The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an op-ed piece I submitted. I discuss the importance of acknowledging the role race continues to play in American society in light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It is the last article on the page.
I write this post not to express any theological perspective, but simply a political and historical one about how the message of Jesus has been corrupted by conservative Christians in the United States. I am not writing to debate whether Jesus was the Son of God, a prophet, the messiah, a miracle worker, or anything of the sort, but I just want to point out what he was and stood for in comparison to what he has been made to stand for today.
Today is Good Friday, the day Christians mourn the crucifixion of their spiritual leader, Jesus Christ. On Sunday, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Most Christians, at least in the United States, celebrate a very different Jesus than the one who lived a couple thousand years ago. If Jesus returned to Earth, as many Christians believe he will, the shock and disgust that he would have towards the majority of those who consider themselves his most devote followers.
Regardless of one’s personal religious beliefs, as long as you believe Jesus existed (I am somewhat surprised by how many people doubt his existence, which to me makes little sense — more evidence points towards his existence than his nonexistence, and what would the point of making him up be? But I digress…), it is difficult to deny the radical beliefs of Jesus. Living under the mighty Roman empire, one of the most powerful empires in world history, Jesus saw how the Romans exploited the poor for their own wealth and manipulated religion to subdue the people and maintain the status quo. Jesus had no intention of creating his own religion; he simply wanted to use religion as a political vehicle to rebel against the Roman Empire. Jesus knew that humans were not meant to be pitted against each other, but to cooperate and help each other; he knew that religion was a way to reach people and to motivate them, and a just religion had no place for the injustices in the Roman Empire. So Jesus rebelled: he told other oppressed people that the meek shall inherit the earth, and he condemned those who profited off the labor of others and those who persecuted others. Indeed, Jesus was a revolutionary and radical figure of his time, and he pursued a liberal agenda that promoted equality and justice in the face of classical imperialism and oppression.
The crime that Jesus committed– “The Cleansing of the Temple” — that led to his crucifixion was that he overthrew tables of money at a temple in Jerusalem to protest Roman and Jewish rulers who were charging the people during their worship of God. In current studies of Christianity, this fact seems practically forgotten. Religious leaders constantly tell Christians that “Jesus died for us” while simultaneously ignoring the supposed crime that he committed that led to his execution. If “Jesus died for us,” he sacrificed his life to protest the ruling class’s exploitation of those who less fortunate. The Cleansing of the Temple is a clear act of political subversion and rebelling against the oppressive status quo.
How have we gone from the point where the subversive political activist Jesus who preached equality and stood up for the poor has been transformed into a vengeful Jesus that rejects any social change and seeks to limit the rights of some? Those in the United States who claim to best represent Jesus ignore his most essential beliefs while emphasizing viewpoints that Jesus never mentioned. While many Christians believe the most important issues in the United States are abortion and homosexuality, Jesus never said or did anything that suggested these issues were important to him. In addition, many conservatives believe that free market capitalism is essential to Judeo Christian ethos (one example here), but to scourge the bible to find particular passages to stress a certain ideology ignores all of the passages that contradict that ideology and the passages that argue for something that is completely absurd in contemporary society. If Christians want to follow Jesus’s message, they would not follow a free market capitalist ideology that promotes greed and consumption, and they would leave it up to Jesus to decide whether homosexuals are sinners. It is not up to Christians to judge who Jesus would resent, especially considering everything that Jesus said leads one to believe that Jesus would dislike those who are judging and oppressing rather than those who are striving for equality and justice.
Whether one believes in Christianity or not, this Easter let us remember what Jesus truly taught. He died as a result of his fight against exploitation and injustice. Those who use his name to promote exploitation and injustice are the ones who would be judged so harshly by Jesus, just as he criticized the Roman rulers who oppressed the laboring class that he defended. Instead of relying on a corrupted and manipulated theology to enforce an oppressive ideology, pay attention to what the historical Jesus truly said and did and then ask if would approve of how American Christians are using his message.
For some Americans, especially conservatives, the election of Barack Obama was proof that race no longer mattered. Sure, these same conservatives often conspired that Obama was not legally the president because he was not a real American, and his birth certificate was fake. They questioned if he was actually born in Kenya, which was such an absurd topic, yet one that Obama was required to address on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, the race problem was solved as evidenced by the election of a black president, according to many conservative pundits.
For those of us who realized the absurdity of white Republicans celebrating the end of racism, the murder and lack of immediate charges against George Zimmerman prove that racism continues to exist. Racism changes, as society does, and so racism is not the same today as it was in the 1960s, and advances have been made, but that does not mean the race problem is solved.
If Trayvon Martin was white, would George Zimmerman have been arrested? Certainly he would have. The police would not have believed that an unarmed white child attacked an armed man who was much larger than him, causing Zimmerman to shoot him out of “self-defense.” Zimmerman’s family has defended him saying that he is Hispanic and not racist. The fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic does not disprove the accusations that he is racist; Hispanics can be racist. Zimmerman saw a black kid in his upper teens in a hooded sweatshirt in his neighborhood and immediately reported him as “suspicious” and “up to no good.” What was so suspicious about the kid? Would a white kid have had the police called on him for acting suspicious? I am white, and I have never had the police called on me for acting suspicious.
Zimmerman is not the Ku Klux Klan type of racist that burns crosses in black people’s yards if they enter their neighborhood. But Zimmerman craves authority and power and believes that he needs to police the neighborhood for himself, and he also believes it is suspicious if young black males are in the neighborhood. Race still matters in that Zimmerman’s reaction to seeing a young black male in his neighborhood is different than his reaction would have been if it was a young white male. Race still matters in the police’s reaction to seeing a dead black male on the ground was different than if it was a dead white male. The police would not have immediately believed Zimmerman’s account if the races were different, and Zimmerman would not have been immediately suspicious of Martin if he was not black.
The other unsettling aspect of the murder of Trayvon Martin is the legal challenge that the “Stand Your Guard” law poses in Florida. The law was first passed in Florida in 2005, and has since been passed in 16 other states. This law is what Zimmerman will cling to as his defense, and it allows one to use force if they feel threatened in a public situation without needing to flee. Unless there are key eyewitnesses to the murder to contradict the murderer’s account, the murderer can easily say they acted in self-defense, and then how do you convict the person? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Tribune found how often this law has been used as a defense in murder charges, and justifiable homicides were definitely up. If an unarmed kid can be chased and then shot and killed, and yet the child is considered the provocateur by the police since they had nothing to contradict the murderer’s story, it shows how flawed the law is. It becomes extremely difficult to prosecute a murderer without key eyewitnesses because how can the jury be convinced that the killer was not acting out of self-defense if no one saw it? It opens a slippery slope of how one defines self-defense then. Hypothetically, one could harass someone at a park, follow them around, spit on them, push them, and refuse to leave them alone, then once the person has had enough of the harassment and fights back, the provocateur could shoot and kill the person and then simply claim self-defense to the police. People need to be required to attempt to flee what they perceive as a threatening scene instead of provoking them if they are going to claim self-defense. But the “Stand Your Ground” law does not require this and it sets up the potential for these violent incidents. Clearly Florida needs to revise their gun laws, as well as the other 16 states to have since passed them.
The tragic murder of Trayvon Martin is so unfortunate that one has to feel horrible for him and his poor family and friends. The only way that any good can come out of this killing is if it sparks a much needed renewed conversation about race in the United States and it also makes states reconsider these “Stand Your Ground” laws. Both of these issues need to be addressed, and hopefully this tragedy can make Americans reconsider these topics. In addition, Watch Groups need to have careful guidelines of what they follow. Watch Groups are not meant to be police officers without a badge or training. They should not be trying to enforce the laws themselves, but to watch for laws being broken, and then call the police to take action without getting involved themselves. Trayvon Martin will never get his life back, but we can at least learn something from his unfortunate murder by taking action and learning lessons from it.
President Obama, realizing the economy is weak and many Americans need jobs, will be giving a speech on Thursday announcing his plans to create more jobs. The present-day Republicans — who are under the impression that their job is not to improve the country, but to make life difficult for Obama and reject everything he does –have already criticized his speech before he has given it. Reports are that Obama is seeking to spend $300 billion in federal money to improve American infrastructure such as roads and schools in order to create jobs. While the specific details of the speech are not yet known, that has not stopped Republicans from criticizing it: Jefferson Sessions, a Republican Senator from Alabama, said “At some point this county gets to a position where you cannot continue to borrow without damaging the economy,” and said the Republicans will oppose any plan to increase spending without additional spending cuts.
The current Republican ideology is completely illogical and flawed. They insist on reducing the government debt, so they demand cuts to spending, but refuse to raise taxes. If a person is in serious debt, common advice for that person would be to take another job to raise more revenue. When the government is in serious debt, and the Republicans demand to cut it, they refuse to raise more revenues through taxes. It is beyond irrational. The government needs to collect more revenue if it wants to reduce its deficit.
Beyond the government refusing to collect more revenue, they continue to demand more spending cuts and refuse any new government spending. The Republicans have no solution for the jobs problem except to further reduce corporate taxes! That’s honestly the Republicans’ solution to the jobs problem. Instead of raising taxes to offset the deficit problem, the Republicans want to reduce taxes to create jobs? As if the reduction of corporate taxes will inspire any corporations to hire any more employees; the goal of businesses is to make as much money as possible while spending as little as possible. They will not hire employees they do not need simply because of they are paying lower taxes.
The economy is stagnant: consumers are not spending because they are afraid for their jobs and lack of money, so this lack of consumption has diminished the demand for commodities, and the lack of demand has reduced the need for production, which thereby reduces the need for businesses to hire any more. It’s cyclical: as consumption reduces, so does the demand, and then so does production, which causes more reduction in jobs, returning to the starting place, where consumption is increasingly reduced, and the cycle repeats itself. This is the exact same cycle that took place during the Great Depression.
For the government to fix this economic problem, they need to spend publicly to create jobs. Businesses alone are not going to fix this — they are part of the problem. In an ideal world, we would not need government involvement to fix the economy, but — as I laid out in my last post –capitalism needs to be regulated because capitalists are only looking out for how to make the most money, which does not benefit the country as a whole. Yes, more government spending will increase the national debt in the short term, but it will create jobs, which will lead to more consumption, which will then increase demand, allowing businesses to increase production and hire more people, leading to more consumption, and raising more revenue for the government.
The problem with government spending is not from spending in public sectors. When the United States spends $700 billion every year on the military, occupies two foreign nations for close to a decade, spends billions every year on a failed War on Drugs, continually builds new prisons and imprisons millions of non-violent offenders,, and donates billions every year to disloyal allies, that is where the excessive spending comes from. Those do not create jobs. Spending money on schools, streets, libraries, museums, public transportation, etc. creates jobs, improves the economy, and improves our nation’s infrastructure and culture.
At some point, I expect some Republican to stand up and renounce what is happening in the current Party; in the past, I have often disagreed with them, but currently, it goes beyond that — they are simply irrational, and some Republican needs to stand up against it.