Monday, October 17, 2016

Stand Your Ground - Black Bodies and the Justice of God - Chapter 5 - Jesus and Trayvon: The Justice of God

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas continues to relay the story of Trayvon Martin to us through the words and interviews with his parents. She uses their own words to illustrate their faith in God and then pulls the lens back to also use those same words to illustrate the historic faith of Black Christians in the United States. In this fifth chapter, Dr Douglas draws sharp parallels between the death of Trayvon and the death of Jesus Christ, in that they were both innocent men who were executed by the powers that be of their individual time periods.

Dr Douglas utilizes the story of the Samaritan woman at the well to show how a male Jewish Jesus uses his privilege to balance out the demonization of the female Samaritan woman. In balancing out the power by giving up his privilege, Jesus places himself in solidarity with those who did not have the social power to move freely in his society. In this movement of Jesus, from the place of privilege equalizing the place of subordinate, we find an example to follow to move from our places of sacred white space to places in solidarity with those in the cross hairs of Stand Your Ground culture today.

Dr Douglas uses the interviews with Trayvon's parents to show how they continually try to turn the conversation toward resurrection by speaking of their beloved Trayvon with pride and love. They refuse to allow Trayvon's character and life to be further crucified. According to Dr Douglas, this is in harmony with their Black Christian faith which places more weight in the resurrection than teh crucifixion. I have to say that I have never been a big fan of Matt Lauer, but Dr Douglas' reporting of his interviews with the parents make me never want to watch him again.

At the end of this chapter, Dr Douglas names Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism as America's original sin - from which most all other sins originate. It has been there since our inception as a country (chapter one) and Stand Your Ground Culture is merely the newest manifestation.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God - Chapter Four - A Father's Faith: The Freedom of God

The Reverend Dr Kelly Brown Douglas helps us all examine Black Faith in God in chapter four. Using the Exodus Story as the primary lens, she explains that Black Faith is essentially grounded in the belief that God is completely free and therefore seeks freedom for all people. The people in the Exodus story were oppressed and that oppression led to them being God's Chosen People.

I am very appreciative of the information Dr Douglas writes about the function of music in Black Faith. "Music allowed the captured and enslaved Africans to speak to one another across the barriers of their indigenous language and dialects that their enslavers did not respect" (pg 141). The music allowed for the transfer of information, the learning of language, and the expression of hopes and fears. It also allowed the enslaved to sing about the God they already knew from their homeland, a God that was free and demanded the freedom of everyone. This was not the same God that was preached to them as enslaved people by white preachers. The God of Home was a God who called them into being the fulness of who they were created to be (pg153). Home was a free and safe space to fully be who God created them to be.

The discussion of the people who already inhabited the Promised Land is deft and challenging. It allows for the God of Freedom to call the oppressed Home, while leaving space open to say that Home might already be occupied. Dr Douglas does not condone the acts of violence that might be attributed to God that clear out Home for others. She specifically names Native Americans again and their losses to the Manifest Destiny war.

Black Faith, as explained by Dr Douglas, does not blame God for injustice, but rather assumes that God prefers and gives strength to everyone who opposes the injustice and protests for justice.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God - Chapter Three: Manifest Destiny War

I am finally on the other side of beginning the new Sunday School season. One Sunday was Homecoming Sunday, the next started Sunday School, and then the next was Ministry Fair Sunday. It has been a busy month and I did not get back to this as quick as I thought I would. Here we all are, a few weeks later, ready to discuss Chapter Three: Manifest Destiny War in Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas.

Dr. Douglas begins the chapter by giving us a history of the term, Manifest Destiny: the combination of Anglo-Saxon as the epitome of humanity finding their place in a whole new world and setting up a societal paradise known as the United States of America. According to Manifest Destiny, the USA was a blank slate ready for the experiments of democracy as imagined by Anglo-Saxon ways and culture. God had declared Anglo-Saxons as superior and all other races were to assimilate as quickly as possible. Assuming that whiteness is superior is troublesome enough, but then requiring assimilation from every other race is a “declaration of war” (pg 107) against non-white bodies. Because God had ordained the Anglo-Saxons as superior, then the war declared against the non-whites was a religious & just war. People indigenous to the USA were killed or segregated using the ideology of Manifest Destiny. All immigrants and non-whites were expected to assimilate as fully and quickly as possible. White Space was to be defended at all costs.

Dr. Douglas then neatly traces the ideas of Manifest Destiny straight into the beginning of the Stand Your Ground Laws. If White Space is the most valuable space, then defending White Space is paramount to fulfilling Manifest Destiny and Stand Your Ground laws allow for the use of deadly violence in that protection of White Space.

The rest of the chapter explains the intersection of Stand Your Ground and White Backlash. Even before Stand Your Ground laws were enacted, non-whites could be killed with impunity simply for being in White Space. If a white person felt threatened in any way by a non-white person, and especially by a black male, that “threatening” presence could be killed or otherwise removed with no further thought. Lynchings, imprisonments, and now police shootings are the direct result of the backlash against black people for simply being in a white space. Militarized police officers and departments continue to fight the war of Manifest destiny every day.

Dr. Douglas ends the chapter by pointing out that having a Black President of the United States has triggered a whole new level of White Backlash. She ponders the idea that the only place her Black son is safe is in her own home.

I am so glad I started this book. Now that I have been introduced to these ideas of White Space and Manifest Destiny and Anglo-Saxon Superiority I cannot un-see it unfolding all around me. I admire Dr. Douglas’ methodical, logical outline of the foundations of the United States and how we got to this place that so many of us find appalling. In some ways, I wonder how we can unravel racism from the fabric of our culture, when it has been woven in so tight and methodically from the very beginning.  

Chapter Four will begin Part Two of the book, which also has three chapters. We are halfway finished reading at this point. Where are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Stand Your Ground - Chapter Two - The Black Body: A Guilty Body

This chapter begins with another intriguing question: "Why are black murder victims put on trial?" (pg 48). Lower on that same page, Dr. Douglas writes, "Black victims of fatal violence are presumed guilty of bringing their deaths upon themselves. Their white killers are given the benefit of the doubt. It is readily assumed that the white killer acted as a reasonable person would who is in fear for his life."

In helping us to understand how this has historically developed,  Dr. Douglas revisits the Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism and how it lead to the belief that black people could be excluded from consideration as being human (pg 52). She then tracks the concept of "Black Body as Chattel" (pgs 52-56). She shows how the church and state affirmed that not only were black people not equal to white people, but that "equality with white people - and certainly not to speak of superiority over them - is immoral" (pg 57).

I found it hard to read the "Hypersexualized Black Body" section (pgs 64-68). It makes logical sense that in this terrible way of perceiving black bodies, the charge of rape would be unfathomable; I had never allowed my thoughts to wander that far. The sexual abuse of slaves was another way to de-humanize them, force a higher birth rate, and set them apart as "other," specifically the blacks males as threats to white women.

"The Dangerous Black Body" was illustrative for me for what seems to be happening over and over again in the killings of black bodies by police officers right now in America (pgs 68-76). "When black people step into [white/public] social space, they do so as intruders, and thus they have created a dangerous situation because white people are compelled , by divine law nonetheless, to protect their space from intruders" (pg 69). A lot of the calls to the police in the instances of the killings that have necessitated the Black Lives Matter movement, incorrectly identify black bodies as threatening in some way: carrying a weapon. threatening property, threatening suicide, etc. The police then respond with preconceived notions of danger and act without truly assessing the situation.

The dangerous black body then becomes the "Criminal Black Body" for the rest of chapter two (pgs 77-89). If you have not yet read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, it should be the very next book on your White Person's Reading List on Racial Reconciliation. It is a dense read, and as well-researched and well-written as Stand Your Ground, in my opinion.

As Dr. Douglas traces how the anti-vagrancy laws came to reinforce a new type of forced labor for the males (pgs 77-82), she also shows how black women are dismissed as "criminally immoral" or "mean and angry" (pg 83). In the week or so since I read this section, I have noticed the stereotype of "Angry Black Woman" (pg 85) more then I ever have before in my lifetime.

So then, if black men are criminal, and black women are so angry as to be irrational and then become criminal, then Dr. Douglas' last stories in chapter two show how "free black bodies have to be guilty of something" (pg 86). Therefore all black murder victims are ultimately put on trial for their own murder. The story Dr. Douglas tells of her toddler son's interaction with an elementary-age white boy at a playground is heart-wrenching (pgs 86-87).

**Aside for Chapter Three: I may not be able to post again next week, so there may be a two-week lapse until the next post. There are some program-year tasks I need to get accomplished to get the Sunday School year started well.**

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stand Your Ground - Chapter One - America's Exceptionalism

Dr Douglas begins this chapter with the question, "If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?" (pg3). In the next 44 pages, she presents a well-researched position that traces writings concerning Anglo-Saxon superiority to 98 CE (pg4). Those writings are quoted in the founding documents of our country, and are used to strengthen and legitimize white "as Cherished Property" (pg 23). Thus, white as supreme: skin color, cultural norms, etc. The very foundations of culture and religion are built on white supremacy.

The rights of white supremacy include the rights to exclude, the rights of property ownership and the rights of personal space. These are only some of the privileges I have been historically able to hold as a white person. While those first two may be lessening, it is the third one that I see causing the clashes more and more in our society today. It seems like the calls to law enforcement go something like this, "There is a Black person outside with a gun." Law enforcement shows up, assumes the truth of the call and a Black person is detained, arrested, or killed = a Black person in a white space is seen as the problem. Public streets, even in Black neighborhoods, are seen as white space.

Dr Douglas has opened my eyes to how I travel trough daily life. I do not feel safe everywhere, but I certainly expect that my body and my rights will be protected everywhere, as a white person. I now see how our forefathers could write about the rights of all, yet truly mean only those of white heritage. This is a suspicion I held before this, and I am thankful to have such a tightly-researched chapter to trace the lineage of influence.

What are your thoughts as you digest chapter one and ponder what exceptionalism means? Where are you and your family history weaved in and out of this story? How have you noticed your privilege differently since reading this chapter?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

EWC Book Club - Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God

It started with a Facebook post anchored in the frustration that I did not know which of my friends and colleagues might be starting to educate themselves on racial issues. I had begun stumbling down that path, with half of my life already behind me, and I felt isolated in my ignorance and tardiness. I want companions for this journey. I have been blessed with many Facebook and Twitter "friends" who graciously allow me to peek into their serious and on-going conversations on race and inequality. I have been even more blessed by my colleagues and friends in real life who are gentle, yet strident that this is my work to do. That is truth.

This is the beginning of my work in community with those who will gather here to clarify our learning, check our assumptions and prejudices, and un-learn what needs to be challenged. My prayer is that our blinders will be removed, and we will be led to right actions as we learn how to be allies in the work of racial justice, and specifically the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas
The first book I am proposing that we read together is Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by the Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas. I have read and marked up the prologue, introduction, and first two chapters so far.

I will keep posting as I continue to read, and I truly and humbly invite your comments. I will comment after writing the summaries of the chapters. I will create new posts as I progress, so the labels will be important for finding your place in the conversation as we go along. All will be labeled "Race Issues" and then "SYG" followed by the chapter, although this one is labeled "SYG Intro." I hope that will help with navigation.

If you are reading ahead of me and would like to create the post for a chapter, please feel free. My email is AmyPHaynie at gmail dot com - I would love for this to be a group effort.

Dr. Douglas uses the prologue and introduction to orient us to her social relationship to the Stand Your Ground laws. As the mom of a black young man, as a professor of religion at Goucher College well-versed in racial history, and as a black woman in US society, she asks "Why is it becoming increasingly acceptable to kill unarmed black children...Why are they so easily perceived as a threat?" (pg ix).

In the introduction, Dr Douglas states that "this book will explore the socio-cultural narratives that have given birth to our stand-your-ground culture and the religious canopies that have legitimized it. This stand-your-ground culture has produced and sustained slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynchings, and other forms of racialized violence against black bodies" (pg xiii).

In the comments of this section, I invite us to introduce ourselves and explore why we are interested in this work at this time. What do you hope for or want from this conversation? I hope we will be able to keep this space safe by checking our own white fragility and using "I" language as we do this important work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Women's Story

During the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal  Church, my husband and I premiered a documentary film about the life Bishop John Eldridge Hines, the 22nd Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  The film has been a work spanning almost 20 years, and features an extensive live video interview of Bishop Hines, by the ABC news anchor, Hugh Downs.  Bishop Hines tells his own story, in his own elegant words, with honesty, humor, and occasionally sadness.  A significant part of the film deals with the Bishop's beliefs and respect for the place of women in the Episcopal church, and included is a rare video of the Bishop's last address to the church at the General Convention of 1973, where he states unequivocally there is absolutely no biblical reason why women cannot be ordained.  In the background, voices shouting NO WAY! can be heard—the only time a Presiding Bishop has been treated thus.

The film was shown in a large ballroom, on a theatre size screen, and about 40 people attended.  Among those present was a young woman, who told those assembled that she was a second generation ordained woman, following in the steps of her own mother.  

In the film, are many interviews and memories called forth from those who were alive at the time, and who were faithful followers of the human rights positions that Hines believed the church must embrace, if the church were to be faithful to the Gospel.  The film is titled, JUSTICE IS THE CORPORATE FACE OF LOVE, a quote from Bishop Hines.

A very moving story is told by General Convention Deputy Philip Masquelette, a lawyer from the Diocese of Texas.  He talks about his experience of voting to seat women delegates at the General Convention of 1970; of the women waiting in the hallway hoping their time had come. Most of the delegates to be seated were already leaders in the church as Presidents of the Episcopal Church Women's organizations in their dioceses. The joy of the Convention when the cadre of almost thirty women walked onto the floor of the House of Deputies to take their seats was palpable.   Masquelette becomes very emotional telling the story; with a tembling voice, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he says that moment was wonderful, as the entire House of Deputies rose to cheer in this moment that changed the church.

The young woman, the second generation priest, watching the film also became very emotional, rising from her seat at the end of the film, and saying in tears, "I didn't know.  I didn't know."  

Vice President of the House of Deputies, the Honorable Byron Rushing, stood up and asked her what she meant.  Her answer was remarkable.

"I know all the dates that things happened.  I know the dates that women were seated; I know the year that women's ordination was approved.  But the dates are just that dates, aren't they.  I didn't know the stories.  Why don't we know the stories?  Mr. Masquelette was weeping as he told of the events.  Why don't we know the stories?  I am moved so deeply by the story.  I wish I had always known the story.  It would have meant so much to know what really happened."

Byron Rushing said, "You don't know the stories because the church doesn't want you to know.  The church doesn't want anything like the Philadelphia Eleven, for example, to ever happen again.   So you need to go back and tell the story, and pass the story on."  Mr. Rushing went on to talk about the stories that need to be told, so that we all remember the hard, hard work that must to be done when the world must change.  

The fight within the church for human rights is still a challenge.  Remembering the trials and tribulations of those who were courageous in their determination; telling their stories; these are the ways we inspire the careful nurturing of those who would risk greatly.   Philip Masquelette's wife, Betty, was the first woman ordained in the Diocese of Texas.  She has recently retired.  Betty's story needs to be told.  

The stories of the Philadelphia Eleven need to be told, as do the stories of the brave Bishops who ordained them.  These men were, at the time, some of the most respected men in the Episcopal Church, and they dared greatly.  The event took place on July 29, 1974.

The ordinations were done at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, Pa., before a congregation of some 2,000 worshipers.   The Bishops assembled were Bishop Daniel Corrigan, Denver, Colo., former suffragan bishop of Colorado, retired; Bishop Robert L. DeWitt, resigned bishop of Pennsylvania; and Bishop Edward R. Welles II, Manset, Me., retired bishop of West Missouri. They were joined by a fourth bishop, the Rt. Rev. Antonio Ramos, Bishop of Costa Rica, the only one of the four exercising jurisdiction in the church at the time.  A young woman, a faithful volunteer in the civil rights movement, who had weathered many of the storms raging through the Episcopal Church and the country, carried the processional cross for the service; she became a priest.  Her name was Barbara Harris—ultimately, the first woman elected Bishop.

Bishop Ramos, who did not participate in the actual ordination, but joined in the laying on of hands, issued a statement in which he said that the ordination event "stands as a prophetic witness on behalf of and for the oppressed. " He added that the ordination of the 11 women can "be characterized as an act of disobedience, ecclesiastical disobedience on our part, willfully done to abolish a system of canon law which is discriminatory, and which can no longer stand the judgment of the liberating Christ."

Dr. Charles V. Willie, professor of education and urban studies at Harvard, and vice president of the church's House of Deputies, preached a sermon in which he said that he participated in the service "not because I wanted to speak out but because I could not remain silent. "  When the Church in the next General Convention, refused to acknowledge the ordinations in Philadelphia, Dr. Willie resigned from his position in the House of Deputies.  This act received national news coverage, and again spotlighted the battle for women's rights.   Dr. Willie was present for the screening of the John Hines film in Salt Lake City.

The first official ordination of an Episcopal woman took place three years lateron January 1, 1977, Jacqueline Means became the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. The vote to allow women’s ordination which finally passed in 1976 was undoubtedly largely influenced by the presence of women delegates whose seating in 1970 had so moved Philip Masquelette.

The saga of the ability of women to step forward and answer the call to the priesthood they hear is a story of love and commitment.  Each story is an anniversary.  In this 40th year of women being ordained, there are many anniversaries.  All of these stories must all be told, because the love of those who have dared greatly can change lives.

This film was a recipient of  the Polly Bond award from Episcopal Communicators. Robin Sumners was the Director of Development for a small Christian publishing company called Mission City Press, she left that company in 2008 to  free lance. Robin is a graphic designer and writer, and recently won an award for one of her short stories. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories.  She has started a writer's group in Cuero at Grace Church called Writer's of Grace.

She has served the larger church as President of The Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of Colorado, Province VI representative for the Episcopal Church Women and a member of the national board of the United Thank Offering. She currently is a board member of The Episcopal Women's History Project.