Yes, Virginia, There is a Progressive Church…

Please read my good friend Eric Folkerth’s blog post, regarding ‘progressive’ Christianity.

It’s an interesting piece in which he relates his interview with a reporter after she watched the Democratic Convention last week. She was surprised at how often God and faith were mentioned during the quadrennial political confab.

Incredible.

But then again, not really. Eric’s right in his piece…the public’s view of Christianity is labeled ‘evangelical’ (code word for conservative, Biblical literalist and Republican). The idea that there are believers who may question certain Biblical passages, or doctrinal orthodoxies, but who name Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is, for many in and outside of the Church…particularly in America…inconceivable.

The reason for the reporter’s interview of Eric, was Rev. William Barber’s speech at the DNC. It was, by almost any measure, a powerful, eloquent, sermon-like, call to America’s ‘heart’. But more than that, he, more than any other preacher I’ve heard in a long, long time, gave the type of speech reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King. Barber, who is a pastor, and leads North Carolina’s NAACP, and who came to prominence as leader and spokesperson for the Moral Monday protests, which for years brought thousands of North Carolinians to the state capitol to protest the right wing political agenda of the state legislature,  interwove the themes of his speech with the claims of Christianity, the aspirations of our Constitution with the spiritual fervor of the black church. He did so, as did King, so masterfully that there could be no ‘church-state’ argument.

Apparently, the reporter has never listened to King, or has a rather ahistorical view of American politics. Even I was taken aback when Eric quotes her as saying, “So, how come we don’t hear about you guys more often?” Eric’s response was spot on, “Because you never call us. Because, when there is a some social/political issue in the world, the media calls the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist, or First Baptist, get a quote, and then posits that as the response from “all Christians.””

The idea, that the ‘real’ Christians are considered to be ‘evangelical’ clergy and members of ‘mega-churches’ is offensive to me, as it is with many other believers who are ‘progressive’. We need to remember (or learn), that legitimate Christianity comes in all hues and colors, and to anoint as legitimate only those Christians who gather in large numbers, or who vote a certain way, or who are courted by particular politicians is short-sighted, but wrong.

My only argument with Eric’s blogpost is that he leaves out the substantial influence of the Black church when he mentions historic examples of ‘progressive’ Christianity. I’m not only talking about Martin Luther King, but those who influenced him. Clergy of great stature, the theologian and mystic Howard Thurman, James Cone, Theodore Parker and Benjamin E. Mayes, all helped shape King’s theological world view. In fact, the notion of ‘liberation theology’ (championed and advanced by James Cone, in America), is actually a Latin American theological construct advanced by Archbishop Oscar Romero and Father Miguel d’Escoto. And in effect takes Biblical stories like that written in the Book of Exodus, and says, that Christians can read God’s dealings with humanity from the bottom up; that the poor, have a special place in the heart of God, so special, in fact that the more you identify with the poor, the dispossessed and the marginalized, the closer you are to the heart of God.

‘Evangelicalism’ in America, identifies more with a Calvinist approach to scripture, which says that the ‘elect’ are the most materially successful, and draws all kinds of straight (and frankly crooked) lines from hard work to material prosperity, which frankly many of us don’t see in the Bible or, at least balance with equally strong calls to compassion and mercy to the poor in scripture.

It is that liberation (or progressive, if you will) theology that kept African-Americans alive, throughout slavery,  Jim Crow and segregation and which fueled the modern era Civil Rights Movement. The Black Church has always had an admixture of conservative political, cultural and spiritual thought, as a part of its social world view, while reading a ‘progressive’ ethos in scripture, which fostered a ‘conservative’ focus relative to our citizenship in this country inspired and encouraged the development of black businesses, supported education and other voluntary associations, and that helped black communities survive and thrive in the midst of oppression.

But, I think there is a sense in which the Black Church has been marginalized in the mind of mainstream America, when President Obama’s pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, was vilified for his ‘god-damn America’ sermon. In context, it is actually a patriotic sermon, which points out black America’s hopes and dreams for America and America’s disappointment of those hopes and dreams. It forced many black America’s pastor’s into silence or forced them into a hyper-conservative posture, in which more and more churches preached more and more, only ‘salvation’. As opposed to speaking out more obviously on issues of ‘social justice’, in reaction to that criticism, a more corrupting type of ‘Hollywood’ version of church, pushed aside the more ‘progressive/prophetic’ Christian message of the black church.

Eric extols the United Methodist Church’s ‘open/welcoming fellowships’ for the LGBT community, is an outgrowth of that influence, because long before, the were open to the LGBT community they were open to and supportive of the Civil Rights movement’s aims and objectives.

Still, I would be remiss if I were to leave anyone with the impression that the progressive church, is a modern-day construct around issues of race and sexual orientation. It was the progressive church, which around the turn of the century before last, championed what would be termed, in this modern era, ‘social justice issues’. Issues such as child labor laws, poverty and unionization. Arguably, it wasn’t until later on in the century – around mid to late 40’s, I believe, that a more conservative strain of Christianity, began to impact America’s religious community. First around issues of faith, and around the late 70’s early 8o’s around faith and politics.

Let me end by saying, I’m actually offended by the usage of the terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘progressive’ when it comes to Christianity. They are essentially political designations. However, I also understand that they are cultural designations as well. I have read some conservative Christians write, that they cannot see how any ‘real’ Christian can ever vote Democratic. Which means that even within the church, we have divided ourselves along political and cultural lines. Its important, I guess, to label, in the same way we label cans of vegetables. We have to know who we’re dealing with. Those of us who are ‘progressive’ are Christian with a different perspective. And the world needs to know that perspective. So Eric was right, if the press keeps going to conservative mega-church pastors as the only legitimate ‘spokesmen’ for the Christian Church, the world will think, this is what the Church ‘thinks’. No, it’s not. We are diverse in thought – even within progressive circles. We simply agree on one thing…Jesus is Lord.

Now, if we can all agree on what that means!

What do you think?

Stop the Debt Trap!

One of the areas of work that I’m most proud of is the work that I’ve been a part of is my work with CitySquare and our engagement with the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas in changing the conversation regarding payday and auto title lending. There were those who considered this work futile but it resulted in one of the toughest city ordinances regulating the industry, an ordinance that has been adopted by more than 30 cities throughout Texas. It is also work that has helped garner national attention, as members of the APC have testified before the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which is even as we speak, collecting testimony throughout the country on the negative impacts of this pernicious industry on families throughout the country.

You don’t have to have an actual experience with payday lending, positive or negative to give testimony. Perhaps they’re choking out other forms of economic development in your neighborhood. Maybe there’s crime associated with the properties. Maybe some are operating in violation of existing ordinances. Either way, we encourage you to add your voice to the chorus of those calling for federal regulation of an industry that sucks the life out of whole communities.

And, just in case you’re not sure what a payday or auto title loan is, here’s a video that I’m certain will be helpful…

Athletes with a Conscience – The Return of the Good Ol’ Days

wnbaBelieve it or not, I really do hate telling ‘back when I was young stories’. That’s because, I don’t like dating myself. I feel as if I’m telling stories that are 100 years old when they are actually from my youth – which was only about half-a-hundred years ago!

But, having said all of that,  I find it interesting – and heartening – that our young, professional athletes are developing and exercising their social conscience. In some cases, these are established athletes who in many cases are risking endorsements, and opportunities expand their  personal fame and in a few cases putting their careers in jeopardy.

Take for example WNBA players. On July 9,  Minnesota Lynx players wore warm-up shirts printed with “Black Lives Matter”,  and the phrases “Change Starts With Us” and “Justice and Accountability”, with the image of the Dallas police shield, and the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, black men killed by police officers that week. (Castile lived, worked, went to college, and died in Minnesota.).That was a bold move.

The next day, the New York Liberty wore warm up shirts that had #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5, in honor of the five police killed by a sniper after a demonstration by protesters. Shortly after that, a number of other teams wore plain black warm up tops as a political statement. The WNBA front office fined the teams that wore those black warm up tops, $5000. The players were fined $500 each.The Lynx, who didn’t wear their warm ups after July 9, were spared, but warned of an impending fine.

wnba2

Tina Charles

Here’s the amazing thing: the Lynx players reaction to the fines imposed on their league teammates, was the imposition of their own ‘media blackout’ refusing to talk to sports reporters after their game. They said the blackout would continue until they got league support for their protest. The players also received overwhelming public support. So much so, the league office rescinded the fines saying, “Appreciate our players expressing themselves on matters important to them. Rescinding imposed fines to show them even more support.” Bravo, to these young women, who stood together across racial lines to make a statement about an issue important to them! As Liberty guard Tanisha Wright said, “We want to be able to use our platforms; we want to be able to use our voices,” said Liberty guard Tanisha Wright to reporters after Thursday’s game. “We don’t want to let anybody silence us.”

Natasha Cloud with the Linx said, “We definitely wanted to show our support for those teams that did get fined for wearing just plain black Adidas shirts. We’re allowed to wear whatever we want to the games, to and from the games, so if they’re going to take away our right and our voice to advocate for something so important to 70 percent of the league which is African American, we’ll find other ways to do it and other ways to do it.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. In the NBA, several players, along with the entire Los Angeles Lakers team, wore shirts bearing the phrase, ‘I Can’t Breathe’, in support of protests of Eric Garners killing. Recently, at ESPN’s Espy Awards, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James spoke out. It was a coming together of sports luminaries voicing their concern over a societal issue, not seen since Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Bill Russell and others, came together in support of Muhammad Ali.

jim brown

Even more recently, Michael Jordan, arguably (or inarguably) the greatest basketball player of all time and now Charlotte Hornets team owner, expressed his concern over police killings of African-Americans and the assassinations of police officers – as well as the tensions between minority communities and law enforcement. He released this statement,

“I was raised by parents who taught me to love and respect people regardless of their race or background, so I am saddened and frustrated by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent. We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported…Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service. I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change…”

But Jordan, not only released a powerful statement but put his money where his mouth (and heart) was: $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and $1 million for the newly established Institute for Community and Police Relations, whose focus is on supporting best practices in community policing.  Jordan went on say, “We are privileged to live in the world’s greatest country – a country that has provided my family and me the greatest of opportunities. The problems we face didn’t happen overnight and they won’t be solved tomorrow, but if we all work together, we can foster greater understanding, positive change and create a more peaceful world for ourselves, our children, our families and our communities.”

I grew up in the age of Jim Brown, Mohammad Ali, Duane Thomas, Curt Flood, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, even Bill Walton, athletes who had a social conscience, willing to take stands and make sacrifices. They were stellar athletes, willing to be misunderstood to take stands which were sometimes unpopular, but who made an actual difference. It looks like that’s back in vogue.

Glad to see them make a return…

Has the Texas’ State Board of Education, No Shame?

Think for a moment back to your childhood. You don’t know many people who don’t look like you. You don’t know about their background, what they eat at home, what their traditions are – how they celebrate Christmas, New Years or their birthdays – what you know, is what you are taught.

What if the sum total of what you are learn about those ‘others’ is learned in school. Here, you learn about their language, their families, their history. What you learn shapes how you will think about these ‘others’.

What if you learn from your text book you study that, Mexicans as “lazy” with a do-it-tomorrow attitude and read about a watered down version of slavery during the Civil War  or that,  the home ownership rate in the Mexican-American community is lower than the national average, but this is due to the substantial percentage of Mexican-born immigrants that form almost one-third of the Mexican-American population, many of whom are poor, under-educated, or illegal.

How do you look at your fellow classmates who are the ‘other’?

That’s what a the textbook, “Mexican American Heritage” says, and that’s what our children will be studying from if the Texas State Board of Education has its way. Texas will waste its money, on this pitiful text that, unless something is done soon, will become the books offered to our school districts throughout our state.

One of the few democrats on the TSBOE, Erika Beltran, pleaded with her colleagues, “I’m asking to pull on your heartstrings and putting (sic) yourself in the shoes of a Mexican-American student whose parents, like myself, whose parents have been hardworking,” she said as her voice quivered. “In just the excerpts that I’ve seen, I can’t imagine being a child and seeing that language in front of me. And so, as we prepare for this conversation, I just urge you to think about the kids in our public school system that we already, we all know, are mostly Hispanic students.” 

A little over half of the states 5 million students are Hispanics. Why would adults, intentionally visit shame and humiliation on even one of them? It’s clear that the main reason is a political ideology that does not even stop at the denigration of an entire race and culture, in order to feed an ill-conceived and erroneous sense of white superiority.

When you don’t understand a culture, its easy to stereotype and generalize. That should not be the case in education. It certainly shouldn’t be the case for those who are writing, and promoting text books. “The authors don’t even seem interested enough in the subject to know the difference between Mexican Americans and other Latino communities or the fact that their histories in this nation are completely different from each other,” said José María Herrera, an assistant professor in education at the University of Texas at El Paso.”

Whose actually being ‘lazy’?

Maybe the one’s who should feel shame are the book’s publisher, ‘Momentum Instruction’, and its head, former State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar…

What do you think?

 

 

 

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The Texas State Board of Education: It’s Time for Them to Stop

It’s one thing to allow your political ideology to color your perspective on current events. It’s quite another to let that ideology influence you to change historical facts.

Now let me be clear: all history knowledge and study is subject to change. The more we learn about history, the more we understand about certain eras, the influence of economic, societal and religious pressures upon a period and the actors in those historical periods, that knowledge does, at times, change facts. The importance of some people is elevated. The importance of others is diminished. We can grow in respect for some people and others we respect less. The resent ‘elevation’ of Harriet Tubman, to be the new face on our $20 bill, for instance, came about as our nation’s respect for her and her role in setting slaves free via the ‘Underground Railroad’. Tubman risked her life, to make sure that enslaved people made it to the north and freedom. At the same time, our view of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, was more than a little diminished as his role in the America’s genocidal battle against Native Americans, cast him in a much darker role in our country’s history.

But you can’t simply rewrite history to fit your own narrative of superiority. That’s wrong and dangerous.

Can someone please tell this to the Texas State Board of Education  – PLEASE?! They’re at it again!

“A proposed Mexican-American studies textbook for Texas high school students is written by authors with no expertise in Mexican-American studies, contains large sections that have little to do with Mexican-American history and includes language that depicts Mexicans as lazy, opponents of the book say.

“A newly formed coalition of educators and Mexican-American advocates has banded together to try to prevent the book, Mexican American Heritage, from ever making its way into Texas classrooms. The Texas State Board of Education is set to review the book this fall.”

Six years ago, in the previous blog I authored, ‘Change the Wind’, I wrote about these crazy right wing ideological shifts and the harm they would potentially do to our educational system, but to our children as well as the children of our nation. Because, most of don’t realize, Texas and California purchase the most text books, and because text books are only purchased every 10 years, a book full of lies, distortions and revisionist history, will be the books purchased by nearly every school district in the country.  Misinformation will color every child’s understanding of history, nearly a generation.

In the case of this latest education fiasco, depiction of ‘industrialists’ as hard-working, risk taking individuals and Mexican Americans as essentially ‘lazy’ is particularly harmful…

“The coalition pointed to a specific passage in the proposed textbook as an obvious example of the book’s flaws. Immediately after noting that Mexicans were stereotyped as being “lazy,” the authors “reinforce that stereotype in a discussion of relations between workers and American industrialists in Mexico in the late 1800s,” the coalition said. The group quoted from page 248 of the textbook:

“Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency. They were used to their workers putting in a full day’s work, quietly and obediently, and respecting rules, authority, and property. In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day’s work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of ‘mañana,’ or ‘tomorrow,’ when it came to high-gear production.”

The Texas State Board of Education is reviewing the proposed book and will consider public comments and feedback in September.”

Have these people lost their minds? Or do they think we have lost ours?

Clearly, the fact that the majority of students in Texas, in particular, are of Hispanic descent. If you teach them that their history in this country, is that of lazy, indolent ancestors who have contributed nothing to our history, heritage or economy, and that only white people were the ones ‘putting in a full day’s work, quietly and obediently…respecting the rules, authority, and property…’ their marred self-image, will produce pretty much the same thing. It will put them in the position of perpetual superiority in our country. It’s an institutionalization of hatred and bigotry that must not stand.

When the State Board of Education meets in September, the period for public comment should be taken up with hundreds of Texans who know better, in line in Austin to say, ‘No’!

We are the only ones who can stop Texas from becoming a laughingstock…and a stumbling block to public education…

 

 

 

CitySquare’s TRAC

From time to time, I want to highlight programs at CitySquare. Of course because I work there, but more than that, because the people that work there do absolutely amazing work!

One such program is Transition Resource Action Center or TRAC. It officially became a part of CitySquare’s family of programs shortly after my arrival in 2008 and has been one of our most effective and impactful resources, for kids who are aging out of foster care.

Here’s more…

“TRAC is the transition center for a 19 county area that includes Dallas and Tarrant County,” said Madeline Reedy, program director of TRAC. “There are 17 transition centers around Texas, but we are the only one in this region. With the support of CitySquare’s programs and services, we are a one-stop shop for youth to come and get the services they need to help them find their footing as they become an adult.”TRAC provides assistance to approximately 800 young people every year. TRAC’s programs include:

  • Life Skills Training – a 36-hour, experiential training program on six core elements for youths that are still in the foster care system
  • Case Management – coaching for ages 17½-21 as they transition out of foster care
  • Housing Programs
    • Short-term rental assistance
    • Transitional housing for homeless youths
    • Permanent housing for homeless disabled youths
  • Workforce Training – including assistance with job search and job retention
  • Crisis Intervention

“At TRAC, we use a coaching philosophy,” said Reedy. “We’re not caseworkers. A caseworker’s job is to manage tasks: to make sure the youth is doing what they are supposed to be doing. A coach’s job is to see where they are today and where they want to be in the future – and help them achieve their goals. That’s really what we’re hoping to do, to help coach youth to become successful in the future.”

“TRAC is the transition center for a 19 county area that includes Dallas and Tarrant County,” said Madeline Reedy, program director of TRAC. “There are 17 transition centers around Texas, but we are the only one in this region. With the support of CitySquare’s programs and services, we are a one-stop shop for youth to come and get the services they need to help them find their footing as they become an adult.”TRAC provides assistance to approximately 800 young people every year. TRAC’s programs include:

  • Life Skills Training – a 36-hour, experiential training program on six core elements for youths that are still in the foster care system
  • Case Management – coaching for ages 17½-21 as they transition out of foster care
  • Housing Programs
    • Short-term rental assistance
    • Transitional housing for homeless youths
    • Permanent housing for homeless disabled youths
  • Workforce Training – including assistance with job search and job retention
  • Crisis Intervention

“At TRAC, we use a coaching philosophy,” said Reedy. “We’re not caseworkers. A caseworker’s job is to manage tasks: to make sure the youth is doing what they are supposed to be doing. A coach’s job is to see where they are today and where they want to be in the future – and help them achieve their goals. That’s really what we’re hoping to do, to help coach youth to become successful in the future.”

“TRAC is the transition center for a 19 county area that includes Dallas and Tarrant County,” said Madeline Reedy, program director of TRAC. “There are 17 transition centers around Texas, but we are the only one in this region. With the support of CitySquare’s programs and services, we are a one-stop shop for youth to come and get the services they need to help them find their footing as they become an adult.”TRAC provides assistance to approximately 800 young people every year. TRAC’s programs include:

  • Life Skills Training – a 36-hour, experiential training program on six core elements for youths that are still in the foster care system
  • Case Management – coaching for ages 17½-21 as they transition out of foster care
  • Housing Programs
    • Short-term rental assistance
    • Transitional housing for homeless youths
    • Permanent housing for homeless disabled youths
  • Workforce Training – including assistance with job search and job retention
  • Crisis Intervention

“At TRAC, we use a coaching philosophy,” said Reedy. “We’re not caseworkers. A caseworker’s job is to manage tasks: to make sure the youth is doing what they are supposed to be doing. A coach’s job is to see where they are today and where they want to be in the future – and help them achieve their goals. That’s really what we’re hoping to do, to help coach youth to become successful in the future.”

Again, TRAC is one of our most amazing programs, with amazing caring people. Find out more about TRAC and its program director Madeline Reedy here and here