Mediation Monday: Accused, Executed, and Innocent

For millions of Christians around the world, this is Holy Week when we reflect on the last week of Jesus’ life from the time he entered Jerusalem to his death and resurrection. This story is so foundational and familiar that it is easy to “go through the motions” of observing this sacred time. Yet as we enter this Holy Week, I was struck by the realization that Jesus is the most famous victim of the death penalty. He was tortured and executed by the Romans based on false charges brought by religious authorities who accused him of claiming to be a new king challenging the authority of Caesar. Even though the Roman governor Pilate believed Jesus was innocent, he gave into political pressure and authorized Jesus’ horrifying execution by crucifixion. Although God redeemed this tremendous miscarriage of justice through the resurrection, it is a vivid example of the reality that the death penalty is liable to human error and manipulation. This is just as true in the United States of 2019 as it was in first century Israel. Organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative and The Innocence Project have worked to exonerate innocent people on death rows in various states showing that innocent people continue to be accused of capital crimes. Even when defendants are guilty as charged, there is an obvious disparity in who receives the death penalty based on racial and economic factors. The video by Bryan Stevenson posted below is a brief introduction to this ongoing injustice. As followers of our Lord who was falsely accused, tortured, and executed; we are called to advocate for justice that is truly fair and equal. The death penalty throughout history including our own nation has never been fair or equal.

Meditation Monday - Justice vs. Law and Order

In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote what has become one of the iconic pieces of the modern civil rights movement - The Letter From the Birmingham City Jail. Not as well known is the piece to which Dr. King’s powerful letter was the response. Eight prominent white clergymen including Episcopal bishops and, Methodist bishops among several others published a letter in support of the goal of desegregation but critical of the campaign of non-violent direct action. They appealed to “law and order” without recognizing that the status quo maintained by that law and order was the source of racial injustice and oppression. Here are some of their words:

We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued "An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense," in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed…Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions," we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham .We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

As well intentioned as they were, these Christian leaders and the majority of white Christians they represented were on the wrong side of history. This continues to be instructive for our day and time. Appeals to maintain” law and order” in ways that dehumanize and oppress people are contrary to the justice that God desires for all people. It also discounts the lives and stories of those impacted by injustice that consistently favors the status quo. We have seen this at work on the southern border of our country, on the streets of our cities, and in our criminal justice system. As followers of Jesus, we have the call and responsibility to discern and resist when justice is inconsistent with our systems of “law and order.” The events in Birmingham in 1963 challenge us to ask the hard question of whether or not we are on the right side of history from the perspective of God’s justice and love.

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Meditation Monday - Dr. King's Unfinished Business

This Thursday, April 4, is the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the decades since his untimely death, Dr. King has become a national hero. Yet when he died at the age of 39 he was one of the most unpopular people in the country. During the last two years of his life, Dr. King was going beyond challenging legal segregation to calling our nation to account for what he called the “giant triplets of evil” - racism, poverty, and militarism. In the last of his three books, he made the following distinction between passing civil rights laws and enforcing them in the face of ongoing white backlash:

There is a tragic gulf between civil rights laws passed and civil rights implemented. There is a double standard in the enforement of laws…All of this tells us that white backlash is nothing new. White America has been backlashing on the fundamental God-given rights of Negro Americans for more than three hundred years. With all of her dazzling achiemvents and stupendous material strides, America has maintained its strange ambivalence on the question of racial justice. (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community p.87)

Dr. King’s words have proven to be prophetic. Over the last few years in particular, we have seen a resurgence of white backlash in the forms of both overt hate speech and crimes as well as complacence about ongoing structural injustice including racial disparities in education, policing, mass incarceration, health care, and economic security. As we remember the life and ministry of Dr. King on the anniversary of his death, we truly honor his legacy by hearing and acting on his call to recognize, challenge, and resist all forms of white supremacy.

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Meditation Monday: Recalling and Repenting of An Infamous Anniversary 95 Years Ago

During the season of Lent, one focus is to recall and repent of our sins agains God and others. This includes not only individual sins but also the sins of our society. With that in mind, I want to lift up an infamous anniversary from 95 years ago when Virginia passed two pieces of legislation that advanced the sin of white supremacy not only in the Commonwealth but throughout the country. On March 20, 1924 the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Racial Integrity Act and the Virginia Sterilization Act. Both were based on the now discredited “science” of eugenics intended to maintain white racial purity. The Racial Integrity Act required each person in Virginia to be categorized at birth as either “white” or “colored.” It also made interracial marriage illegal. The only exception to the rigid “one drop rule” was the preposterous “Pocahontas Clause” that allowed whites with one-sixteenth Native American ancestry to be considered white. This was to maintain the racial status of some members of the “First Families of Virginia” (FFV) who traced their ancestry back to the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. The two racist legislative acts were used a decade later by the Nazis as models for their ideology and policies of racial superiority. The laws stayed in effect until overturned by the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision in 1967. Yet the legacy of these acts continues to impact our nation today in the form of racial disparities in education, income, family wealth, and health care. Although we cannot go back and undo the horrific legislation from 95 years ago, we can take time to learn this painful history, recognize its ongoing legacy of racial injustice in our day, and advocate for greater levels of justice to address the legacy of state sponsored racism. In other words, we can practice the spiritual discipline of recalling and repenting.

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Meditation Monday - Sharing Grief and Love With Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters

People across the world are sharing grief and expressions of love for the 50 people killed and another 50 wounded in the horrific shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Once again people gathered to worship God (Christians in Charleston, Sikhs in Wisconsin, Jews in Pittsburgh) became the victims of hate and intentional violence on the part of a man committed to white nationalism/supremacy. Although this attack was not in the United States, people of faith in this country are called to share grief and love with the Muslim community in our country and throughout the world. For Christians in the US during this season of Lent, we need to confess the part that our nation has played in promoting Islamophobia over the last two decades in general and during the current administration in particular. It is not enough for any of us to say “I am not a racist” without also actively standing up in love for those who are regularly stereotyped as the “other who is not one of us.” Our shared faith in one God can empower us to meet and defeat hate with love. This kind of love means seeing the image of God in each other across any barriers that would otherwise separate us including race, religion, or national origin.

As an expression of grief, I invite you to Click Here to read an article about one victim of the Christchurch violence - a 3 year old boy named Mucaad. Each victim was a beloved child of God whose life was precious to God and to others.

As an expression of love, I invite you to Click Here to read an article about a recent service at a mosque in Northern Virginia where the larger community came together in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

For any of us who are people of faith, the one thing we know for sure despite any theological differences is stated simply in the Bible by the author of I John, " Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (I John 4: 7-8).