Monday, September 21, 2015

Gil Caldwell on Black Lives Matter and Gay Marriage, the decadence of Republican Presidential candidates and the emptiness of many “liberals”



   My friend Gil Caldwell writes below a letter and a long piece on the alliance of the struggle for recognition of African-Americans, women and gay couples.  He particularly emphasizes Ta-Nahisi Coates’ important book, Between the World and Me - see here - which is the story, in the form of a letter to his son, about how black bodies were always under threat when he was growing up in Baltimore, are under threat today, even to his son, who could be a Michael Brown or a Sandra Bland or a Walter Johnson or an Eric Garner or a Tamir Rice or…

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    Black Lives Matter is the movement in American life which is centrally standing up about these things. It was founded by three black women, Alicia Garza (whose statement is here), Opal Tometi, and Felice Cullors.

  It is each of our freedom which is at stake here, as Gil says and as Coates makes clear.

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    Racism is, and has always been, something that benefits the rich and powerful and harms all others through divide and rule, most its direct objects, but also, even ordinary people who are influenced by it.

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    Gil's description of some of his experiences growing up in the segregated South and with Methodists is worth taking in deeply.  It is what the Republican effort to disenfranchise black people (and poor people) means to reinstall.  In the same way, Coates's wonderful writing on how different his son's world is from the Baltimore he grew up in captures, nonetheless, the enormous current dangers - the common threat of being taken out while walking, of having always to be on one's guard, never safe, always aware, never just wandering...  -  and the prospect, unless fought from below, that inequality and the racisms, sexisms, homophobias that drive it, will make things much worse...

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     After Gil's two letters, I include an editorial from the New York Times rightly rebuking Rand Paul and other Republican Presidential “hopefuls” for lying about Black Lives Matter.  See here.  For Black Lives Matter reveals the greatest privilege associated with white maleness – one does not have to fear for one’s life from the police walking as black and brown people do.  Those who fail to take this in make themselves deaf, dumb and blind – this includes many “liberals,” too, as Phil Ochs reminds us in his famous ‘Love me, Love me, Love me, I’m a lib-er-al” - and do the greatest harm in our national life.

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"Alan, thanks for the "Poem: a year to the day", re; Michael Brown.  [See here.]

I have awakened this morning to read/hear of the Ferguson anniversary and the unrest. I believe more and more that there is a need to do, re; Black history, what you have done so well; re; Native American History. Santayana reminds us of the importance of "Remembering our history" and James Baldwin suggests that we, "Go back to where we started from..." Until we in the USA do this in response to both our anti-Native American history and our anti-Black history, justice will not be served nor will the nation be healed.

I wish you with your human justice heart, mind and spirit, could connect the writings of Te-Nehesi Coates to your readers and colleagues. Coates writes of the damage done to "black bodies" as you have so eloquently written about the damage to "Native American bodies". Some who are identified as "white liberals" seem not to be able to embrace the thinking/writing of Coates. There is still the foolish assumption that in all things; "A rising tide lifts all boats", without acknowledging those who have been kept out of boats by liberals as well as conservatives.

Our late friend and colleague, Vincent Harding in the Introduction to his book,"Martin Luther King, The Inconvenient Hero" writes this; "This work is an
experiment in healing, an attempt to explore and address the profound sense of national amnesia, that has distorted so much of America's approach to Martin Luther King, our national hero."

This self-induced, "national amnesia" relates not only to Martin Luther King, it is an amnesia in response to our dehumanization of Native Americans and Blacks.

The enclosed is a response to questions about my ally/advocacy of gay rights and marriage equality. I am involved because of my commitment and because
I believe that our United Methodist Church anti-gay language and legislation is another illustration of the misinterpretation and misuse of the Bible to demean and diminish gays, as it has historically been done to women and blacks. And, I am involved because I believe the gay rights movement must find its place in solidarity with black rights and justice, if it is to maintain its justice integrity.

We can no longer engage in "silo" justice movements. Until all of us are free, none of us are free.

Gil"

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"Gil Caldwell, why have you been and are, a public ally/advocate of LGBTQ persons and same-sex marriage?"  A question often asked of me, at times with a bit of hostility, and a desire to let me know how wrong I am. And, at other times asked by persons who are engaged in reflective introspection as they are on the verge of going public themselves.

Arthur C. Jones in his book; "Wade in the Water, the wisdom of the spirituals", writes this;

"In the long sojourn of Africans in America, there has always been an abundantly rich knowledge of the unlimited possibilities for healing, even in a hopelessly sick society." This is his way of reflecting on a Spiritual and these words; "There is a
balm in Gilead, To make the wounded whole, There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul."

I have known personally and my family and those like us have known historically, the "sin-sickness" of Bible based racism. I cannot be silent in the presence of the "sin-sickness" of Bible based heterosexism.

The colonization, enslavement and racial segregations of blacks was justified through the misinterpretation and  misuse of Scripture! "Noah's Curse" as found in Genesis 9: 20-27 was twisted and turned in ways that his "Curse" became a curse of black people, because their blackness was viewed as an external manifestation of their sin. Although some Christians in most denominations used this misinterpretation to justify their mistreatment of blacks, the Mormons have been most public in acknowledging their affirmation of Noah's Curse. They in 1978 claimed to have received a "new" Revelation that transcended their historic practice of banning black men from their priesthood, based on the curse.

I was born in the "Bible Belt", North Carolina, and "grew up" in Texas and South Carolina. The racial segregation I experienced there in church and society was based on interpretations of Scripture that justified racial segregation. I remember well, how as one of the few members of the North Carolina Methodist Student Movement as a college student, we who were black could attend Conferences at the Methodist Retreat Center at Lake Junaluska, NC in the 50's,
but while there we could not use the swimming or other recreational facilities because of our race. (I think of this as same sex couples were/are denied the right to marry in Ocean Grove, NJ in facilities owned by the Methodist-related Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association).

It does not take a reading of, "The Sins of Scripture, Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love", by John Shelby Spong to acknowledge the Bible has been misinterpreted and misused to declare women, blacks and now same sex couples, second class human beings. We have ceased misusing Scripture to deny women ordination or blacks equal access in church and society. When will we cease misusing Scripture to deny marriage for same sex couples?

We who are black, I believe, have been and must be the nation's "Wounded Healers" (The title of the book by the late Catholic Priest, Henri Nouwen). Thus, my speaking and writing is done not out of anger or bitterness, but to encourage the "healing" of those who have been influenced to believe that their opposition to same sex marriage is a way of affirming Scripture and the intent of God. Those in the past who practiced or were silent in the presence of racial segregation, thought the same thing, and now they know they were wrong.

The Judge who expressed his disagreement with interracial marriage in the famous Loving vs Virginia case said this (substitute same gender loving couples for "races"); "God created the races, white, black, yellow, malay, and red and placed them on separate continents. But for interference with this arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that God separated races, God did not intend races to mix."

Can we imagine the discouragement the Lovings and their supporters felt as they heard and/or read these words? Tragically there are still some persons who today share the sentiments shared by the Judge. But, most of the persons of faith whom I know, do not believe in a God who orders separation of the races and is against interracial marriage. How then can some believe that the love a same sex couple share with each other, a love they want to be affirmed
publicly, is at variance with God's intent or desire, or the inclusivity expressed in the Bible?

There were times when I as a Civil Rights Movement activist felt discouraged in the presence of overt and covert anti-black racism.  I know LGBTQ persons and same sex couples who have shared with me their discouragement in the presence of overt and covert heterosexism.

And, we who are their advocates and allies know this discouragement as well.  I conclude by sharing  word from the Spiritual with all of us; same sex couples, those who support them, those who want to support them openly, but are afraid to, and those and who are beginning to rethink their Bible-based resistance to same sex marriage.

But, before I share the words below from the Spiritual, I must say this; there is still an incompleteness in the journey to justice of black persons and the black community. Although "Noah's Curse" as biblical justification for anti-black attitudes and actions, is no longer openly accepted, it has left a negative legacy that is beneath the surface of some of today's anti-black attitudes, actions and inequalities that exist between black persons/communities and others.
The affirmation of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court, ought allow the Church to now affirm it in "slam dunk" fashion. And, then enable the Church and the nation to engage in a reparations response to the accumulated needs of those who are the heirs of a people who through their free, slave labor, provided the foundation for today's USA. The unfinished journey of blacks to freedom needs the attitudes, actions, persons and groups,  that made possible,
the amazingly rapid movement from anti-same sex marriage to legally affirmed, same sex marriage.

"BLACK LIVES MATTER"; we as a nation have "miles to go before we sleep" (Robert Frost), in expressing in word and deed that this is so. Let us move out of our respective "Justice Silos", and join together to finish the journey that Harriett, Sojourner, Malcolm and Martin,began so many years ago.

"Sometimes I feel discouraged, And think my work's in vain, But then the Holy Spirit Revives my soul again. THERE IS A BALM IN GILEAD!"

  Gil Caldwell
Asbury Park, New Jersey

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The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL
The Truth of ‘Black Lives Matter’
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD SEPT. 3, 2015

The Republican Party and its acolytes in the news media are trying to demonize the protest movement that has sprung up in response to the all-too-common police killings of unarmed African-Americans across the country. The intent of the campaign — evident in comments by politicians like Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky — is to cast the phrase “Black Lives Matter” as an inflammatory or even hateful anti-white expression that has no legitimate place in a civil rights campaign.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas crystallized this view when he said the other week that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were he alive today, would be “appalled” by the movement’s focus on the skin color of the unarmed people who are disproportionately killed in encounters with the police. This argument betrays a disturbing indifference to or at best a profound ignorance of history in general and of the civil rights movement in particular. From the very beginning, the movement focused unapologetically on bringing an end to state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans and to acts of racial terror very much like the one that took nine lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June.

The civil rights movement was intended to make Congress and Americans confront the fact that African-Americans were being killed with impunity for offenses like trying to vote, and had the right to life and to equal protection under the law. The movement sought a cross-racial appeal, but at every step of the way used expressly racial terms to describe the death and destruction that was visited upon black people because they were black.

Even in the early 20th century, civil rights groups documented cases in which African-Americans died horrible deaths after being turned away from hospitals reserved for whites, or were lynched — which meant being hanged, burned or dismembered — in front of enormous crowds that had gathered to enjoy the sight. [see the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative here].

The Charleston church massacre has eerie parallels to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. — the most heinous act of that period — which occurred at the height of the early civil rights movement. Four black girls were murdered that Sunday. When Dr. King eulogized them, he did not shy away from the fact that the dead had been killed because they were black, by monstrous men whose leaders fed them “the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.” He said that the dead “have something to say” to a complacent federal government that cut back-room deals with Southern Dixiecrats, as well as to “every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice.” Shock over the bombing pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act the following year.

During this same period, freedom riders and voting rights activists led by the young John Lewis offered themselves up to be beaten nearly to death, week after week, day after day, in the South so that the country would witness Jim Crow brutality and meaningfully respond to it. This grisly method succeeded in Selma, Ala., in 1965 when scenes of troopers bludgeoning voting rights demonstrators compelled a previously hesitant Congress to acknowledge that black people deserved full citizenship, too, and to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along the way, there was never a doubt as to what the struggle was about: securing citizenship rights for black people who had long been denied them.


The “Black Lives Matter” movement focuses on the fact that black citizens have long been far more likely than whites to die at the hands of the police, and is of a piece with this history. Demonstrators who chant the phrase are making the same declaration that voting rights and civil rights activists made a half-century ago. They are not asserting that black lives are more precious than white lives. They are underlining an indisputable fact — that the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered, and have been discounted and devalued. People who are unacquainted with this history are understandably uncomfortable with the language of the movement. But politicians who know better and seek to strip this issue of its racial content and context are acting in bad faith. They are trying to cover up an unpleasant truth and asking the country to collude with them.

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