Love and Politics

As COVID-19 continues to change the face of our society, it has brought long-understood racial disparities back into the limelight. As a glimpse into this issue, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), in a representative sample of 580 hospitalized patients with lab-confirmed COVID-19, White and Hispanic patients are underrepresented in the patient population relative to their percentages in the community, while Black patients are overrepresented compared to their representation in the outer community.1 The death rates follow a similar trend, with rates highest among Black people and almost triply lower in White and Asian populations.2

In addition to the burden this places on the Black community, the recent police murders — murders, not simply deaths — of 46-year-old George Floyd and 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, as well as the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery by a former police officer and his son, have reignited public demands for our government and society at large to address the inequities that Black people face on a quotidian basis in America. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has received refreshed energy from millions of people across the world. They understand that until we acknowledge and act to remedy the systems in place that allow for the abuse of Black people, persistence of health disparities, and unpunished murder of Black lives, particularly by police, all lives do not matter in the eyes of our society.

However, much of the rhetoric and exhortative calls have been missed by persons in the worldwide Christian community.3,4 Many Christians use “Love” as a blanket term in response to the brutal murder of Black people in America. However, “Love your neighbor” is not a passive command. Instead of understanding the problem and the terminology of the movement, many shift to the tone-deaf retorts of #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter, or, they deviate to messaging that denigrates protestors — peaceful and violent. Worst of all, some rescind any personal responsibility and use their Christianity as an excuse. Whether it’s “We need to love each other” or “Only God can solve this” or “I’m heartbroken and praying” or “These are senseless deaths and we must pray that God changes the hearts of these people,” the messaging is clear: I’m sad about this, but my passive reaction is enough and all I need to do is pray and send feelings of love and healing. I’ll wait for God to do the rest.

Is that true Christian love? Frankly, no. We claim to follow a God who plainly said that He “hates” the sacrifices and feasts dedicated to him by a people who rejected justice and righteousness in their lands (Isaiah 1). We claim to follow a God who promised to exact vengeance on a people that deliberately engaged in corruption (Isaiah 2). We claim to follow a God who emphatically pleads with his people to do right by the weak and oppressed so that they may avoid the desolation that evil always brings (Jeremiah 22). We claim to follow a God who tells us to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6). We claim to follow a God who detests the despicable “noise” of the worship of his people who abused the oppressed and rejected justice (Amos 5). Rather, he calls for “justice to run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). Our prayers must be buttressed by action.

Furthermore, we claim to follow Jesus Christ, whose entourage included those whom society despised, who purposefully ministered to those ostracized by the main society. Christ challenged the laws and customs of his time, calling people to rise above in their interpersonal relationships. And He did this out of love. God’s love meant sending prophet after prophet after prophet to his people in the Old Testament to warn them of the spiritual and physical consequences of rejecting justice and righteousness. Jesus’ love meant praying for those who suffer, but also ministering to them and speaking out against evil. Jesus’ love meant pointing out shortcomings in the customs of the time and calling people to a higher code of ethics, as is evidenced by his many interactions with the Pharisees, his disciples, and gentiles.

God’s love is a love that makes its presence known. It’s a love that led Jesus to die very publicly in order that his death may serve as a testimony of God’s very loud love. A love with which being a passive bystander to the abuse and murder of your neighbors is incompatible.

Many would argue that Adventists should not be involved in the political system at all for reasons including but not limited to: the imperfection of all earthly governance systems, certain values that all parties hold that may be against one’s belief (in other words, incomplete alignment with one’s beliefs), and lack of faith in the political system’s ability to enact change. Some would even argue that engaging in politics has nothing to do with our Christianity.

However, consider that our politics have everything to do with our Christianity.

Christianity is a religion of interpersonal relationship as evidenced by the "love your neighbor" command, six of the ten commandments referring to interpersonal relationships, Christ telling us that whatever we do for our fellow man we do to Him (Matthew 25:31-46), the many biblical indications that we will be judged by how we treat our fellow humans, and God's Old Testament judging of Israel based on how they treated (or mistreated) the oppressed in their society (widows, migrants, strangers, etc.). You can find indications of this last point in any of the prophet books (e.g., Amos, Habakkuk, Isaiah, etc.), and through Jesus’ speeches. Thus, God doesn't want empty words that support him, but to show our belief in his message via our actions toward our fellow humans.

Our politics is one of the most important ways in which we show our code of ethics regarding interpersonal relationships. We vote for people who best match our personal ideals. When we vote for a certain party, person, judge, representative, district attorney, etc., we vote to support their perspective on 1) how we treat the homeless [housing policy], 2) how we treat migrants [immigration policy], 3) how we treat the poor [policy for government welfare/social programs], 4) how we treat the uneducated [education policy], 5) how the government takes money from the poor, the rich, and those in between [tax policy], 6) how those funds are distributed [congressional and state/local budgets], 7) how we address societal inequities [civil rights policy], 8) how we treat those who commit crimes [criminal justice and carceral policy], 9) how we treat the sick [healthcare policy], and many other ways. All of these have to do with how we treat our neighbors. When you vote, you are showing how you think your neighbors should be treated. Avoiding engagement in government can oftentimes be synonymous with apathy and bystandership.

Given that our politics are the means through which we express and contribute to the enactment of how we believe our neighbors should be treated, and Christianity is heavily centered on how you treat your neighbor, your Christianity and code of ethics has everything to do with your politics.

Now is a time for introspection amongst all Christians. Do we truly believe that every human has inherent, intrinsic, and infinite worth as we Christians claim? Are we willing to defend this Christian belief? Are we harboring biases towards Black people that lead us to dismiss the verified and abundant claims of abuse? Are we resistant to taking the initiative to learn more about systemic racism and how we contribute to it? Are we willing to call out injustice when we see it, regardless of perceived political affiliations? Are we complacent? Are we committed to modeling God’s love in our own lives and circumstances? Or are we more committed to being comfortable?

Notes & References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6915e3.htm?s_cid=mm6915e3_w

2. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-deaths-race-ethnicity-04162020-1.pdf

3. https://sojo.net/about-us/news/some-evangelicals-struggle-black-lives-matter-movement

4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/08/09/how-ferguson-widened-an-enormous-rift-between-black-christians-white-evangelicals/

MaĂŻgane Diop is a second-generation Seventh-day Adventist Christian, MD/PhD student, and singer/songwriter.

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10548
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It is long past time for us to be engaged with the dismantling of the white supremacist system on which our nation was founded, and Christians should be the first to recognize the evil of the system and the need to dismantle. How can we not participate in such noble work. One of the core messages of all the OT prophets was justice, and quite specifically social justice. If we do nothing, we are complicit in the evil continuing to be done by the system. I pray that all my SDA brothers and sisters will do some deep heart searching and find it in themselves to work for justice. Thank you for saying this so clearly in this article.

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My favourite 20th century German theologian formulated during Nazi times (6 Mio Jews killed … as we now know): “Only those who cry out for the Jews may sing Gregorian”.
When in the US as visiting professor (a kind of safe harbour for him) - he decided to go back to Germany to not evade responsibility, but to join his people in their darkest hour of guilt and shame even at the risk - not just to die (which he did three weeks before the Nazi regime was over), but of acting evil himself (“schlimmer als die böse Tat ist das Böse-sein” - “worse than the evil deed is being evil” a haunted Bonhoeffer wrote).
This is what comes to mind as a German when reflecting on the recent upheavals in the US.

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Brian, what would the alternative look like? I’m assuming that you are still operating from ideology that is merit-driven? Or perhaps you think that competence context should take back seat when it comes to our push to make sure that white people are not “supreme”?

So, what would the alternative look like, and what would be the steps you propose to get US there?

Why do you even bother asking me this? You don’t want to hear what I have to say, and I respect that, but that also means I don’t plan to engage with you on this. If you want to know how I believe we should proceed, read one of the books listed below:

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6792458-the-new-jim-crow
  2. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31421117-tears-we-cannot-stop
  3. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34527752-why-i-m-no-longer-talking-to-white-people-about-race
  4. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43708708-white-fragility
  5. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29893367-stamped-from-the-beginning
  6. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30190049-white-rage
  7. At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America by Philip Dray https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8125673-at-the-hands-of-persons-unknown
  8. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25360188-between-the-world-and-me
  9. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5497782-slavery-by-another-name
  10. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension Of American Racism by James W. Loewen https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19427019-sundown-towns
  11. Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34846249-locking-up-our-own
  12. Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation (Prophetic Christianity) by Chanequa Walker-Barnes https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53169876-i-bring-the-voices-of-my-people

I have read all of them and many of them have great ideas for how to work on dismantling the US’s white supremacist system. I would recommend that more people interested in the topic of racism in the US read as many of these as you can. In your case I recommend especially #s 1, 4, 5 & 10.

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Again, I’ll ask you on this thread in case you care to respond to something rather simple, I hope. I’m asking because I want to know the answer to gauge the state of Adventist academia on this particular position.

Let’s assume that everything you say is a 100% correct with all the argument that are outlined in these books. Every word in these books is the infallible thruth, etc.

Given that the core of BLM movement is ideological Marxism that ends up aligning and being sponsored by political movement that’s very far from traditionally Democratic ideals in the US… even as recently as Obama era, where do you stand on Marxist ideology being in the drivers seat of the race and gender debate in this country?

I’m not trying to trap you. I’m genuinely interested in your thoughts on this.

Although there are those in the movement who may be considered Marxist, that is not the primary stance of the movement itself. It is antiracist, and I support the movement from that perspective. I don’t have to agree with everyone, or even everything, you see in a movement to support it. Given the depth of the oppression still being brought to bear on blacks, I see it as my moral duty to lend support.

I should also add that MLK and his movement were repeatedly accused of being Communist/Marxist. BLM is no more Marxist than MLK and his movement were. Just supporting the oppressed seems to be adequate to draw that label.

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After Des Ford, my favorite theologian. I am now reading two of his books, slowly. It’s sad that he returned to Germany, but he was very committed to his faith. If only the Americans had arrived about two weeks earlier he might have escaped the gallows. What a loss!

Fair enough. I can respect that position, given that you understand the historical impact of Marxist ideology bon Eastern Hemisphere.

WOW! That’s a long assignment! Isn’t it too much homework??? :laughing:

By the way, you are still Bryan with "y,"right? … I hope you won’t be ordered to change it. Since it appears that you are wrong on everything, maybe even your name is wrong… … :innocent: :roll_eyes:

Bryan, since it is unlikely that I am going to go through your reading list…could you share some of the ideas that you feel are most important? Thank-you.

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It might as well be, LOL. I have lost count of the number of times it was either spelled Brian by someone, or sometimes Brain. :smiley: I was even given photographic credits in one of my college annuals as “Brian Ness,” whoever he is.

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My apologies. In my defence, there are way too many Brian’s in my life, so it is almost reflexive.

My giving even a short list of the most important points is hardly adequate, since in most cases that usually only gets white people’s hackles up and they either get defensive, or they go into the “woe is me guilty white” mode. Let me just sum it up in as brief a fashion as possible, and I will use I statements.

  1. I have white privilege. I have it because I was born white. I didn’t ask for it, and I can’t give it up. I have it for better or worse.

  2. Black people do not have any of the privileges that come with white privilege. Our white supremacist societal structures have determined that black lives count less than white lives at all levels, economically, educationally, legally, etc.

  3. Because of my white privilege I am a participant in the oppression of blacks by default. Knowing this, the morally right thing to do would be to become antiracist, meaning that I will educate myself on the details of the white supremacist system in place in the US and look for any ways that I can use my influence to dismantle it. This might include joining in civil rights demonstrations—including acts of civil disobedience, donating money to organizations that combat structural racism, push for changes in laws that disadvantage black people, push for police reform (e.g., defunding the police*), voting for candidates that promise needed reforms, pushing for justice reform, pushing for prison reform, and look for places where I can associate in a constructive way with black people, listening to them and learning what their oppression looks like from their perspective. I need to have the uncomfortable conversations about racism with them and let them know I hear them.

There you have it in the nutshell, stated simply as I can, and I am by no means an expert on this topic. I know that many people are not willing to take the time they should to educate themselves more deeply about racism, but at the very least I think every white person should read one good book about racism and how to be antiracist. If you read nothing else, I recommend “White Fragility,” and if you have time for two, “The New Jim Crow,” and if you are really ambitious add either “Stamped from the Beginning” or “How to Be an Antiracist.” The latter book I have not read yet, but it is by the same author are “Stamped from the Beginning” which is excellent and is also highly acclaimed. I plan to read “How to Be an Antiracist” soon, and I imagine it will end up on my list of recommended books. I try to read at least several books on racism each year so I can fully understand the issues.

After the hundreds of years of oppression blacks have faced in our country and the fact that our nation was founded on white supremacist principles, I think we owe it to the black community to at least take the time to read at least one solid book on the topic of racism, so I urge you to take up that challenge if you have not already.

P.S. * *Make sure you look up the true meaning of “defunding the police,” since it does not mean what much of the media, especially the right wing media, say it does. It does not mean getting rid of the police, it means restructuring the way we do law enforcement and doling out some of the jobs police currently do to more appropriate workers like social workers and other medical workers. Here is a link to one article that attempts to set the record straight: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/30/opinion/george-floyd-police-funding.html

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I hardly notice anymore, so you are forgiven, until it happens again . . .

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Thanks for giving so much info…but I meant specifically about this:

"many of them have great ideas for how to work on dismantling the US’s white supremacist system."

What are some of the top “great ideas”?

Now you are asking a very hard question. Some things were included in what I wrote. There is no easy one here, but defunding the police is a gigantic start, as troublesome a term as that is. I wish they had called it something else. The House just passed a bill today that would heads in that direction, not far enough in my estimation, but a very good start. Predictably, the Senate has already said the bill is a nonstarter. So I would say that police reform is #1 right now, and although I, as an individual, can do little to make that happen, I can lend my voice and my vote in the next election.

Another start at dismantling the system is in local elections. Justice reform is essential, and local prosecutors and sheriffs are elected officials. Do you research, and vote for those that are seriously reform minded.

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Thank-you for a further reply…

I am not sure where the phrase “defunding” first popped up…but I agree that it has taken on some very negative connotations.

I have had other conversations with other Mental Health Professionals that agree that mental health care in this country is sorely lacking. Many times Police are dispatched to deal with those who are having mental health issues and are out of control, etc. This is not an easy job and many times there are no real answers to much of what police have to deal with out in the community.

Funding more psychological training for the Police and/or having “crisis teams” are good ideas. But, in my opinion, some of the problems come from some of the laws dealing with the mentally ill to begin with (which is very complex). Our society has never wanted to adequately fund in this area or change laws…so, the future is unknown.

Saying that the “system needs to be dismantled” in any regard is up to the voters as you mentioned. I can see that you are passionate about change…but I am not sure that most Americans feel the same way. We shall see what the “will of the people” will be because “knowing” and “doing” are often two different things.

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Oh, I am under no illusions, but one must aim for what should be done always in hope that at least some change in the right direction will happen. The House is doing just that, in spite of how hopeless even that amount of change seems. Not sure I see these kinds of goals any more unlikely than the church’s professed goal of taking the Gospel to all the world. :wink:

If you were a black person, what would you want to see done? It does need doing.

A better idea is having social workers be first responders in cases where the primary issue is mental health. Police would only be required as backup in the rare case where threats with a weapon or something like that was involved. Of course, police would still need training to know when the job calls for a social worker rather than a uniformed and armed policeman. Improvements to our mental healthcare system would further preclude the need for the police at all in the case of mental health, as we would already be on top of many cases before they escalate.

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"Not sure I see these kinds of goals any more unlikely than the church’s professed goal of taking the Gospel to all the world. :wink:"

You do have a point here…but I would say that the political goals have a little more chance. :wink: :laughing:

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