Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

31 March 2019

The scales of justice currently have a right-wing thumb pressed down real hard. Our society reels from the conspiracy to distort democratic principles, from a right-wing Supreme Court, to a right-wing Senate, to a right-wing Attorney General appointed by a right-wing President. Mr. Barr has just rendered his four-page interpretation of a two-year investigation by Mr. Mueller into the collusion of Russia and the president undermining the election process in the U.S. Although it came as little surprise that the Attorney General essentially reinforced the president’s claim that the investigation was a witch hunt, most Americans were awaiting something a bit more honest. Not everybody thinks the investigation is over, but the president contends he hears the “fat lady” singing. Nonetheless the wind has gone out of the sails among those who hoped that some form of retribution might take place, even at the highest level of government.

Our nation is not entirely in a new position. We are experiencing a recycling of White racism/ supremacy with a bit more legitimacy from the top of the political pyramid than in the past. But the basic theological principles remain the same. Yes – theological. Theology is nothing more than a reflection on values and convictions. Values determine what we believe to be important in life. Convictions reveal how we live our values. Among the many efforts to crystalize why we are such a divided nation, I believe the divide can best be interpreted as White Theology vs. Black Theology.

Sixty years ago, white people were astoundingly silent about racism in general, and the Civil Rights movement in particular. Of course there were exceptions as there always are, but the legitimate question raised at the time by Malcolm X was whether Christianity was a white man’s religion, or if Islam reflected the true religion for black people. Malcolm further asked if a Black person could authentically be a Christian. This question stirred the pot among black Christian ministers especially. James Cone who then started a movement called Black Theology. Even before Liberation Theology which famously addressed the plight of the poor mainly in Central and South America, Cone began Black Liberation Theology. The thesis was that God identified with the oppressed. As was written in the Gospels and in Isaiah, “preaching good news to the poor” consisted of proclaiming freedom from captivity. 

James Cone also played off Malcolm’s question by asking if racists could ever be considered Christian. Stokely Carmichael called for Black Power in the arena of politics and economics. Broadly understood, Black Theology became the counterpart to Black Power. And white people dismissed the movement as “Marxist.” This is how the Roman Catholic hierarchy rationalized its rejection of Liberation Theology.  Priests fighting for liberation for the poor and powerless were just “Marxists.”

And here it comes again. White supremacists desperate to hold on to their oppressor status, have made it their religion to disenfranchise the poor. This is what they believe to be important, and how they live their values.  And those who seek justice for all people are readily dismissed these days as “socialists.” It’s a label of such negative connotation that the real issues we need to confront are easily dismissed. 

Impeaching the president was never a high priority of mine. That would have solved little, if anything at all. Our real issue under the banner of Trump is Trumpism. The oppressors in our society today wield a malicious power that threatens not only a system of justice as written by our founding fathers, but threatens human decency as written by biblical scribes. The Mueller report represents but a single thread of our painful predicament. Our commitment to justice cannot decelerate.  Our work has just begun. White Theology must lose its influence. Democracy must prevail. TRG