Acton’s second documentary, The Birth of Freedom, begins with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and ends with an image from the Civil Rights movement. The documentary, which aired on PBS, explores how the speech is rooted deeply in the Western freedom project and how that centuries-old project is itself rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. If you watched one promotional about the documentary, it was probably the official trailer, but Acton also made a shorter teaser for the film, which features King’s speech front and center. Here it is below, and below it, a link to order and share the documentary– (more…)
Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This was no thin, pragmatic account of rights-based egalitarian liberalism, says Derek Rishmawy, but rather a philosophically and theologically thick appeal to a divinely ordered and sustained cosmos.
As Rishmawy notes, it is simply impossible to separate King’s denunciation of racism and segregation from his Christian confession and theological convictions about the nature of the universe:
In 1988, Peggy McIntosh gave us “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to expand our thinking about the reality that being born white in America means that one is free from a host of pressures and burdens that racial minorities have no choice but to face. In 1989, UCLA Law professor Kimberlé W. Crenshaw coined the phrase “intersectionality” to help us see that American life is best understood from an integrative perspective, emphasizing the intersection of several attributes like gender, race, class, and nation. There is not one aspect of our lives that defines who we are. For nearly 25 years, “white privilege” and “intersectionality” have been standard categories in discussions of race in American life. After reading about these ideas I am wondering why Christians do not use these themes when talking about “racial reconciliation.”
Perhaps the cause of this reticence is that progressives see inequality and privilege as something to be remedied–as something abnormal — whereas a more virtuous understanding of these issues in an imperfect world sees privilege and inequality as a opportunity to practice charity and spread shalom.
Since the release of my book Aliens In The Promise Land in 2013, I am bringing to a close my work on race and evangelicalism. If the goal is to demonstrate that being made in the image of God and having equality in the gospel (Gen 1:26-28; Gal 3:28) has implications for daily life, there needs be a more dynamic discussion beyond “racial reconciliation.” In fact, it seems to me that evangelicals will not make progress on race until the discussion advances integrative concepts like “white privilege” and “intersectionality.” “Racial reconciliation” does not cut deep enough and often ignores the intersections and the roles of class and social power.
In his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared,
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
MLK decried equality for children of all races, and his monumental contribution to the realization of this dream should forever be remembered. However, it seems that some education reformers in the U.S. have already forgotten the words of King. Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, and Florida have all implemented new race-based standards into their public education systems with the approval of the Department of Education. While No Child Left Behind did divide children into subgroups based on ethnicity, it did not set different standards according to those subgroups. The race-based standards in these four states do not alter curricula or test questions, but they set different goals for percentages of students expected to pass based on the racial subgroups. (more…)
Florida Governor Rick Scott recently declared that his state would not comply with President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In blatant defiance of the federal government, Florida will not expand its Medicare program or implement any of the other changes that “Obamacare” requires. While a flat-out refusal to comply with federal law on the part of a lower authority is relatively uncommon, it is by no means unprecedented. The history of the United States is filled with individuals and groups who have decided to obey their consciences in the face of laws that they believed to be illegal or immoral, or both. In fact, our country’s very founding began with an act of civil disobedience against the unjust and illegal actions of England’s King George III.
Even before our nation was formally established, adherence to true justice and the natural law, rather than to the whims of tyrants, was a hallmark of the American spirit. Witness the turmoil that took place in the American colonies in the 1760s and 1770s over the actions of England, including the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” (more…)
In this week’s Acton Commentary (published May 30), Anthony Bradley argues that racial discrimination is no match for the power of competition: “While companies were free to discriminate against blacks it was not in their economic interests to do so because, at the end of the day, every company’s favorite color is green.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
Perhaps the most striking theme of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’s autobiography My Grandfather’s Son is just how many obstacles Thomas had to overcome to reach the high judicial position he currently holds. Thomas was born into poverty, abandoned by his father, and was raised in the segregated South all before achieving the American Dream. At the same time, it was Thomas’s poverty-stricken circumstances that would help propel him to a world of greater opportunity. Because of his mother’s poverty, when Thomas was seven, he and his brother were sent to live with his grandfather Myers Anderson, a no nonsense and self-disciplined man who announced upon their arrival, “The damn vacation is over.”
While I have never been a big fan of autobiographies, Thomas’s story is one that absolutely needs to be told, if for no other reason than to fully respond to the damaging allegations made by his former colleague Anita Hill. But there is so much here to think about, especially for somebody like myself who attended school at Ole Miss, an institution wrapped in the consciousness of race. In a Southern Studies class in college while discussing the history of lynchings, the professor asked if we could cite examples of any modern day lynchings. I immediately remembered Thomas’s quote about his confirmation hearings being a “high tech lynching” and offered Thomas’s name. Of course I knew this was perhaps the last name the professor wanted to hear, which is why I offered it, thereby getting out in front of and spoiling her liberal moralism of the day. She casually made a snide comment about Thomas and said “that doesn’t count.” I only smiled as I knew I had successfully pointed out that Thomas was in fact one of the few black men allowed to be aggressively attacked by white liberals in academia.
Growing up, his grandfather made sacrifices so Thomas and his brother could attend Catholic schools, this allowed him opportunities he might never have had coming out of the public school system. Thomas later turned his attention to studying for the priesthood. As a seminarian Thomas declared:
It seemed self-evident to both of us that the treatment of blacks in America cried out for the unequivocal condemnation of a righteous institution that proclaimed the inherent equality of all men. Yet the Church remained silent, and its silence haunted me. I have often thought that my life might well have followed a different route had the Church been as adamant about ending racism then as it is about ending abortion now.
After leaving seminary, Thomas transferred to College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and experimented in left wing politics. Also Thomas found New England to be far less honest about race than in the American South, declaring, “I bristled at the self-righteous sanctimony with which so many of the northerners at Yale glibly discussed the South’s racial problems.” He also pointed out that it was in Boston, not Georgia, that he was first called a deeply offensive racial slur. Thomas left Yale Law School with a negative view of his alma mater. His intention at the time was to return to South Georgia to practice law.
Thomas however ended up on the staff of Missouri Attorney General and former U.S. Senator John Danforth in Jefferson City in 1974. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal Priest, who went on to become a U.S. Senator, would become a life-long mentor and a valuable ally during Thomas’s Supreme Court hearings. The stories Thomas tells of his own drinking problem and financial indebtedness are all fascinating. His first marriage turns out to not be successful, but he goes into little detail, which may be commendable just in keeping a private matter, just that.
Thomas also delves into the Anita Hill fiasco, describing her by his own account as a less than average employee, and somebody who virtually nobody liked. The chaotic nature of the hearings pushed Thomas back even closer to his faith and he noted:
The more hopeless things appeared and the more vulnerable I felt, the more I turned to God’s comforting embrace, and over time my focus became primarily God centered. The words of the Apostle Paul were not far from my mind: ‘Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.’
He decides to end his autobiographical account during the day he is sworn at the U.S. Supreme Court, which might be disappointing to some of the more policy wonkish readers. After reading his unique account I was left with a couple profound thoughts. I had another professor in college who said to the class while we were reading Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick and Mark the Match Boy , that the stories were not really believable, but rather bad capitalist propaganda. The novel immediately came back to me after reading Thomas’s account, here is a man who overcame even so much more to rise to the very top of his field. Few stories can better personify the American dream, and very few stories provide better imagery of defying the odds.
Thomas’s book is at times inspiring, sad, yet ultimately triumphant. He had a very fractured relationship with the grandfather who raised him. Not until his grandfather’s death, did he ultimately appreciate the lessons, love, and discipline Myers Anderson taught him. It’s by only reading this book will you understand how somebody with a third grade education taught a Yale Law School graduate and Supreme Court Justice so much about life, and yes even conservatism.
One element that came out in the aftermath of “Romney’s religion speech,” an event highly touted in the run-up and in days following, was the charge that Mormonism is essentially a racist faith (or at least was until 1978), and that in unabashedly embracing the “faith of his fathers” so publicly (and uncritically), Mitt Romney did not distance himself from or express enough of a critical attitude toward the official LDS policy regarding membership by blacks before 1978.
One example of a person who raised this concern quite vociferously is political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, who as a guest on the McLaughlin Group on the episode immediately following Romney’s speech, said this of Romney (among many other things):
Here’s the problem. He dare not discuss his religion. And he fools people like Pat Buchanan, who should know better. This was the worst speech, the worst political speech, of my lifetime, because this man stood there and said to you, “This is the faith of my fathers.” And you and none of these commentators who liked this speech realize that the faith of his father is a racist faith. As of 1978, it was an officially racist faith. And for political convenience, in 1978 it switched and it said, “Okay, black people can be in this church.”
Mitt Romney was 31 years-old in 1978 when the LDS church altered its policy toward “priesthood” membership for black males, citing a new revelation. You can check out the entire exchange between O’Donnell and the other members of the McLaughlin Group panel here:
It seems to me that Pat Buchanan misses O’Donnell’s point in the exchange. Buchanan cites scandalous examples from Christianity’s past, such as the condoning of slavery for 1,500 years, in effect to say that all religions have their problems, and that doesn’t mean that we associate every historical evil from a religion’s past with its contemporary adherents. But what O’Donnell’s charge is meant to show is that folks like Pat Buchanan and other Christians are inclined to judge their tradition’s own past, and pronounce that such and such a practice was an objective evil and upon reflection ex post facto, incompatible with the fundamental beliefs of their faith.
From O’Donnell’s perspective it’s precisely this criticism that is lacking in Romney. As Byron York puts it,
But now, Romney is faced with the simple question: Was the church policy before 1978 wrong? This morning, he wouldn’t say, and it might be difficult for him, as a former church leader, to get out in front of the LDS leadership on that. And he certainly can’t cite McConkie’s advice to forget everything that was said before 1978. Given all that, it’s an issue that’s likely to pop up over and over again.
It did pop up on Romney’s Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert the following Sunday morning:
Part of Romney’s defense is his claim that his family’s practices point to their beliefs about race in America: “My dad marched with MLK.” Now there’s controversy surrounding that claim. (more…)
Orlando Patterson, professor of sociology at Harvard University, penned a challenging piece on Jena 6 and our current racial tensions. I have learned much from Patterson over the years. For example, he was the first person to help me realize that we often confuse issues of race and class in America by assuming the race as the single variable accounting for the cyclical plight of poor blacks.
In a September 30th New York Times op-ed piece Patterson rightly says that what happened in Jena, LA and the current state of black America goes well beyond the antiquated appropriation of racial reasoning. Patterson writes:
The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face — the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children’s care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods — all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.
Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other leaders of the Jena demonstration who view events there, and the racial horror of our prisons, as solely the result of white racism are living not just in the past but in a state of denial. Even after removing racial bias in our judicial and prison system — as we should and must do — disproportionate numbers of young black men will continue to be incarcerated.
Like many others, Patterson fails to see is that the crisis in black America, especially among black males, is primarily a moral one. To what Patterson said, I would add the following:
(1) Patterson calls for prisons to reintroduce rehabilitation as an integral method of dealing with offenders. Sadly, the best any government-run rehabilitation can do for a struggling inmate is to offer shallow behavior modification which has been proven not to work long-term. A man in prison has deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues. Prison rehabilitation is incapable of transforming and healing the soul of man who has acted out of his own lacerated wounds.
(2) Black fatherlessness is having a devastating affect on the masculine formation of black boys. This is a moral issue. Cultivating the attributes of love, commitment, intentional formation, care, teaching, time, and discipline that boys need to learn from their fathers, and other men who care about their development, cannot be engendered by a tax incentive.
(3) Rejecting the ghetto-fabulous mindset is a moral problem. On what basis do we expect a young black male to reject the self-sabotaging ghetto-mentality? Money and success? In a country as vain and immoral as America at times the market not only supports and encourages stupidity it also provides incentive for young black boys to pursue with recklessness. “Do yo’ chain hang low?” “Read a book!”
(4) The type of healing and restoration men need when exiting the prison system is moral at the core. While it is true that these men will need job training, new skills, etc., these men need, more than anything else, to embrace a new vision for what it means to be a man. Having a masculine identity that pursues whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, beautiful, commendable, praiseworthy, and the like requires a radically transformed and renewed mind and soul. It takes a morally formed masculine identity to make job skills and family commitments cultivate cycles of human flourishing.
When black men are given the moral formation to pursue a radically transformed view of themselves as men they will become the kinds of men who fight evil in the world instead of fighting each other and are intentional about raising another generation of girls and boys to do the same thereby making the world a better place.
The NAACP held a mock funeral yesterday for the N-word. That’s nice. Many would argue that it’s a horrible word and should never be used under any circumstance.
“Today, we’re not just burying the N-word, we are taking it out of our spirit, we are taking it out of our minds,” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said to a crowd gathered at the city’s riverfront Hart Plaza. “To bury the N-word, we’ve got to bury the pimps and the hos and the hustlers. Let’s bury all the nonsense that comes with this.”
I wish that the “N-Word” was the biggest problem in black communities (or a big problem at all). There are far more important words and phrases that the NAACP should be holding mass funerals because maybe these other areas would make the use of “N-word” inapplicable.
Here are a few suggestions of words and phrases that the NCAAP needs to bury soon:
(2) “Ho” and “pimp”
(3) “My baby’s daddy (or mama)” or “I take care of all my kids, I buy them what they need”
(4) “It’s because of racism”
(5) “I’m gonna have a baby even though I’m not married”
(6) “School is whack”
(7) “I didn’t get in because I’m black”
(8) “It’s white people’s fault”
(9) “Who cares if I graduate from high school?”
(10) “The government will save us”
(11) “All blacks must think like white, liberal elitist democrats”
(12) “Mysogynistic hip hop is art”
(13) “I don’t need a man, I can take care of myself”
(14) “Sports (and Entertainment) is my only way out”
(15) “It’s because of slavery”
(16) “Church? That’s for my grandma”
(17) “My car needs rims now”
(18) “What’s a savings account?”
(19) “Do yo’ chain hang low”
(20) “Open up ya mouth, ya grill gleamin”
(21) “What’s wrong with strippin’?”
(22) “Blacks can’t achieve without government forced affirmative action”
(23) “He ain’t real he’s just ‘acting white’”
(24) “Only focus on developing black females”
(25) “I got arrested because of the racist criminal justice system”