.  They judge the mayor.  They judge the President.  They judge the protestors, the rioters (those are vastly different groups), they judge the victims of the violence, and people are even judging the parents of the people in the streets. 
    Christians are often accused of being judgmental, but this is ridiculous.  Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike seems to think that they know so much about what is happening hundreds of miles away in Baltimore that they can stand in judgement of people they’ve never met and who they know almost nothing about.
I wish everyone would all shut up and listen for a change.
As I watch and listen to the reporting from Baltimore, all I seem to find is more questions.
What exactly happened in police custody that led to the death of Freddie Gray?
Did Mr. Gray really have surgery on his spine only weeks before his arrest?
Did that matter?
Did the mayor tell the police to allow the mayhem to continue when it might have been stopped much earlier?
I could ask questions all day but it seems clear that, so far, there aren’t very many answers.
    And without answers, all the self-proclaimed experts (left, right and center) should slow down their rush to judgement until they actually have some facts.  Right now there are too many things that we just don’t know.   
Instead of rushing to judgement, why don’t we listen instead?
We all want justice.
    But we should be careful to find the facts so that there can be justice for everyone.  There needs to be justice for the police, the demonstrators, the rioters, the politicians, and especially for the victims.
Investigating, finding, and sorting through the facts are all things that will take time.
While we wait, instead of judging everyone, why don’t we do something helpful?
    Why don’t we try to find ways to help those who lost homes, jobs, and businesses?  Can our politicians and academics find ways to reduce poverty and joblessness instead of just pointing fingers at each other?  Why not volunteer with some charity or aid group to clean up and rebuild Baltimore?  We should all take the time to listen and understand people with whom we disagree.
    Instead of pretending that we know exactly what is going on and who is to blame, our time would be better spent trying to fix the problem and help Baltimore heal.  And while we’re doing that, we should talk less and listen more.
Instead of judging, try donating.
And if you are so inclined, I’m sure that everyone involved could use your prayers.

—————————————————————————————————

To receive email notification for updates to the Crossfusion blog, click here.

Ten (or more) Lessons from Ferguson


    Recently I read an article by Jeremy Smith, in United Methodist Insight, in which he wondered why more  clergy did not speak out on the events of Ferguson, Missouri.  In the article, Smith insists that when we don’t speak out about injustice, we make it seem that we aren’t responsible for things that happen far away from us.  In his words, “When I don’t speak up, I help turn the response into a pocket and not a whole garment of the human experience crying out for justice. “  He’s right of course, but I have a hard time speaking out about events like those in Ferguson because I am so personally ignorant, confused and conflicted by them.
    I’m a white guy and I grew up with the privileges that come with that.  Our family was far from wealthy, but I haven’t suffered from the subtle or overt discrimination that my non-white friends did.  I have not been pulled over by the police for “Driving While Black.”  I have no idea what that must be like. 
    I know that because I am white I do not fully appreciate all of the issues in play in the mess that is Ferguson, MO nor do I feel the impact of those events personally, as people of color undoubtedly do.  I know that anything I say about these events will lack understanding.   But Jeremy Smith is right, keeping silent allows injustice to continue and so I feel like I have to say something. 
    As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to stand against injustice, and there has been plenty on every side.  Not long ago, a colleague of mine posted a link to an article (to which I will not provide a link) that was so filled with hatred of hate and racism that it became hateful and racist itself.  In opposing racism, it named anyone who disagreed, for any reason, or for any principle, as a racist.  That sort of language is unhelpful and it doesn’t help any of us to think clearly.

    So here are ten lessons that we can learn from the mess that is sorting itself out (and will be for years) in Ferguson, MO:

1)      There is never an excuse to hate someone whose skin is a different color, simply because their skin is different color.  It isn’t okay to hate someone because they are black but neither is it okay to hate someone because they are not.
2)      In a town that has a population with a majority of African Americans, it is inconceivable that the police department can’t find African American recruits or that the imbalance should be so substantial.  As I understand it, the federal government is investigating this disparity, and they should.
3)      When there is injustice it should be okay to protest that injustice. Peacefully.

4)       Protests about injustice should not devolve into riots in which property is destroyed and innocents are put in the hospital, and worse.
5)      It’s not okay to use injustice as an excuse to cause injustice.
6)      It’s not okay to hurt someone who is on your side, just because they are the wrong color.
7)      It’s not okay (nor is it helpful) to destroy the businesses that have supported an abused community to make the point that the community has been abused.
8)      To say that it’s NOT okay doesn’t go far enough, it is flat out wrong, offensive, and even criminal, for the police department to try to disperse a riot by showing up dressed and equipped for a war.  Uniforms and weapons of war have no place on our streets.  I have no idea why anyone thought that showing up with M-16’s and armored personnel carriers was going to bring peace.
9)      While it is important, even necessary, for the media to have access to the story and for the story to get a wide distribution, there is a point at which the media becomesthe story.  From several stories that I read, from several very different media outlets, a point was reached when most citizens had gone home and rioters appeared, many from out of town, simply because the media was there.  I don’t know how we could, and we probably can’t and shouldn’t place restrictions on media access, but when the media’s presence makes the violence worse, something needs to be done.  Perhaps the media outlets themselves can agree on some sort of code of conduct, or organize a media pool as is often done in wartime, to share stories and prevent an area from being mobbed by reporters.
10)   As to who is guilty in the original event that triggered this mess, I have to admit that the conflicting reports in the media make me unsure.  A young man is dead and shouldn’t be.  I don’t know who is at fault, but I am sure that a careful investigation is needed.  I am also sure that the Ferguson Police are not the ones who should do the investigating.  In Ohio, it is standard procedure for accusations against social workers to be investigated by a neighboring (outside) social service agency.  Perhaps police departments ought to do the same with any officer involved shooting.
    Ultimately, there is plenty of fault to go around.  Ferguson may not be a “Perfect Storm” where everything went wrong, but a whole lot still went wrong.  The police got it wrong, the protestors got it wrong, the media got it wrong, and probably a few others as well.  But in every case, we, the people of God, the church, need to find a way to fight against injustice. 
All injustice. 
    We need to speak up against institutional racism.  We need to speak out against a police force that is preparing and equipping to fight a war against its own citizens.  We need to speak out against rioters who overshadow legitimate protestors and also against a media machine that makes problems worse instead of better.
    As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be salt and light to the world.  We are called to stand against injustice.  We are supposed to be doing all we can to make things better.
    The events of Ferguson, MO make it clear that no matter where we live, regardless of our race, we have a LOT of work to do.

—————————————————————————————————

To have Crossfusion delivered directly to your email, click here.

Trayvon, George, and the Church

    I wrote Sunday’s message, “The Test”, long before the verdict in the Zimmerman trial was announced and yet, the parallels between these events and scripture reading were worth noting.

    In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) a religious lawyer seeks to use Jesus to assure himself that he is good enough to go gain eternal life.  The lawyer and Jesus agree that the two fundamental criteria are 1) to love God and 2) to love your neighbor, but that isn’t good enough and so he asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”  In the time of Jesus, rabbis had differing opinion over who qualified to be a “neighbor” and these opinions ranged from friends and family, up to including anyone who was Jewish.  This man was hoping, even expecting, that Jesus’ opinion would be similar so that he could declare himself “good enough.” But Jesus goes an entirely different direction.  Jesus tells this story of a man who was brutally robbed, beaten and left for dead in the wilderness only to be rescued by a Samaritan.  
For many of us, this may also require some explanation.
    Long before the birth of Jesus, the Jews and the Samaritans hated one another with a deep and abiding hate.  Regardless of whose version of history you believe, hostilities between the Samaritans and the Jews dated back to the Old Testament, perhaps a thousand years or more.  Over the centuries, each side had attacked the other and had desecrated or burned the others’ temple.   A great many had been killed on both sides.  The only reason that the two groups were not fighting one another in the time of Jesus was that the Roman army was there to make sure that they didn’t. 
    In this environment of hatred, Jesus tells a story in which the Samaritan enemy was the hero and tells the man that even his enemy is his neighbor.  Jesus’ command is to “Go and do likewise.”  As followers of Jesus the  command to “Go and do likewise”  instructs us to show mercy to people we’ve never met, to share what we have with people who can’t do anything in return, to help people who aren’t like us, people who don’t like us, and even to people whom we consider to be our enemies.  It was a tough pill for that lawyer to swallow and it isn’t any easier for us today.  The parable of the Good Samaritan has always been, and will always be, difficult to put into practice.
    If we measure the events surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin by this standard we find that everyone failed.  Both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin failed when they chose to be suspicious and hostile and to engage in a brutal brawl on the ground rather than try to explain, discuss or walk away.  Both men assumed the other was his enemy.  The news media when they looked first for sensational headlines before reporting the facts.  Others failed because they were looking for an enemy and assumed that this violence was somehow different, that this murder was somehow more notable than the other thousands of young people who have been victims of violence since Trayvon Martin died. 
    Finally, the church failed.  We have known the story of the Good Samaritan since we were children.  We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us.  And yet, even now, in the midst of this tragedy, the followers of Jesus Christ, both black and white, look to place blame and to see an enemy in others, rather than demonstrate mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.  For the church, this case cannot be about who is right or who is wrong.  A wedge has been driven between two groups who already saw the other as the enemy.  Instead of arguing over who was in the right, we must find ways to avoid this sort of violence that kills young men and women every day in Sanford, Florida, New York, Washington D.C., and all across our nation.  We must find ways to teach the things that Jesus commanded us to teach.  We must show mercy to people we’ve never met, share what we have with people who can’t do anything in return, help people who aren’t like us, people who don’t like us, and even people that we consider to be our enemies.  We are called to be agents of healing instead of division.  We must love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, and yes, we must love our neighbors.
Each one of us can make the world a better place if only we would, “Go and do likewise.”

Top Ten 2012 Blog Posts


    As promised, here are my top ten blog posts of 2012.  There are a few interesting points that I will note along the way, but among these is just the growth of this blog.  While it is still pitifully small compared to some of the mainstream “big name” bloggers with tens of thousands of subscribers (I have five), there is a marked difference between 2011 and 2012.  In the last year, the number of readers has grown enough that of all the posts included in last year’s list, only the number one post from 2011 would have made this list and even then at number eight. Hey, while you’re here, why don’t you click on the “Subscribe to Blog Updates” link in the right hand column?
    In any case, the readership of this blog, however small, has doubled in one year, and for that, I am both humble and grateful.  I hope that my musings make you think, regardless of whether we agree or not.  This year’s list is reversed, David Letterman style, with number ten presented first, so that you have to scan the whole list to see the most popular.
10) As was the case in other multi-part blogs I have written, “Part 2, Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology”, was less popular than Part 1 (which comes in at number 7).
9) In, “Is It Time to End Spousal Benefits?” I pondered the injustices of the way that many employee benefits as well as Social Security and other Federal benefits are calculated.  Several comments showed me that that my thinking was not as clear as I would have liked and made me think that I may need to think this through a bit more and revisit the subject sometime down the road.
8) “Why I Stand With the Catholic Church” discusses why I agree that our federal government is overreaching in its demand that church agencies be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion inducing drugs despite in a clear violation of their religious beliefs.
7) Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology (Part 1) is the first, and most popular, of my reaction to some seriously dumb things that were said by politicians.  Honestly, I sometimes think that this happens every day, but when these same politicians begin to justify their dumb stuff by saying that it’s God’s fault, I have to say something.
6) In John Wesley’s Crazy Rules?, I list the rules that the early Methodists had agreed to live by.  Today, most all have been abandoned and most church members would panic if we even suggested bringing them back.  On the other hand, under these rules the church grew and under ours we’re shrinking.  Perhaps something in this list we ought to learn from?
5) Why is Homosexuality an Argument Instead of a Discussion? Isn’t even my blog post, but a link to a post by Dr. John Byron, one of my seminary professors.  Here we wonder why everyone wants to demonstrate and shout from their polarized positions, but not have an honest discussion about the issues.
4) The blog entitled, “Just How Many Homosexuals Are There?” was taken, by some, as a political post even though I made some effort to deliberately distance myself from making any overt political statements.  The unfortunate truth, as we’ve seen in other posts, is that anything regarding abortion, homosexuality and a few other topics automatically become argumentative instead of the opening of a discussion.  Here, I simply found statistics that indicated that nearly everyone has a dramatically wrong idea of what we are talking about whenever we begin such an argument.
3) What’s the Big Deal About Sex? was written after it was discovered that several Secret Service agents and military personnel had been cavorting with prostitutes during a trip in which they were to be guarding President Obama.  While what they did was immoral, I wonder why all the fuss?  These folks aren’t monks?  Clearly there are national security concerns, but otherwise, in a culture that values sex and money above all else, what do you expect?
2) Censorship is never the answer.  The beauty of our freedom of speech here in the United States is that it allows atheists to blaspheme my religion and my God, but it also allows me to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  In Christians are Wrong; Atheists are Right I argue that when Christians lobby for censorship to protect them, they really undermine the most important protection of all.
1) This is the one that makes me smile.  I first wrote, Ahimaaz – Patron Saint of Cross Country Running? , about a man known to King David who loved to run.  When it was written, almost no one read it.  For months afterward… almost no one read it.  And then something interesting happened.  Because I suggested that Ahimaaz ought to be a patron saint of long distance runners (clearly, being Methodist, I have no inside track on this), this blog started to turn up in Internet searches for patron saint of cross country and track.  As track season came closer it began to get a few, but regular, hits each week.  By the end of the year, just like the story of the tortoise and the hare, slowly but surely, this blog had become the most popular of the year (and continues to grow).

Westboro is NOT Winsome

    I have probably mentioned this before, but the folks from Westboro Baptist Church really burn my cookies.  Last night at our youth group meeting we watched a segment of Adam Hamilton’s “When Christians Get it Wrong” and were discussing how well-meaning church people often chase unbelievers away from the church instead of attracting them.  When I was much younger, we were always taught that the Christian faith should be “winsome.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but from the way it was used, it sounded as if it ought to be something that looked and sounded attractive.  According to the American Heritage online dictionary it does, in fact, mean charming. 

The followers of Jesus Christ are called upon to tell the world about the Good News of reconciliation, that God has done everything possible to repair our relationship with him and to demonstrate his love for us.  I have to think that demonstrating respect and love for others, for their religion, for their opinions, for their culture and for their existence would have to be the first step in doing that.  Showing up at a child’s funeral or anywhere else with signs that say “God Hates Fags,” “God Killed Your Sons,” or worst of all, “God Is Your Enemy” is definitely going in completely the wrong direction.  First of all these statements tell unbelievers that the church is out of touch and that it is full of bigoted idiots that have no desire (or ability) to understand their situation.  Worse than that, these things are all lies.  There is nothing in scripture that could lead someone to believe that God hates you or that God is your enemy.  the whole point of scripture, especially the message of the Gospel, is entirely the opposite, that God loves you more than you can know.

That doesn’t meant that God is making any compromises about things that he considers wrong, but that a message of love cannot be communicated by being hateful and hurtful.  In his book, When Christians Get it Wrong, Adam Hamilton, correctly, points to the Apostle Paul.  I have used Paul as an example for years, and so have many others.  Paul was a Pharisee.  He was incredibly well educated.  He had studied under some of the most noted Rabbis in history.  Paul knew sin and he wasn’t afraid to point out the sins of others.  Paul had often warned the churches of the evils of idol worship, particularly in those places under the influence of the Romans and Greeks (which we, pretty much everywhere), but that isn’t how he started a conversation with people who actually worshiped idols.  When Paul visited Athens, a city full of idols and temples of numerous false gods and goddesses, Luke tells us that “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”  Even so, Paul didn’t launch into a tirade about how evil they all were.  He went into the synagogue and and into the marketplace reasoned with the people. His reasoning was sound enough that he was asked to go to Mars Hill and explain his views further and even there, he didn’t condemn them.  Instead, Paul said:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

Paul began by expressing his admiration for their care in pursuing the truth even though their worship of idols distressed him.  No one will believe you if you tell them you love them while you are beating them over the head.  Telling someone that God hates them is not winsome… or loving. 

It’s just wrong.

Sometimes Right is Wrong


    Not long ago my wife, Patti, and I attended a seminar with Dr. Terry Wardle at Ashland Seminary.  During one session Dr. Wardle noted that sometimes the question is not whether something is right or wrong, but whether it is loving or unloving.  This idea struck me and I immediately wrote it in my notebook.  While this may not always be the case, this is a wonderful lens by which we can examine our choices as we live out our faith.  Checking to see if our actions are loving or unloving is a great way to get closer to deciding, “What would Jesus do?” 
   
    Some will object that Jesus was the perfect man and lived his life without sin, and so, he could not have done wrong.  And yet, he did.  During his ministry, Jesus seemed often to be at odds with the Pharisees, men who devoted their lived to following “the rules” and, in fact, devised rules stricter than those contained in the Law so that, by following these ‘new and improved’ rules, they would never, even accidently, violate the Law.  Simply put, the Pharisees made it their business never to break a rule.  They were devoted to living that was always right and never wrong but if this is so, why were they so often at odds with Jesus?
    The Pharisees began to hate Jesus and plot for his humiliation and, ultimately, his destruction when Jesus repeatedly revealed their hypocrisy and the failure of their rules-based morality.  Jesus pointed out that what they had achieved was like white washing a tomb; it looked pretty on the outside bur remained full of corruption on the inside.  The Pharisees were known to tithe from everything they earned, every increase that God granted to them, even to the point of giving ten percent of the growth from their herb gardens and yet some of them had elderly parents whom they allowed to starve.  They justified their actions by saying that all their money was “Corban” or, dedicated to God.  They had followed one rule so vigorously, that they missed the bigger ideas of “love your neighbor” and “honor your father and mother.”  They had done what was “right” but had failed to be loving.  As Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
    At the same time, the Pharisees attacks against Jesus revolved around what they perceived as his wrongdoing.  Jesus and his followers were rule breakers.  Jesus sat down with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts, and ate with them.  No self respecting, rule-following, religious person would be seen socializing, let alone sharing food, with “those people,” and yet, Jesus did.  As Jesus and his followers were walking through a field on the Sabbath, they were hungry and the disciples began to pick heads of grain, rub them between their hands to remove the chaff, and eat them.  The Pharisees asked Jesus why he allowed them to do wrong. Clearly they were harvesting on the Sabbath, and everyone knew that harvesting was work and work was not permitted on the Sabbath.  They made the same accusation against Jesus when he healed a man on the Sabbath.  Since healing was “work,” obviously Jesus had done wrong.  Again, as Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
    In each case, the Pharisees wanted to follow the rules, to do what was right, but Jesus wasn’t as concerned with right and wrong as he was with being loving.  Jesus believed that the Pharisees had missed the point when following “the rules” caused them to be unloving.
    If we see ourselves in the mirror held up by the Pharisees, we should.  The Pharisees weren’t bad people; they were the church leaders and teachers of their day.  Like the Pharisees, I think sometimes we get so focused on “the rules” that we miss the point.  When people of faith debate issues like homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment and other “religious” issues in the public square we often carve out positions that we believe are “right” and yet, at the same time, fail miserably at being loving.  That doesn’t mean that we have to accept sin, Jesus didn’t, but Jesus found a way to be loving even if it broke a few rules.
    As we enter the public square we must ask ourselves if our arguments are right, but also if they are loving.  Because…
Sometimes, right is wrong.