Luke 10.25-37, the Good Samaritan, is justly one of the most famous short stories in the world. But there is so much to this story. Over the last several years the contours of my understanding of the Good Samaritan has changed. It deepened because of Second Chronicles. That’s right Second Chronicles.

In the story, Jesus is responding to a “lawyer” (10.25). It is important to keep this term in its historical context, a lawyer is not the same thing as an attorney in our culture but a professional torah scholar (thus the NIV accurately says “expert in the law“). The scholar correctly answers (and cites from scripture) Jesus’s query “what is written in the torah?

He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind,’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself‘” (10.27)

Please note carefully it is the Jew who gets the answer correct. The lawyer (Bible scholar) says, correctly, we must love God and love neighbor (Deut 6.4; Lev 19.18). Most Jews, in fact, would have said the same thing (the rabbis certainly do). The problem was not being able to cite Scripture, the problem was having ears to hear what Scripture was saying (i.e. meant).

But then the scholar sought to “justify” himself. This is as much a problem with today’s “Church of Christ” ministers as it was a Jewish biblical scholar in Jesus’s day. Jesus told him a story.

But my interest today is actually elsewhere, what “inspires” Jesus? I believe the basis (that is the building blocks) of Jesus’s story is actually the Hebrew Bible that the lawyer was supposed to be an expert in. The “grist” for the Samaritan is the story of what the leaders of Samaria did (at the behest of a prophet) for the Judeans. We read the whole story, in 2 Chronicles 28.5-15, one of the last stories in the Hebrew Bible itself and quite familiar to the scholar standing in front of Jesus. (Jesus does not simply quote the text but uses the material in 2 Chronicles to tailor his response to a person who was an “expert” in Scripture.

Second Chronicles 28

In Second Chronicles 28, Ahaz (King of Judah) leads God’s people into gross apostasy. Yahweh delivers them into the hands of, first, the Arameans, and then Pekah, king in Samaria. In a single day a huge number of Judah’s warriors die and “two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters” were taken a war booty and into slavery.

Suddenly, the prophet Oded appears in 2 Chronicles. He confronts the army and its loot. Samaria, though given victory by God, is sinning by doing this. Oded commands that the enemy is really our “brothers” or “kindred” and were not to be treated in this fashion but instead to be returned to their homes.

Then some leaders joined Oded and said “we must not bring these prisoners here.” So they (the leaders) took the people and did this,

“they clothed the naked; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho … Then they returned to Samaria” (28.15).

What Jesus Did

What the Samaritan did in in Jesus’s story of Lk 10.34-35 is inspired by the the witness of the Scriptures he was raised on in 2 Chronicles 28.15ff. The contours, and even details, line up these text:

Samaria,
Jericho,
Oded,
leaders of Samaria,
the care,
even the idea that “we” might be more righteous than “them.”

Both texts reflect on the meaning of Leviticus 19.18.

Jesus has turned the lawyer’s attempted self-justification with Oded’s question in 28.10, “aren’t you also guilty of sins before the LORD your God?” The best of us is in desperate need of God’s grace because we are guilty.

Wrapping Up

Jesus has taken a story from Scripture, one that recounts what love for neighbor really meant. In the parable, Jesus confronts us with the Bible itself. But it is not simply the case that the hated Samaritan is now my “neighbor” and I love that person. Rather the Samaritan is transformed into a “kindred” … a brother. The enemy is transformed into my (our) brother. Fellow human beings are “brothers/sisters.”

As God’s people we recognize that we have NO enemies. When we encounter a person in need – even if that person considers him/herself my enemy – we are not merely neighbors rather we are “kindred/brothers/family” and practice the family character trait of mercy.

Some Sources

Many older sources completely ignore the 2 Chronicles subtext of the Good Samaritan. Protestant scholars have, historically, wanted to divorce Jesus from his Jewish matrix, that is best done by simply not acknowledging it. And frankly (and sadly) many NT scholars simply do not know their “Old Testaments.”

Thankfully, a change is taking place though still among Evangelical scholarship there is hesitancy. Thus, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson’s Commentary on the NT Use of the Old Testament does not discuss 2 Chronicles at all in relation to the Good Samaritan.

Yet back in 1955, C.E.B. Cranfield drew attention to it in an article called “The Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) in Theology Today. F. H. Wilkinson published an insightful article in Expository Times called, “Oded: Proto-Type of the Good Samaritan.” The most extensive study was published by F. Scott Spencer in Westminster Theological Journal in 1984 called “2 Chronicles 28:5-15 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Since then there has been a turn. Finally, the most recent is the Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine in Short Stories by Jesus.

Worship is the Shema in 3D

Day 31, August 31, 2020. With this post we wrap up our eighth journey thru the Psalter for 2020. Though I have been doing this for 20ish years or so, each journey thru the Psalter has been unique.

I can look back over my Psalm prayer journal and see earthquakes in my life. I see times when the days prayer time seemed perfunctory. I can see times when I did it out of a sense of obligation.

I also can look over the whole and see great changes in how individual psalms hit me. I see love notes (interestingly enough) I’ve written to former Valentines. Stuff I wrote when Rachael was in the hospital and Talya got her license. I see places that were bitter pills during a firing and divorce.

The Psalms are the river of the Spirit and the rhythm of grace that has engulfed my life. They frame my life … at least after 1997ish.

I have come to believe the Jew from Nazareth did the same thing. I know beyond a doubt that Jesus/Yeshua prayed the Psalms daily and had the book memorized. It is interesting that though the Psalms are an “Old Testament” text, I have come to know the Nazarene on a much deeper level than I ever had before because of the Psalms. That alone is worth immersion in the Psalms daily. To paraphrase Augustine, to read the Psalms is like thinking Jesus’s thoughts after him.

Today we finish this month’s journey through the Psalter (Pss 148-150). It is one Hallelujah. One Big Bang over the top praise.

Psalms 145-150 form an extended, and fitting, doxology to the entire Psalter. Give everything you have, and more, to the praise of Yahweh the God of Israel and Father of Jesus/Yeshua. Everything in the entire Psalter has been pointing to this. It is no naive call but quite deliberate. The mountains and valleys of life, all honored in the Psalter by placing them before God, bring us to unabashed exuberant praise.

Psalm 148 ushers us into not just a worship assembly on earth but a cosmic cathedral of praise. It takes eyes to see “where we are” and ears to hear what is truly going on in our worship assemblies. Psalm 148 brings us into the throne room of God, like Hebrews 12 and the Revelation does throughout.

Here, in this temple, all creation continuously praises the Creator God as King. The sun, the moon, fire, snow, mountains and even “creeping things” (148.10). In this Psalm, it is humans that are called to join with the rest of creation in praise. This is why trumpets, lyres and even dancing (149.3; 150.4) are given to God in worship – because everything belongs to him already! We join them in worship that never ceases. We are taken into the throne room by the Spirit of God to join the thundering chorus singing to the audience of One. All people, all faux kings, young men, maidens band together to glorify the one King.

Psalm 149 extends this wholesome creation theology. Praise is given to the “Maker” (v.2). Praise is “in their throats” (v. 6). Worship is relational for God “takes pleasure in his people” (v.4). Churches today could learn a lesson or two from Israel about what it means to worship God in body, soul and spirit … in Spirit and Truth!

Worship is an application of the greatest command to love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength. Worship is the Shema in 3D. Israel had no dualistic dichotomies between “physical” and “spiritual” worship … if you are presenting your body as a sacrifice then even dance and music was sacred. Since Israel is commanded to love God with body, soul, spirit, and strength their worship parallels that (that is what v.3 is about). Some today love God only with their propositions and sometimes worship reflects the lack of joy and energy this Psalm demands of the People of God. Sometimes what gets called spiritual and reverent among us is actually more indebted to pagan Platonic dualism and assimilated Victorian values than Scripture. (See also my article, Worship is the Shema in 3D: Vitamins for Worshiping with Heart, Mind, Soul & Strength).

Crowning the whole Psalter, Psalm 150 moves beyond both 148 and 149. Those psalms give us “reasons” to praise. And we have millions of them to bow before the Lord God our Maker. But Psalm 150 seemingly gives no reason. Supreme worship does not flow merely from any of the benefits we receive from God. Supreme worship flows to God simply because God is God. God is just worthy of praise.

This pure, holy, worship in Psalm 150 makes some modern disciples “uncomfortable” to say the least. Undignified. Outrageous. Over the top. No holds barred. But two things must be remembered always.

First, Jesus sang this song. Jesus sang this song. Jesus joined the festive throng in shouting to God the Father with lutes, harps, clapping and even dance (v.4). The only way to say he did not is to deny he is a faithful Bible reading Jew!

Second, If we believe that the Holy Spirit is ultimately responsible for Scripture then this psalm, like all of them, is here because he wants it there. Humans always think they are holier and more Spiritual than God, so we not infrequently embrace some neo-Platonic spirituality or neo-gnostic contemplation.

But God loves embodied and full bodied material – the stuff of Creation – worship. Thus Psalm 150 caps off the entire book of Praise. The Book of Praises ends with a big bang of praise!

In our journey we have gone through mountains, valleys, sheol, darkness, enemies of God, pain, suffering … and ultimately into the joy of being the People – blessed to be in God’s glorious Presence in sweet communion with one another and Yahweh.

My prayer meditation is,

“Lord God of Israel purify my heart so I desire to worship you with my mind, with my soul, with my strength, with my body, with my whole being, in communion with your family simply because you are the Glorious King.”

Amen

The depiction on the right is more realistic of Jesus of Nazareth
than the picture on the left.

Why Does it Matter that Jesus IS a Jew

I was asked why it matters that Jesus is, not was, a Jew. It is a profound question and one we probably need to spend a lot more time on.

What does it matter to Christian faith that Jesus is, not was, a Jew? N. T. Wright once noted, that for many as long as Jesus had a virgin birth and died a sin-bearing death on the cross, Jesus himself and his life is practically irrelevant to their faith. For them Christianity is shaped and molded by other commitments.

Honestly, that Jesus is a Jew will not matter to a Marcionite nor a Gnostic. But for biblical Christianity it is not only important but essential. I confess that, at one point in my life that is exactly where I was. In short it matters

historically,
biblically,
theologically,
ethically
.

Because it is Part of the Gospel

The first words in the New Testament declare,

the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,
the son of David,
the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1.1).

Paul a servant of Jesus Messiah … set apart for the gospel of God, promised through the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David” (Rom 1.1-3).

Remember Jesus Messiah/Christ
raised from the dead,
a descendant of David,
this is my gospel” (2 Tim 2.8).

Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The word Christ and Messiah are the same (one comes from Greek and the other Hebrew). Messiah is a Jewish category, the Son of David. So for starters the Gospel declares that God is faithful to his promises. We cannot have Jesus without his family. We cannot have Jesus without Abraham, without David … without Israel.

To be Messiah is to be the King of Israel. As Matthew tells us Jesus (and Christmas reminds us of this) was “BORN king of the Jews” (2.2). The nearest equivalent for Christ/Messiah in English is King. Every time we see the word “Christ” or “Messiah” we should read “King.” Some translations actually do this (the Kingdom New Testament for example). King of what? Israel

According to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament the King of Israel (Messiah) will inherit the nations. That text from Psalm 2 is quoted at Jesus’s baptism (Mt 3.17; Ps 2.7). Gentiles do not become Jews by becoming “messianics” rather we confess that Jesus is the King of Israel and that makes him “Lord of all.” We Gentiles are his inheritance. That Jesus is a Jew matters greatly. God’s credibility is on the line.

Jesus’s, whose name is really Joshua (namesake for the book of Joshua), identity is one with the whole history of the people of God in the Hebrew Bible. Their story is his story. His life is the culmination of that story. We have the wrong Joshua if our Jesus is not from first to last, Joshua the Jew who is is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of Mary … the King of the Jews.

See also Picturing Jesus, the Jew: Images Project and Shape Theology.

Jesus’s birth, the Incarnation, Affirms Creation and Thus our Identity

Jesus’s, Joshua’s, Jewish identity and context is often (literally) important to understand what he said and did. Jesus’s teaching is rooted in first and foremost the Hebrew Bible itself. We are prone to distort Jesus’s mission when we take him out of his own historical, context.

Against the Gnostics, biblical faith affirms that Jesus (the Word) became flesh, that is he became a genuine human being. This means being a human is good. Humans do not become angels, or spirit beings, at the resurrection. Instead what we are is redeemed. All of me is redeemed. Jesus being born a Jew not only affirms God’s faithfulness but it also affirms that God did not make a mistake in creating the world in the first place.

Jesus remains who he was born to be. The Joshua who was raised from the dead, and shall return, is the same Jesus born of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. John dares to label folks who deny Jesus remains in the flesh, redeemed from the grave (see Acts 2.31), as “anti-Christs” (that is anti-messiahs). These people in 1 John and 2 John were actively against this fundamental teaching, it was not that they simply did not understand.

Jesus/Joshua did not come to destroy, get rid of, God’s creation,= Rather King Jesus came to set God’s creation free from death and decay. If Jesus ceased being a Jew then he would not be what he was. If he ceases to be who he was, then I, too, will cease being who I am.

But that is not what “salvation” does. In the new heavens and new earth, I will still be Bobby Valentine – redeemed from sin and the power of death. Every tribe, every tongue, every nation will be represented (cf. Revelation 7.9-1; Ephesians 2.11-3.10). This includes Jews and Gentiles – Abraham is the father of many nations all now united into Israel by the King of Israel who is Savior and Lord of All.

The word “Christian,” like “Christ,” is just the Greek form for “messianics.” We are the people of the Messiah, which includes both Jews and non-Jews. The NT does not teach, anywhere, that the “church” replaced Israel. What Luke teaches, what Paul teaches, what Peter teaches, is that Gentiles (the inheritance of the King of Israel) are now incorporated into Israel – they have become citizens of Israel (Ephesians 2.11-22) – on the basis of their faith in the King of Israel, Jesus the Messiah.

Paul never stopped being a Jew any more than Jesus did. To the Jew first, Paul wrote and then to the Greek. The Gentiles were “grafted” into the Olive Tree of Israel. The nations, as the nations, matter to God.

Denying that Jesus IS a brown skinned, Middle Eastern Jew has led to serious distortions of theology and crimes against humanity

Anti-semiticism flourished in the Roman Empire. Paul had to deal with it in Romans 9-11 (whole epistle in my view), where he says in essence “You cannot have Jesus without Israel.

In the Second and Third centuries, the Marcionites and Gnostics however rejected all things Jewish (the Old Testament, many books in the NT, heavily edited letters of Paul, etc). Jewish was bad to people with this orientation. Once we separate Jesus from his Jewishness, from the Hebrew Bible, then we can refashion Jesus into anything we want. These two views, Marcionism and Gnosticism, have been perpetual demonic poltergeists in Christian history.

Divorced from the Hebrew Bible and his Jewishnesss suddenly Jesus is now a Gentile and against the Jews. This move empowered centuries and centuries of not only Anti-Semitic sentiment but outright murderous violence. This ultimately culminates in Nazism, which affirmed Jesus indeed. But not a Jewish Jesus, an Aryan Jesus. See The Aryan Jesus, Part 1.

In our own historical context of North America we were never far from Nazism. It is hard to hold black folks in slavery when you believe the one you call King Jesus is a brown skinned Jew!

After slavery and the Civil War, the Klan appropriated a white Aryan Jesus. It is hard to lynch blacks and hate Jews when you know that Jesus is a brown skinned middle eastern Jew.

It is difficult to be a white nationalist when the disciple humbly submits to the brown skinned King of the Jews. We realize that Joshua is the King of Israel and Lord of all nations and will in the end eliminate all kingdoms that are not his (Daniel 2).

Historically some of the greatest crimes ever perpetuated have been empowered at their root by an ideology (that Paul protested against) that denies the Jewishness of Jesus.

Conclusion

The Jewishness of Jesus matters to everything about Christianity. His Messianic identity is inseparable from his Jewishness which is the whole point of Matthew 1 and 2 (especially that genealogy church’s tend to skip). The Gospel is not just that Jesus died for our sins. It is that Jesus the Jewish Messiah who is the the Son of David, saved us from our sins and through his resurrection in the flesh redeems God’s creation (and our own body with it) from the power of death and decay (Romans 8.11, 18-23).

The Jewishness of Jesus matters incarnationally and affirms the goodness and creational intent of God. That Jesus was born a Jews and raised a Jew means that I, too, will be “me.”

The cutting off of Jesus from his Jewishness has resulted in gross distortions that are still held by many today. It has resulted in crimes that are unspeakable.

The Jewishness of Jesus matters:

historically,
biblically,
theologically,
ethically

… and we have just touched the subject.

[Edit – Clarification on “Israel.” It is a misunderstanding to simply equate the modern state of Israel founded in 1948 with biblical Israel. Jesus is the King of Israel does not commit me blindly to the modern state of Israel. It does not mean the State of Israel is beyond criticism especially in regard to Palestinians. Renewed Israel as Scripture sees it is Jews + Gentiles who confess Jesus as the King of Israel. This is not replacing Israel but an expansion of Israel to include the believers of the nations.]

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879. George K. Warren. (National Archives Gift Collection) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 200-FL-22 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 113

Thus says the LORD: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22.3).

Frederick Douglass, the Man of the Hour?

Most Americans have heard of Frederick Douglass. Escaped slave. Crusader against slavery. Brilliant orator. Man of conscience. Most do not realize that he championed the rights of all people not just blacks. In the wake of the Civil War he was full of hope for what the future held. But by the time of his death on February 5, 1895, he saw all of the blood bought gains of the Civil War and in Reconstruction purposefully undermined in the white “Redemption” of the South.

Douglass is famous for his What to the Slave is Your Fourth of July speech. Douglass became a staunch Republican largely because of Abraham Lincoln and the Reconstruction Acts. He believed that the Republican Party was guided by a moral compass.

But he changed his mind.

The State of the Union

On January 9, 1894, about a year before he died, Douglass gave what may be one of his most powerful and important speeches in Washington DC itself. By this time he was disillusioned with America and most of all the Republican Party which he had sold his soul to after the War. The Civil Rights legislation passed during Reconstruction had been attacked (and even declared unconstitutional) by the Supreme Court, lynching had become a national pastime, the status of African Americans was even more precarious than in the days of slavery.

Douglass’s speech was called “the Lessons of the Hour.” I recently read through it in Speeches of Frederick Douglass: A Critical Edition back in February this year.

In many ways this remarkable speech addresses us even to this very day. Frederick Douglass may have been an old man by this time but he was not going to go quietly into the night. The Republican Party had become “a party of money rather than a party of morals” he states forthrightly.

The Republican Party was no longer the party of Lincoln. It had traded its moral compass for mammon.

He begins by skewering white America over the so called “Negro problem,” it is not a “negro problem” at all. It is a white “epidemic of mob law and persecution.” The progress of Reconstruction was gone and America had regressed.

Not a breeze comes to us now from the late rebellious States that is not tainted and freighted with negro blood. It is thirst for blood and its rage for vengeance, the mob has blindly, boldly and defiantly supplanted sheriffs and the police …

We claim to be a Christian country and a highly civilized nation, yet, I fearlessly affirm that there is nothing in the history of savages to surpass the blood chilling horrors and fiendish excesses perpetuated against the colored people by the so-called enlightened Christian people of the South. It is commonly thought that only the lowest and most disgusting birds, such as buzzards, vultures and hyenas, will gloat over and prey upon dead bodies, but the Southern mob in its rage feeds its vengeance by shooting, stabbing and burning when their victims are dead!

Surely such language evokes the memory of the that famous Fourth of July speech in 1852. Clearly, Douglass did not think America was great at that time.

Douglass then systematically, and brilliantly, deconstructs and exposes the justifications of lynching. Lynching, he said, serves the purpose of undoing the gains made by blacks following the Civil War. It was a means of social control.

They myth of black violence was simply a lie invented to justify systematic murder. Douglass declares, “I reject the charge bought against the negro as a class.” What is is primary evidence? The slaveholders themselves.

all through the late war, while slave masters of the South were absent from their homes in the field of rebellion, with bullets in their pockets, treason in their hearts, broad blades in their blood stained hands … with the vile purpose of perpetuating the enslavement of the negro, their wives, their daughters, their sisters and their mothers were left in the absolute custody of these same negros and during all those long four years of terrible conflict, when the negro had every opportunity to commit the abominable crime now alleged against him, there was never a single instance of such a crime reported or charged against him.”

The truth however was not black violence but white violence before the war has now been extended and is the “state of the union.’

Slavery itself, you will remember, was a system of legalized outraged upon the black women of the South, and no white man was ever shot, burned, or hanged for availing himself of all the power that slavery gave him.”

Black men were portrayed as violent sexual monsters and the “state of the union” was that America allowed that myth to justify the barbaric lynchings sweeping across the South. But in reality it was the lynchers who, like the slaveholders before, held life in contempt. “They have never had any respect for human life.

Their institutions [slavery] have taught them no respect for human life and especially the life of the negro. It has in fact taught them absolute contempt for his life … A dead negro is with them a common jest. They care no more for a negro’s right to live than they care for his rights to liberty or his rights to the ballot.

There was no lynching plague before the War. Rather it appeared on the scene only when black people demanded to be heard, to be seen, to be a part of society. Stripping those rights in the court was one part of the attack and the mob of lynchers was the second.

Party of Money Rather than a Party of Morals

He then challenges Americans as a whole and Republicans in particular. Why have they allowed these moral outrages to take place? Why have they sat idly by while the blood bought advances of justice from the 1860s and early 1870s are overturned?

They have, Douglass lamented, betrayed Lincoln. The nation has “done away with that noble and just idea of Abraham Lincoln, that our government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people, and for ALL [sic] the people.” They have become moral cowards and surrendered to the “Lost Cause.

Republicans had turned a blind eye to “Southern power plays” that are, presently, as egregious as before their “rebellious war.” The power plays was the move to disenfranchise blacks across the South as the supposed answer to the “negro problem.” Republicans, Douglass declared,

have become a party of money rather than a party of morals.

Wow! They had sold their souls to mammon, for the sake of monetary gain.

There is no Negro problem, “he is alright, rather the problem is the “Lyncher and Mobocrat.” Injustice fueled by pure race hatred is the problem. The Republicans, Douglass charged, have a moral problem. They have turned their backs on justice for the sake of money by appeasing the mob violence across the South.

Near the end of his speech (which goes on for 50 pages), says something that could be said today like much of his speech.

There is nothing to which prejudice is not equal in the way of perverting the truth and inflaming the passions of men … Put away your race prejudice.”

This is the lesson of the hour, our prejudice twists our minds so much we cannot even recognize truth standing or being spoken in front of us. Like the Republicans of the 1890s, we rationalize, say how we set the slaves “free,” turn a blind eye and most of all refuse to do anything that will cost our ‘bottom line.” Douglass, a committed Lincoln Republican, calls on the Republican Party of 1895,

give us hope that the loyal Republican party may return to its first born.”

As Douglass brings his epic speech to Washington to a close, he noted that the United States does not have a “negro problem.” The United States has a justice problem. More basically it has morality problem.

Has the Republican Party lost its moral compass? I find Douglass to be a man who pricks the conscience.

Charlesworth is one of the leading scholars on the Odes. His very readable translation is a joy.

Non-Western Christianity of Syria

Disciples of Jesus in Europe and North America have a “culture” and “vocabulary” of Christianity that is profoundly Western. Even disciples who are not Roman Catholic (indeed even anti-Catholic) or do not consider themselves Protestant are profoundly shaped and molded by centuries, centuries and centuries of how Christian faith has been expressed in the West.

We often are, seemingly, unaware that there are non-western “cultures” of Christianity. They are as ancient, indeed more ancient, than any western expression of the Way. They are located in the same geographical area that Christianity emerged:

Palestine
Lebanon
Syria
Jordan
Egypt
Iraq
Turkey

For two thousand years Christianity has flourished in places that are rarely associated with Christ followers by Americans today. The Way, or Christianity, already existed in Damascus (Syria) before Saul of Tarsus was called to be an apostle. Disciples of Jesus were in Antioch (also in Syria) before Saul/Paul was called. This form of Christianity knew Greek but its native language was Aramaic/Syriac. It was Jewish or “Oriental” in orientation. These disciples of the Way have basically the same books of the Bible that Western Christians had (their “Old Testament” usually contains what Protestants call the Apocrypha and the books of the NT). These Christians sometimes expressed their faith in ways that may help us in the West. For more on ancient non-western Christianity see my review of Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity.

Odes of Solomon: Ancient Hymnbook

The earliest, that is the oldest, Christian “hymnbook” outside the Book of Psalms itself, comes from these Syriac speaking Christians. It is called the Odes of Solomon. The collection dates to about AD 100 though incorporating material that was obviously sung before getting put in the collection (the book of Odes contains 42 songs similar in style to the Psalms).

The Odes reflects the worship and beliefs of first century Christianity and on into the second centuries and whoever used the Odes thereafter. The Odes are beautiful and moving. Themes that appear frequently in the Odes of Solomon are: God is the Loving Father, Christ is the Word, he Holy Spirit is an ever present help. Many scholars have noted connections between the Odes and the thought world of the Gospel of John.

What is interesting is how these early Christians referred to the Holy Spirit in the feminine gender and often startling images of God the Father. In a most vivid description of the Father and Holy Spirit and the Virgin Birth we read some, for westerners, surprising words. But this shows the intimacy in which these early Christians viewed themselves in relation to God and they recognized that God is not ontologically male or female. Ode 19 says,

A cup of milk was offered to me,
and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness
” (v.1)

The Lord is gracious and takes care of his children. But watch what happens.

The Son [Jesus] is the cup,
and the Father is he who was milked;
and the Holy Spirit is SHE who milked him;

Because his breasts were full,
and it was undesirable that his milk
should be released without purpose.

The Holy Spirit opened HER bosom,
and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.

Then SHE gave the mixture to the generation
without their knowing,
and those who have received it
are in the perfection of the right hand.

The song then speaks of the Virgin Mary who becomes pregnant and bears the Son (the one the generation received, but did not know it). The song shifts to speaking how the Virgin Mary bore the Son, cared for the Son and served and protected him in love. It does all this in eleven verses.

These Christians embrace images from Scripture like 1 Peter 2.3 (‘newborn infants craving spiritual milk) and Isaiah 46.3-4

Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been born by me from your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
even when you turn gray I will carry you.
I have made you, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save
.

And Isaiah 49.15-16

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have you inscribed on the palms of my hands
.”

And Jesus’s unforgettable parable of God as a woman and her lost coin in Luke 15.8-10.

Yet these images of the Father and the Spirit startle us. Not because they are unbiblical but because we have not integrated the biblical imagery of the divine feminine into our religious vocabulary and culture. But it has been there all along. All that humanity is (male and female) is reflected in the Trinity.

God is not ontologically male or female but whatever humanity is, male and female, it is created in the “image” of God. Unlike in Greek, the word for “Spirit” in Syriac is … feminine (it is neuter in Greek). The Holy Spirit is “feminine” and is referred to as a “she” in almost all early Syriac Christian writings.

Much depends on the language we speak (the “culture” in which we live). These ancient Christians remind us that God is not a man (i.e. male) and that males are more in the image of God than females. No the God in whose image we are created is reflected in both maleness and femaleness. It may have a significant impact on how one treats the woman sitting next to you in worship or meet on the street if every time I speak I speak of the Holy Spirit’s activity I say,

And She …

You can get James H. Charlesworth’s translation of the Odes of Solomon by clicking on the link.

Blessings

Heritage, not Hate??

(The photos in the blog are essential. Study them. They show the historical meaning of the flag). I grew up in the South (Alabama). I have lived in the centers of “Southern culture” like New Orleans and as deep South as you can get in Grenada, MS.

I have plunged the depths of the South from elementary school to high school to college to campfires and the beaches from Florida to Texas. I am deeply proud of the South and its very unique and surprisingly diverse cultural gifts it has shared with the United States. See my blog Southern Heritage to Be Proud of …

I know something about the South and the mythology of the Confederate battle flag. As I was growing up, Robert E. Lee brandishing a sword on horseback was on one side of my class ring and the Confederate flag was on the other. The battle flag dangled from the mirror in Nissan 4×4 pick-up in the form of a bandana. I understand people’s emotional attachments that are deeply rooted in a certain mythical retelling of the past. And I was convinced I “did not have a racist bone in my body” (I even used those exact words). I uncritically bought into those myths myself but have drifted away from those false conceptions only by conscious research into the Confederacy and what it stood for.

Have you done some dispassionate research on this matter? Without being to controversial, I ask because some of the underlying assumptions we make seem to be based on Lost Cause stereotypes that we all have drunk to the dregs unconsciously (especially the Reconstruction myths of the South promoted zealously by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind).

I got rid of the flag for biblical, theological, historical, and finally because of love. I will explore a few with you.

September 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, USA — Teenagers wave signs and confederate flags from their car during the fight over desegregating Birmingham’s public schools. — Image by © Flip Schulke/CORBIS

Sometimes Symbols Become Idols

God commanded Moses to fashion a “brazen serpent” in Numbers 21.4-9 that functioned as a type for Jesus’s crucifixion, John 3.13-15. But Hezekiah destroyed Nehushtan though it was holy and directly from God. According to the Scriptures he pleased God in doing so.

He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made for up to that time Israelites had been been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan)” (2 Kings 18.3-4, see the whole chapter).

The brazen serpent had become an idol. As ancient and revered as it was it had to be destroyed. But the fact is that the battle flag is neither holy in origin nor commanded by God. It please God for Nehushtan to be destroyed, I can only imagine his feelings on this flag.

Heritage, not Hate??
Everyone in this photograph knows the meaning of that flag. Read the Sign.

Flags Share the Meaning of the Nation they Represent, the Confederate States were Created to Preserve Racist Ideology

I do not think it can be contested that a national flag shares in the meaning of the nation that flies it. How can the Hammer and Sickle be separated from the Soviet Union. How can the Swastika be untangled from Nazi Germany? How can the Stars and Stripes not represent the United States? How can the flags of the Confederate States of America be disconnected from the nation that created them, the armies the waged war under them, and the mission of that nation as stated in its founding documents? I for one do not see how it is possible.

I’m a Good Old Rebel

The flag, like the nation for which it stood, is an exclusively white race flag. It is the symbol of the Confederate States of America and there is no way to get around this with integrity. The old song, “I’m a Good Old Rebel” captures unapologetically what it was all about.

Oh, I’m a good old rebel
Now thats just what I am
And for this yankee nation
I do no give a damn
I’m glad I fought against her
I only wish we’d won
I ain’t asked any pardon
For anything I’ve done
I hates the Yankee nation
And everything they do
I hates the declaration
Of independence too
I hates the glorious union
‘Tis dripping with our blood

I hates the striped banner
And fought it all I could
I rode with Robert E. Lee
For three years there about …
Oh, I’m a good old rebel
Now that’s just what I am
And for this Yankee nation
I do no give a damn
I’m glad I fought against her
I only wish we’d won
I ain’t asked any pardon”


Is it possible to misunderstand these words?

William Tappan Thompson

If “Good Old Rebel” fails to communicate then perhaps a talk with William Tappan Thompson, the man who designed the official flag for the CSA, will shed some light.

As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.” (The complete text of both this and subsequent words on the flag by Thompson can be read in James W. Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ about the ‘Lost Cause, pp. 194-197).

South Carolina’s December 25, 1860 Slavery Invitation

On December 25, 1860, South Carolina had already seceded from the Union. Her delegates in convention extended this invitation to the slave holding states to form a confederacy. The document is long and I omitted all of the first half. The first half argues that the Colonies of 1776 provide precedent for rights of secession. The second half attempts to show what the essential grounds that call for such radical action in 1860. Near the end of the address you will note the words “TO BE ONE OF A GREAT SLAVE HOLDING CONFEDERACY.”

Citizens of the slaveholding States of the United States! Circumstances beyond our control, have placed us in the van of the great controversy between the Northern and Southern States. We would have preferred, that other States should have assumed the position we now occupy. Independent ourselves, we disclaim any design or desire, to lead the councils of the other Southern States. Providence has cast our lot together, by extending over us an identity of pursuits, interests and institutions. South Carolina, desires no destiny, separate from yours. To be one of a great Slave holding Confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any power in Europe possesses …”

You can read the entire text of South Carolina’s call for the creation of a “great slave holding Confederacy” here Address of South Carolina to Slave Holding States, December 25, 1860.

How can the flag of the nation created for the purpose of slavery not share in the meaning of the nation that created the flag?

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861. This about 3 weeks before the Confederacy started the war by firing on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Cornerstone speech was a famous speech. And it is as clear as a bell. He knew, like the South Carolina invitation a few months previously, exactly what the nation stood for that flew that flag. In the excerpt, Stephens has just referred to the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and repudiates it. You will recall in “Good Old Rebel” the line that said, “I hates the declaration of Independence.” The Confederate States of America was a repudiation of the United States of America and its own flag.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [i.e. all men created equal as found in the Declaration, BV]; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

Stephen’s speech should be required reading of every American. Stephen’s was unashamed in his proclamation. You can read the entire text of the Cornerstone Speech here, Alexander H. Stephens, Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861.

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America

What the Confederate flag stood for is the Constitution of the nation it represented, the Confederate States of America. The Constitution that flag represents is stunningly clear.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 prohibited the Confederate government from restricting slavery in any way:

“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

Please note the Constitution is explicit, “property in negro slaves.” It is not property in white slaves but only black.

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1 also prohibited states from interfering with slavery:

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 addresses escaped slaves:

No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs; or to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3 offered to slavery in all future territories conquered or acquired by the Confederacy:

The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”

This provision ensured the perpetuation of slavery as long and as far as the Confederate States could extend it’s political reach, and more then a few Confederates had their eyes fixed on Cuba and other places for future expansion (Manifest Destiny was not limited to the North).

Slavery was the heart, soul, and the very reason for the existence of the Confederacy. The flag of that nation represents its national values. Its values are literally in black and white.

1948 Dixiecrat Convention, Birmingham, Alabama. The party was created to oppose Truman’s civil right’s agenda and the preservation of white supremacy. The Confederate flag was the official symbol of the party. Its meaning was not disputed by anyone.

The Confederate Flag and the Civil Rights Movement

It is common to find white Southerns (I am one) that claim the flag is heritage not racism. How can the flag be divorced from the nation that flew it? How can it be disconnected for its reason for existence? But the claim makes no sense at all. If you asked Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1870 what that heritage was he would be stunningly clear. If you asked Dr. Moody on April 26, 1903 at the dedication of the Confederate Memorial in Florence, Al, the meaning of heritage was stated explicitly. No one disconnected the meaning of the flag from being a white man’s flag until contemporary times.

In 1948, Harry S. Truman was nominated as the Democratic candidate. Truman adopted a plank in his platform the demand of civil rights for African Americans. Thirty-five Southern delegates withdrew from the Democratic Convention and formed the counter party called The State’s Rights Democratic Party or popularly known as Dixiecrats. They held their convention in Birmingham, Alabama calling for the preservation of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy. They adopted the Confederate flag as their official party symbol. The flag was certainly heritage, the heritage of white supremacy. The Dixiecrats knew it and so did everyone else.

The meaning of the flag was not hidden. The State of Georgia incorporated the battle flag into the state flag in 1956 as a reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown decision. The Georgia Assembly made a statement in support of “segregation and white supremacy.”

The State of South Carolina did not fly the Confederate flag over its State House until June 21, 1961. The flag was not raised over the Alabama State House until April 25, 1963 by George C. Wallace in the face of a visit by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

The flag was used from the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement as a symbol of segregation and white supremacy. No one ever claimed, from the 1860s to the Civil Rights Movement, that the flag was anything but a white man’s flag representing a white man’s government.

The claim that the flag is not deeply enmeshed in white supremacy ideology is disingenuous.

James Coski

James Coski is the Historian and Library Director at The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, his is also considered to be one of the leading historical authorities on the Battle Flag. Coski wrote that the Stars and Bars (the CSA’s first official flag) was renounced precisely because it too closely resembled the Stars and Strips of the United States. So when the committee of the Congress of the CSA met to consider flags, “the foremost consideration influencing the committee was that the new flag not resemble any other nation.” What was needed was a symbol “of our absolute severance from the United States and complete separation.” James M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (p.15). The flag is, from the beginning, the “anti-USA” flag.

Love

I can guarantee you that the vast majority of people of color do not think the Confederate flag is a matter of “southern pride.” I have never had a discussion with an African American about the Confederate flag in which he or she was neutral about it. I understand why they see the flag as symbol of hate. The flag flew for a nation that denied their very person hood. Then the flag has been used repeatedly to deny their basic human rights. It is, like the nation that created it, a racist symbol of hate. That is the “heritage.” I have no pride, as southerner, for the heritage that flag represents.

Thankful

In June NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from its races. Also in June, the State of Mississippi dropped the Confederate emblem from the state flag when Republican Governor Tate Reeves signed legislation pushed by a coalition of representatives, see Mississippi Officially Removes Confederate Emblem from State Flag in Time. These are positive moves for which we are grateful but it should never have been there to begin with.

The Psalms Know

The Hebrew Bible, and the Psalms in particular, has a robust zest for life. Life, all life, human life, animal life, young life, old life – life – is the gift of the Creator God flowing out of God’s own Spirit (Ps 104.30, etc). Spiritual life is created life not some ethereal notion that lies only after we have died. The Hebrew Bible, especially the Psalms, also knows that alien forces bring chaos into God’s world.

These forces are real. The forces are frightening. The forces can be quite deadly. The First Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament take these forces with utmost seriousness. This is why the Psalms has many prayers regarding sickness, weakness and even enemies.

Israel’s prayers, like our own, are the epitome of “Lord we believe, help our unbelief.” We cry in faith even as we live in fear.

The Bible does not “knock” our spiritual ancestors because they, like ourselves, live with one foot in God’s kingdom that we confess is real while simultaneously with one trembling foot in the vandalized world.

The Bible recognizes that a shaking cry to the universe can be the most profound act of faith (see Psalm 88). The call (prayer) is simultaneously a confession that Yahweh is King.

During anxious times like our present, our world is anxious over COVID-19, it is legitimate to cautious. It is also proper to lay our burden of fear before the Lord. Illness – even plague – is not an unknown theme in the Hebrew Bible. So the Psalms pray for protection of ourselves and our neighbors.

I call upon you, for you will answer me,
O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.

Guard me (us) as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings

(17.6-8)

The response of God to our prayers is a call to trust him and do not be afraid. Lamentations records a memory,

I called on your name, O LORD,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea,
‘Do not close your ear to my cry
but give me relief!’
You came near when I called on you;
you said,


Do not fear!
(Lam 3.55-57)

So the Psalms pray,

I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears
” (35.3)

Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
” (20.6)

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil;
for you are with me
” (23.4)

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
” (Ps 27.1)

The Psalms recognize we do have fears. The Psalms know we do have pits we find fall in. The Psalms acknowledge that the world around us has “forces” like enemies, sickness and even death. The Psalms concede we are anxious, stressed and loose sleep. But the Psalms, by God’s amazing grace, Psalms gives us the very words to cast our fears upon the one we call Father. The Psalms call us to pray prayers of protection from those things.

The Psalms Call Us to Know

The Psalms also call us to know that our Lord is King and we have no reason to fear. This does not mean we do practice wisdom in heeding protocols during times of anxiety. We do heed them. Our love for our neighbors is proactive in protecting them.

But the Psalms call us to know that God will see us through. Trust in him.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs
to you, O Lord
.”
(Psalm 62.1-2,11-12)

Today, I pray for God’s protection on the Chinese, Koreans, Italians, Spanish, Iranians, Russians, Brazilians, Indians, the elderly, the poor, Republicans, Democrats, the Trumps, the Bidens, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, the people right here in San Francisco Bay, and the family at Eastside.

Today, I pray that God will enable scientists to develop vaccines for this virus. Today, I thank the Lord for the women and men who are nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and caregivers

Today I pray that we give the Lord our fears and live confidently in him.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life:
of whom shall I be afraid? …

Though an army encamp around me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple

(Psalm 27.1, 3-4)

The Psalms know. The Psalms want us to know.

Dylann Roof

I wrote this five years ago, on June 23, 2015, after Dylann Roof massacred black Christians as they prayed. I find it as relevant, and perhaps more so, than I did when I wrote it. We are in the exact same place on most of the matters in this post.

The massacre of nine black Christians in worship, at Emanuel AME Church, by the white terrorist Dylann Roof, has been on my mind. Roof, according to his own testimony, chose that church because of its symbolic history and value. Since then there has been continued debate over history, our attachment to a certain heritage and being part of God’s New Creation.

One side, that I strongly disagree with, has again started the old myth that the Civil War was not really about slavery, therefore “the flag” is not about slavery or racism. Some, frankly, do not care what the historical record actually says.

But South Carolina waxes eloquently in her Declaration of Secession on Dec 24, 1860, on Southern grievances regarding the North on the matter of slavery (all mentioned explicitly). These grievances had been building for some time. The Declaration states point blank,

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common government … A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of the President of the United States who opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

After the laundry list of perceived attacks upon slavery South Carolina moved to withdraw from the Union.

There is no way, on God’s green earth, as my mom used to say, any one can read SC’s Declaration, or any of the other States, that followed and not know that slavery was the engine driving conflict and the rock that broke it all.

But what about that 25 years stuff South Carolina mentioned …? In reality slavery was a bone of contention from 1776 to the framing of the Constitution to the “Gag Rule” enforced by slave states in the 1830s.

There was never a time when slavery was not the cause of violence, oppression, sectional strife, constant threats of secession, and slave revolts in the US prior to the Civil War. But in that 25 year period, if you read American history with any attention to detail from 1830ish to 1861 you see the “irrepressible conflict” in America. Look at these events.

1820: Missouri Compromise demonstrates early the death grip of slavery on the USA

1822: Denmark Vesey, free black man and founder of what is now Emanuel AME Church (that Roof attacked) organized a slave revolt. He was “outed” and hung with 35 slaves.

1829: David Walker, free black man, published Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Powerful work. Influenced William Loyd Garrison. South reacted by regulating the press and distribution of books and literature (so much for the free press).

1831: William Loyd Garrison begins publication of The Liberator (which was promptly banned in Southern states)

1831: Nat Turner, slave and preacher in Virginia, leads a revolution. Turner is captured and killed. The revolt was like an earthquake in the South. He was hanged, flayed and beheaded as an example to everyone especially slaves.

1832: Thomas Drew published Review of a Debate. This was a huge influence on the necessity of maintaining slavery in the South.

1833: American Anti-Slavery Society forms

1833 British Empire outlaws slavery

1834: college students at Lane Seminary revolt over the issue of slavery

1836: Gag Rule in Congress

1837: South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun (one of the most influential politicians in the US) insists that “Abolition and Union cannot coexist”

1837: Elijah Lovejoy, newspaper publisher and abolitionist, is murdered defending his press against mob violence in Alton, Illinois. Sends shock waves rippled thru the nation on both sides. People are willing to kill white people on this matter. A young Abraham Lincoln is stirred to the quick.

1837: Presbyterians split in the first north vs south denominational conflict over slavery

1830s: The Underground Railroad begins as Christians engage in civil disobedience led by Harriet Tubman. This is a major thorn in the side of the South.

1839: Amistad Supreme Court case argued by John Quincy Adams to the dismay of slave holders.

1840: the founding of the Liberty Party with an anti-slavery platform

1843: Southern Baptists split on the rock of slavery and form a separate convention

1845: Frederick Douglass publishes his Narrative

1845: The US annexes Texas as a slave state

1845: Methodist church splits on slavery. Southerners from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South

1848: War with Mexico over Texas

1850: Fugitive Slave Law & Compromise of 1850 (this was a hugely controversial law that forced Northerners to participate in Slavery).

1852: Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book that began the war as Lincoln opined. The book is banned and burned in the South.

1854: Kansas-Nebraska Act

1855-6: the “bleeding of Kansas.” Attack upon Lawrence and John Brown leads attack against proslavery settlers in Pottawatomi. The Civil War is on before the secession of South Carolina.

1855: James Shannon, a Disciples preacher, addresses the Missouri Pro-Slavery Convention, proclaims that his right to own a black person is not only worth dividing the Union over but going to war over.

1857: Dred Scott Decision seals the deal on the inevitable war.

1858: Lincoln-Douglas debates (if you have never read them do so because they lay to rest the myth that Lincoln somehow was not against slavery)

1859: Raid on Harpers Ferry and the hanging of John Brown.

1860: election of Abraham Lincoln and secession of South Carolina before Lincoln takes office.

1861: Other states join South Carolina in secession. Ratification of Constitution of the Confederacy guarantees the right to own slaves and white supremacy. Alexander Stevenson, VP of the CSA, delivers the Cornerstone Speech, the Southern government is founded upon the principle that men are not created equal and that Negros are by design inferior to whites. Confederacy starts war by firing the Star of the West on January 9, 1861 and then on Ft Sumter on April 12, 1861.

These are just the bare bones of those twenty-five years of agitation the Confederates mention in their grievances against the United States. Had there been no slavery the War would never have have happened. The participants knew this as they were doing it. They were willing to fight to the death on this supposed right to own a black human being.

I love Civil War history like many people. But there was a side that was right and there was a side that was wrong.

I am glad that the Nazis lost.
I am glad the Confederacy lost.

With 150 years of hindsight we should be able to say without equivocation that the Confederacy, its reason for secession, its reason for existence, its constitution, its symbols belong to a time long ago and should be left in the history books, the museums and not romanticized and held up as something “good.” They are not “good.”

Slavery, based upon white supremacy, was the issue driving every other issue.

I thank God it was defeated. The flags of the Confederacy are genetically connected to the values, aspirations and aims of the the explicit and stated purposes of the Confederates States of America as surely as the Swastika and Hammer and Sickle are inseparable from the governments they represented.

They do not represent my values, nor what I understand the Bible’s values to be, in any fashion. To say that all men are created equal is our corner stone is true. But the corner stone of the CSA is the denial of that proposition in explicit and express words.

The Confederate States were founded upon the confession that all men are NOT created equal. Alexander Stephen, the Vice President of the CSA, explicitly stated that black inferiority and slavery was the “Cornerstone” of the Confederacy. The flag is the visualization of the dreams of Jefferson Davis, William H. Thompson, and all the Secessionists.

I am so proud of how God’s People are coming together in South Carolina today. It is my hope and my prayer that all God’s people will do what it takes to move forward.

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) Father of Southern Secessionist Doctrine

1850. More than Ten Years before Abraham Lincoln was elected, John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was not only at the end of his long political career but his life. He was regarded as one of the greatest of Southern statesman of the day from South Carolina. He had served as congressman, Senator and Vice President of the USA. He was a leading architect for the notion that the South had the right to secession to protect its white supremacist “way of life.” In 1837 he had proclaimed slavery as a “positive good” (a fundamental tenant of the religion of the Lost Cause. Follow the link to read Calhoun’s “Positive Good.”)

Calhoun’s last speech read to the Senate by James Mason because he was to frail to do it himself was on the “The Cause by Which the Union is Endangered” was delivered on March 4, 1850. Calhoun had already proclaimed as early as 1838 that “Abolition and Union” cannot co-exist. Again, for those that vainly imagine that slavery was not the primary issue of issues are simply wrong. Calhoun briefly mentions the “South” being excluded from certain territory and tax distribution. The former the South was not actually excluded rather slavery was banned from expanding into certain territory. And the taxes were mingled with the slavery issue as well (the north had more people than the south). I will quote from Calhoun and he will tell us just what the danger to the Union was … ELEVEN YEARS BEFORE ABRAHAM LINCOLN was elected.

A Navy submarine was named for this man. Statues are dedicated to him. Thankfully on June 24, 2020, South Carolina took down his idol in Charleston. See Charleston Removes a Statue of Slavery Defender and Former Vice-President John C. Calhoun. 1850 would see the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the “Compromise of 1850” which forced citizens of non-slave holding states to engage in slavery.

John C. Calhoun was never a person that should have been honored with a statue in the first place, he was so honored because he was the embodiment of the racist ideals of the society he represented. Some historians have called him “the man who started the Civil War.” He was willing to go to war for the “right” to own a human being … but Calhoun did not believe African Americans were created in the image of God.

“John C. Calhoun, Senator from South Carolina to the U.S. Senate, March 4, 1850: THE CAUSES BY WHICH THE UNION IS ENDANGERED”

“I have, Senators, believed from the first that the agitation of the subject of slavery would, if not prevented by some timely and effective measure, end in disunion. Entertaining this opinion, I have, on all proper occasions, endeavored to call the attention of both the two great parties which divide the country to adopt some measure to prevent so great a disaster, but without success. The agitation has been permitted to proceed, with almost no attempt to resist it, until it has reached a point when it can no longer be disguised or denied that the Union is in danger. You have thus had forced upon you the greatest and the gravest question that can ever come under your consideration — How can the Union be preserved? To give a satisfactory answer to this mighty question, it is indispensable to have an accurate and thorough knowledge of the nature and the character of the cause by which the Union is endangered. Without such knowledge it is impossible to pronounce, with any certainty, by what measure it can be saved; just as it would be impossible for a physician to pronounce, in the case of some dangerous disease, with any certainty, by what remedy the patient could be saved, without similar knowledge of the nature and character of the cause which produced it. The first question, then, presented for consideration, in the investigation I propose to make, in order to obtain such knowledge, is — What is it that has endangered the Union?

Calhoun’s statue coming down

“To this question there can be but one answer, — that the immediate cause is the almost universal discontent which pervades all the States composing the Southern section of the Union. This widely-extended discontent is not of recent origin. It commenced with the agitation of the slavery question, and has been increasing ever since. The next question, going one step further back, is — What has caused this widely diffused and almost universal discontent?

“It is a great mistake to suppose, as it is by some, that it originated with demagogues, who excited the discontent with the intention of aiding their personal advancement, or with the disappointed ambition of certain politicians, who resorted to it as the means of retrieving their fortunes. On the contrary, all the great political influences of the section were arrayed against excitement, and exerted to the utmost to keep the people quiet The great mass of the people of the South were divided, as in the other section, into Whigs and Democrats. The leaders and the presses of both parties in the South were very solicitous to prevent excitement and to preserve quiet; because it was seen that the effects of the former would necessarily tend to weaken, if not destroy, the political ties which united them with their respective parties in the other section. Those who know the strength of party ties will readily appreciate the immense force which this cause exerted against agitation, and in favor of preserving quiet. But, great as it was, it was not sufficient to prevent the wide-spread discontent which now pervades the section. No; some cause, far deeper and more powerful than the one supposed, must exist, to account for discontent so wide and deep. The question then recurs — What is the cause of this discontent? It will be found in the belief of the people of the Southern States, as prevalent as the discontent itself, that they cannot remain, as things now are, consistently with honor and safety, in the Union. The next question to be considered is — What has caused this belief? One of the causes is, undoubtedly, to be traced to the long-continued agitation of the slave question on the part of the North, and the many aggression’s which they have made on the rights of the South during the time …

Remini’s fine study of Henry Clay’s desperate attempt to save the Union in 1850

“The first of the series of acts by which the South was deprived of its due share of the territories, originated with the confederacy which preceded the existence of this Government. It is to be found in the provision of the ordinance of 1787. Its effect was to exclude the South entirely from that vast and fertile region which lies between the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, now embracing five States and one territory. The next of the series is the Missouri compromise, which excluded the South from that large portion of Louisiana which lies north of 36” 30′, excepting what is included in the State of Missouri. The last of the series excluded the South from the whole of the Oregon Territory. All these, in the slang of the day, were what are called slave territories, and not free soil; that is, territories belonging to slave holding powers and open to the emigration of masters with their slaves. By these several acts, the South was excluded from 1,238,025 square miles – an extent of country considerably exceeding the entire valley of the Mississippi …

“As, then, the North has the absolute control over the Government, it is manifest, that on all questions between it and the South, where there is a diversity of interests, the interest of the latter will be sacrificed to the former, however oppressive the effects may be; as the South possesses no means by which it can resist, through the action of the Government. But if there was no question of vital importance to the South, in reference to which there was a diversity of views between the two sections, this state of things might be endured, without the hoard of destruction to the South. But such is not the fact. There is a question of vital importance to the Southern section, in reference to which the views and feelings of the two sections are as opposite and hostile as they can possibly be.

I refer to the relation between the races in the Southern Section, which constitutes a vital portion of her social organization. Every portion of the North entertains views and feelings more or less hostile to it. Those most opposed and hostile, regard it as a sin, and consider themselves under the most sacred obligation to use every effort to destroy it. Indeed, to the extent that they conceive they have power; they regard themselves as implicated in the sin, and responsible for not suppressing it by the use of all and every means. Those less opposed and hostile, regard it as a crime – an offence against humanity, as they call it; and, although not so fanatical, feel themselves bound to use all efforts to effect the same object; while those who are least opposed and hostile, regard it as a blot and a stain on the character of what they call the Nation, and feel themselves accordingly bound to give it no countenance or support. On the contrary, the Southern situation regards the relation as one which cannot be destroyed without subjecting the two races to the greatest calamity, and the section to poverty, desolation, and wretchedness; and accordingly they feel bound, by every consideration of interest and safety, to defend it.

The “Slave Power”

This hostile feeling on the part of the North towards the social organization of South long lay dormant, but it only required some cause to act on those who felt most intensely that they were responsible for its continuance, to call it into action. The increasing power of this Government, and of the control of the Northern section over all its departments furnished the cause. It was this which made an impression on the minds of many, that there was little or no restraint to prevent the Government from doing whatever it might choose to do. This was sufficient of itself to put the most fanatical portion of the North in action, for the purpose of destroying the existing relation between the two races in the South.

The first organized movement towards it commenced in 1835. Then, for the first time, societies were organized, presses established, lecturers sent forth to excite the people of the North, and incendiary publications scattered over the whole South, through the mail. The South was thoroughly aroused. Meetings were held everywhere, and resolutions adopted, calling upon the North to apply a remedy to arrest the threatened evil, and pledging themselves to adopt measures for their own protection, if it was not arrested. At the meeting of Congress, petitions poured in from the North, calling upon Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and to prohibit, what they called, the internal slave trade between the States – announcing at the same time, that their ultimate object was to abolish slavery, not only in the District, but in the States and throughout the Union. At this period, the number engaged in the agitation was small, and possessed little or no personal influence …

“As for myself, I believed at that early period, if the party who got up the petitions should succeed in getting Congress to take jurisdiction, that agitation would follow, and that it would in the end, if not arrested, destroy the Union. I then so expressed myself in debate, and called upon both parties to take grounds against assuming jurisdiction; but in vain. Had my voice been heeded, and had Congress refused to take jurisdiction, by the united votes of all parties, the agitation which followed would have been prevented, and the fanatical zeal that gives impulse to the agitation, and which has brought us to our present perilous condition, would have become extinguished, from the want of fuel to feed the flame. That was the time for the North to have shown her devotion to the Union; but, unfortunately, both of the great parties of that section were so intent on obtaining or retaining party ascendancy, that all other considerations were overlooked or forgotten.

Calhoun detested the Abolition Movement. He did not believe in freedom of speech. His vitriolic denunciations of the movement against slavery – agitators – sounds strangely contemporary.

“What has since followed are but natural consequences. With the success of their first movement, this small fanatical party began to acquire strength; and with that, to become an object of courtship to both the great parties. The necessary consequence was, a further increase of power, and a gradual tainting of the opinions of both of the other parties with their doctrines, until the infection has extended over both; and the great mass of the population of the North, who, whatever may be their opinion of the original abolition party, which still preserves its distinctive organization, hardly ever fail, when it comes to acting, to co-operate in carrying out their measures. With the increase of their influence, they extended the sphere of their action. In a short time after the commencement of their first movement, they had acquired sufficient influence to induce the legislatures of most of the Northern States to pass acts, which in effect abrogated the clause of the constitution that provides for the delivery up of fugitive slaves. Not long after, petitions followed to abolish slavery in forts, magazines, and dock-yards, and all other places where Congress had exclusive power of legislation This was followed by petitions and resolutions of legislatures of the Northern States, and popular meetings, to exclude the Southern States from all territories. acquired, or to be acquired, and to prevent the admission of any State hereafter into the Union, which, by its constitution does not prohibit slavery. And Congress is invoked to do all this, expressly with the view to the final abolition of slavery in the States. That has been avowed to be the ultimate object from the beginning of the agitation until the present time; and yet the great body of both parties of the North, with the full knowledge of the fact, although disavowing the abolitionists, have cooperated with them in almost all their measures. Such is a brief history of the agitation, as far as it has yet advanced.

“It is a great mistake to suppose that disunion can be effected by a single blow. The cords which bound these States together in one common Union, are far too numerous and powerful for that. Disunion must be the work of time. It is only through a long process, and successively, that the cords can be snapped, until the whole fabric falls asunder. Already the agitation of the slavery question has snapped some of the most important, and has greatly weakened all the others, as I shall proceed to show. … [Calhoun reviews how slavery has divided “ecclesiastical” bodies already and this is a harbinger of things to come] …

“If the agitation goes on, the same force, acting with increased intensity, as has been shown, will finally snap every cord, when nothing will be left to hold the States together except force. But, surely, that can, with no propriety of language, be called a Union, when the only means by which the weaker is held connected with the stronger portion is force. It may, indeed, keep them connected; but the connection will partake much more of the character of subjugation, on the part of the weaker to the stronger, than the union of free, independent, and sovereign States, in one confederation, as they stood in the early stages of the Government, and which only is worthy of the sacred name of Union.”

End of Speech.

John C. Calhoun, Congressman, Senator, Vice President from South Carolina in his last speech to the Senate on March 4, 1850. His thoughts are are crystal clear. And incapable of being misunderstood. Again this is eleven years before Abraham Lincoln (who wasn’t even in Congress in 1850), eleven years before Calhoun’s speech became reality in the bloody Civil War.

Over the years I have learned the value of listening to critics. Of finding someone who has a significantly different point of view than me.

I do not enjoy it, I confess.

I do not always agree with these people. But I can truthfully say I have had significant areas of my life that I was blind to opened up by those who challenge my own beliefs.

For example, I have learned a great deal about “Christianity,” and Jesus himself, from several Jews. In fact I have, at times, had to revise my own view(s) as a result of such encounters. I learned about the content and the serious matter of living “Christianly.”

When I have talked to nonbelievers, I have even learned how Christianity often “comes across” to others … and not in good ways. To use a very personal example, I never understood how unloving, ungracious and simply unChristian we sound toward the divorced until I went through it myself. Suddenly I was painfully aware of just how unlike Jesus much of the stuff we have said actually is. This learning process is Spiritual growth.

I recall the first time I encountered members of the “Nation of Islam” in the city of New Orleans many years ago. I did not know anything about it honestly. All I knew was the word “Islam” was attached to it.

I had no clue who Malcolm X was (I barely knew who Martin Luther King Jr was at the time!). I did not understand. But I knew he was a “Muslim” and so that was inherently bad. In the congregation I preached for, and from some of the brothers in the “inner city,” I learned some could speak favorably about Malcolm. I was extremely confused. I did some superficial investigation and my worst fears were confirmed. I just thought, Malcolm X how could anyone be a fan (much less a Christian). As I said, I honestly knew nothing about Malcolm except that he was called Malcolm X.

A few years later, I read Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice’s book, More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel in 1998. In that book, Spencer relates how his minister father, John Perkins, had been beaten and nearly killed by the police in Brandon, Mississippi. Spencer was only 16 at the time. He testified how angry he got with his father who was having a “crises in his faith. Frankly, I hoped he would conclude that the gospel and Christianity were for white folks. I hoped he would finally see the light and agree with Malcolm X” (p. 43).

There was that name.

So in 1998, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. Suddenly, I was in a world in which I was an alien. I confess Malcolm made me mad more than once. Not as mad as James Cone did however when I first read him. But I was mad and convicted at the same time.

Malcolm convinced me that, most of the time, I had no clue what I was talking about. But I thought I did. He gave me a window, a narrative, a life that allowed me to see, literally in black and white, how radically different America has been for people different than me.

Not just America, but Christianity. I have since come to believe that Malcolm is a massive “God sent” rebuke to Christianity as it has often functioned in America. I have since learned that Frederick Douglass, long before Malcolm can function in the same capacity. And before Douglass there was David Walker and his Appeal. Malcolm certainly is not friendly to white Christianity. But this is what I needed to hear, Malcolm was in fact reacting to his experience of Christianity as it was expressed among a group of people in North America.

I could denounce Malcolm, I could say Islam is wrong (and I think it is is). But making such assertions does not deal with the reason Malcolm embraced Islam over Christianity. It was “that” that not only I but so many believers simply did not want to face.

Malcolm forces us to listen to the critic. To have ears to hear. To look in the mirror. To examine ourselves and ask how do we come across. Like my Jewish teacher, Malcolm made me ask just what is Christianity and why do we do what we do if we claim a Crucified Jew as our King?

Back to the book.

It took only three pages of the Autobiography for me to have my first Muhammad Ali face punch. Here I was confronted with a black man’s reason for rejecting Christianity as it is found in America. We read on p.3:

when my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house the Klansman shouted threats to my pregnant mother warning her we better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand for my fathers spreading trouble among the good niggers.

At the time I read this, I still had virtually no idea of the bloody history of surrounding me in Grenada, MS. I still had not heard of the White Citizens Council, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the bashing of elementary school children with bats, chains and bricks in Grenada. I would learn all that though after.

Back to Malcolm. We can protest this, and I do. I want to say “but that is not Christianity.”

And yet Christianity’s apologetic is the lives of those claiming to be disciples. Here, Christianity is blatantly intertwined with white supremacy. Malcolm testifies just a short time later on p. 46,

all praise is due to Allah that I went to Boston when I did. If I hadn’t I’d probably still be a brainwashed black Christian.”

Boston is where Malcolm was arrested, spent time in prison and was converted. Christianity was, forevermore in his mind, a white man’s religion.

In 1891 there was an average of 20 brutal lynching’s per month across the Bible Belt of the United States. But for every lynching there were dozens and dozens of brutal beatings, tens of thousands of rapes of black women (most white Americans have no idea that Rosa Parks long before she refused to give up a seat on a bus had been an anti-rape crusader in Alabama), churches bombed and burned to the ground … I confess to you I grew up in Alabama and thought I was at least conversant with our history. But I was, in the epic words of Jethro Tull, “thick as a brick.”

“Good Christian” white people doing what they threatened Malcolm’s mother with. The Lynching Tree is where white Christians were crucifying Jesus … aka black men, women and children … Botham Jean, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd.

Malcolm has done something for me over the years. He helped me see something I did not understand and still don’t from an existential pov. That is anger and rage. The anger that Spencer Perkins had.

So many times what people call “black racism” is more likely simply long submerged, unresolved, frustrated anger over decades and centuries of injustice … typically done in the name of Christianity.

I think Malcolm has something to say to us. The only question is will we be brave enough enough to have ears to hear.

I believe I am a more faithful Christian because I have attempted to listen (however successfully is open to debate) Malcolm X. Malcolm forces me as a white Christian to ask myself,

“Bobby are you getting pissed off over the right stuff?”

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5.24)

He has told you, O Human, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love HESED and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8).

Let me recommend encountering Malcolm. Several years ago Denzel Washington captured the spirit of Malcolm X powerfully in Spike Lee’s film. Make a decision to watch it and perhaps even discuss it in a church group.