Incredible

We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization. Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior. And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West. Would it not be better, then, if our bodies were civilized, improved, and put to some legitimate Christian use?

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Letter to My Son”

We live in a culture that is testing the church’s credibility.

Fr. Bob Schelling, homily, July 5, 2015

Before you do anything else, go and read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to My Son”. Block out some time in your schedule if you have to; it’s a long read. Do not look away. Do not put it down. Read it to the end.

I read it this morning, before I got up, and I was still turning it over in my mind when I arrived at church. I therefore owe our visiting priest an apology because the only thing I gleaned from his homily today was the above comment about the church’s credibility.

Now, the church in the United States is a very broad, very fragmented, and, sadly, very segregated institution. We already lack credibility in our collective inability to get along as “one body”. If the American church were to be summed up in one word, “schismatic” is as good as any. However, the more I hear from voices like Mr. Coates’, the more I realize that the white majority of the church has yet to meaningfully reckon with its role in the darkest pages of American history. Until such a reckoning occurs, the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.


One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, white American Christians have a tendency to wave our hands in dismissal of the Christians who argued and fought in support of chattel slavery. We say things like: “That’s ancient history.” “Our nation has moved past that.” “We’re more enlightened now.” “Why bring up such an ugly subject in polite company?”

Even less thought and conversation is given towards what our Christian forebears did to the Native Americans.

But it’s not ancient history; black people have been free for less time than they were enslaved. (And can you even count the years under Jim Crow as freedom?) America has not “moved past that”; we have buried the skeletons in the closet, but their blood continues to cry out from the ground for justice. If we’re more enlightened now, please explain to me why American Christians are more supportive of institutionalized torture than people who are not religious? We must bring up these ugly subjects because otherwise we will never move past them, and our children will suffer their consequences to the third and the fourth generation.

The reality is that America is a country that was conquered through the systematic massacre of its native peoples and built on the backs of slaves, and we, the enlightened white Christian majority who are so grateful that racism is a thing of the past – we have a black President now, you know – every day we reap the tangible and intangible benefits of the pernicious, white supremacist system that our forefathers constructed.

We do not have to concern ourselves about driving while black.

We do not have to concern ourselves about redlining.

We do not have to give our sons The Talk.

Until the majority of the church can figure out how to put our white privilege to appropriate use – until we’re even able to admit that we are privileged by the sole virtue of our whiteness – the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.


You do not have to look far in America to find a church proudly displaying the Stars and Stripes. For many of us in the white majority of the church, our identity as Americans is as strong stronger than our identity as Christians. We put our faith in our Second Amendment rights, drape our crosses and altars with red, white, and blue, and we preach American exceptionalism. How many of America’s churches didn’t incorporate patriotic music into their worship services this July 4th weekend? The ones that didn’t are probably all full of godless liberals, amiright?

Yet America is a violent country, born of a violent heritage. We have a higher violent death rate (10 per 100,000) than any other wealthy country. We don’t even have reliable records of how many people our police forces kill. (At least 1149 people were killed by police in the U.S. in 2014. By comparison, police in the U.K. have killed 27 people so far this century.) Our foreign policy has not evolved much from Theodore Roosevelt’s soft words and big sticks, except these days we don’t bother much with the soft words. Prince of Peace, we hardly knew ye. God bless America.

Until we unwrap ourselves from the blinding tangles of unexamined patriotism, the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.

Eclectica: my favorites from the week of June 30, 2014

I think I’ve settled on a title for this weekly link curation, and this was an eclectic week indeed, ranging from a homily about how God is a bad farmer, to touching personal stories, to investigative commentary about the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, and more besides!

Dirt is Resurrection and God is a Bad Farmer (Homily for the Parable of the Sower)David Henson

Somehow, though, we’ve managed to warp this parable from this good news about God’s love of dirt into a parable of judgement on the soils that simply aren’t good enough. But if you notice, there is no judgement and no condemnation in the story. The soil exists as it is. The sower doesn’t spend any time wondering whether the rocky, or the hardened, or the thorny soil measures up or is worthy of the sower’s seeds — the very source of his life and livelihood.

The sower simply sows without judgement and without expectation.

On Our Tenth Anniversary, One Year After the FactBethany Bassett

We didn’t so much celebrate our tenth anniversary as we did survive it.

This was crushing to me. I had always thought of tenth anniversaries as milestones, gold-plated “You Are Here” signs along the paths of successful marriages. After ten years, we couldn’t fail to have our relationship figured out. After ten years, our exotic Hawaiian vow-renewal ceremony would practically write itself. After ten years… well, we definitely wouldn’t be staring down into our anniversary sangrias to avoid meeting each other’s eyes.

Expectations are the cruelest pranksters.

The GuestMicah J. Murray

I told him we didn’t have any orders waiting to be picked up, and asked what phone number he had called to place the order. As I suspected, it was for one of our other locations, twenty minutes away. That restaurant was closed by now too, the to-go order long gone.

With disappointment and hunger in his voice, the guest looked toward the kitchen and said, “I guess it’s too late to get a cheeseburger, isn’t it.”

And another one from Micah, with an altogether less pleasant flavor:

Hobby Lobby, the Duggars, and Bill Gothard

I often hear Christians dismiss Bill Gothard and his teachings as legalistic, fundamentalist, bizarre, and dangerous. Rightly so, especially in the wake of his alleged sexual misconduct. But many of these same Christians support Hobby Lobby or the Duggars for their “Christian values”, perhaps not realizing how closely they are connected to Bill Gothard.

This week, I’ve heard Christians hailing Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court win as a victory for religious freedom. It’s a narrative of good Christian business people going up against the bullying of a tyrannical government — and winning.

Throughout this all, I’ve heard one phrase over and over again: “sincerely held religious beliefs”

I’m not going to wade into the issues of constitutional law or religious liberty involved in this case; others have addressed those points better than I ever could. But I do want to talk about those “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

And Micah is far from the only person who is uneasy about the Hobby Lobby decision:

The Hobby Lobby Is A Disaster For The Truly “Pro-Life”Benjamin L. Corey

I’ve always considered myself “pro-life” though I have distanced myself from the modern pro-life movement as I disagree with the goals (abolition instead of actual reduction) and because it’s not actually “pro-life” in any holistic sense; it’s simply pro-gun, pro-war, and pro-birth.

Most of those still culturally entrenched in the modern pro-birth movement have hailed the recent Hobby Lobby decision as a huge victory for the pro-life movement, but I think it’s a total disaster for anyone who is more than pro-birth. For the pro-birth folks however, this is a clear victory, because the only practical outcome is that we’ll see more births– at least in the short term.

The primary failure is this: this case attacked the very cure the pro-life movement should be seeking: access to contraception.

There are a lot of people raising eloquent voices in search of social justice, both within the church and at large. The following pieces have given me a lot to think about this week.

The Line Between a Heretic and a Prophet is ThinSuey Park

As I said earlier, faith in action is more of a beginning than an end. I’m still in the very beginning stages of figuring out what transformative justice looks like within the church, or if it’s even possible to organize in the margins within an institution that is married to the state, but what an amazing force we would have if the church began to do what it was meant to do and centered the voices and needs of the most marginalized. Imagine how much change could happen if the church stopped interpreting God’s will to mean unchecked institutional power and instead as a rejection of it?

Op-Ed: How My Conservative Religion Almost Killed MeConnor Brassington

Having grown up in the SDA community, I knew what the Bible said about homosexuality. I knew the verses, and I knew the arguments. For years I used them to convince myself that what I was feeling was wrong, and to act on my attractions was the fast track to hell. I spent years trying to “pray away” my attractions, often crying myself to sleep at night, my head whirling with hopelessness and self-loathing.

AcceptanceBen Moberg

I was born into this faith. I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at five years old and I believed those words of prayer would encircle like a charm. As if this promise held the power to protect me from anything bad in the world, from anyone that would want to hurt me. I believed in the Church, I felt safe in the Church, and I felt all the more held to be officially part of her people.

Then I found out I was gay.

In those preteen days, the whole realization felt impossible. I couldn’t be both a Christian and gay, I had to be one or the other. And yet the feelings stayed… but I said the prayer first. Questions blew through my mind as I tried to make sense of it all until I came upon a terrible, terrible thought: What if… God didn’t choose me back?

My “Affair” With a Youth PastorMarie Jensen (via Samantha Field)

I have told my story directly to the churches he bounces to. They never believe me, despite the fact that I bring backup, references from therapists I’ve seen, contact information for my peers in the youth group, people still in leadership at that original church. He tells a story when he’s hired of this poor, deluded girl who tells lies about him. And so they choose not to believe me.

Or perhaps they do. Perhaps they believe me but choose to value his redemption over the safety of the girls in their church. I’m guessing they also minimize the gravity of what he did. A fifteen-year old is old enough to say no, isn’t she? Perhaps they see me as complicit, as he must when he is honest with himself, and they extend him the grace that seems so freely given in these situations. But grace comes after repentance. And this man has never admitted a single thing, much less repented.

The previous two pieces are inspiration for a dark, angry song that I wrote about abuse in the Church. I’m going to share it this week with my local songwriters’ group, and hopefully after their critique I’ll be able to polish it up to something that is worth sharing here.

Thy Kingdom ComeTony Woodlief

I don’t think they love their children any less than I love my own, which tells me something about what their lives must be like, to send their babies away. Their children stream northward in droves—as many as 60,000 this year—and we don’t want them. We don’t want their skin lesions and their hungry bellies, we don’t want their parents and aunts and uncles likely to follow, we don’t want them taking our jobs and clogging our classrooms and driving without insurance on our roads. We have no place for them in our country and certainly not in our hearts.

Let’s Worship Money Together!April Fiet

We’ve known for a long time that creating a shrine to our money would be frowned upon. After all, Jesus said some things about doing that. But, after chipping away at our deeply held religious convictions for a long time now, we’ve finally found a way to couch our money worship in thinly veiled Christian language. We’ve found a way to worship the almighty dollar in the name of the Bible’s Almighty God.

It’s a win-win, really. We can profess a faith that opens the door to being elected to political office. We can honor Jesus with our words on Sunday morning – or at least in our Facebook rants – and then do whatever we want for the rest of the week. We can claim to serve a servant Savior, all while buying our way into the positions of power and status and prestige that insure we’ll never need to serve anyone other than ourselves again.

Varieties of Heritage InterpretationJonathan Wilson

Together, these two exhibitions turned Independence Mall into a weird paradox: a holy site that was also shot through with evil. The effect on visitors seemed … misleading. Someone there with me commented that the Founding Fathers “never should have done it”—they never should have compromised their principles to allow slavery. As much as I would like to agree, I think that’s wrong. It’s thinking of slavery as if it were a strange sediment in the elixir of American liberty and not part of the recipe.