A recent tour of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, in Greensboro, North Carolina, reminded me of how hard it is to counter purposefully misinformed messages and misassigned hostilities.
The evil aimed at a whole segment of the U.S. population just decades ago had the high school students with whom I tagged along shaking their heads in disbelief.
How in God’s name could people — especially those who claimed a Christian identity — believe such nonsense about others who are created in the image of God and be so threatened by their mere existence and desire for equal access?
As troubling — and incomprehensible on one level — as that question might be, its essence doesn’t fade into history. It is kept alive by the same ideas, fears and flat-out evil that continues to stain human hearts.
African Americans were the targets then — and, as we saw recently in Buffalo, New York, too often remain so. Even when laws were finally passed to provide stated equality, old Jim Crow was (and is) hard to kill.
Were lessons learned at the Woolworth lunch counter and ensuing civil rights struggles? Not fully, if learning includes the ability to apply those lessons to future experiences.
Today’s favored targets are Latinos and Latinas seeking asylum — and transgender persons and their parents, along with others. In fact, that word “other” is the common denominator for those whom persons with cultural power seek to discredit, scapegoat and abuse.
Also targeted are those who recognize their privilege and the evil that can result from unfounded fears — and choose to stand with, and for, the mistreated among us. Such considerations and compassion get one labeled as “woke” — as if the stupor of ignorance and the perpetuation of mistreating others are preferred.
Even the most-casual perusal of social media — or a quick switching of channels for as briefly as the stomach can stand — reveals just how much so many people fear basic equality and the possible sharing of privileges and power in which they find comfort and a sadly-needed sense of superiority.
Justice and equality — though they are a thread that runs through the Bible and they are the principles by which Americans define themselves — threaten those who can only find a personal sense of purpose, freedom and security in the fortifications of sameness.
So, they listen to irrational and unloving voices to justify attitudes at odds with those claimed ideals — and lash out at anyone perceived as a threat to their false sense of superiority and their weakening grasp on a misplaced need to be in control.
They demean, demonize, intimidate and even seek to eliminate those persons they deem to be threats — no matter how innocent. And they grab for whatever weapons — literally and figuratively — are within reach.
For example, it is not enough to hold a conservative position on immigration and seek a system that is fair — even if less extensive than others seek. Rather, they project all kinds of false blame on struggling people based on ethnicities and stereotypes.
Rather than lifting others up, as Jesus did, they seek to be considered above as many others as possible. It is classic bullying— picking on the most vulnerable.
If Jesus said and showed anything, it is that God is on the side of the vulnerable over those with the power to abuse them.
Yet, within the perverse ways of Americanized Christianity, there is a preferred deity who evokes the forces of Rome rather than the crucified Christ. It is a god of power and privilege, not grace, mercy and redemption.
Power is the elixir guzzled by religious and political ladder climbers who don’t care whose hands, heads and other body parts get stepped on while ascending to the perches they seek.
Exhibit A: the recent report on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee aiding sexual abusers.
It’s not uncommon to hear religious powerbrokers today reject and ridicule the fruits of the Spirit as weakness and inapplicable to today’s world (as opposed, I guess, to easy-come, easy-go biblical times) — and ignore everything Jesus commands of his followers regarding love of neighbor.
Yet, piously, they claim to hold more fully and faithfully to the Christian faith than all others.
The measuring stick, however, for determining the validity of that which gets thrown in our faces as being “Christian” or “biblical” should be whether it aligns with Jesus’ perspective on privilege and power.
And if that lacks clarity, just look at how those in power reacted to Jesus. His donkey ride didn’t last very long.
Until the primary pursuit of personal power and privilege gets nailed to the cross, the crucifixion continues.
And many of the hammers, sadly, are in the hands of those who oddly profess Jesus as Lord. Yet, in reality, it is only the savior part they seek — like a hall pass to heaven regardless of the hellish ways they treat others now.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.