Christians


 VS 

Recently I have been contemplating if the church has any real significant and positive influence on the world today, especially in the beliefs and actions of western society in particular. There was a time when Christian ideology, through the church was very influential (good and bad) in shaping political, social, cultural and even personal beliefs and viewpoints. I would argued that today this influence is not as great as it was say… even 30 years ago.

I read an analytical report on The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life website which somewhat dealt with this issue, from an interesting point of reference. This article entitled: “Science in America: Religious Beliefs and Public Attitudes”, discussed the findings of a survey which concluded that “when scientific evidence and long-held religious beliefs come into direct conflict, many Americans reject science.” 

According to the authours of the report, American society has a unique dichotomy in that on one hand, it is the most religious of the advanced industrial democracies, while on the other hand, it’s leadership in scientific research and application has been instrumental in making it a powerful nation. This has… not surprisingly… created some conflict between faith and science on societal beliefs, particularly on controversial issues such as evolution, homosexuality and global warming. The report primarily looked at the influence of religion and science on these three topics in American society.

The report contended that a close reading of the survey shows that large majorities of the American public respect science and scientists, but where scientific evidence and long-held religious belief come into direct conflict, “many Americans reject science in favor of the teachings of their faith tradition.” However, surprisingly today such areas of explicit differences are not common. 

It was interesting to compare the beliefs of Black and White Christians (specifically Evangelicals) on the above three issues, as well as secularists, Conservatives, Moderates, Liberals, college and high school graduates. The results were not as straightforward and/or obvious as one would be expect. There are definite mixtures and combinations of scientific and religious influences which run through even strong held beliefs and opinions.

The report does not necessarily answer my original question on whether the church, Christianity and religion in general is a positive driving force on western society, but it does offer some insight on what motivates beliefs and therefore actions… which can have obvious implications in areas such as the formulation of government statutes and public policies. 

On Thursday 08th February, LAPD Officer Randal Simmons was killed in the line of duty. He was a member of a SWAT unit and was responding to an occurrence where a mentally disturbed man had already killed three of his family members. Another officer James Veenstra was also critically wounded. The gunman was eventually killed by other officers.

Officer Simmons, who was 51 years old, is survived by his wife, two teenage children, parents and three sisters. He was also an ordained minister and led the children’s outreach services at his church. This ministry served about 1500 children every weekend in poor L.A. neighbourhoods with food, toys, gospel CDs, bible lessons, puppet shows and games. 

We usually hear (and highlight) the negative things the police are involved with as it relates to our community. Lets not forget those who are positive role models and heroes in life… as well as in death. Say a prayer for his family and colleagues… and also the family of the gunman, Edwin Rivera.  

They always operated within the realm of darkness. Whether it was under the cover of the darkness of night or during a bright sunny day under the darkness of hate… their ultimate goal was to spread the darkness of fear.

They would seize upon their Black prey like a pack of hyenas with an insatiable thirst for blood. His only crime: being a human being… or more accurately… acting like a human being. This would never do. Whites were human beings. Blacks were… if not animals, they were somewhere in-between… but certainly not human beings. Not equal to Whites. Maybe 3/4 humans…but that ultimately was for God to decide on “Judgment Day” when we all get to heaven. Until then… the White mob would decide on what would become “Judgment Day” for the Black man here on earth. 

So they would set upon the Black man with clubs, stones and bricks. He was beaten, whipped, kicked, punched, dragged and spat upon to an “inch of his life”. They purposely made sure that death wouldn’t come so easy… or quickly. He would be dragged mercilessly, all the while crying and begging for his life, to a tree which would be furnished with a rope. Sometimes he would be stripped naked. Most times he would be immersed in coal oil. Every time he would be hung on the tree.

The Black man, barely conscious and now numb due to the shock of all the trauma, would remember the sermon he had heard in church on what was now to become his last Sunday morning. The sufferings of a “White” Jesus would return to his mind and he would try to identify and sooth his soul that like HIM, he was bearing his cross. Like HIM he was innocent of any crime. Like HIM he was being led like “a lamb to the slaughter”. BUT as he takes his last breaths… as he looks through his swollen eyes into the hate filled souls, see the crooked smiles and hear the shouts and jeers of the citizens of the realm of darkness… there is a stirring in his soul… a moment of clarity of his mind… that he is not “White” like his beloved Jesus. No… he is a Black man. This is not a religious experience… a crucifixion to save the world. No… this is a terrible injustice. This is a lynching.    

Some of the perpetrators would cut off body parts for souvenirs… ears, toes, fingers. Pictures would be taken. If some thought and planning had gone into the event, a picnic, a barbeque with other festivities would take place. Then he would be set ablaze. A human torch. A beacon of light in the realm of darkness. 

(more…)

 

During my pilgrimage to West Africa in 1997, I visited a number of slave castles along the coast. There were 3 things which I found most troubling but were a constant in these castles. One was the smell in the cells were the slaves were kept. You could still smell the stench of despair after all these centuries. The second were the pits where rebellious and troublesome slaves were thrown in to starve to death. In some castles, the church or chapel was built right above these pits! The third and most disturbing was that in all these castles, the soldiers quarters were right above the women cells. There was usually a staircase leading down into the cell area where these white soldiers would descend to choose their Black female victims for the night. When I visited the slave castle in the region of Ghana where Jamaicans came from, a unrighteous rage welled up in me as I stood in the soldiers quarters and pondered if I had a female ancestor who’s mind, body and soul was violated in these quarters. This rage turned into an unfamiliar but deep sorrow as I considered that this would be one of many violations…. here in this castle, then on the ship as it crossed the middle passage and then on the plantation in Jamaica. I wept.

I dated a woman from Liberia. She was living there during the civil war, during the time before and after Charles Taylor was president. She related to me a couple of her experiences of being raped. The first time was at the start of the conflict. She was around 10 years old when one of the boy soldiers, from her village whom she had grown up with, raped her in front of her family…. in front of her father, mother, sisters and brothers. She remembers the scream of her father’s anguish as he was forced to watch at gunpoint the violation of his daughter. She also related a story of similar incident when another soldier, a grown man, had abducted her and taken her to his hut to rape her. The local commander at the time, had ordered that his men were not to rape the women. Someone told the commander that this soldier had abducted her and he came, released her before she was raped and killed this soldier in front of her. I sensed that there were other times that she was raped…. but she didn’t talk about them… and I didn’t ask. She did tell me of her sister who was abducted off the streets of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. She was brought to a compound where Charles Taylor, who had an affinity for light-skinned women, would come and rape these women with his henchmen when he pleased. As she related these and other stories to me, that rage and deep sorrow which I had felt before, would come over me. At times when this woman whom I loved, trembled and cried as she slept, I could only imagine that she was reliving the violations of her mind, body and soul. I wept.    

Rape has constantly been used as a weapon to degrade and dehumanize Black women…. women of African descent. In a much broader sense, it is an attack…. a degradation and dehumanization against all of us…. and both White and Black men are guilty of these atrocities! I am not going to try to understand or psychoanalyze what would lead six white people (3 men and 3 women) to kidnap a 20 year-old Black woman…. rape, torture and force her to eat rat, dog and human feces for more than a week (The Case of Megan Williams). I cannot even fathom why four Black teenagers…. young men…. would rape, sodomize and then at gunpoint, force a Black woman to have sex with her son. They terrorized and then attempted to kill this woman and her son…. all the while recording the event on a cell phone camera (Dunbar Village Case).

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12 

It would be easy to dismiss these perpetrators by referring to them as “animals”, or as “inhuman”. But they aren’t animals…. they aren’t inhuman! First, I have never heard of any animal species treating one another in this way. Secondly, these are human beings who have consciously decided and took steps to treat another human being is this way. For them to so easily violate the mind, body and soul of these Black women….. is much more than a “sickness” that can be attributed to our society. It is spiritual wickedness. These atrocities are happening all over the world, right now, to our Black women…. to our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, cousins, nieces and even grandmothers…. and it has to stop! As Black men, we should feel rage, deep sorrow, shame and weep that the mind, body and soul of the women of our community are being violated in these ways! We Black men, who are both the primary perpetrators and protectors of our community, have to take it upon ourselves to stop it and stop allowing it to happen!                           

So today, Thursday November 1st 2007, those within the Afrosphere are blogging for justice. We are blogging to protect Black women and their families from the horrors of rape. We are blogging to raise public awareness about the Megan Williams and Dunbar Village cases. We are making a call for action:

  1. Sign a petition in support of Megan Williams
  2. Donate to the Megan Williams Trust Fund
  3. March against hate and in support of Megan Williams in Charleston, West Virginia on November 3rd  
  4. Donate to the Dunbar Village Victim’s Assistance Fund 

To read other posts that blogged for justice on this topic, follow the link here.             

It’s thanksgiving here in Canada, which spurred me to reflect on some of the things I am thankful for. Here are 10 things I came up with:

  1. I thank God for His Son Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he made for me.

  2. I thank God for my life.

  3. I thank God for my wife.

  4. I thank God for my son.

  5. I thank God for my family.

  6. I thank God for all the people he has brought into my life…. the good, the bad and the indifferent. I have learnt from them all.

  7. I thank God for all that he has provided for me and my family materially and financially.

  8. I thank God for my health.

  9. I thank God that I live in Canada.

  10. I thank God that I don’t live in Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, Israel or The U.S.A.  

I am sorry to be late with my submission on this exciting topic for our second carnival, but I haven’t yet mastered how to best divvy up my time as a new father. I am always tired…. I sleep, I take care of baby, I go to work, I take care of baby, I sleep and the cycle starts again…. I have “a minute” to spare so here goes…..  

The work of Marimba Ani in  “Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior,” has a lot of truth in it (it is definitely a must read) and I agree with Lubangakene when he asserts that it “makes it clear that the intention and proselytizing usage of European religion was for control and conquest of other peoples. “ Some of his questions also “struck a cord” within me and sparked a thinking process as I contemplated my responses to them…. namely:

  1. How does our God-consciousness, filtered through an alien religion, shackle us?
  2. Can our spiritual/religious beliefs flower within such a context? Can those beliefs and practices empower us?
  3. Is the white man’s religion a positive or negative force, ultimately, in the lives of African peoples in the diaspora?
  4. Is it possible to adopt/adapt the religions and religious practices of an oppressor who has used religion throughout history to conquer the minds and bodies of his targets/victims – to positive affect?

Percolating within me was a rational, intellectual and measured response anchored by my religious beliefs and literary knowledge. I had quotations from the Bible and references from James H. Cone’s “A Black Theology of Liberation” as well as, “God’s Politics” by Rev. Jim Wallis, chosen and ready to assert that religion is about a personal relationship with God and whatever choices we make…. whether good, bad or indifferent, especially in His name, we will have to answer to someday. I was ready to debate that Christianity is not a eurocentric-based religion as such, but that version of it was forced upon us, people of African descent, and it was up to us to free ourselves from spiritual (as well as mental) slavery and find our God… the One who meets all our needs as a people. That is the physiological, emotional, psychological, financial, societal, environmental, intellectual, safety and spiritual needs which may be unique to us and our condition. I was all set to argue that paradoxically, all these needs are not ethnically nor culturally based, since they are important to everyone, regardless of colour of skin, nationality, gender, orientation, language, or even religious beliefs…. however the way and how God meets our needs are not necessarily the same. Depending on any one or combination of the above factors, He may meet our particular need(s) on an individual, community or yes…. even a cultural level. I was ready to boast of how multi-cultural and multi-racial the church I attend is and that as a Black man…. as a Black family,  it certainly meets my/our needs and that it reflected the best of what heaven on earth can be. Yes I was all primed to “shock and awe” with my blah, blah, blah….

Then I went to do my weekly volunteer commitment. I am involved with an inner-city mission that I found out about through my church. It is a Christian based facility that specializes in assisting the homeless and those with psychological challenges and substance abuse issues (and the combination of all for some). We simply provide information on where to access city services, feed the hungry, provide shelter for a time, listen to life stories, offer advice and when it’s appropriate, tell them about the love of Jesus. On Sunday afternoons we hold a inner-city service for those who don’t belong to a specific church or denomination, or profess to follow any particular religion. The mission caters to different types of people, from a variety of cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common: regardless of our circumstances or status…. we are all striving to make it through the day.

So as I was working, I looked around at the people I was serving and I thought that as a Christian, as a person who believes and wants to serve God in my own “little” way…. this is what really matters! Standing there it was clear that cultural and historical context didn’t matter. Eurocentric or Afrocentric symbolism didn’t matter. Religion and religious practices didn’t matter. What really matters and gives me hope is that today, there are people all over the world who are inspired by their own religious beliefs to serve others (the Buddhist monks in Myanmar come to mind). What truly mattered was the “smile” and “thank you” I got from connecting with another human being and hopefully making a positive impact on their life. Even it that just means giving them a sandwich and a coffee or listening to the same joke or story for the umpteenth time. Regardless of my all religious pontificating and intellectual discourses, the few hours I spend each week, serving each individual, meeting their individual need at that particular time, for the glory of God, is what my religion means to me.                                 

  

 

Religious discourse can be very controversial. Although I am open to share and listen to the religious beliefs of others (or lack thereof), I have never been interested in debating the issue. How can one debate the issue of faith? I find it pointless. I have nothing to prove nor do I want to convert someone to my way of thinking (or belief). However, I do want to comment on the endorsement this week by Pope Benedict XVI of the doctrinal document “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrines on the Church“. In a nutshell, this treatise asserts the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, while other churches, like the Orthodox church are “wounded”, and that Protestant churches are not “true” churches. It also claims that Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation.

In this age of inter-denominational and inter-faith dialogue, which is working to bring about a better understanding and respect for others of different beliefs, I find this assertion and endorsement by the Pope as troubling. As the arenas of government, politics, economics, culture, etc., struggles towards greater harmony and peace, it appears that the religious community and their leaders, regardless of their faith, are moving towards greater fundamentalist polarization of beliefs. We don’t need to look only to history to see the danger in this type of thinking. We need only to look at the Middle-East today, Iraq in particular, to see the outcome of such rhetoric. Although I am a Pentecostal Christian and have beliefs, which could be classified as “christian fundamentalist beliefs”, I do not believe that only Pentecostals are going to heaven, nor do I believe that other denominations are “wounded” or are not “true” churches. As a Christian, I do believe that it is only through Christ that someone can receive salvation, but I don’t condemn to “hell” someone from another religion or those who have no belief in religion at all. Judgment, as far as I am concerned, I will leave to God.

There are 3 points I would like to share in regards to this topic.

1. The church I attend, although fundamental, it is non-judgmental. The Pastor believes, preaches and is involved in inter-denominational and inter-faith dialogues. This is one of the reasons why I go to this church.   

2. As far as I know, there has been no bombings of Catholic or Protestant churches; no burnings of effigies of the Pope by Protestants; no return to the Inquisition; no killing of Priests, Nuns, Pastors or Reverends; no violent demonstrations or protests; no separation into neighbourhoods based on religious beliefs, due to this proclamation. I would pray that those of the Muslim “Ummah” will be influenced by this example.

3. There has been no difference in the dynamics of the relationship with my family, friends or acquaintances of different denominations (or faiths for that matter), since the Popes endorsement of this edict. It is all a non-issue for us. Regardless of religious beliefs or non-belief, we are all still “cool”. Love and respect prevails.            

     

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