Tag Archives: racism

What Can We Learn From Jussie Smollett?

smollett
Mug shot taken of Jussie Smollett at his arrest by Chicago P.D. – found at abc7chicago.com

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that actor and musician Jussie Smollet (born “Justin Smollett”) allegedly faked an attack upon himself on January 29, 2019, stating that he was assaulted by two white men who put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and called him racist and homophobic slurs while also saying, “This is MAGA country.” Smollett is African-American and gay. He also allegedly received a threatening letter a week earlier containing a mysterious white powder which turned out to be Tylenol.

Chicago P.D. investigated and have concluded that the attack did not occur as Smollett stated, and have subsequently arrested him on felony charges. Although Smollett’s attorneys deny the allegations against their client, he has also been written out of the rest of the season of the television show Empire. The latest “revelation” regarding this young man is that he now states he has a drug problem.

While all this is getting a lot of attention in social media, not everyone is condemning him, at least publicly. Some politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker, have deleted their initial “tweets” on twitter that showed support for Smollett, however U.S. Representative Maxine Waters continues to believe him. Also, African-American author and screenwriter Steven Barnes, while not defending Smollett’s alleged crime outright, does say that faking the attack does not make him a racist (and who said it did?).

Now, although Smollett has gotten a severe “dressing down” from both African-American Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and African-American Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. (I’m pointing out that both men are black so readers don’t believe their comments are based on racism), as Judge Lyke stated, before the law, Smollett is presumed innocent until the state proves its case against him (assuming they can).

However a blog, as well as social and news media, are not courts of law, so we can afford to make some assumptions. Let’s assume that all of the allegations against Smollett are true and that he not only mailed a threatening letter to himself (which may constitute mail fraud, a Federal offense), but hired two men he’s worked with on “Empire” to fake the attack. What can we say about this?

It seems like this 36-year-old man needs a lot of attention, and playing the role of a victim, both because he’s gay and black, would certainly qualify as attention. Having his “assailants” pretend to be white Trump supporters would likely result in immediate condemnation on Trump in particular (for inspiring hate) and white conservatives in general, both being pretty easy targets in the aforementioned social and news media. In other words, on the surface of it, the attack would seem credible to a lot of people.

But that’s not enough. Before Chicago P.D. formally charged Smollett, he described himself during the attack as a gay Tupac, meaning that he was tough and fought back (although the real life boxer Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996 at the age of 25, had his own legal problems). Smollett apparently was attempting to dispel the traditional stereotype that gay men are effeminate and would be helpless in a physical fight (which is ridiculous because I’ve known gay men who have served in the Marine Corps and they are tough).

Smollett is alleged to have staged the attack, in part, because he was dissatisfied with the amount of money he was earning on “Empire” which was supposedly about $125,000 per episode. With 18 episodes per season, that comes out to over two million dollars a year. Of course, there are television actors who earn more, such as the cast of “Big Bang Theory” who are said to each pull down $900,000 per episode. Nice work if you can get it.

If you put everything together, you can make a case for Smollett being a talented but highly insecure individual who needed a lot more recognition than he was getting, and yes, money is definitely a form of recognition. Sympathy and admiration are other forms, which would play to his being a victim and valiantly fighting back against his two, supposedly MAGA loving white racist attackers.

Let’s face it, most of us feel insecure at times and probably want more attention than we’re getting, but most of us don’t go to such lengths to get that attention. Add Smollett’s own admission that he has a drug problem, and you have some significant psychopathology going on, which I bet this young man’s attorneys are going to significantly exploit in court.

But it doesn’t matter. Smollett’s already destroyed his life, at least for the next several years. However, consider actor Robert Downey Jr‘s own drug-related career damage. After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, he finally got this act together and now he’s one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. I suppose that could happen to Smollett, too, but he could also pull a Lindsay Lohan. Or not, since I just read that her career is also slowly getting back on track. Who’d have thought?

However, he’ll have to go through a lot of hurdles first, not the least of which are the consequences of being convicted if it goes that way.

But he’s not the only one who will experience consequences.

Smollett’s ploy isn’t unique. According to USA Today, it’s actually pretty common, and as a result, each false allegation causes further damage to race relations, and in this case, will again make it more difficult for real victims of racism and prejudice against the LGBTQ community to be believed. Now each and every actual victim of a hate crime gets to “thank” Smollett and the many others who put their own issues ahead of everything else. Now, with each difficulty in being believed, in having their allegations be considered valid, at feeling like they’re not being taken seriously, these people can turn to Smollett and realize that he made it harder for them.

And as Catholic teenager Nick Sandmann found out, this also makes it more likely that anyone wearing a MAGA hat for any reason will be considered a violent racist.

Why am I writing this here on my religious blog? Because we’re supposed to be people of good conscience. We’re supposed to provide charity to the widow and the orphan, which is Biblical shorthand for the disadvantaged. I’ve been burned before giving charity to someone who had duped me, and I didn’t just waste my own money doing it. How do incidents like the one Smollett allegedly perpetrated affect our own willingness to believe the victim, offer help, give to the needy? After all, we’re people just like anyone else, and I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Christians right now who are raking Smollett over the virtual coals in social media, in their families, and in their churches.

Is that right?

The court will judge Smollett on legal matters, and like everyone else, God will judge him on how he’s treated the Almighty and other human beings. While we, as individual human beings, likely have an opinion about Smollett and the behavior he’s accused of committing, a wider or more “God-like” view should tell us that we too have a judge, and while we may not be guilty of faking racist or homophobic attacks on ourselves, we do need to pay attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds first. Have we done something that hurts others because of our own selfishness? If the answer is yes, then it behooves us to make amends in our own lives. This won’t change Smollett, and it won’t justify us “badmouthing” him, but it will mean we’re capable of learning a lesson here. So, hopefully, is Jussie Smollett.

Who Let The Dogs Out?

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Mark 7:24-30 (ESV)

Since the assigned lection a few Sundays ago on Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), I’ve intended to comment on what appears to me a surprisingly widespread mis-reading of the passage. Essentially, the “dogs” (who Jesus says here must wait till after the “children” have eaten before they can be fed) are taken with an extremely pejorative connotation as feral mongrels, and the scene is read as if Jesus is pictured insulting the woman and treating her with contempt. I am embarrassed to find this basic take on the passage even in the learned commentary on Mark by a scholar I deeply admire: Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: Hermeneia (Fortress Press, 2007), 366-67. But for several reasons, among them prominently the specifics of the Greek term used (unusually) in this passage, I think it pretty clear that this take is wrong.

Dr. Larry W. Hurtado
“Dogs, Doggies, and Exegesis”
Lary Hurtado’s Blog

Disclaimer: In using the title of the song Who Let the Dogs Out? written by Anselem Douglas and originally covered by the Baha Men, I am in no way attempting to be insulting to any individual or group of people, either those addressed within the context of this blog post or otherwise. Given the core statement made by Jesus in the Mark 7 quote, it just seemed like a “clever” title for my missive. That is the complete extent of my intention for using the song title.

Note: I’m taking an interpretation written by well-known New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado and using it as a springboard to make a suggestion of my own. I certainly don’t expect Hurtado (should he ever read this) to agree with me and frankly, what I’m doing in today’s blog post is something of an “experiment.” Just so you know.

Was Jesus a racist? This question doesn’t come out of thin air. There have been several recent conversations in the blogosphere in relation to Messianic Judaism (click the link to see my rather specific definition for the term) and whether or not proponents of Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism, rather than an all-inclusive “Christianity,” is racist. (See Judah Himango’s blog post Two Church: Defining Bilateral Ecclesiology in Simple Terms for the latest discussion) The suggestion is that, by insisting that the modern Jewish disciples of the ancient Jewish Messiah are a Judaism and, like all other Jews, are the sole inheritors of the Mosaic covenant because they are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jews are being racist. That is, Messianic Jews, by overtly excluding non-Jewish Christians from the conditions of the Mosaic covenant (the Torah), are denying people access to being obligated to the full weight of the Torah mitzvot based on race.

The topic is extremely rich and can be taken in a lot of different directions, but since I had recently read Dr. Hurtado’s above-quoted blog post and it’s companion article, I thought I’d use them as the focus of my investigation. They really are quite fitting since they directly address Christ’s interaction with the (non-Jewish) Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7 and he appears to treat her rather badly because she’s not Jewish. But is that really the case?

This sense of a domestic scene ought to be obvious simply in reading the passage. Jesus is pictured as responding to the woman’s request by saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it isn’t right to give the childrens’ food to the dogs.” The point of the statement is the temporal priority of the “children”, of course in this case, referring to Jesus directing his ministry to fellow Jews. The metaphor presumes a setting in which the household dogs are fed the leftovers after the family has eaten (not custom-produced dog-food). (I know the practice well, having grown up in a rural setting in which the household dogs ate what we ate, only after we had eaten.)

The woman’s clever reply confirms this, respectfully pointing out that “the dogs under the table eat from the portions of the children.” “Wild” dogs and “scavenger dogs of the street” aren’t typically allowed “under the table” and around the children! And anyone with both children and household dogs will know how it goes at mealtime: If allowed, the dogs hang about the children’s chairs, knowing that children love to “drop” morsels to their pets.

Finally, we also have to ask ourselves how likely it is that the authors of Mark (writing for a Christian readership at least largely made up of converted gentiles) would have inserted a scene in which supposedly Jesus insults a gentile woman in the harsh terms imputed by some modern readers. She is “put in her place” as a gentile, but it’s a temporal place. The scene functions to explain that, although Jesus’ own ministry was confined to his Jewish people (apparently, a tradition that Mark couldn’t deny/ignore), the subsequent mission to gentiles was (Mark wants to imply) on the agenda, only it had to wait its time, and Jesus is pictured as anticipating that gentile-mission in responding positively to the woman’s respectful but clever response.

Was Jesus racist? Seemingly not, according to Dr. Hurtado, at least not in a way where he was being “cruel” to the non-Jewish woman. What Hurtado describes is a situation whereby Jesus seems to order his overall ministry, with the Jews (“the children”) “served” first, and only afterwards are the domesticated “dogs” under the table (non-Jews) fed. According to Hurtado, Jesus wasn’t being insulting or racist and in fact, he was certainly “inclusive” (using a modern term appropriate for such discussions) of non-Jews, but he did not see them on the same lateral plane at that point in time. They (we) wouldn’t be served until after his death, resurrection, and ascension. During his first coming, Gentiles didn’t occupy the same “space” or the same roles relative to his mission to the Jews as the Jewish redeeming Messiah and Savior. Nevertheless, he did take the time to “feed the dog under the table” so to speak.

This is made a bit more clear by Dr. Hurtado’s subsequent blog post:

One further observation about the little scene between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30 is that the initial response ascribed to Jesus is not a derogatory reference to the woman, or a simple misogynist or racial put-down, but is instead a parable-like saying specifically appropriate to the woman.

The part about the “parable-like saying specifically appropriate to the woman” could stand some examination. If I say that the sequence of events we see in Mark 7:24-30 represents how Jesus saw the prioritization of his ministry in relation to Jews and Gentiles, and if I say that, based on these verses, it was Christ’s intent to “feed” both the “lost sheep of Israel” and the non-Jews living among Israel, but giving a later temporal priority to the non-Jews, then can I generalize this as Christ’s intent to maintain some sort of distinction for the disciples among the nations that he would later (after the resurrection) command his Jewish disciples to make? (see Matthew 28:18-20).

Hurtado doesn’t directly address this issue and he would probably disagree with how I’m using his material. He seems to say that the only difference between Jewish disciples and Gentile disciples is that the Jews would be brought in first. The Gentiles would enter discipleship later on. But is the only distinction temporal?

Based on the Last Supper narratives (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39 and John 13:1-17:26), Jesus intended on bringing all of his followers, Jewish and Gentile alike, into covenant relationship with God via the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36), a covenant which confirmed and expanded upon the previous covenants God made with Israel. Prior to this point, the non-Jewish nations did not have direct access to God through covenant (unless they converted to Judaism). Only through the blood and bodily death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection could we be brought in and placed on a level plane in the Kingdom relative to access to God and experiencing God’s love for us. This fits quite well with what Hurtado wrote.

But would that make a difference in how Jesus saw the Gentile disciples made after his ascension to how he saw the Syro-Phoenician woman? Was it his intention to elevate the “dogs sitting under the table” to the status of “children sitting around the table?” Given that Mark was writing his Gospel primarily to non-Jewish disciples, I believe I can make a case for the answer “no.” Otherwise, Mark’s description of this transaction becomes wholly anachronistic to the disciples from the nations (i.e. non-Jewish Christians).

I’d like to suggest that the distinction between the Jewish and Gentile disciples wasn’t necessarily temporal, but sequential and derivative. In fact, the way I understand how Gentiles manage to be injected into a relationship with God through the covenants (specifically Abrahamic and New) made with Israel, it would have to be.

Paul appears to echo Mark’s theme and suggest one that mirrors my suggestion in his famous letter to the church in Rome:

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

Romans 2:9-11 (ESV)

PaulThis short verse tells us several things. First, Paul, in speaking to a “mixed congregation” of Jews and non-Jews, continues to draw a distinction between them (he calls them “Jews” and “Greeks,” not “Christians” or some other all-inclusive term designed to negate any distinction between the two groups). He also says two things that seem to be contradictory. He says that God shows no partiality” between Jews and Greeks, but he also says “the Jew first and also the Greek,” which dovetails very nicely into Hurtado’s analysis of the Mark 7 passage where he describes a “temporal” prioritization, but also a sequential prioritization, where the Jews would always be considered before the non-Jews regardless of circumstances, good or bad.

Since Paul at this point, is addressing Jews and Gentiles who are all covenant members under the Messiah, it is reasonable to say, in my opinion, that the relationship between Jews and non-Jews remains distinctive. The non-Jews are not considered before the Jewish disciples, and their (our) relationship with God derives from the Jews after the non-Jews have entered into covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are equal, because God shows no partiality, but the distinction between Jew and Gentile is maintained as is the rather (on the surface) unflattering relationship between the Jewish “children” and the non-Jewish “domesticated dogs,” though a kinder metaphor such as parent to child (no, it’s not a perfect metaphor) might be more fitting.

There’s a strong tendency to try to understand the relationship between believing Jews and believing non-Jews in terms of 21st century western cultural, social, and legal definitions. America and the other nations of the west, are based on a strong imperative to treat all people of differing races, cultures, ethnic groups, languages, and nationalities as equal in terms of law and access to resources. Our system of equality is flawed, but the principle exists and it’s a good one.

But we can’t seem to get around the fact that first Jesus (as described by Mark) and later Paul both differentiated between the Jewish and non-Jewish followers and disciples of the Messiah. The Jews were brought in first but they continued to be first, even after the Gentiles were brought into covenant. The Jews were directly descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and as such, were the beneficiaries of all of the covenants God made with Israel. The people of the other nations would not be able to enter into covenant with God except through Jesus and the New Covenant (the original blessings can be traced back to the Abrahamic covenant) and thus, Jesus and later Paul, order their priorities differently depending on…yes, on race. They order them differently based on whether or not a person is physically a descendent of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob or not. Everybody except for the Jewish people, are not.

Was Jesus a racist? Not in the sense we understand the term today. He did however, differentiate based on racially associated covenant relationships. Being Jewish was one thing. Being non-Jewish was something else. Through Jesus, we Christians enter into a relationship with God, think of it as going from wild, scavenging dogs, to domesticated dogs. Not very flattering, as I said before, especially if we (to extend Mark’s metaphor) continue to consider the Jews as “children” by comparison. On the other hand, maybe we’re much newer additions to the family and must continue (as in many families) to pay deferential respect and have differing privileges than the older members of the family.

But setting aside the uncomfortable literal interpretation of this language, the difference between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers is not one of God’s love or access to our Creator, but of older vs. younger or, who we are as non-Jews in the family is directly derived from the older Jewish members. Jews are “served first.” The dogs eat what the children eat but the children will always come first. Or the younger family members eat what the older members eat, but the younger eat later, waiting first for the older members to be served. Perhaps we even eat only because the older members of the family, the root, provides the nourishment.

I don’t think I’ve “solved” the “are Messianic Jews racist” debate. I admit that I’ve taken liberties with the text and explored alleyways Hurtado would likely not approve of. I’ve also probably raised more questions than I’ve answered,  but I wasn’t actually trying to answer questions. I’ve been trying to introduce the possibility that Jesus never intended to eliminate any of the “specialness” of the “Children” of Israel when he, through God’s grace and mercy, made a way possible for the people of the nations to also enter God’s Kingdom. I think our connection will always be through Israel and we will always be dependent on Israel (and Israel’s firstborn son Jesus) for our access to God.

Something to think about anyway.

Blowing Out a Candle

They DID NOT choose their religion. They were brain-washed into it. Religion is a matter of geography. Religion is a matter of the family you were born into.

THINK! It is not you who chose your religion, it was chosen for you! It is time to move on, to realize that religion is man made. Become who you are, an individual, an atheist!

From an image posted on Facebook
by Spread Logic and Reason

Disclaimer: This is a rant. This isn’t what I normally post here as a “meditation.” Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being pushed around by a bunch of folks on the web who think they can take an image, manipulate it with some text, and use it to complain about how bad religion is. Today, I decided to push back.

I first saw this bit of Internet meme “shared” by a Facebook friend and a person I’ve known for many years. He’s a person I hold in high regard but we obviously have different viewpoints on religion. If I had seen this coming from almost anyone else, I would have ignored it, but I consider this person an actual friend, so naturally, it hurts.

Here’s my initial response to seeing this image:

I turn 58 tomorrow. I didn’t become a Christian until I was over 40. I used to be an atheist, primarily because the prevailing culture around me was atheist and it seemed to make sense at the time. Then I started thinking for myself. Why would I let the culture around me choose my religion and my identity for me? Why would I let an Internet meme choose my identity for me?

And what have I ever done to you that you should try to change my identity into what you think would be better for me? I’m not trying to change you.

Then I thought about it some more while doing my lawn, came back over lunch and expanded my answer:

It occurs to me that all cultures and people groups have their various values and customs that are passed on from one generation to another. Most liberal progressives don’t complain about cultural diversity, even if it radically differs from their own, because they recognize that people have the right to observe their native customs and certainly, in the vast majority of cases, liberal progressives and atheists don’t demand that other people groups who are not white, middle-class Americans, change their ways just because they are different than the white, middle-class American atheist’s ways.

Islam and Judaism are closely tied to national, ethnic, cultural, and racial identity. Why isn’t is considered racism, prejudice, and bigotry for you to demand that Jews and Arabs refrain from passing on their values and beliefs to their children? Are you (the general “you”…not naming anyone specifically) more equipped to tell the rest of the world to live your lifestyle? Don’t you pass on your values (atheism, progressive liberalism) to your children?

Why are you trying to control everyone else in the world?

To be fair, between my first comment and my second, my friend said:

Jim, if you had been born in Saudi Arabia and were atheist, assuming you survived to 40, the odds are more likely you would have become Muslim. This isn’t really about an Internet meme, but an historical fact. It exited loooooong before the Internet. 99% of people grow up believing what their parents did. Why did none of the natives in the Americas become Christian for 1500 year. That you decided to for a different belief system than your environment does not alter the facts. You are an exception.

I can see his point, but I think he (and a lot of people like him) are missing something. In making statements and posting photos such as the one I put at the top of this blog post, aren’t atheists trying to say that their viewpoint, lifestyle, and values system is superior to everyone else’s? I know that many religions, particularly Christianity, are accused of exactly the same thing and I know from personal experience (having once been an agnostic leaning toward atheism) that having to listen to a Christian evangelist can be really annoying.

But what about all that “diversity” stuff? If progressive liberalism and atheism supports generally being accepting of racial, cultural and ethnic diversity, then isn’t complaining about how different ethnic, cultural, and racial groups choose to raise their children and pass on their values a type of bigotry? While Christianity isn’t tied to a particular nationality, race, ethnicity, or culture, Islam and Judaism certainly are. How can the comments espoused by this group of people be seen as anything but prejudiced and even racist?

Yes, I’m coming on strong. Yes, today I’ve decided to feed the trolls. But it seems like everyone is supposed to have rights to this, that, and the other thing in this world…except religious people. Not only is this group of atheists guilty of the same acts they say religion commits: exclusivism and rejection of the values and lifestyles of other people groups, but they’re also guilty of what the rest of the world sees Americans as doing: attempting to spread our own values and lifestyle to the rest of the world and using our own cultural lens to judge the right and the wrong of other people, cultures, and nations.

How are these atheists any more morally correct than any religious person?

“Blowing out someone else’s candle does not make your’s burn any brighter.”

-Anonymous

Dear people who don’t like religion,

How does complaining about religious people make the world a better place? What do you gain by “going after” Muslims, Jews, and Christians? Do you plan on taking on Buddhists and Wiccans next? Has the Dalai Lama somehow offended you? If you really want to spend your time and energy being useful and helping others, please step away from the computer and actually do something for another human being. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Give cans of food to the local food bank. Spend an hour picking up trash in the parking lot of your neighborhood park. Hold the door open at a public building such as the library for a disabled person or a single mother who is trying to manage five children. Heck, just smile at a stranger once in a while because it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t complain about me or people like me, saying we’re the problem. Go out into the world and be the solution. If you do that, the problems will take care of themselves.

Signed, a fellow human being, who has volunteered, donated, picked up trash, held doors open, and who smiles occasionally at strangers.

Thank you.