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A Short History of American Bigotry

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It started long before Columbus, but our version does begin with the European trend to colonize the known world. The Dutch were the first to reach the Far East, setting up trade with Japan and China, using their base in Indonesia. They considered all easterners to be inferior and gradually began to develop explanations for what they ‘knew to be true.’

It is not so surprising from the Dutch because they were from the Germanic tribes that settled the northern parts of Europe and eventually captured and sacked Rome. As they became more settled in the regions north of Gaul (France), they developed a strong sense of superiority which the Vikings carried with them into the British Isles.

The English took over several of the Dutch territories, including New Amsterdam renaming it New York, and set about subduing the native inhabitants. As a part of that process, they examined the facts and determined that Indians were barbarians without souls, little more than livestock. Worse, in fact, because they refused to be good slaves.

Which brings us to the first Dutch ship that sold 19 African slaves in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. The Dutch, as we have seen, found it easy to identify inferior species and quickly determined that Africans were the lowest of all human-like animals.

Over the next couple of centuries, white Americans, mostly Dutch, British, and German thought about the position of Africans in the culture of the world (meaning the European world).

By the end of the Nineteenth Century, most universities in northern Europe, England, and the US were teaching racial superiority as a science, complete with books full of ‘facts.’ As a Harvard graduate, Teddy Roosevelt had learned the ideas and accepted them as facts. When he negotiated the peace treaty between Russia and Japan, earning the Nobel Prize for it, he was dealing with two groups of inferior peoples. The Russians were ranked below the French, somewhere around the Italians in inferiority. The Japanese were lower than any European but were above all other Asians.

In 1905, TR sent a shipload of officials, plus his daughter Alice, to Japan to negotiate trade relations publicly while secretly agreeing with Japan that they could take over control of all of Asia. TR agreed to this because they were the superior race in Asia and could bring the rest of the continent under control, acting as the US surrogate. Alice, by the way, went with no knowledge of this. TR wanted her passion for upsetting conventional social norms to distract the press.

The Nazi death camps upset the carefully structured ranking of inferiors, even though most British and American whites believed Jews to be inferior. Killing people in a factory system simply overwhelmed the long-held prejudices. Suddenly, world leaders were talking equality.

But as the leaders talked equality, they did their best to return to the pre-1939 state of affairs. France and Britain tried to regain full control of all their old colonies. Churchill was particularly aggressive in maintaining the world empire. A young Ho Chi Min from Indo-China talked to all the leaders about granting independence for his country. President Truman did not want to upset the French, so he sent Ho packing, setting up, first the French, and then the US for long, costly wars.

As you can see, I have painted a picture with broad brush strokes. The details would fill several books. The point of this: white Americans grew up with an understanding that we are superior. While most of us would never support white supremacist like the skinheads, we all too often feel we are entitled to run things, to have the best jobs, best education, best homes, etc. We want Mexicans to pick our green beans and peaches for little pay, the Vietnamese to bring in the shrimp and sell it cheap, the Chinese to make our cheap products to sell at big box stores, but we also want to keep our high paying jobs at their expense. No white American in his right mind wants to pick green beans for a living.

I’m sorry to tell you; there is no easy solution. If whites believe in equality, then they must act on that belief. It will involve changing the way we think and the way we live.

 

Be righteous and do good

Mike Lawrence

Halloween

I have just returned from our church’s answer to Halloween.  A couple of hundred kids with their parents come for two hours to meet Bible characters (most wearing the same costumes used at Christmas), play games and eat hot dogs and candy.

Many were in the spook parade and came later and others either did their trick-or-treating, then came, or the other way around.  All in all, sugar was the main theme.

Why do it?  Give kids a safer environment.  Encourage parents to come with them and spend time with their kids doing kid things.  Give a tiny exposure to the Bible.  Perhaps that’s enough.   Continue reading Halloween

Jesus and the Roman Legions

According to a recent Gallup poll, the US military is highly respected.  The poll measures seventeen areas of American life, the environment, the economy, education, etc., and the military finished at the top of the list with 74% of Americans having a positive feeling about it.  In another poll, when presented with a list of sixteen institutions, 75% placed the military at the top of the list with small business at 63%, police at 56%, and organized religion at 44%.  Congress came in last at 13%.

What does it say about our country that fewer than half respect churches but three-fourths like the military?  More importantly, what would Jesus say?

A Gallup poll taken in first century Rome would have given similar results.  Even in those regions conquered by Rome, the army was respected because it was an easy way to gain status and security for many of the newly conquered.  Most of the soldiers Jesus would have met were from Greece and Persia.  Only a few officers were actually Roman.

Jesus never spoke against Rome or its military.  But neither did he say anything about Roman or Greek religions, schools, medical care, or dozens of other details of life.  He criticized one group, the leaders of the Jewish religion.  He stayed on target, on task, sought one goal.

Jesus was a prophet and like all prophets before him, he brought a message from God.  The message was simple, is simple, live close to God, turn to God, face God, be true to God, accept God.  Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming that he brought Good News, or as John put it, he brought the Light of God, the Word of God.  The Good News is that God loves every one of us and wants us to stay close to him.

Where does that message fit with the military?  In God’s Kingdom where God protects us, it doesn’t fit at all.  But we live in a world where the military is necessary.  Countries attack one another and defense is obligatory.  People commit crimes and police powers are necessary.  The Roman Legions preformed both duties.  We have to live in a world of evil and Jesus apparently agreed, or did not disagree, that someone needs to crack heads occasionally.

But I’m not sure he would be happy with the 75% approval rating.  I can only guess based on his overall message.  I think he would see Americans trusting the sword more than God.  That is the great danger for us in this context.  If we, most of us, live close to God, trusting Him in all things, the military would hardly be considered one way or the other.  It’s there when we need it, otherwise why think about it?

I personally respect the military and always have, even in the dark times surrounding Vietnam.  I believe Congress made a big mistake when they eliminated the draft.  That was a perfect time to institute universal public service.  Everyone at some time from 18 to 25 should serve for two years in the military, peace corps, education corps, medical corps, etc.  Each could choose the area of service full time for two years.

I doubt that it will ever happen here, though many countries do it.  It would give us more exposure to service and service is at the root of the message of Jesus.

So, what about Christians serving in the military?  Nothing can be proven from reading the words of Jesus on this question.  All we can do is understand his whole message and then apply it as best we can to a subject on which he never spoke.  He spoke of love and peace, but he also spoke of justice.  Most importantly, he said his Kingdom was not of this world.

In this world, we have to settle for a sliding scale of values.  Love on one end of the scale and hate on the other, for example.  Or justice v. no justice.  As Christians we try to stay close to the love side and the justice side, but we are never completely there.  God is Love, absolutely and always.  He, always, without exception, provides perfect justice.  We work at it, strive for it, but never achieve it.  The best we can do in this world is to love more than we hate, hopefully much more.

A Christian soldier would go to Guadalcanal in 1942 and kill as many Japanese soldiers as possible.  While doing that, he would probably hate them.  But he would also hate having to do it.  He would live the rest of his life with blood on his hands, crying, “Out, out, damned spot.”  Recruiters never tell anyone that their lives will never be the same after killing other humans.  Only in heaven will the spots be washed away.

Bottom line: war is ugly and un-Godly, but Christians have to do it sometimes because the alternative is even worse.  We should nonetheless work hard to avoid it.

Keep your eyes on the True Kingdom.

Mike Lawrence

The Lion

The lion does triple duty in the Bible.  Mostly, it is a beast, doing what lions do best.  As a beast, it represents countries, kings, and people who are opposed to God and/or his Chosen People.  The lion will bring destruction upon the people and sometimes on individuals, but generally at God’s command.  None can stand before the lion and live.  Once God releases the lion, destruction is certain.

Punishment is always an issue for God fearing people.  For many, it is about fear, a life lived in uncertainty; when and why will God strike me down.  That has to be a hard life, especially since the Good News is that God is a God of Mercy.  Even as I sin, I know that God will forgive me.  I need only ask.

For others, punishment is about what God will do to others, that is, sinners.  I don’t have to worry because I’m not a sinner.  That way of thinking gives rise to hatred.  If God hates ‘those people,’ I should hate them too.  It’s easy to forget that God loves all, no exceptions.  The lion will be released only with great sadness.

A third group believes that God expects to destroy all people because all have sinned, but that He has also provided a way to avoid that destruction.  He has given us the Mashiach, the Messiah, the Christ.  Like Noah, an early messiah, we will rise above the destruction we deserve on the wood of his cross.

The lion is a symbol of strength.  That is no surprise.  We use the image often.  The Bible speaks of that strength several times in demonstrating God’s strength.  It is not about destruction, but rather standing strong, standing for what is right.

Closely related to strength is the idea of the Lion of Judah.  It is a familiar phrase and idea in both Judaism and Christianity, though the phrase is not used as such in the Bible.  In Hosea 5, we read, “For I will be like a lion  to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah.”  That is the Lion of Judah, a clear reference to the Messiah.  This lion is a saving lion.

Isaiah expands this image of the lion; he will lie down with the lamb, he will eat grass.  In this contradiction, we catch a glimpse of God and his way of working in the world.  Our worldly lions eat lambs, not grass.  God, like a lion, can eat lambs, but He chooses to eat grass and sleep with the lambs.  God does not do as the world does.  He does not practice an eye for an eye.  God extends mercy even to those who oppose him.  Satan himself is free to return to God.

We live in a world full of contradictions.  We humans are forever trying to make it up as we go.  Plants and animals live the lives they were given and do not attempt to be anything else.  We are always trying to become something else, trying to become like God.

The Good News is that we can be like God only if we give up trying to be like him and live the lives we have been given.  Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence