Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Racial Injustice Today? (Part Four)

It's a small thing, writing these blog posts on racial injustice. It's no replacement for action, but action starts with awareness, and to that end I write. May these words nudge us toward greater awareness, and may our hands and feet follow.


During this Holy Week, we reflect on the Cross, reminded of Jesus' suffering at the hands of an angry mob whose fervor was fueled by rumors and half-truths whispered in dark alleyways by those who clung with white knuckles to power they neither deserved nor used for the benefit of others. Jesus played scapegoat to their fear. He was made to pay for crimes he did not commit so others could walk free.

Photo: C Imes
James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree invites us to consider the dark side of America's not-so-distant past in light of the crossJesus' innocent death on the cross, with its trumped-up charges and false witnesses, is echoed again in America's shadowy history, where a sideways glance could get a man (or boy!) tortured and hanged without a fair trial -- if he was black. Cone's book holds the potential of awakening us to what we have missed.

In some yesterdays, lynching happened under the cover of darkness, with murderous faces obscured by white hoods. Community leaders by day -- elected officials, doctors, judges, businessmen, pastors even -- and the ghosts of white supremacy by night.

But in other yesterdays, lynching became a spectator sport, highly publicized and attended by young and old alike, who jeered as victims were openly burned, beaten, and hung, "crucified" outside of court without a trial. Gawkers brought picnic lunches. Wore their Sunday best. Bought postcards to send to those who missed the big event. Some lynchings drew massive crowds.
Julius Bloch, "The Lynching," 1933

The Emancipation Proclamation was a start, but it did not abolish the narratives that allowed slavery to flourish. Like water running downhill, when blocked, those narratives simply changed course, finding new and insidious ways to channel white fear and subjugate black Americans. Blacks could no longer be owned, but they were still not considered fully human. Blacks were beaten down in a thousand other ways. Curfews. Segregation. Discrimination. Abuse with impunity. They were denied services. They were prevented access to education, health care, the right to vote or hold office, the right to buy or rent housing. They were lynched.

Lynching outlasted slavery, gathering speed as it flowed downhill.
Lynching outlasted legalized segregation (though de facto segregation persists today).

Generations of Americans, especially in the South, viewed lynching as "an efficient and honorable act of justice" (5). Even children were tortured beyond recognition and lynched (65).

The Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, 1930
Notice the crowds of men and women spectators.
Just as the end of slavery was not the end of racial injustice, so the decline of lynchings did not result in equality. Cone writes that in the early 1950s (my parents' lifetime!), "spectacle lynching was on the decline," but racial discrimination was merely brought indoors under the guise of the law, replacing white mobs with all-white juries, judges, and lawyers who "used the criminal justice system to intimidate, terrorize, and murder blacks" (49). We could expand this list to include law enforcement. Sundown towns persisted in some areas until the mid 70s.* Since then, our legal system has worn deep ruts in the business of sending young black men to jail. At the writing of this book, "one-third of black men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight are in prisons, jails, on parole, or waiting for their day in court" (163). One third.

The war or drugs continues to apprehend, convict, and incarcerate black men at a far higher rate than white men, although the use and sale of drugs is about equal among whites. And the uneven application of the death penalty illustrates that we have a long way to go to ensure that our justice system is truly just. Consider these statistics, cited by the Death Penalty Information Center:
• Jurors in Washington state are three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white defendant in a similar case. (Prof. K. Beckett, Univ. of Washington, 2014).
• In Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black. (Pierce & Radelet, Louisiana Law Review, 2011). 
• A study in California found that those convicted of killing whites were more than 3 times as likely to be sentenced to death as those convicted of killing blacks and more than 4 times more likely as those convicted of killing Latinos. (Pierce & Radelet, Santa Clara Law Review, 2005). 
• A comprehensive study of the death penalty in North Carolina found that the odds of receiving a death sentence rose by 3.5 times among those defendants whose victims were white. (Prof. Jack Boger and Dr. Isaac Unah, University of North Carolina, 2001).
These are hard facts to swallow, especially when you look at the dates of these studies. We're no longer talking about the decades before we were born. We're talking about now. Bryan Stevenson offers a plethora of other recent examples in his book Just Mercy, which I'll unpack in my next post in this series. The focus of this post is to highlight Cone's work connecting the cross and the lynching tree, and to suggest that the narratives of white superiority under which slavery and then lynching became part of our American past have not yet been fully replaced. They have simply found other means of expression.


*Have you ever heard of a "sundown town"? The concept dates back to the early days after the Civil War. These are towns in which a black person was risking his life if he was caught there after dark. According to Cone, "whites often lynched blacks simply to remind the black community of their powerlessness. Unemployed blacks passing through an area with no white man to vouch for them could easily find themselves on a prison chain gang or swinging from a lynching tree" (12). However, sundown towns were not just a feature of the deep South. DuPage County, IL, home of Wheaton and Downers Grove, is likely to have been a sundown county. Oregon City, Oregon, was a sundown town. In 1926, the only black resident of Oregon City, a business owner, was threatened with lynching and run out of town. In 1980, none of Oregon City's 14,000+ residents was black. By 2000, only 150 blacks lived in Oregon City, though the population had swelled to over 25,000. In Grants Pass and Medford, Oregon, "sundown" signs were not removed until the late 60s or early 70s, in spite of the passing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

This is par for the course in Oregon, a state which outlawed slavery in 1844, but also banned African Americans residents altogether. The laws excluding blacks were not repealed until 1927. Laws against interracial marriage were not repealed until 1951.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Naming My Champions

Another tribute -- this one to the many men who have shared the platform with me over the years.

Meet Our Champions: August Konkel, Dan Block, and Rick Hess
with Jen Jones and me at the IBR Emerging Scholars Session
in Boston, November 2017
As a society, we’re at an important crossroads where women and men who have been victimized are speaking out against the abuse of power. I commend their courage. I am grateful for their message. With each one, I cry out for the end of abuse, assault, and harassment. But the danger with momentum like this is that we begin to wonder if any man in power can be trusted, if any are “on our team.” In the wake of these gut-wrenching stories, I cannot help but feel profound gratitude for the influential men who have treated me with dignity, shared their platform, given me leadership opportunities, and mentored me well. So while in France, women are “naming their pig,” I thought I’d name a few of my champions — those who have spurred me on and opened doors of opportunity.

My high school pastor was the first. In 1993 I returned from a summer youth mission trip to Panama all fired up. But re-entry was difficult. I had glimpsed something worth dying for and I didn’t want to return to life-as-normal. At the time our family was attending a cozy Foursquare church in Denver, Colorado. Pastor Jim Hammond had the wisdom to harness my fervor by putting me to work in an official capacity. At 16 years of age, I’m sure I was the youngest volunteer “missions coordinator” our church had ever seen. I began presenting monthly missions updates during the Sunday morning service, telling about needs and opportunities around the world. Pastor Jim generously shared his microphone and his platform with a young woman who had no credentials and very little life experience. I don’t know if my words-from-up-front inspired anyone else, but they galvanized me for a life of service, helping me bridge the gap from my mountaintop experience overseas to life back home.

After my high school graduation, the congregation sent me off to Bible college with their enthusiastic blessing. My freshman year was everything I hoped it would be and more. I grew spiritually and academically. Critical for my development was a course taught by Professor Ray Lubeck, “Understanding Worldviews.” I came home that summer bursting to share what I had learned. Our generous pastor again shared his platform, this time by inviting me to teach an adult Sunday school class on worldviews. Then my pastor did something that still stuns me: he required all the church elders to attend. And he and his wife came, too. 

With Dan Block after I successfully defended my
doctoral dissertation in April 2016 
You can read the rest of my story over at The Well. My champions have been too many to name in one article. I'm so grateful for all who have shared the platform with me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

My Tribute: Snapshots of Billy Graham

At Billy Graham's funeral yesterday, his daughter Ruth said this: "One thing I've learned this week is that everyone has a Billy Graham story."

I am no exception. Mine is a series of snapshots that double as a memoir.

Billy Graham at Mile High Stadium
(Photo: AP/Aaron E. Tomlinson)
5th grade. Mile High Stadium, Denver, 1987. I sat beside my Dad in the choir section and listened to Graham preach to thousands. I remember that I wanted to go forward in response to the altar call and Dad wouldn't let me. It's true, I had already been a Christian for more than a handful of years, and I had prayed the sinner's prayer with regularity. Dad said the altar call was for those who were responding for the first time. I remember thinking that by responding, we'd be letting the world know that this Jesus was worth following publicly, that this Jesus made it worth getting lost in a stadium. I wanted those going forward to know it was a decision worth making, and that they were not alone.

High school. Babysitting. I was totally absorbed in a televised crusade. In the corner of the screen was a woman interpreting Graham's message into sign language. By this point I knew some sign language, and I was trying to follow along. Trying, that is, until the little boy I was supposed to be watching said, "Carmen, look!" While I was absorbed in the crusade he had become a pirate, complete with a permanent-black-marker patch colored in around his eye. I gasped, but soon learned that permanent marker can be scrubbed off skin if you do it right away. After that I focused on what I was being paid to do.

College. Dating. I will never forget my shock when my boyfriend (not Danny) said, "Who's Billy Graham?" Was it possible to come into adulthood in the 90's without knowing him? It was, apparently, though I couldn't imagine how.

Billy Graham Library, 2008
Missions Training. We flew into Charlotte, NC from Portland, OR, stunned to see Bible verses adorning the concourses. Stunned again to see that the main street leaving the airport was Billy Graham Parkway. Welcome to the Bible Belt! Later, after 2 1/2 years of ministry in the Philippines with SIM, we were transferred to Charlotte. It felt odd to be missionaries in a city with a street named Billy Graham. In 2007, the Billy Graham Library opened, a museum where one could experience his years of ministry and hear the gospel message. If you watched Graham's funeral, you saw its iconic barn in the background. We visited several times, but I most remember going with my grandparents, because after the tour we scoured the archives to find evidence that Graham had preached in the Netherlands when my Oma was a young woman, just after WW2. We found no record, but she remembers.

Seminary. Gordon-Conwell. Billy Graham co-founded my school -- the same Graham who said if he had it all to do over again, he'd study more. He spoke so frequently that there was little time for learning. I wonder which impact will prove greater in the long run -- the millions who "met Jesus" after hearing his simple gospel message or the thousands who have been and are still being deeply trained for pastoral and academic ministries in the seminary he started? Deep and wide, deep and wide, there's a fountain flowing deep and wide . . .

Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College (Photo: C Imes)
Graduate School. Wheaton College. My classes were held in the Billy Graham Center, just a few floors above the Billy Graham Museum. I defended my dissertation on the fourth floor. Graham and I are both alumni of this flagship of evangelicalism. He once said, "The years that Ruth and I spent at Wheaton College were among the most important of our lives." Mine, too.

Publishing. The magazine I find most consistently thoughtful and substantive for a general audience is Christianity Today, a magazine founded by Billy Graham. Within hours of his death, a special commemorative issue went to press. While his preaching was simple, the magazine is not. Deep and wide . . .

Prairie College. Our school President and his wife were invited to attend the funeral yesterday. My colleague, Ron Nickel, Professor of Digital Media, was head photographer for the event, which was also live-streamed on our campus. Graham's influence reaches even to our little school on the Alberta prairies. We are linked by a common purpose: the ministry of the gospel.

Graham's passing prompts all of us to look back and remember. What is your Billy Graham story? It also prompts us to consider how we can carry on his legacy. Yesterday his daughter Ann Graham Lotz so eloquently pledged to devote herself to the work of sharing the good news of Jesus.

Billy Graham Center at Night (Photo: C Imes)
Graham is most known for his preaching to millions. He took the simple gospel message far and wide. But these snapshots point to another dimension of his ministry: the founding of institutions that will have a lasting impact by going deep. I carry on his legacy by teaching Bible classes in a Christian college, training others to serve wherever the need is greatest, and by investing in the institutional health of my school. I carry on his legacy when I have occasion to preach. I carry on his legacy by writing for Christian publishers. I carry on his legacy by investing financially in mission work. By teaching, speaking, writing, and giving, I hope to carry on what Graham started: a ministry of the gospel that is both deep and wide.