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.
There is no excuse, none, for a state to kill someone when there is ANY reasonable doubt whether he committed the crime. You have blood on your hands tonight.
Rest in peace, Troy Davis. I hope you didn’t commit the crime that you were accused of, and I hope your death represents a change in the U.S.’s idea to execute people. Maybe then your death won’t be for nothing.
While the Republicans and the Tea Party insist on reducing the deficit, they refuse the most logical solution to reducing the deficit: raising taxes on those who can most afford it. The GOP’s strategy is simply irrational and mind-boggling. Never has a minority party been so hard headed and reluctant to compromise on an obvious solution to the problems that they are emphasizing.
The Republicans and Tea Party are the ones making such a major deal out of the budget deficit, and while it is a concern, it is far from the catastrophic problem that the Republicans are pushing the U.S. towards. During a significant economic recession, the solution — as history has shown — is not to slash all spending, but to spend more to create jobs and wealth, which raises more revenue for the government. In addition, the idea that what the U.S. needs to do reduce the deficit is simply cut these “entitlement” programs without raising taxes is absurd! Whether its a family or the federal government, the most obvious solution to reduce debt is to increase revenue.
Nevertheless, when President Barack Obama proposes a tax increase on the wealthiest class, the so called “Buffett Tax”, which simply asks millionaires to pay at least as much as the middle class in taxes, House Speaker John Boehner (Republican) rejects it, saying the only acceptable way to reduce the deficit is to cut entitlement programs. During a severe economic recession, when many Americans are unemployed, why is unacceptable to raise on the most wealthy of Americans? Does anyone truly believe it will hurt the economy if taxes are raised on the wealthy? Why does the Tea Party have so much support? By far the majority of Tea Party supporters would benefit rather than be hindered by a tax increase on the most wealthy, yet they — and the politicians they support — refuse to negotiate on it. The U.S. has performed a lot of irrational policies in its history, but the Tea Party’s stranglehold on the government and the economy is perhaps the most unusual in that it benefits almost none of its supporters.
Studies have shown that “racial resent” is one of the most consistent and popular beliefs among Tea Party supporters, which makes one wonder: are the Tea Party supporters working against their and the nation’s overall benefit for the simple fact that they insist on fighting tooth and nail to a black president, regardless of what he proposes? I am willing to hear other explanations, but I cannot think of a rational reason why Tea Party supporters, who the majority of them are not millionaires, would object to raising the taxes on millionaires so they are at least equal to the taxes on the middle class? If the Tea Party insists on the reduced deficit, it’s completely irrational to think that they would object to a tax raise on millionaires who are paying less in taxes than the middle class!
If any Tea Party supporters read this, please comment and explain to me your logic behind this. I cannot understand your rationale.
During the Tea Party debate recently, Ron Paul was asked if someone who opt’ed out of health insurance should be allowed to die. The crowd cheered “Yes!” in a bizarre mob-like execution style fashion. Paul said “That’s what freedom is all about.” Now we learn that Paul’s former campaign manager died at the age of 49 due to pneumonia without health insurance. His mother was left with around $400,000 in medical bills. On the bright side, at least as Paul would see it, he died as a free man, because “that’s what freedom is all about.” However, I don’t think that’s what Patrick Henry meant when he said “give me freedom or give me death.”
So, for the record, the Tea Party cheered Ron Paul when he said freedom is about letting someone die, but boo’ed him when he pointed out the actual motives for 9/11. At least I no longer have to defend Ron Paul.
Sarah Palin’s advisors must have taught her the term “crony capitalism” a couple weeks ago because I keep seeing her use it over and over. Recently she accused Rick Perry of it. I am opposed to “crony capitalism,” but I do not believe Palin knows what it means. Many large oil corporations supported her run for governor in Alaska, and she performed favors for them. As governor, she also appointed many of her close friends and former classmates to high government positions in the Alaskan government while firing officials who opposed her, which is exactly what she is criticizing Perry for. Remember when she had officials fire a state trooper because he recently went through a divorce with her sister? Time and time again, she crossed the line between her political life and her personal life. Her history of cronyism is as old as her political career. She currently works for Fox News, which is owned by News Corp., which itself is a model of crony capitalism. Fox News employs conservative politicians and former politicians, giving them jobs to promote their political agendas, which also furthers Fox News and News Corp.’s political agenda.
I am not defending Rick Perry from Palin’s comments. I agree he is a “crony capitalist,” and I cannot stand him. But I have two major questions with Palin’s criticism of Perry:
- Who is she to accuse anyone of “crony capitalism”? (see above)
- Why is she even talking and bashing Republican presidential candidates when she has not yet entered the race herself? (see below)
If Palin plans on running, she should throw her hat in the ring already. While the rest of the field is campaigning, debating, and attacking each other’s previous records, Palin is sitting on the sidelines criticizing them, and since she has yet to say whether or not she will run, the candidates are not in position to respond to her attacks. She is free to criticize the candidates once she announces whether or not she is a candidate, but as of now she is limbo between being a politician and a political commentator, and she’s enjoying a free ride of ripping on others while not revealing her own plans.
Not that I care if the Republicans fight amongst themselves, I wish they would spend more time attacking each other rather than coming up with wild anti-Obama conspiracies and finding new ways to obstruct any of Obama’s plans. Yet, it seems ridiculous for Palin to criticize someone for crony capitalism when she was a model for it, and furthermore, she is in no place to be criticizing any other candidate’s political record until she announces her intentions. She is skipping out on the debates, but still criticizing the candidates in public platforms without giving them opportunities to respond in a public manner. If she wants to remain a political commentator, then she is free to criticize them, but she must declare her intentions so they can attack her own political history.
Until Palin announces whether or not she is running, I hope the only reason I see her name in the headlines is if more details about her drug use or affair with Glen Rice come about. Stories of other affairs with black athletes would be equally acceptable, as long as she further isolates herself from racist Tea Party base.