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The Anti-Christ Immigration Response of US Governors and the Kingdom of God

Christians are called to be a light to the nations. The world can’t wait any longer for us to live into that mission.

And make no mistake about it – that mission is political. After all, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God.

Kingdom. Of. God.

This is not simply a personal ethic. I often hear evangelicals and conservatives say, “God wants everything from us” and “God demands our all.” But somehow many also claim that “everything” and “all” doesn’t include our politics because Jesus only gave us a personal ethic.

The fact is that the Kingdom of God is more than personal. It is political, but it is a radically different kind of politics because it subverts the political status quo. From the beginning of human history, the political status quo has been run by the same dynamic – violence.

But the Kingdom of God subverts the politics of violence. Make no mistake: When Jesus used the term “Kingdom of God,” he was being politically subversive. He was charged with high treason, because in using that phrase he was directly confronting the Kingdom of Rome.

These two political realms function in entirely different ways. The Kingdom of Rome functioned with violence, terror, and exclusion. But this point is crucial: Rome wanted peace. In fact, Rome named its project the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, and wanted to spread it throughout the known world. Unfortunately, the only method Rome knew to achieve “peace” was through violence. As Rome conquered new lands in the contradictory name of the Pax Romana, it carried the sword and the crucifix along with it. And if anyone resisted, they would likely be killed.

As all Christians know, that’s exactly what happened to Jesus. Why was Jesus killed? It wasn’t because he said, “Hey guys. I’ve got a personal ethic here, let’s all just love each other! Look, bunnies. Yay! Aren’t they cute!”


Jesus resisted the Kingdom of Rome with the Kingdom of God. But let’s be clear: Jesus subverted Rome in the most subversive way possible – he stood up for justice with nonviolent love. Jesus knew that Rome wasn’t the real enemy. As one of his earliest followers stated, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The real enemy wasn’t Rome. The real enemy was the anti-Christ – the forces of evil, hatred, and violence. So here’s the crucial contrast:

Where Rome sought to terrorize, exclude, and kill their enemies, Jesus taught us to love our enemies in the way that Jesus loved his enemies, with self-offering love and nonviolence. Yes, Jesus, along with the prophets before him, stood up to political, economic, and religious injustice. He named it. He confronted it. He resisted it.

But why didn’t Jesus ever kill in the name of peace and justice, like Rome did? Because he knew that violence and exclusion would make him just like his enemies. He would become the enemy twin of those he opposed. On a personal and political level, mimicking the violence, hatred, and exclusion of our enemies makes us exactly like our enemies. And so Jesus offers the only alternative – renounce violence by loving your neighbor, who includes even your enemies.

René Girard makes this point while quoting Jesus on love in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World:

Since violence is mimetic, and no one ever feels responsible for triggering it initially, only by an unconditional renunciation can we arrive at the desired result (of peace):

And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:33-35).

In the face of terrorism in France and throughout the world, those who follow Christ can have only one response – resist violence with nonviolent love.

In the face of refugees fleeing countries torn to shreds by terrorism, those who follow Christ can have only one response – resist the urge to exclude refugees by showing them gracious hospitality that lends without hope of receiving anything in return.

If we choose any other personal or political ethic, we aren’t living by the Kingdom of God. We deny God and worship at the feet of the anti-Christ. And Jesus had harsh words for those who claim to follow him but refuse to live by the love, nonviolence, and radical hospitality of the Kingdom of God:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father. On that day, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”

For those of us living in the 21st century, that prophetic warning is as important as ever. If Christians are serious about following Jesus and being a light to the nations, then we must follow Jesus by living into his personal and political ethic. Otherwise we become just like those we call our enemies.

If the governors of the United States exclude refugees who are fleeing from the violence of ISIS, then that act of exclusion by the United States makes us just like ISIS. But it’s actually worse than that. If we are honest with ourselves, we in the United States will admit that ISIS is just like us. We are the violent models that ISIS is imitating. We are the ones who, like ancient Rome, have been spreading “peace” and “justice” through violence. ISIS is simply mimicking our methods. If the United States really wants to lead the world into a more just and peaceful future, then we need to change our methods in fighting for justice from violence to nonviolent love.

Because if we continue down this path, we will ensure ourselves a future of apocalyptic violence. And Jesus will say to us, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”

But fortunately there is a clear alternative. Jesus calls us to love. That love is risky and can be scary. That’s because love doesn’t guarantee security, but neither does violence. The point for Christians is to not be run by fear, but by love. To follow him means to trust that as we live into the Kingdom of God we can show hospitality and lend to everyone in need, without expecting anything in return, because we know that there will be enough for everyone.


Image Copyright: adrenalinapura / 123RF Stock Photo

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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 4 – The Politics of Terrorism and the Politics of Jesus

The Discussion:



Show Notes*

How should we respond to terrorist attacks in Paris?

Nearly 90% of people killed in American drone attacks were not targeted. American violence is terrorizing the Middle East, labeling all “unknown people it kills as ‘Enemies Killed in Action,’” but they are often civilians. (The Intercept: The Drone Papers: The Assassination Complex.)

Last Thursday, the United States killed “Jihadi John” in a drone strike, killing the man responsible for beheading Western journalists. (In the discussion, Adam mistakenly said he beheaded monks. That was a different ISIS group.) The Huffington Post wrote, “Britain said the death of the militant would strike at the heart of the Islamic State group.” Tragically, killing Jihadi John didn’t stop ISIS from striking back. The mimetic nature of violence reveals that violence is imitative and it escalates. Jesus gave the prophetic message that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” We are experiencing the horrific pattern of escalating violence at work.

The logic of terrorism hopes to get a violent response in return for violence. That way terrorists can continue a narrative that they are actually the victims of Western aggression. In striking back, we give terrorists exactly what they want.

The Politics of Violence and the Politics of Jesus

Our violent political message isn’t working. Francois Hollande, President of France, said, “We are going to lead a war that will be pitiless.” He vowed to show “no mercy.” For Christians, this is in stark contrast to the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites us to living into. In the Beatitudes, Jesus claimed, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Just as violence is mimetic and will lead to a future of more violence, mercy is also mimetic. In other words, violence only ensures a future of violence. Mercy is our only possibility for a future of mercy and peace.

Negotiations alone won’t work. We also need reparations. So, what is a better solution to terrorism than responding with violence? Girardian Jean Michel-Oughourlian provides the answer in his book Psychopolitics,

Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace. (page 23)

*You may hear sounds in the background. That’s Lindsey’s toddler, which is also the reason for Lindsey’s side-glances.

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The Soul of Shame: Republicans and the CNBC Debate

There is one reason that political debates are so intriguing. And let’s not fool ourselves about this. We are not intrigued by these debates because we get to learn about the different positions candidates take on issues. That would be boring. And besides, at this stage of the primary debates, all the candidates have similar positions on the issues.

No. The real reason we are so fascinated by these debates is the drama. We want to see who wins and who loses. Debates are like a sporting event. Candidates, moderators, television networks – they are all playing the game to win.

And in this zero-sum game, in order to win somebody has to lose. Somebody has to be shamed. The game is rigged. They aren’t fair. They are set up to ensure that somebody gets humiliated.

But many Republican candidates are complaining that CNBC’s debate last week was unfair because the moderators asked “Gotcha” questions and acted in “bad faith.” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote that the moderators’ questions were “petty and mean spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.”

I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing Priebus or the Republican candidates who are complaining that the debate wasn’t fair. Essentially, they are right – the debate wasn’t fair because none of the debates are fair. They aren’t supposed to be fair; they are supposed to entertain us through the mechanism of shame. Until the American people demand changes, we shouldn’t expect anything different.

According to Curt Thompson’s latest book, The Soul of Shame, shame is the feeling that, “I am not enough; There is something wrong with me; I am bad, or I don’t matter.” But as Thompson states, shame is more than a feeling. It’s relational. Shame exists inside our minds, but it also exists between us. It is one of the many ways we influence one another. “In other words,” as Thompson explains, “there is rarely anything I do that is not either influencing or being influenced by other minds. And shame has no trouble swimming in the current that is constantly flowing between us.”

How we manage the current of shame that flows between us is crucial for finding healthy ways to heal our sense of shame.  Typically, we manage our sense of shame in unhealthy ways by mimicking others who have embarrassed us. Unfortunately, countering shame by shaming others is the natural default position of being human. It’s what the anthropologist René Girard calls this imitative type of behavior mimetic. You can see it everywhere, Reince Priebus and the Republicans who felt shamed. How did they respond? By shaming the CNBC moderators. But Priebus and those Republicans are not much different than any of us. We all tend to swim quite comfortably in the current of shame that constantly flows between us.

But we can swim in other currents. Instead of responding to shame with more shame, we can expose the cycle of shame by naming the game that we’re playing. Thompson alludes to this by writing, “. . . exposure is the very thing that shame requires for healing. Given how compelled we feel to turn away, strike inward at ourselves or strike out at others in response to shame, it is not our intuition to then quickly turn toward the other as a means to resolve the problem.”

I think this is what New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Christ Christie did in a recent interview.* Christie named the game recently by asking the rhetorical question, “Are we shocked” that moderators are biased? Of course we shouldn’t be shocked. It doesn’t matter if the moderator is from Fox News, CNBC, Telemundo, or PBS – to be human is to be biased. There’s no such thing as fair and balanced. We’re all politically biased. Even claiming to be anti-political is a political bias.

Christie also stated in the interview that “Debates are about seeing how someone responds under pressure, seeing whether you can think on your feet. Because, by the way, the presidency is going to make you think on your feet. And if you can’t do that and we gotta keep looking for the talking points, that’s going to be a problem.”

Now, I’m fully aware that Chris Christie has a checkered political past. There is evidence that he has bullied and shamed people during his political career. He’s as tough as any political candidate and can be rude. But I think he’s pointing to something in his interview that’s important. And that’s this: because political debates are full of shame, they are a microcosm of life, where we swim in the current of shame. Indeed, “Debates are about seeing how someone responds under pressure.” That pressure is the current of shame that flows between us. And if we continue to swim in the current by shaming one another, then we will doom ourselves to a more hostile and violent world.

Responding to the pressure of being shamed by shaming others is easy. Thinking on our feet requires an alternative and more intentional response. Whether in a political debate or in a business room or at the kitchen table, we would benefit from swimming in a different current. That different current requires naming the shame game, exposing how it functions in our lives, and refusing to participate in the game.

Then we can swim in a different current that foster a more compassionate and peaceful world.

Photo: Republican Candidates at the CNBC Debate (Photo: Screenshot from YouTube)

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Star Wars, Racism, and Beyond White Fragility

It’s hard for me to wait for December 18! That’s the day that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is released. For a Star Wars nerd like myself, the anticipation is nearly overwhelming. December 18 cannot come fast enough!

But this week I discovered that other Star Wars nerds are boycotting the movie. Why? Because they are racists! They have clearly gone to the dark side.

The main character of Star Wars is named Finn, who is played by John Boyega, who happens to be black! Has a black person ever played a main character in Star Wars? These racists shout “No!” and demand that Star Wars be white.

It’s so ridiculous; it’s almost like a story you could only find in the Onion. But I found the story in the Washington Post. Wait, it gets even crazier. Many white people are claiming that because Star Wars has a character who is black, the movie is promoting white genocide.

Seriously?!? This is so the Onion – except it’s not. Sure, some claim that the whole thing is a hoax by Internet trolls, as if we’ve entered a galaxy far, far away where trolling somehow makes racism okay.

Racism in America

Trolling or not, this is just more evidence of the racism that continues to infect our culture. Many liberals have taken to Twitter to denounce the racist trending hashtags #BoycottStarWarsVII and #WhiteGenocide. As absurd as these racist remarks and tweets are, I’m finding myself uncomfortable with the anti-racist response of many white liberals.

I’m uncomfortable because when we attack those racists, we gain a sense of self-righteous moral superiority against them. But here’s the problem, to be white in America is to be infected by racism.

Look, when it comes to white liberal progressives like myself, it is far too easy to blame those racists. What’s much more difficult, and what causes white fragility among us liberals, is the fact that we are infected with racism. Racism flows through us just as much as if flows through those we accuse of being racist.

That’s because the United States is structured upon racism that benefits white people and harms black people. The problem for white liberals is that we tend to be blind to the ways we benefit from and participate in racist structures.

I’ll give you a personal example. Like all parents, my wife and I want our children to attend good schools. That means we would never move to the inner city. Instead, we made sure that we moved to the suburbs. The suburbs where there are very few black people.

My children have a distinct advantage because of the color of their skin. They are white. They have the opportunity to attend better schools because they benefit from racist social structures. My children have access to experienced teachers, while most black children “are stuck in schools with the most new teachers.” Add to that the economic racial disparity reported by the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation and we see the severe disadvantage African Americans and Latinos face in this country. As Forbes states, “In absolute terms, the median white household had $111,146 in wealth holdings in 2011, compared to $7,113 for the median black household and $8348 for the median Latino household.”

Beyond White Fragility

But I’ve notices that when many white liberals are confronted with these numbers and the racism that undergirds our privilege, we start feeling guilty. I know that I can start getting defensive very quickly. And when I start getting defensive, I know someone has hit a truth about my participation in racist structures that I’d rather ignore.

White liberals generally have two choices in how we respond to our feelings of guilt. First, we can choose to become defensive. White fragility sets in and we insist that we aren’t racist. We start concealing our racism by projecting it onto the overt racists who start Twitter campaigns that boycott Star Wars. In other words, we’d much rather take the easy way out of scapegoating. We’d rather blame the racists out there than do the difficult work of examining the racism that infects in each one of us.

But the more vehemently white liberals deny that we are racists, the more evidence we provide that that’s exactly what we are.

The second choice is to move beyond white fragility by doing the difficult work of examining the racism within ourselves and our society. We can acknowledge that the racist structures that infect our country also infects us. We can choose to openly acknowledge the benefits we gain from racist societal structures. We can choose to work for political, economic, and educational reform that will lead toward greater racial justice. Most importantly, we can choose to seek friendships with our black sisters and brothers, to learn how they have to deal with racism every day of their lives, and work to create a more just nation.

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Image: John Boyega as a stormtrooper in the upcoming Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (Screenshot from YouTube)

Sanders Debate

Challenging The Washington Consensus

Political wisdom always has a sharp, cynical edge. You can’t utter it without feeling the throb of ancient wounds.

For instance: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

Emma Goldman’s observation nestled into my subconscious decades ago, and each presidential go-around aggravates it with new intensity. The Washington consensus never changes. The mainstream media shills never cease their efforts to bully all seriousness — all reality — out of the process. And money and militarism silently, invisibly rule, no matter who wins.

The alleged result of this is an entrenched public complacency, as Americans settle for techno-consumerism as a substitute for participation in real, political life and a voice in who we are as a nation. Beyond our shores . . . whatever. Empires will be empires. What can you do?

I don’t really believe this, but election campaigns bring out this despair in me — or, at any rate, they used to.

“Donald Trump is throwing the GOP primary into chaos by channeling the GOP’s id, spinning out wild fantasies of the Mexican government deliberately sending a flood of rapists and murderers across the border,” Paul Rosenberg wrote back in July at Salon. “But Bernie Sanders is disrupting Hillary Clinton’s coronation on the Democratic side by channeling the party’s soul, with a specifically issue-based focus.”

Could it be?

At the very least, something unexpected and against the wishes of the Washington consensus is happening in both major parties here in 2015, as the absurdly lengthy presidential election season begins to shake and rattle. At this early phase, it’s difficult to assess the extent and significance of the change. Trump is beyond the edge of weird, as he lights up the Republican base with code-free racist diatribes and a political agenda he seems to be making up as he goes along.

But what about Sanders? And I don’t mean, is he “electable”? I’m willing to suspend my doubt in that regard, but I have yet to fully embrace him politically. Does he simply look good because the Democratic Party has fled so far to the right over the last three decades?

There was a moment in last week’s Democratic presidential debate that exemplified all of the above for me: the mainstream media’s determination to continue shaping and defining the American political consensus and the still-marginalized but emerging counterpoint to the militarism of that consensus.

At one point, CNN’s Anderson Cooper tried to nail Sanders with a “tough” question, bringing up the fact that the Vermont socialist had applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. “What would you say to a young soldier in Afghanistan about this?” Cooper asked, his question quietly loaded with implication.

Here’s a young soldier in Afghanistan, risking his life to defend America’s freedom! And here’s a presidential candidate who not only didn’t serve in his generation’s war back in the ’60s, but actually had the temerity to apply for I’m-against-war-in-general status, which politically speaking has the feel of a mortal sin.

Fascinatingly, this was the only time Cooper — or anyone else on the stage, except the seriously marginalized Lincoln Chafee — mentioned any of America’s failed-but-ongoing wars in the Middle East. The moment was a glaring demonstration of how the media shape public consensus: not by overt propaganda but, far more effectively, by silent implication. An imaginary GI is trotted out in his battle gear to stand briefly in judgment of the CO applicant who, 50 years ago, wanted only to avoid risking his life in service to his country. Shame, shame.

I repeat: The wars themselves were never discussed, because that would have been  . . . well, awkward.

Sanders could have stepped directly into the question and talked about the courage and moral clarity it takes to declare oneself a conscientious objector. He could have discussed the cost and pointlessness of our current wars, including the bombing, barely a week earlier, of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. He could have embraced the very GI Cooper had summoned in moral judgment, addressing PTSD and the dismal inadequacy of vets’ health care — in the process disrupting and exposing the game Cooper was trying to play.

Instead, Sanders settled for pointing out that, while he had been against the Vietnam War, “I’m not a pacifist.” He added: “I supported the war in Afghanistan. War should be the last resort, (but) I am prepared to take this country to war if necessary.”

OK, fine. The moment passed and (almost) disappeared. The debate went on. And while I was disappointed in Sanders’ answer, I was fascinated that the issue had come up at all. Conscientious objection to war has a consensus-threatening volatility even at this marginal level of acknowledgement.

And the presidential campaign is still in its early stages. And Sanders, to his immense credit, is refusing to run as a candidate beholden to big money. And, as a blogger named Karim pointed out at the website Secular Nirvana: “An incredibly large portion of Bernie’s supporters aren’t just voters, they have become activists.”

Being not just a voter but an activist is the antidote for Emma Goldman’s observation. This is how to change the world.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


Image: “[Full] Democratic Presidential Debate 2015: Bernie Sanders, Clinton, Webb, Chafee & O’Malley” on CNN. Published by SR Videos. Screenshot via Youtube.


Refuting Myth With Truth: Beyond “Erase-ism” To Repentance


We was real hard workers, wasn’t we?

With those words, 15-year-old Coby Burren alerted his mother, Roni Dean-Burren, to a mistake somehow overlooked by editors and reviewers held to what one would hope to be the highest standards of scrutiny. In his 9th grade World Geography book, a text used by millions of students nation-wide, he had found slavery described as a type of “immigration” and slaves euphemized as “workers.” The caption read:

The Atlantic Slave Trade between 1500 and 1800 brought millions of workers from Africa to the Southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.

Proud of her son’s keen mind and sharp eye, but alarmed by the revisionist history, Dean-Burren, a former high school English teacher who is now a Ph.D. candidate in education at the University of Houston, posted her son’s textbook on Facebook in a video expressing her disappointment. The video went viral, and before long Dean-Burren was invited to express concerns — by then shared with parents across the nation – on such programs as Good Morning America and The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.

Her criticism also caught the attention of the publishing company, McGraw-Hill, which consented to changing the wording in the digital version of the book immediately and making sure the next edition contained new wording to replace “workers” with “slaves” and describe slavery as a “forced migration.” Not yet satisfied, as this particular new book could remain in classrooms for up to 10 years, Dean-Burren and her supporters continued to press the issue. Eventually the CEO of McGraw Hill, David Levin, extended a personal invitation to Dean-Burren for a meeting. Levin explained multiple steps the company would take to rectify the situation, including sending stickers that would cover and correct the misinformation on the caption. He also informed her that McGraw-Hill is developing a lesson plan so that teachers can guide students through making the corrections themselves and use the incident as a teachable moment. For school districts that make the request, McGraw-Hill will recall and replace the textbooks without charge. Additionally, McGraw-Hill is sending Dean-Burren further textbooks for her to check. Last week she received a copy of United States History to 1877, and she’s getting to work. Through her tireless diligence and dedication to educating youth with truth, Roni Dean-Burren has more than earned her Stay Woke award!


The rest of us need to stay woke too, because, as Dean-Burren says, “Erasure is real.” My understanding, not only from following this story closely, but from what I have learned from intentional study of institutional racism and a Girardian understanding of the human condition, is that this mistake was a purposeful euphemism, a mythologizing of history. I do not believe harm was intended, but harm is the inevitable result of minimizing the inexcusable abomination of slavery in all of its abject cruelty.

Remembering the past – literally re-membering, or putting it back together in our minds and our personal narratives – to emphasize the good and minimize the horrific or embarrassing, is a human tendency that dooms us to repeating, in new and varied nuanced ways, our mistakes and follies. For those who hold power or advantage over others, this human tendency is a building block of our culture, a culture built on the backs of victims and covering over their presence. In other words, as the cliché goes, “history is written by the winners,” but the re-writing of history to obscure mistakes and poor judgments makes losers of us all.

The Girardian term for this re-writing of history is “mythology.” While the conventional understanding of classical mythology is that it consists of stories told, in metaphoric language, to reveal deep truths, René Girard understood myth to conceal a deep truth, the truth of our violence. Girard convincingly exposes ancient myths as retellings of actual human violence, obscuring such violence with overlays of gods and glory. The development of human culture has been structured on violence and the covering of such violence to build collective bonds of pride at the expense of victims. (For more on the connections between history, mythology, and culture, see Imitatio’s introductory page on René Girard). When any history, including modern history, is told by those in power in such a way as to minimize or obscure the violence done to the oppressed, it is not truth but mythology. And mythology that obscures violence perpetuates violence.


Mythology, in the form of white denial and a white-dominant narrative of history, has been a structuring principal of this country from the very beginning. A country built on stolen land and stolen labor has racism at its core, racism obscured by euphemizing mythology. While the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and a long and bloody civil rights movement is more-or-less common knowledge, the interpretation of these facts of United States history varies widely according to factors including race and one’s place within a power-structure that was built on the oppression and exploitation of black lives. In my “Dismantling Racism” series, I wrote that the ongoing impact of racism is much less understood than its past manifestations:

Less is known about the ways in which racism is built into the very structure and economy of modern American life. Less is known about strategic decisions that are made that keep black lives devalued.

In other words, mythologizing the racism of this country, obscuring the structural role it plays, is nothing new. In fact, the terrible history of slavery and segregation in this nation has been written into a dominant narrative of “overcoming obstacles.” The narrative that racism is a thing of the past, outlawed and outdated, obscures a continued need for repentance and growth toward a racial equality (in terms of social, political and economic opportunity) that still eludes our nation. Personal animosity based on race, or racial bigotry, is rightly condemned by most, but because of that, institutional racism has become more insidious. The power dynamics of white privilege are often invisible to the privileged.

The invisibility of racism to those who wield it makes it all the more difficult to confront and combat. Because racism is considered “over” by an unrepentant (un-self-critical) nation, I believe that the editors at McGraw-Hill, and the many reviewers, saw no harm in categorizing slavery as “immigration” and euphemizing slaves as “workers.” After all, they probably reasoned, Africans traveled to America and they worked. The fact that this “migration” was in fact a kidnapping, the stealing of human lives on a massive scale, the packing of people chained together into ships unfit for transporting animals, and that the “work” they did was enforced with unspeakable and often deadly brutality, was left unmentioned, at least in this section. Perhaps the editors believed that all of this was implied, but the euphemisms that obscure this reality are the tools that chisel history into mythology to tell a story less damning.

But the consequences of racism and “erase-ism” are ongoing and intensifying as our nation becomes increasingly polarized, not necessarily along racial divisions, but along divisions between those who acknowledge and those who deny white privilege.  The truth is, the less racism is acknowledged, or the more it is considered a problem of the past, the worse this division becomes, with detrimental consequences to everyone but especially African Americans. Distancing ourselves from a horrific and embarrassing history of unspeakable brutality denies how deeply-rooted and far-reaching racism still is. Mythologizing the past blinds us to the damning facts of the present, including the fact that economic opportunities historically denied to African Americans accounts in part for a wealth disparity wherein the average black household has only 6% of the wealth of the average white household. Racial profiling, police brutality, and a racist mass incarceration system has been in the spotlight this year, but attention to these atrocities has also generated pushback by those who chose to double-down on their denial.  Sanitizing the brutality of the past absolves white people — collectively — of our responsibility in creating an unequal, exploitive system that has lead to poorer housing, poorer school systems, and fewer economic opportunities for African Americans. And the less we acknowledge our responsibility, the more we blame those hurt by racism for the inequalities imposed upon them.


The human capacity for denial, self-justification, and deflecting responsibility is limitless. This individual tendency is reinforced by mimesis (spread like a contagion via imitation through society) in the collective whitewashing that mythologizes our cultural narrative. The vocabulary chosen for the caption in the McGraw-Hill textbooks, and the decision to mis-contextualize slavery as immigration, is one example of such mythologizing. One consequence of such mythologizing is continued blindness to racism, as well as blindness to other imbalances of power and continued policies of violence and oppression.

Our cultural mythology keeps us entrapped in a system that perpetuates injustice along racial divisions. Only the truth can set us all free. The truth, in all of its ugly horror, is that the United States has never overcome its brutal origins in the most dehumanizing treatment of fellow human beings. Whitewashing history, or “rewriting it with a pencil instead of a bleeding pen” as Roni Dean-Burren says, ensures that we move farther away from rather than closer to the equality we claim as a hallmark of our nation.

We are long overdue for repentance, for turning ourselves around. Repentance is acknowledging our diagnosis as a sick society in need of healing, and from that acknowledgement, turning ourselves around in honesty and humility. We must turn from denial to awareness, from perpetuation of injustice to reparation for injustice. Teaching the truth, not only about slavery, but about the continued influence of racism, along with every other evil that must be brought from the shadows into the healing light of day, is where we must start.

Image: Screen grab from Youtube. “Texas Textbook Refers To Slaves As Workers” by HuffPost Live.

Jeb Bush and Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. (Screen shot from YouTube)

The Political Wisdom of Jeb Bush, Stephen Colbert, and Jesus

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about Bernie Sanders. My point was to highlight how Bernie refuses to play the game of political scapegoating. He was baited by an interviewer to attack Hillary Clinton and he refused to do it. Instead, he spoke about the issues. I argued that we need political leaders like Bernie Sanders.

Well, I was accused of endorsing Bernie. The accusation might be fair because I am feeling the Bern.

But I’m also feeling the Jeb.

Jeb Bush was recently on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Before taking a few late night obligatory jabs at the “Big orange elephant in the room … Donald Trump,” Stephen asked Jeb about the political hostility that divides Washington.

Stephen: Do you think that you could bring people together? Because everybody says they want to bring people together, but when you get down to the campaigning or get down to what passes for governing now, it often ends up being just a game of blood sport where you attack the other person and the other side can’t possibly do, say, or have planned for anything good.

Jeb: So I’m going to say something that’s heretic[al] I guess. I don’t think that Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues … If you start with the premise that people have good motives you can find common ground … Look, in state capitals all across the country this doesn’t happen to the same extent that it does in Washington. In the mayor’s offices there are people who disagree with one another and they are allowed to talk to one another. You can be friends with people that you don’t agree with on everything. I mean, we have to restore a degree of civility.

Assume the Good

Jeb has provided some important political wisdom. Politics has become infected with what René Girard calls “mimetic rivalry.” We often think that rivalry is based on our differences. For example, we might think that Republicans and Democrats are in a bitter rivalry because they have differences of opinion about how to govern. Political rhetoric emphasizes the differences, of course, because each side completely believes in their own propoganda! If only they were really arguing about their different objectives, then we would be having substantive discussions on solutions to the problems that we face as a nation. But political rivalry isn’t based on differences; it’s based on similarities.  For example, Republicans and Democrats are in a bitter rivalry because each side wants the same thing – they each want to win and each views the other as a threat to their desire. In order to win, Democrats and Republicans forget their political mission to promote the common good and instead spend much of their time demonizing one another and telling us why electing the other side would be disastrous for America.

In human relationships, mimetic rivalry quickly escalates to the point where the object is completely lost and the only thing left is defeating our opponents. In other words, winning becomes the all-consuming objective rather than finding solutions to our nation’s problems. It’s a dangerous scenario that leads to verbal, emotional, and physical violence.

We need political leaders like Jeb Bush to guide us beyond the trap of mimetic rivalry. Jeb’s advice to “start with the premise that people have good motives” is an excellent place to start healing the political divide.

But as Jeb points out, to assume the good in the other is often viewed as heretical. There may be a price to pay when we stop demonizing our opponents and acknowledge that they are motivated by something good. We may be seen as traitors if we reach across the political or religious or racial or economic divide. We may even become our own group’s scapegoat.

Jesus and Jeb: On Being Heretics

This is the danger of fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies. When we love our enemies, which includes the ability to assume that they have good motives, our friends can quickly turn against us. Jesus knew the tragic outcome that his message of love would bring to a violent world. His message of love for even our enemies wouldn’t bring peace, rather it would bring division. It would split families and social groups apart because our group identity is so often based on uniting in hatred against a common enemy. But Jesus doesn’t allow for that kind of unity. He commands that we love our enemies as we love ourselves. Yet, he’s also very clear about the cost,

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Jesus’s call to love all people evokes the paradoxical truth that all-inclusive love brings division within group dynamics. He was accused of being a heretic because he challenged the status quo of hatred and hostility that divides groups from one another. When we love with the radical inclusiveness of Jesus we will be labeled as heretics by our own group. And that’s okay, because when our friends become enemies, we are still called by Jesus to love them. We are called, to paraphrase Jeb’s comment on the Late Show, to “start with the premise that our enemies, even our friends who have turned against us, have good motives.” Once we find and acknowledge those good motives, we have a better chance of working together toward the common good.

We need political leaders who will reach across the political divide and assume the good motives of the other. We need political leaders like Jeb Bush.

Photo: Jeb Bush and Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. (Screen shot from YouTube)


Pope Francis, Kim Davis, and Progressive Purity Codes

Editor’s Note: This article was written and published to Teaching Nonviolent Atonement at Patheos yesterday, before the news came out to clarify the Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis. Even so, this article offers a useful perspective on the “scandalous” nature of such a meeting.

By now you’ve heard that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis last week. I’d like to make two things clear up front: First, I love Pope Francis. I think he is making huge leaps in the right direction for Christianity on a global scale. Second, I think Kim Davis was absolutely wrong to deny marriage licenses to gay couples. I firmly believe that her stance against gay marriage is a misreading of scripture and Christian tradition. I believe that Christians can, and should, support marriage equality.

But since we discovered that Pope Francis met with Davis, many Progressives have been in an uproar. Many have tried to explain away their meeting by saying that the Pope didn’t know about Kim Davis or that there was some conspiracy within the Vatican to get Kim Davis a meeting with Pope Francis.

I might lose my Progressive credentials for this, but why are so many Progressives offended that the Pope would meet with Kim Davis? I get that many are concerned that the Pope may have endorsed her actions to exclude same gender marriage, but we just don’t know if that was his intent. Still, there’s another important issue here, and that is purity codes.

It’s as if the Pope has crossed our progressive purity codes. Sure, we love Pope Francis when he hugs a man with boils, meets with prisoners, and advocates for the poor. But meeting with our enemy? Oh that’s too much. So we hunker down to remind ourselves that Kim Davis is the enemy and anyone who fraternizes with our enemies crosses the lines of our purity codes and becomes contaminated with “otherness.”

There’s even this article with the catchy title, “How Pope Francis Undermined the Goodwill of His Trip and Proved to Be a Coward.”

Pope Francis knows that his job isn’t to make us Progressives happy. His job isn’t to get on our program. That’s because our program is so often based in opposition to our enemies. Our purity codes tell us who is in and who is out, who is worthy of love and who we should hate. So let’s just admit it – we hate people like Kim Davis. She makes our skin crawl. Our identity as Progressives is in part based by being in opposition to those we label as Evangelicals or fundamentalists or conservatives. And so we are against Kim Davis.

And many Progressives want Pope Francis to be just like us. Many want Pope Francis to have the same enemies that we have. We want him to hate the same people that we hate. That’s why we’re so scandalized when Pope Francis met with Kim Davis.

But that’s not Francis’s job. His job is to shine the love of God into the world. God doesn’t play by any purity codes, including progressive purity codes. The doctrine of the Incarnation reveals that God isn’t in rivalry with humanity. God didn’t come into the world through Jesus Christ to judge or condemn humanity. Rather, God came into the world to save us from our purity codes that create hostile identities of “us against them.”

The truth is that our enemies are not God’s enemies, because God has no enemies. The highlight of biblical teaching about God is the truth statement found in 1 John, that Jesus has revealed that “God is love.” Period. If that’s true, as every Progressive I’ve met would affirm, then God loves everyone, including those we call our enemies. Including Kim Davis.


Jesus tells us that God’s nourishing sun and refreshing rain fall on the just and the unjust alike. God makes no distinction between friend and foe, righteous and unrighteous. Rather, God loves and cares for everyone.

God loves Kim Davis. The Pope’s most important job is to shine God’s love into the world. That’s what he did by meeting with her. Does God’s love for Kim Davis mean that God endorses everything Kim Davis does? Of course not. Neither does God’s love for me or for you mean that God endorses everything that we do.

As a Progressive, I’m glad that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis. He reminds me, and all Christians, that our mission in the world isn’t to follow our group’s purity codes. Instead, it’s to cross the purity codes that divide us and them. It’s to follow the God who unabashedly loves all people.

For more, see Morgan Guyton’s excellent article, “Jesus would have met with Kim Davis and Gene Robinson.”

Image: Pope Francis and Kim Davis (Photos: Flickr: Pope Francis – by the Republic of Korea, Creative Commons License, changes made; Kim Davis, by Mike Licht, Creative Common License, changes made)


Trump, Biden And The Search For Authenticity

The nascent race for the U.S. Presidency is a great case study in desire. Voters are looking for “authenticity” in the candidates, or so the pundits say. Donald Trump and potential candidate Joe Biden are very popular right now because they seem to be genuine, passionate and unscripted. Everyone is tired of the highly scripted, tightly controlled candidate who doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been vetted, polled and tested with focus groups. The public face of such politicians is clearly false and constructed by others. What we long for is to glimpse the real self behind the façade, and we praise anyone who allows us a peek behind the mask. The inner self, we believe, is the true self that resists all that meddling by others.

This false view of the self is what James Alison, in his educational series Jesus The Forgiving Victim, calls the “blob and arrow” model. The blob represents me, what is thought to be my true self. The arrows are my desires which originate with me and are directed towards things in the world that I want, such as a job, a mate, or a political office. James explains:

Part of the self-understanding of the “blob” is that is has a defensive role, protecting and hiding the “real me” and my “real desire” which is always under a certain amount of threat from the fundamentally “flaky” public world, the world of commerce, of business, of politics and of war, in which no forms of discourse are really truth-bearing. So, what I say in public, how I act in public, and what I say I want in public, are always a certain form of dissimulation, since it is only the private ‘self’ which is real. (400-401)

Authentically Dependent on Others

This way of thinking about ourselves can be very flattering. It identifies us as the good guys pitted against the flaky world out there. But unfortunately for our egos, it just isn’t true!  Our desires are not stable, unchangeable things that originate deep inside of us. Our desires are given to us by the world around us through our highly developed capacity for imitation. In other words, each and every one of us is the product of a script that predates our existence. We are formed, shaped, brought into being by the cultural script into which we were born. There is no “true inner self” that exists somehow separate from and unmoved by our “public self”. Our inner self is the result of being in an extraordinarily powerful and fluid feedback loop with the world around us. Unless we can understand that the ground of being in which we live, move and desire is the culture around us, what James calls the “social other”, we will forever misunderstand that our “authentic self” is the product of our social interactions.

The truth is that our “authentic” selves are much less stable than we normally understand. We are constantly courting the attention and approval of others, without which our “sense of self” erodes. We feel insecure, ashamed, and we lose confidence in ourselves without that approval. Politicians and celebrities, people who rely on the approval of others, are no different than we are. They are just more public about it! Their dependence on our votes or our wallets is no secret at all.

And like these public figures, we should not be ashamed of our need for approval. Jesus knows that being human means that our selves are constructed in and through relationships. The question is, which relationships are forming us? Some relationships have our best interests at heart; others are abusive and manipulative. James explains that Jesus is inviting us to become aware of just how dependent we are on the “social other”, which is not always good for us. He wants us to enter a kind of detox program so that we can free ourselves from its grip.

A Detox Program

That detox program is prayer. When we read Matthew 6:5-6 with this understanding of the self and desire, what do we find?

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When we pray in public and put our piety (or authenticity!) on display, our “reward” is the approval of others. Jesus warns us to beware of that reward. Instead he urges us to withdraw from the social other, to shut ourselves away from their glances so that we can begin to receive ourselves from a different source. James writes:

[Jesus] is saying, “You are addicted to being who you are in the eyes of your adoring public, or your execrating public, it doesn’t matter which, since crowd love and crowd hate give identity in just the same dangerous way. So, go into a place where you are forcibly in detox from the regard of those who give you identity so that your Father, who alone is not part of that give and take, can have a chance to call your identity into being.” (412)

The truth is that an authentic self can be called into being by relationships that mirror God’s unconditional love. But crowd love or hate cannot call forth an authentic self! It will only shape a “self” in its image. As James explains, we too easily become a puppet of the crowd, forever doing its bidding in order to keep the feedback coming. When we praise politicians’ for being “authentic”, we need to realize that our praise is coming toward them from the crowd of which we are willing members. Perhaps such politicians are not dependent on us for their identity, but perhaps they are too dependent on us without realizing it.

As we analyze the presidential candidates with this in mind, we might ask ourselves the same question: Are we bolstering our own sense of self by aligning with a particular candidate? Group belonging is a sure way to feel good about ourselves over against those “baddies” in the other camp. Perhaps our longing for authenticity in our candidates reflects our desire for a more stable, authentic identity for ourselves. Maybe we all need a little time in detox.

This article is a modified version of an article I wrote for my blog series  inspired by Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice by James Alison. This series can be found on the Patheos Progressive Christian Teaching Nonviolent Atonement page. For other parts in this series, see:

Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Huh?

Listening for the Unheard Voice

Authentically Boring: The Case for Praying by Rote

If Jesus is the Forgiving Victim, Then What Am I?

The One Thing: God, Faith, and a City Slicker

Image: Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photos: Flickr, DonkeyHotey, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Creative Commons License, some changes made.)


Bernie Sanders Interview with Andrea Mitchel (Screenshot from YouTube)

Why Bernie Sanders Is the Political Leader We Need

Last week while American culture was absorbed by the Kim Davis scandal, you may have missed the most important interview of the political season. Andrea Mitchel of MSNBC interviewed presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. You may disagree with his policies, but this interview reveals why Bernie Sanders is the political leader that we need.

Andrea Mitchel began the interview by framing Sanders in opposition to Hillary Clinton. Mitchel asked if Sanders’ ability to close the gap between himself and Clinton in the polls was “due to the email controversy and the trust factor.” As she continued to bait Sanders into attacking Clinton, he stated,

Let me reiterate, this campaign is not against Hillary Clinton or anybody else. It is for an American people who are sick and tired of seeing the middle class disappear and huge numbers of people living in poverty. And as a candidate, what I am going to do is focus on the real issues facing the American people: Why we are the only major country on earth not providing family and medical leave, the only major country not guaranteeing health care to all people, the need to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour over the next several years.

But Mitchel wasn’t done luring Sanders into attacking his Democratic rival. Instead of asking him about those issues, she immediately referred to a Quinnipiac University Poll that stated the first word that came to mind for voters about Hillary Clinton was “liar.” She asked, “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Hillary Clinton?” Sanders’ reply symbolizes everything that we need in our next political leader:

I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years and I know her to be a very hard working, intelligent person. Somebody I worked with in the Senate. So I am sorry. I’m not going to get into the media game, Andrea, of making personal attacks against Hillary Clinton … I don’t think that’s what the American people want and I think we have got to focus on the real issues. Why is the middle class disappearing and almost all new income and wealth going to the top one percent? Why don’t we have a trade policy that works for the American worker and not the CEOs of large corporations? Why do we have a system where families cannot afford to send their kids to college? A lot of issues to be talked about. You’ll forgive me, but I’m not going to get into attacking Hillary Clinton personally.

Bernie Sanders is the political leader that we need. On the left and the right, presidential campaigns, interviews, and debates we are served a toxic helping of candidates blaming others for the problems that we face. The political blame game is a classic example of scapegoating. It’s an unfortunate fact that in American politics, the most “successful” politicians is the one who can attack others most effectively. For example, we love the drama of presidential debates, not so much because we want to hear a debate about the issues, but because we want to see who will score more points by making the other look like a fool.

Bernie Sanders is refreshing to me because political campaigns are usually established over and against other politicians. It creates a spirit of hostility within political campaigns that spreads throughout our culture.

There is only one way to stop the spirit of hostility from spreading, and Bernie is showing us the way. It is to remain focused on political policies, not on demonizing our political opponents.

We can disagree with Sanders about his policies, but he’s currently the most important political leader that we have because he’s naming the social disease that infects American culture. That disease is the imitative aspect of scapegoating an enemy. Sanders refuses to play that game and instead is focused on policy.

I hope he’s right. I hope that the American people don’t want politicians who make personal attacks against others. I fear that we are easily seduced by political attacks. But frankly, it doesn’t really matter what the American people want. What we need are political leader who refuses to get sidetracked by personal attacks. We need political leaders who stay focused on the issues. We need political leaders who will model for us how to have debates without demonizing the other side.

In other words, we need political leaders like Bernie Sanders.

Photo: Bernie Sanders Interview with Andrea Mitchel (Screenshot from YouTube)

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