Tag Archives: oppression

The Path Forward, Part Two: Back to the Future: Seeing the Tapestry of History

How we understand our personal, cultural, and national history is vital for our own sense of self and for building a flourishing future. In this moment of competing narratives and agitation propaganda, embracing the complexity and contradictions of historical narratives has never been more important. Leaving aside the dangerous and foolish mythologies of blood and soil supremacy (and they are found in almost every culture), how we understand the past has profound consequences for present actions and future visions.

Before evaluating two current trends in American history, it is important to note that every civilization or significant nation begins with a dominant group and then expands to include others (with variable notions of equality). This is NOT a defense of racism – just the opposite. Racial injustice (and its twin, tribalism) is a universal phenomenon of a fallen human species. People with agendas cherry pick historical data and avoid the uncomfortable facts that do not fit their narrative. For example, the legacy of Western colonialism from about 1800-1960 is seen as an era of oppression…and it was. Muslims in particular critique the control of their ancient lands by “Crusaders.” Infrastructure, religious toleration, education, and economic developments are all ignored. I am not defending the terrible history of conquest and control. What is ignored are the centuries of Islamic conquests and oppressions from the 7th to the 17th century. In other words, history is complicated.

On the popular level (there are many historians doing good work on complex issues no one will ever hear about!), American history is often presented as either the progress of a divinely-ordained nation or the tragic story of White oppression. The recent 1619 Project bring to public attention the neglected narratives of African American and Native American oppression. The problem is not with highlighting the tragedies of systemic racism. The 1619 project is marred by reducing the American story to racism and seeing everything through this lens. In contrast, many conservative and religious groups see the USA as exceptional, and while acknowledging the many imperfections, the story is one of almost unbroken progress. The 1776 Initiative sought to counter the extremes of the 1619 project, but it has been cancelled by the new administration because it was created under the old one.

The path forward concerning American history and hope calls for maturity that can hold several narratives in tension simultaneously, celebrating trends of liberty and justice, lamenting deep injustices, and calling for more research on ignored and marginalized voices. For example, religious conservatives downplay the profound missed opportunity of the early 19th century as every denomination split over race and slavery (and only reunited in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s). Imagine the different trajectory of our American story if the churches had discarded their racism! The same willful ignorance applied to the horrendous treaty violations and violence toward Native American tribes from the 17th to the 20th century. Imagine if the Quaker voices were heeded and European settlers and indigenous people shared the development of a grand experiment in mutual respect and love. Lest progressives become proud, their refusal to include the positive record of both Christian and secular leaders working for justice and the devastations of the modern welfare state on the groups it was supposed to help, is willful blindness that keeps us from progress.

Seeing history through the four-fold lens of the Grand Narrative of the Bible is helpful so we have hopefulness and realism, and hold the tensions of the human soul and social contracts in proper balance. The biblical story begins with the divine design for worship and work, with humankind enjoying God and creatively and ethically stewarding a beautiful world. Men and women are equal image-bearers and the marital bond is celebrated. But. Human rebellion (the root of all sin) brings disaster as the divine image and purpose are defaced and distorted. Yet divine deliverance is promised. A redemptive history of grace, liberation, and holy love, culminating in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, offers hope and power for positive change. And the fourth chapter reveals an eternal destiny in a renewed earth and heavens, where worship and work are fulfilled with love and justice and the original design finds its fulfillment. All four chapters are real today and will help us be positive and wise as we navigate so many problems.

The more we study all the historical narratives, the more we find saints and sinners, progress and regress, opportunities missed and seized, and systems in desperate need of change. Let’s grow up and embrace the complexity of the past so we can distill its wisdom for the future.

A Call for Reformation, Not Anarchy and Totalitarianism

We are watching legitimate outrage and protest being co-opted by groups determined to destroy institutions and replace them with their own forms of oppression. History is replete with positive initial intentions being subverted: The French Revolution started with good intentions and ultimately imploded and yielded Napoleonic power. The Russian Revolution in 1917 began with democratic forces beginning to fashion a new future, and by 1922 Bolshevik Communists led by Lenin inaugurated one of the most repressive regimes in history. Millions were hopeful in 1949 when Mao led a Communist takeover…by 1970, millions of Chinese had perished in the “Cultural Revolution.”

I support millions protesting peacefully.

I support reforms for our criminal justice system.

I support serious changes in fostering access, equity, and opportunity of all, especially the African Americans living under generational oppression and poverty.

I support civil, passionate debate.

But looting and violence – especially destructive to the poor neighborhoods that need the most help – and calls to defund and even eradicate police forces will not yield the sustainable justice all people of conscience desire.

We need reform.

Reform is a powerful term that avoids mere “tweaking” and modification while retaining the goodness of the particular category. In addition to much needed reforms in the criminal justice and police systems, here are some more categories for reform. As I share these, please do not assume that I am implying Left or Right Ideologies for answers. We need wisdom that embraces personal dignity and systemic change, personal responsibility and the common good, and the humility to learn from history and embrace hope.

Here are more candidates for reform: Failed political machines in many cities. Educational systems. Mental health services deserve much more attention and financing. Ending the redlining and unspoken class and race prejudice in economic development. Our welfare systems need overhauling. Our military-industrial complex deserves careful scrutiny. And all religious and non-profit organizations must cease making excuses and papering over serious failures. 

Many more categories of reform are needed, but there is one more that is foundational to all others: The reformation of our own hearts and minds. I am asking God to remove prejudice and pretension and fill me with timeless truth and timely wisdom rooted in love. 

We must ask the hard questions and see how we might reform the very systems that are designed to empower and provide, protect and support our highest ideals. Charisma and competency matter, but character will be the difference between a moment of fame and enduring change.

Light and Shadow: Grace and Truth About Our Lives

The Story of Christmas is Eternal Light shining in the darkness and Eternal Love that united God and humankind forever in Jesus of Nazareth (Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1-18). Johns beautiful hymn reveals a world of light and shadow, of divine grace and demonic deception, of receiving and rejecting love.

For this reflection, let us consider the shadow side of every good intention and the wisdom we need as the navigate the rapids of daily life.

Religious faith if often a positive force, offering meaning, fostering humility, and transforming character. As a Christian, I affirm that in Jesus of Nazareth, we have the final and sufficient disclosure of grace and truth to the world. But there can be a shadow side of intolerance, institutional oppression, and disrespectful interaction. For all Christians – and any adherents to a religious tradition – we must see all our neighbors as divine image-bearers and engage peaceably, work together harmoniously when possible, and love sincerely, even as we pray for their conversion.

Patriotism can help unite diverse groups under a banner of idealism. It’s shadow side in history includes nativism, racism, and failure to respect other cultures and systems. White supremacy is a subtle stronghold. The answer is to love the ideals while building bridges of friendship and trust.

Agitation for racial justice is noble and still needed as we try to realize the dream of our founders and MLK. The shadow side is hatred for historical oppressors that leads to a new racism, such as the Nation of Islam. The answer is grace and truth, love in action, as we confront systemic evils and build personal connections.

Liberty for and true toleration persons that identify as non-binary and part of the LGBTQ+ networks are important if we believe all people are created equal. The shadow side here is the radical agenda that calls for the destruction of the biological family and sexual anarchy. Toleration is living with our differences, not demanding that all agree with the choices and ideologies chosen by others.

Recognizing the unjust history of Western colonialism is vital for humility and forging a better future. The shadow side of legitimate critiques is a failure to see the oppressive histories of others’ cultures and bright facets of the global influences of a culture infused with some Judeo-Christian values. Critiquing the West’s imperialism toward Muslim lands during the 19th-early 20th century period is important. The shadow side is that we forget the 1000 years of Islamic expansion and destruction and the jihadism that refuses to grant equality to outsiders. Ignoring this and only feeling guilty will place more nations under the intolerant rule of Sharia.

Finally, we must affirm the goodness of liberty and the potential of each person to bring good to the world. The shadow side is excessive focus on self, with “my dreams” and “my gifts” being separated from good to others.

May we welcome the Light of Christ into every shadow in our souls and our systems, our hearts and our habits, our highest ideals and deepest dreams.

Toleration and Moral Universals

Every family, community, nation, and civilization must find agreement of the moral norms that will govern life together. In three words, people must have some agreement on what will be prohibited (actions that are wrong, i.e., slavery in any form, abuse of children), what will be permitted (actions people debate about, but can live with the differences, i.e., peaceful diversity of religious and political affiliation), and what will be promoted (virtues for the common good, i.e., compassion, access and opportunity, justice).

Toleration at its historic best allows people of very different cultures to live next door to each other in peace. Problems arise however, when we confuse toleration with agreement or take the previously permissible and make it either prohibited or promoted.

We have a strange alliance among elites in the West. Pagan-secular progressives that reject historic Jewish and Christian influences and ideals are in an alliance with Islamic radicals: both hate the “traditional” West. The secular elites have a particular animus toward Christians, especially Catholic and Evangelical believers that affirm normal sexual morality and respect unborn life. Islamicists have a long-term aim of imposing their enlightened Islam and reconquering lands that used to be Muslim.

This mutual pact bears bitter fruit, with feminists rarely criticizing Islam’s systemic oppression of women and religious minorities. Hatred for all things Christian keeps progressives from seeing the clear threat of Islam for human liberty. The desire to upend all historic gender identities and sexual norms is subverting good science and fostering unneeded traumas.

This confusion overflows to the public square where progressives imply that practicing Christians are suspect as potential judges or candidates for appointed offices.

Serious Christians that share their faith, affirm moral norms and evangelize are labeled as intolerant, homophobic, Islamophobic or oppressive. Meanwhile, entire nations persecuting Christians are given a pass due to historic colonialism.

Is there a way forward? Yes, but only with serious debate in a civil environment. We must prohibit all oppression, permit a wide range of opinions and promote true toleration. This means living alongside one another even while we debate matters of eternal importance. Our future as a free society depends on such maturity. The alternative is anarchy leading to new forms of totalitarian micromanagement and oppression.

Justice is Social: Advocacy with Humility

Dear justice warriors,
Advocacy for justice concerning class, gender, race and religion is vital. The key principle underlying effective progress is the dignity of the human person, with all the natural rights inherent in her or his being. I am first a human being made in God’s image, uniquely fashioned and able to contribute. Only after this identity is secured can we then speak wisely about secondary facets of identity, oppression, privilege and responsibility. May we see each person we encounter as a gift and listen deeply for those places of connection and cooperation.

For every necessary prophetic word against evil may we offer a visionary word of hope and justice. As we protest current realities, may we promote a vision of flourishing, articulating what “there” looks like.

Either/Or extremist thinking keeps us from principled compromise and wisdom for the common good. Praying today for all local, state and federal leaders to worry less about sound bites and more about stewardship.
Always hopeful because there is only one God who loves all.