Lipscomb Honors Civil Rights Lawyer

This week Lipscomb University celebrates the career and ministry of civil rights attorney Fred Gray. On Thursday, June 7, Tokens–the musical, comedy, theological review– welcomes Gray as a guest at their “Tales of Reconciliation” summer installment at Lipscomb. Gray is featured because of his achievements in civil rights legislation: the defense of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the work around the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as well as for his life-long devotion to Jesus Christ.

Once again the summer installment of Tokens aligns itself with Lipscomb University’s Christian Scholars’ Conference (CSC). On Friday, June 8, during the 32nd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference, the university will confer upon Fred Gray an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree.

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“This is the highest honor the university bestows on an individual. It expresses Lipscomb’s proactive vision for integration at all institutional levels as integral to the university’s mission,” said David Fleer, professor of Bible and communication and director of the Christian Scholars’ Conference. The theme for this year’s CSC is “Reconciliation: At the Intersection of Scholarship and Practice.” Gray’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement makes this honor particularly fitting for this year’s conference, Fleer said.

Fred David Gray, a native of Montgomery, Alabama who lives in Tuskegee, is in the general practice of law specializing in civil rights litigation. He was educated at the Nashville Christian Institute in Nashville, Alabama State University, and Case Western Reserve University.

Gray began his legal career as a sole practitioner, less than a year out of law school. At age twenty-four, he represented Mrs. Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, the action that initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gray was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first civil rights lawyer He is further known as the counsel in preserving and protecting the rights of persons involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1972, the case of Pollard, et al v. United States of America. One of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction, Gray was also the first African American elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association (2002-2003). He also served as the 43rd president of the National Bar Association.

Along with Fred Gray, This year’s Christian Scholars’ Conference features keynote speakers Miroslav Volf, Yale theologian and international nonviolence advocate; Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of Left to Tell; and Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone. Session topics will range from “alleviation of poverty as reconciliation” to “questions of reconciliation in Terrance Malick’s film ‘The Tree of Life.’” Reconciliation will be traced through the civil rights movement in the U.S., Rwanda, Ireland, the Holy Land, cross-cultural missions, literature, environmental sustainability, restorative justice, business, the Hebrew Bible and the writings of Volf and Verghese.

The Tokens show will feature Mr. Gray; Professor Volf; and musicians Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, Amy Stroup, along with the regulars, Odessa Settles and The Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys. This installment has been selected for national distribution via public television stations throughout the country. Tokens already has an agreement in place for Nashville’s WNPT to distribute the show regionally. The June 7 show will be taped in HD and distributed on a national level.

For a full schedule of the Christian Scholar’s Conference, registration or more information about the keynote speakers, visit http://www.lipscomb.edu/csc

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From Every People and Nation, Introduction

Several weeks ago I promised to post excerpts from the provocative, insightful book From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, by Dr. J. Daniel Hays. The book, written by a self-identified conservative, white biblical theologian traces the picture of race issues throughout the Bible. This first installment is from the book’s introduction:

Not long ago, in a conversation with my colleague Dr. Isaac Mwase, a Black professor and pastor of a local Black congregation, I mentioned that the race problem was an important issue for the Church today. Isaac quickly corrected me by stating emphatically that it is the most important issue for the Church today. This conversation illustrates to some degree of phenomenon that I encountered regularly as I read through some of the recent literature dealing with the race problem in the Church today. Black scholars identify the racial division in the Church as one of the most central problems for contemporary Christianity, while many White scholars are saying, “What problem?”

Likewise, even among those who acknowledge the problem, there is a wide difference of opinion concerning just how bad the problem is and whether the situation is improving or deteriorating. On the one hand, in recent years tremendous progress appears to have been achieved. (D.A.) Carson, for example, documents evangelical churches on the east coast and the west coast of North American that are doing a remarkable job of integrating (Love in Hard Places, 2002, 95-96). Particularly among many White Christians, there is the perception that in these regions things have improved; even in the south and the Midwest many feel that although lagging behind the rest of the country, the race problem is not nearly as pronounced as it was a generation ago.

On the other hand, some have observed that the evidence for this perception is often anecdotal, and actual statistical survey data appear to suggest otherwise. Emerson and Smith in Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (2000) study the problem, through statistical data based on actual nationwide surveys and interviews. They point out that there is tremendous disparity between the way Whit evangelicals view the problem and the way Black evangelicals view the problem. They also note that the phenomenon cuts across regional lines. Their studies indicate that two-thirds of White Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is improving, while two-thirds of Black Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is deteriorating. The survey data have led Emerson and Smith to pessimistic conclusions….

Emerson and Smith (p171) also suggest that one of the underlying factors hindering evangelicalism’s ability to address the race issues adequately is that evangelicals have a tendency to define problems in simple terms and to look for simple solutions. The race issue, on the other hand is extremely complex, involving history, tradition, culture, religion, economics, politics, and a host of other factors.…

Although there are some significant exceptions, in general there is silence in White evangelical congregations concerning the biblical teaching on this issue. Within these congregations, the current attitude of many Whites often falls into one of three categories. First, some people are still entrenched in their inherited racism. They are interested in the Bible if it reinforces their prejudiced views; otherwise they do not care what the Bible says about race. Second, many people assume that the Bible simply does not speak to the race issue, and particularly the Black-White issue. Third many others are simply indifferent to the problem, assuming the status quo is acceptable and that the Bible supports their current practices.

These views appear to carry over into academia as well. Indeed evangelical biblical and theological scholarship has continued to remain nearly silent on this issue, even though indications of the scope of the problem are obvious.

So this is the first installment. What do you think?

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Dr. King, Persecution, and the Art of Prayer

The 1960s, the heyday of the civil rights movement, saw a polarized, volatile American public. At the symbolic center of the vitriolic rhetoric stood the figure of Martin Luther King Jr., hailed by some as a messianic hero and demonized by others as an un-American antagonist with evil intent.

Today Dr. King is more symbol than human. And despite the exposed human faults of the actual man, his human virtues are worthy of the symbol. For his endurance in the face of opposition, for his subjection to a campaign of lies, for his refusal to retaliate, for his submission to physical violence, for his suffering unjust incarceration, for his brandishing powerful nonviolent rhetoric, and for his proclamation of clear, if not universally accepted moral truth, Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of our nation’s most revered figures.

The persecution Dr. King endured was not feigned. It was no perceived attack with roots in legitimate criticism. His life, the lives of his compatriots, and the lives of their families were continually threatened, and the threats were punctuated with a series of actual incidents of horrible physical violence. He had little recourse in local government, who threatened and imposed further violence and incarceration. And the federal intervention was obviously too little too late.

Still when it came time for MLK to mount a rhetorical defense, he always chose to defend the cause of the needy, the oppressed, the poor, and the outcast. He never defended himself. He stood up for justice and truth, not himself.

Where did that moral stance come from? How could he endure what he endured and remain focused on truth and justice rather than on charges of persecution, which were real and not imagined? What kept him from crying “Persecution!” even when the threats became everyday realities of actual violence?

 

Perhaps the difference between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who claim persecution today is born of King’s prayer life. Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Lewis Baldwin hints at as much in one of two new Baldwin release on Dr. King, Never to Leave Us Alone, published by Fortress Press (the other release is The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Oxford University Press).

In Never to Leave Us Alone, Baldwin traces King’s prayer life. He begins by capturing the wellsprings of the African American prayer tradition that fed the young King. He follows with Kings’ experiences and writings as a young man at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University.

In three more chapters Baldwin opens up the period of Dr. King’s civil rights career leading to his violent death. Each of these three chapters captures a different aspect of the same period. First Baldwin looks at prayer and preaching, then at the power of pastoral prayers, and then at prayer as the heart of movement of the civil rights movement. In a final chapter, http://www.smileyandwest.com/transcripts-pdf/101810_smileyandwest-transcripts.pdf reminds us of what we can learn from King and why he remains a respected figure around the world.

Discussing the book, radio and television host Tavis Smiley asked Baldwin, ”What was Martin praying for? It’s one thing to talk about his prayer life, but obviously it’s important to pray for the right things and to pray in the right way. Tell me more about what he was praying for and what his prayer process was. How did he call out to God?

Generalizing from his years of research, Baldwin answered, “He prayed for strength, his own personal strength, for guidance and direction in the movement. He also prayed for world peace. He prayed for guidance in the struggle for economic justice, in the struggle to overcome racial barriers, segregation in the society. He prayed for discipline and courageous leadership in the movement. He prayed for what he called “the least of these,” those who were in poverty, who had no jobs, who were devoid of medical care, who were ill-housed. His prayer, of course, had this social dimension. He majored in intercessory prayer—that is praying for others. His prayers were always relational.”

Baldwin documents Dr. King’s practice of renting a hotel room for a prayer-centered day, a “day of silence.” During those day-long retreats, King “poured his heart out to God,” he developed his own inner spiritual life, and he gained wisdom and the “attitudinal posture” required to keep moving forward in his God-ordained mission.

Central to Dr. King’s prayer life, according to Dr. Baldwin was the belief that prayers are to be lived as well as uttered. “Living prayer daily was, in King’s case, a cardinal principle, and this persists as part of his legacy for a nation and a world in which hypocrisy is perhaps more glaringly evident than ever before.”

Who can doubt that that living prayer sensibility is sorely needed in an age of commercially-driven bombast disguised as political rhetoric, when legitimate criticism is dismissed as illegitimate persecution. Dr. Baldwin reminds us that for Dr. King the method and the message can conspire to communicate truth. Prayer can keep the message and the method true. But even a true message can be dangerous.

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Filed under America, Jr., prayer, race, rhetoric, theology

A Biblical Theology of Race

Just finished a provocative, insightful book, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, by Dr. J. Daniel Hays.

I am aware that some of my Christian brothers and sisters believe the Bible doesn’t address race, except maybe to say “all men are created equal” (which the Bible DOESN”T explicitly say). Some Bible readers know that somewhere (Galatians 3:28) the Bible says something about “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Studious Christians have learned that the Bible was (and still is) used to defend slavery, racism, apartheid, and all the rights of the racially privileged, just as faithful Christians have employed the Bible in fighting against those atrocities.

But Dr. Hays aims for something more ambitious than these tidbits of Bible and race. First, I must say (and this, too will offend some of my white brothers and sisters) that Dr. Hays is a white, conservative (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), evangelical professor (Pruet School of Christian Studies dean, and professor of Old Testament) at a southern Christian university (Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia Arkansas). I mention his credentials in hopes that his arguments won’t be dismissed as biased, which is too easily done when the speaker is African American or some bleeding heart liberal atheist/agnostic.

This Dr. Hays makes the case that race issues permeate the Bible. While the Bible may be less than direct on these issues, it provides as much to draw from as it does for the proclamation of Four Spiritual Laws or Five propositional Points. Hays traces the biblical record from Genesis to Revelation and uncovers what just might be the heart of God on race. As a starting point he reveals the hidden racial nuances in those passages that we tend to graze over in the “begats,” the names of peoples, and the tables of nations. But his primary point is that race is not a peripheral issue in the Bible. For Hays, race issues are at the heart of the biblical story, at the heart of the mission of God, at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Over the course of the next few days I hope to share Hays work by way of excerpt. I’ll begin with parts of his introduction and proceed with his chapter summaries (altered by adding in Scripture references from the meat of the chapters). I would love to hear responses to his words.

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Six Out of 1,914

I recently asked a group of African American educators if they knew a) how many African Americans have served as US Senators. I also asked if they knew b) who was the first African America US Senator. No-one in the group could answer either question. One person accused me of posing a trick question, which is entirely plausible since we don’t always agree on how African a person must be to be considered African American, But I meant it in the commonly accepted definition that has persisted in this nation: if a person has any discernible African blood—either by appearance or admission—they are considered black. The answers are a) six and b) Hiram Rhodes Revels.

Since 1788, 1,914 people have served as US Senators, up to 100 at a time. Thirty-eight of them have been women (There are currently 17 female Senators), five have been Asian, six Latino, three Native American and six have been African American.

Since Carol Moseley Braun is both female and African American, your good math skills will tell you that historically 1,857 US Senators in history have been white males. For the record that is 97% of all of our Senators, even though white males make up only 37% of the US population.

There are lots of ways to go with this discussion. But in honor of African American History Month I just wanted to introduce you to our six African American Senators. The first two served under Reconstruction in the 1870s, when African Americans had first been given the right to vote. By the mid 1870s local and state Jim Crow laws had begun to make it difficult for African Americans to exercise the vote that the federal government guaranteed. Eighty-five years passed before a third African American was elected to the US Senate.

Hiram Rhodes Revels

(1870-1871) Republican from Mississippi

A freedman his entire life, preacher and educator Hiram Revels became the first African American elected to the US Senate. When Mississippi seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, Mississippi’s Senators Jefferson Davis and Albert Brown resigned. At the end of the war their seats were left empty. Under the influences of Union Reconstructionists, the Mississippi legislature decided to fill those seats with one white and one black Senator. In 1870, after the 15th Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote. Mr. Revels was elected by the Mississippi legislature to serve in the US Senate.

Blance Kelso Bruce

(1875-1881) Republican from Mississippi

The second African American to serve in the US Senate, was the first African American to serve a full term. He was also the only ex-slave to serve in that capacity. Like Hiram Revels before him, he was elected to the Senate by the Mississippi legislature during Reconstruction.

Edward William Brooke III

(1967–1979) Republican from Massachusetts

Edward W. Brooke’s election to the US Senate in 1966 ended an 85-year absence of African American Senators. Brooke was the first popularly elected African American Senator, the first African American Senator outside of Mississippi, and first black politician from Massachusetts to serve in Congress. He is the only African American to serve more than one term in the US Senate.

Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun

(1993–1999) Democrat from Illinois

The first and only African American woman to serve as US Senator, Carol Moseley-Braun was also only the second black Senator since the Reconstruction Era. She was the first Democratic African American Senator and the first of three black Senators from the state of Illinois.

Barack Hussein Obama

(2005–2008) Democrat from Illinois

Barack Obama won a landslide victory, defeating Republican African American Alan Keyes to become a US Senator from Illinois. He became the fifth African American in congressional history to serve in the US Senate, the second from the state of Illinois. On November 4, 2008, he was elected the 44th President of the United States, winning with 53 percent of the vote. As President-Elect, Obama resigned from the Senate on November 16, 2008.

Roland Wallace Burris

(2009-Present) Democrat from Illinois

Roland Burris is the only African American Senator to be appointed rather than elected either by his state legislature or by the people of his state. The third Senator from Illinois, Burris was appointed December 31, 2008, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Barack Obama. He is currently the only African American in the 100-member US Senate.

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Even White Guys!

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

sotomayor-with-pres-and-veep Just to set the record straight, the Creator did not begin with a generic white male and then decide to get really creative and diversify. Even if you conclude that God created a male first (and not simply a human), that male was not a generic white American man.

But the architects of the American experience WERE a bunch of white males (even though the nation was built on the backs of an extremely diverse populace), and, until 1967, ALL of our Supreme Court justices were white males (you knew that, right?).

In 2001, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina, and now a Supreme Court justice, gave a speech to a Hispanic law group in which she explicated and defended the obvious: judges bring their experiences and backgrounds into the courtroom. One line out of the 8 pages (12-pt type, Times Roman) has made the rounds in the blogosphere.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Once again a single line is taken out of context. One need only read or hear the whole speech to get the truth of it. But to be fair to her critics, this one line is ill-crafted. I don’t believe the judge meant precisely what she said (this was a speech, not a law brief).

Still, the real problem with the statement is that it begins the same place her critics begin: with the presumption that white males have no relevant backgrounds and experiences that they bring into the courtroom. Sotomayor thinks that’s a bad thing; her critics think it’s a good thing.

The issue her critics present is that the judge admits to bringing her background and experiences into the courtroom. I can almost imagine the bathroom meetings “What’s worse is she seems downright proud about bringing her experiences into the courtroom! This is what’s wrong with having a woman or a non-white on the court: they insist on bringing that non-white non-male stuff with them. Why can’t they be generic like all of the tried and true white male judges of yore? Damn the Sixties! Now we have black people, women, and brown people all wanting a piece of the pie.”

Don’t worry, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Richard Land, WSJ and all you other complainers; white men are still allowed to bring their background and experience to the bench too, as they have done virtually exclusively for over 200 years. But somehow we’ve pretended that the white males are devoid of background and experience. And they pretend that they argue purely the law. They delude themselves.

BTW, Justice Sotomayor doesn’t bring only her Latina experience and background. She brings the Sonia Sotomayor experience and background. Still with her confirmation, the court reflects a bit more of the actual diversity of the American people than it ever has. And despite her ascent to the bench, white males with their background and experiences still maintain a massive dominance on the Supreme Court.

We must begin to acknowledge: there is no such thing as a generic justice, a generic American, or a generic person. And whether we acknowledge it or not, our backgrounds and experiences go with us wherever we go, for good or ill.

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Filed under perfect union, race, race and society, racism, Sotomayor, Uncategorized, white

Time to Grow Up, America!

A fiery preacher’s most provocative turns of phrase are stitched together and aired on YouTube video, as “proof” of anti-American sentiment.

Voters in Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, vote on a measure to make English the only language permissible for official business (except in emergency situations).

A Supreme Court nominee admits that she brings her complete life experiences into the courtroom.

A Harvard professor is arrested in his own home after committing no crime

The President of the US prepares a speech to encourage children to work hard in school, and school boards around the country refuse to allow the airing of the speech.

A hip-hop artist interrupts the acceptance speech of a young country artist, claiming that a particular R&B artist should have gotten the award.

Thousands of protesters spew venom and vitriol at town halls around the nation.

At a televised Presidential address to a joint session of Congress, a US Congressman breaches decorum, shouting, “You lie!” at the President.

Along with general controversy, these incidents share another commonality. In each case someone—whether a local citizen or a prominent national figure—has pointed to a racial element.

That we have come a long way in racial America is patently indisputable. That racism and other racial problems persist is equally indisputable.

For some, this is not only where we stand, but where we intend to remain. Surely there are those, especially in the age of Obama who discount any political criticism by crying racism. It’s a handy weapon or shield for supporters of this President.

But President Obama’s detractors are at least as adept in use of the same weapon and shield. Too often any mention of a racial element in a situation is met with the accusation “They just see race around every corner!” It’s an easy way to delegitimize any valid racial elements.

But now is the time to listen.

Now is the time for Obama supporters to grow up and accept legitimate criticism as adults do. Now is the time to listen, argue, agree and move on, without race-deflection. I am confident that this can be done.

The greater challenge rests on those who refuse to see the dangerous racial element in a situation unless it slaps them in the face. But now is the time for them too. With more than 1000 days left when the President of the US will present his face daily as a black man, now is the time for us all to confront the deep racial thoughts and feelings. Now is the time to ask some questions:

What violence has this phenomenon done to my 10, 20, 50, or 70 years of experiencing US Presidents? If it makes no difference on the surface, is it possible that it makes a difference deep down. And does it then affect my racial perception and reactions in my everyday interactions?

Often, for “colorblind” people, race begins to matter if “those other people” are gonna marry one of us, or be given a position that I think I deserved, or are put in a place of power over me, or if their presence does damage to my long-held beliefs.

Now is the time to call those beliefs out of ourselves, if we are to go forward on race and grow up as a nation.

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