Monday, June 25, 2012

Saving Souls for Gloryland in Jaspar, Texas

The amount of violence tolerated by the Christian Church, committed and perpetuated by the Christian Church, is enough to make the Christian Story a lie, as least a lie as to how we've told it.

From the wars Christians have fought against Christians, from the colonial period of enslavement, going all the way back to Constantine and his conversion, when suddenly it became a glorious thing to be a soldier and fight for the Empire, with the promise that anyone who fights for "god and country" (and those two are always permanently stitched together) qualifies for eternal glory and the praise and gratitude of their nation.

Recently, the New York Times published an unnerving story about Jasper, Texas, made "famous" a few years back when three young white boys chained James Byrd, a black man, to a car and dragged him to death, June 27, 1998.

He was buried in Jaspar's one cemetery, a cemetery divided by an old rickety fence, torn down some months Mr. Byrd's death, as an act of reconciliation and racial unity.

Fourteen years later, Jasper's cemetery remains segregated, with whites up on the hill and blacks below, no longer divided by a literal fence, but now the fence of tradition.

"It's our tradition," one old white man says, for blacks to be buried below the hill.

Racial tensions have once again flared with the firing of Jaspar's first back police chief, Rodney Pearson, who's wife, Sandy, is white (oh oh!).

After his election, whites arranged for a successful recall of several black city councilman, replacing them with a white majority who then promptly fired Mr. Pearson.

I wonder about all the white churches in Jaspar.

Oh, that's right. I know what they're doing. They're busy "preaching Je-e-sus!" and "saving souls for gloryland."

I know how hard it is to grapple with social issues; I'm a pastor, and I know first-hand how entrenched attitudes are, like the demons of the New Testament - touch 'em, and they scream to high-heaven. They truly know who Jesus is, and want nothing to do with him.

Which brings me back to the first part of this essay - how the church came to ignore, or accept, and worse, approve of violence.

Christianity, as we know it, comes out of 1800 years of Empire and war … Christians fought Christians … Christians colonized and enslaved peoples around the world, … Christians cheered the sword and sent their children off to war … and there stood the clergy, with holy water and prayers … all for god and country … [from "There Will Be Blood"].

And as long as churches are busy preaching Jesus and saving souls for gloryland, what with programs and Bible Studies and VBS and displays of patriotic hoohah, the cries of blood shed and spilled upon the earth go unanswered (Genesis 4.10).

In God's own time, of course, but what about us?

Can we turn a deaf ear to the cry of blood rising up from the earth, blood that we have shed, either directly through our wars and inquisitions, or indirectly, by winking at the cruelty of others and our "traditions" of racial and ethnic intolerance?

It's a bloody business, for sure, and I, for one, would rather not have to deal with it, but then I have to carefully pick and choose the Scriptures I read and from which I preach. Not only pick and choose, but deform and misrepresent, in order to "save souls for gloryland."

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