Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lessons from the Jeremiah Wright - Obama Situation

I can only speak from deeply within the American white subculture, because that is the perspective I've been given. I grew up in the (very) racist southern Bible belt. My small town did not have a single person "of color" or non-European descent.

I once heard a story from my mother, that back in the 1930s a black man and his sister did move to our little town. But then rumors quickly spread through the local people (and sadly the local churches) that the man was practicing incest. Then one night, several white teenagers went to the rustic clapboard cabin, dragged the black man out into his yard, tied each of his limbs to a stake, then gouged his eyes out with sharp sticks for "incest." They were doing it "for God" . . . in the same way that the Taliban might stone a woman to death, in the name of Allah, for rumors she had committed adultery.

No one knows what happened to the family afterwards. I do know what happened to one of the teenager boys, he became the town sheriff and was indeed the sheriff when I was a kid.

All of us were racist, some much more that others. There was an "unofficial" KKK club in my high school. The person who started it now runs the town funeral home. Whether he ever repented . . . I don't know but I certainly hope so.

Now, not by choice, I still live in a 95% white community. As much as I've tried not to be racist, I'm sure that I still have been influence by my own culture and early upbringing.

I think the most shocking message that I got, from listening to Dr.Wright's (cherry-picked by the media) sound bites was how different the perspective is from the black community than the white community.

If you had asked me or any of my white neighbors, we would say that racism is old (60s) and doesn't exist anymore . . . nor is it an issue. But in many parts of the black culture, the concern about it is alive and well . . . and must be for a reason.

I won't go into the details of the brief statement that have been taken from Dr. Wright's sermons . . . because we've heard them over an over (if you have cable). I hear them every time that I'm in Thrive on the thread mill.

I can certainly see how some of those sound bites are haunting Obama's campaign and will come back to haunt him in the general election. I can just imagine how some of my old Evangelical, Rush Limbaugh-ditto head-Promise Keeper friends of mine will digest this. "A true sign that Obama is a dangerous radical." But I'm going to share my honest take on this, which may rub some Christians the wrong way.

First of all, of course, some of the things that Dr. Wright said, are factually wrong. Having spent 25 years in health care I am quite confident that the US government did not create the HIV virus in order to cause genocide. There may be other things that he said, which are factually wrong . . . I really can't remember. But, some of the things which he brought up have merit. The US foreign policy is considered by most of the world to be as cruel and self-serving as Dr. Wright suggests, but strongly opposed in the "My Country Right or Wrong" mentality of mainstream, white Evangelicalism.

The fact that Dr. Wright is wrong on some issues doesn't mute his voice. My town probably got the truth very wrong when they accused the black man of practicing incest . . . when there was no evidence of that. And those were "good, Christian, white folks" at least back in the 1930s.

Dr. Wright also raised the issue of the Palestinian question, and I probably agree with him. The way in which the nation of Israel was created was very injust to the Palestinians. This injustice has led to many terrible things since, including the hatred of the West by Al-Qaeda . . . and vertually all Arabs. Jimmy Carter seems to get it, but he too is out of step with the typical American Evangelical.

The typical American Evangelical is so blinded by (what I consider a false) theology (Schofield Dispensationalism) that it allows tremendous injustices "in the name of God" to happen and continue. I am certainly not a "Jew Hater," or anti-Semite. I respect the Jewish people the same way I do all men and women. Now that Israel does exist, I think it can not, nor should be reversed. But that fact it became a nation again in 1948 was a self-fulfilled prophecy not the ushering in of the "last days" as I was taught when I was a new Christian.

I am not naive about the view of the Muslim people. I do speak Arabic. I've lived in the Middle East. I've spent countless hours in conversations with Muslims. I was even in NW Pakistan just a little over a year ago. There, in the heart of anti-American, Pro-Al-Qaeda territory I had many meaningful discussions with locals. I will try to paste a some of my photos on the side bar as the blog will not allow me to post them here.

Now my point, trying not to get bogged down in the particulars, is that one group (white vs black) Christian do not have a monopoly on truth . . . or falsehood. Also, the Jeremiah Wright situation tells us that the Black-Christian subculture is very different from its White equivalent.

The Role of Culture:

I am certainly not a relativist when it comes to truth. I, like all Christians, believe in absolute truth. But as fallen people, we often have problems finding the truth. As Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV) says,

" The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"

This verse is referring to the mind or soul. The fall has rendered as unable to know the full truth 100% of the time. I think the biggest problem is not our rationality, but our perceptions. I'm not assuming that our reason has been spared from the Fall as some 15th century Scholastic theologians may have. Our reason can fail us as well. But I think our area of greatest vulnerability is in our perceptions. The most extreme example of this is the paranoid schizophrenic, who actually has fairly good reasoning skills . . . but he/she hears voices and see things that suggest that the CIA really is implanting probes into their brain.

A parody of this search for truth is found in the anatomy of the human eye. While truth is really there ( the reality of what we are looking at), the acuity (or perception) of that truth is distorted by our cultural and emotional experiences. The lens of the human eye is controlled (or focused) by tiny muscles called the zonule fibers and ciliary bodies, which tug on the lens to change its shape. Our cultural experiences, belief system (and emotional baggage) act like these tiny muscles in determining our focus and completing our visual perception.

One flaw of Dualistic thinking, is the ignoring of the very important role that culture and emotions have on our perception of reality. I say that history is the scaffolding on which culture is perched. When, as Dualist, we assume that the history of the world, normal people doing normal things, is insignificant . . . then we reach the same conclusion about culture . . . it has no real meaning or bearing on what we think is truth.

This is why white Christians may not understand the perception of black Christians. In this Dualistic view (down-playing the importance of cultural history) there is the tendency to end in ego-centrism. My perception of truth is the real truth. The truth that I could see as a typical white Christian man (for example, the Arabs have been treated fairly, it was God's plan to made Israel a nation in 1948, the Muslims hate us because simply they are evil and they want to destroy "The American Way" and racism no longer exist) I then feel is the absolute truth. The black Christian my have a very different view of these matters.

A Monist, non-Dualistic, view is to humbly accept that my personal experiences, the culture I was raised in, my personal emotions and psychological make up can greatly influence my perception of reality and the conclusions I make about truth. This is not to give up any hope of finding real truth . . . but to be an honest broker of truth.

A Monist is congruent with the ideals of the "Post-Evangelical" because, while we accept the fact that absolute truth exist (vs a relative truth that some theologically-liberal people might think) we are cautious about being dogmatic. We also accept that ambiguity exist, even in some of the big questions. God could have answered some of the big questions (such as the age of the earth) in one simple verse . . . but he did not.
Enough said. Share your thoughts.

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