Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I have been mystified by the seemingly bizarre phenomenon of the rise of Donald Trump.  Here is a man who is (or at least claims to be) a multi-billionaire, who lives a sexually immoral life and boasts about it, who makes racist, misogynistic remarks, who mocks those he considers losers, who contradicts himself constantly (sometimes in the same sentence).  And yet he is adored, even worshipped (?) by a large number of the American people who are ready to make him our next president.

Even if we ignore the large number of blindly committed Republicans and the power greedy religious leaders, we are still left with a huge number of devoted trumpists.  Who are these people?  Are they really just "a basket of deplorables" as Hillary Clinton says?

When I heard about the book White Trash:  The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America, I felt I might find some answers or at least insights.  I was not disappointed.  This is an alternative history that ranks up close to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and while it does not go into the depth of detail of Zinn's book, it does fill in much detail and gives a different perspective from the history we learned in school.

The author, Nancy Isenberg, is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU and is the author of other non-fiction books as well as a regular writer for Salon.com.  Though the book covers much material in its 300+ pages, reading it was never boring.  In fact I found it a real page-turner.

This is not a book about heroes.  It does not paint our founding fathers as exemplary.  It does not glorify the "American dream."  We are not, nor were we ever, a "city on a hill."  Rather we are given a history of the underclass, of those who are to a great extent, ignored by the writers of history.  It is as well, a history of the attitudes of those who did "make history" toward those regarded as inferior.

The underclass has always been with us, and we might even say that our nation was begun as a dumping ground for the poor of England and elsewhere in Europe.  They were always there - on America's frontiers, fighting her wars.  As Ms. Isenberg tells us, "Long before they were today's 'trailer trash' and 'rednecks,' they were called 'lubbers' and 'rubbish' and 'clay-eaters' and 'crackers' -- and that's just scratching the surface" (page 2).

The author traces the history of these people through the centuries -- and they were and still are, as she reminds frequently, still with us; and they are us.  The colonizers and early settlers, the squatters on the frontier were there at the beginning and were part of the westward movement of American "civilization."

There were periods of our history when these people were looked down on as an inferior breed; racism and classism were not that far apart.  The history goes on through the frontier settlement, even our first (but not our last) white trash president, Andrew Jackson.  The antebellum south was populated with these, and it was there when racism and classism were played against each other.  It seems that one way of keeping the lower classes in line was - and still is - is to give them some to look down on.

The author relates the history  of the eugenics movement in this country and the talk of "good breeding."  It seems that Hitler was not that far removed from some of the thinking in America.  While no one would advocate his extreme "solution," it was thought that the problems of the lower classes could be dealt with by proper breeding, even "eugenic sterilization."

The history is traced through the depression, the dust bowl, the "war on poverty," but always bringing to mind those on the bottom rungs.  Though at times the "country boy" or the "redneck" gained popularity, such as with country and country rock music, it was often double edged.  Much of our pop culture was thinly disguised mockery.  TV programs such as "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Dukes of Hazzard," even "Andy Griffith" portrayed the lower classes as ignorant and uncouth.

So where is this book going?  Ms. Isenberg in her final chapter tell us, "If this book accomplishes anything it will be to have exposed a number of myths about the American dream, to have disabused readers of the notion that upward mobility is a function of the founders' ingenious plan, or that Jacksonian democracy was liberating, or that the Confederacy was about states' rights rather than preserving class and racial distinctions" (page 313).

As far as the question I raised at the beginning of this post, she answers it well.  I asked "who are these people (the followers of Donald Trump)?'  Her answer:  "Today as well we have a large unbalanced electorate that is regularly convinced to vote against its collective self-interest" (page 313).

We have people in America - white people - who feel beaten down.  They feel the system has failed them.  The political party that at one time was their hope, has ignored them.  They, as we all do, "need" someone to look down on, someone to blame.  And we have a demagogue who has found a way to take advantage of this need.  It has worked many times in the past.  They are taught to fear and at the same time to revile Mexicans, Moslems, blacks, gays, feminists and that black man in the White House.

But these are not people to look down on as simply "a basket of deplorables."  They are real people with real needs.  They are a part of my background, even my family.  What this book has done for me is convict me of my own classism.  In my abhorrence of racism I have found myself using derogatory terms such as are used in this book, to put down those I consider racist.  How often have I referred to them as rednecks or crackers or hillbillies or trailer trash?

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, He was clear that that term "neighbor" included everyone, even those who are unloving and unlovable.

Father forgive me for not loving my neighbor.

Friday, September 16, 2016


"The reports of my recent death have been greatly exaggerated."
- attributed to Mark Twain

I just finished reading the book, The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones.  As I am a Christian who happens to be white and American, I felt I needed to be informed concerning the demise of a group of which I am apparently a member.  The book has enthusiastic blurbs on the jacket by a number of men whom I respect.

Robert Jones, we are told, "is the founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and a leading scholar and commentator on religion and politics."  He informs us that he was raised in White Christian America (henceforth to be referred to as WCA) and comes from a long line of Georgia Baptists, though he does not claim to share their faith.

I have been concerned for many years about the politically rightward drift of many of my fellow Christians, especially of those in leadership roles.  My concern involves the association by many, of these three terms as describing themselves:  white, Christian and American; for some the words are practically synonymous.  So I wanted to see if this author could offer some encouragement.  Before I make further comments on the arguments presented, I must say I appreciate the data given.

The book begins with an obituary for WCA.  WCA is, as presented in this book, White Protestant American Christianity, which the author tells us, can be divided into two groups:  Mainline Protestantism and Evangelical Protestantism.  He starts with the stories of three buildings which he apparently considers allegories for the history of the decline of WCA:  the United Methodist building in Washington, DC (ca. 1923), the Interchurch Center in New York City (ca. 1960) and Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA (ca. 1980).  The decline of these three began almost as soon as they were built.

The author tells us that his story does not deal with the distinctions between the sub-groups, but deals with WCA as a "single dynasty."  "The key question here is not why one white Protestant subgroup is faring worse than another, but why white Protestantism as a whole - arguably the most powerful cultural force in the history of our country - has faded.  This is a story of theology and culture, but it is also a story of powerful demographic changes."  (page 40)

Chapter 2:  "Vital Signs ... " is the most informative with charts and graphs to back up its claims; this data makes a clear case that WCA is declining in number.  Though Mainline Protestantism was the first to decline from its position of power, Evangelical Protestantism is now beginning to decline - at least as a percentage of the American population.

Then follows Chapter 3:  "Politics:  The End of White Christian Strategy; Chapter 4:  Family:  Gay Marriage and WCA; Chapter 5:  Race: Desegregating WCA.  In these chapters the author presents brief histories of the actions of WCA, with criticisms for the behavior of Evangelicalism and mild praise for the behavior of Mainline Protestantism.  Most of the material in these chapters has been heard before and it is here that the author clearly reveals opinions that are sometimes biased.

The 6th and final chapter is entitled "A Eulogy for WCA."  In it the author uses Kubler - Ross' well-known stages of grief and applies them to WCA:  "Denial and Anger," "Bargaining," "Depression and Acceptance."  Though I don't believe their use was meant to be humorous, I actually found this chapter a bit amusing.

So?  What to do with this book?  I fear that like many books of this sort, it will be applauded by those who agree, and either condemned or ignored by those who disagree.  However, I find myself in some place in between.

Mr. Jones appears to be one who is not really mourning the end of WCA.  And while I agree with him in many areas, I find my major area of disagreement is that we come from two very different starting points.  The author seems to judge WCA from modern, pragmatic criteria, rather than a biblical, spiritual base.  His is the judgment of the "natural man" (to use Paul's term) or the man "under the sun"(to use Ecclesiastes' term).  So the following are my views on WCA:

- First, I agree that these three have been identified too closely by many of my Christian brothers and sisters.  We have failed to get out of our cultural shell and to judge our culture from a truly biblical worldview.

- The political adventures of many prominent Evangelicals have brought shame on the Name of the Lord.  Sadly this is becoming more and more evident in this election season.  What this book brought out is the idea that (perhaps) this is a last-ditch effort to recover an influence that is rapidly slipping away.

- The issue of race has been a burden of mine for a long time.  White Christians judge their brothers and sisters from their own WCA perspective and fail to deal with the blatant racism that permeates not only our politics, but our churches themselves.  The chapter on race points out many of these faults, criticizes and praises some, but seems to be brought more from an outside perspective.

- The issue of the church's dealings with the LGBT community is not as clear-cut as that of race, in spite of the claims made in this book.  With the race issue efforts can and must be made to clear away non-biblical traditions; but with the issue of sexual orientation, we cannot clear away biblical teachings to just get along.  We must learn to love those who are different, but we cannot endorse certain behaviors.

- The book did not (I feel) deal enough with the "America" part.  There is much more that needs to be said about the identification of Christianity with the super patriotism that is being over-emphasized by many today.

So is WCA dying?  I suppose so.  But Christianity is not!  I believe we need to shed WCA's trappings and live a purer Christianity - one that identifies with those of other ethnic and national groups.  Perhaps the information in this book will lead to a Christianity that is cleaner, purer and less encumbered with wrong standards and goals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Well, it's that time of the year when I feel like skipping church.  Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, and later Veterans' Day, are usually extremely uncomfortable times to attend Sunday morning worship services.  There will usually be a bit of flag-waving and we'll sing patriotic hymns; perhaps we'll see a slide show praising our Founding Fathers or veterans or something like that.  Many in the congregation will seem more enthusiastic than usual.  And I - and I suppose a few others - will feel very uncomfortable - that is if we attend at all.  (I will also!  Uni)
Perhaps some of my readers will agree with me; some on the other hand, on reading the above paragraph may question my patriotism, even my devotion to Jesus.  My contention, however, is that my commitment to the Lordship of Christ precludes the above behavior.  As I understand it, Jesus does not wish to share the platform with others.

This has nothing to do with my "patriotism"!  I love my country; I pray for it; I thank God for America every day.  I try to perform my duties as a citizen:  I pay my taxes; I vote; I fly my flag on appointed days; I even served as a Marine Reserve.  But this has every-thing to do with my commitment to Christ!

Those of the early church in the Roman Empire confessed "Jesus is Lord" in spite of the demands that they confess "Caesar is Lord."  And many died for that distinction.  The Roman Empire was not too concerned about the religious beliefs of its subjects, as long as they could make the required confession.  But the followers of Jesus could not do so.  For them there was only one Lord.  Should it not be the same for us?

America is not a theocracy; it is not a "Christian nation"; it is a secular democracy and as such, it is part of "the kingdom of the world," which will one day "become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Revelation 11:15).  But we're not there yet.

I  may attend some Fourth of July celebration, but I'll probably stay home and watch the celebrations on TV.  I'll grow teary eyed as patriotic hymns are sung and as I sing along.  I may even post Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful" on my facebook page.  But I pray that I may always recognize that my allegiance to my country, as all my other allegiances will be under the Lordship of Christ.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Most Americans were appalled at the slaughter in a gay night club in Orlando this past week.  The outpouring of sympathy and compassion for the survivors as well as the victims' families was quick and seemingly universal.  The words and acts of comfort, while never adequate, helped to soften the blow, at least for those of us not involved.  As a follower of Jesus, I was blessed, even proud to hear of many of the churches, of the ordinary Christians, as well as some of our spokesmen reaching out.
The pundits and politicians, however, were confused.  Should we call this a hate crime or a terrorist act?  After all, the perpetrator, a Muslim, boasted that he was doing this as a follower of ISIS. And I believe many in the Evangelical community are also confused.  We have been repeatedly told by many who claim to be our spokesmen that Islam is a great danger to America, threatening all we hold dear.  And on the other hand, we've been told that there is a conspiracy afoot by the LGBT community and their "liberal" fellow travelers to destroy America.  Throw in the fact that there are those of us who believe that every American has the right to own a semi-automatic weapon of mass destruction, and one can see why we are confused.  Guns, Islam and the gay rights' agenda - three issues that are perceived as hot button issues - have converged in this horrible act.

But where would Jesus be in all of this?  Where would we find the One who was accused of being "a glutton and a wine guzzler, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34)?  Some readers were probably put off by the title of this post, but really, where would He be?

I believe His heart would be with the ones who reached out to those who were devastated by this tragedy.  He would be with the survivors - people already discriminated  against and now traumatized .  He would be with the families of the dead and wounded, some of whom may have found out for the first time that their loved one was gay or lesbian or transgender and some whom may not have been reconciled with their loved one's condition.  And He would be with the family of the dead killer as they attempt to deal with his actions.  And He would be with those of the Muslim community who now find themselves even more the objects of suspicion and loathing.

I believe we who are followers of Jesus, have a responsibility as well as an opportunity to help these who are all victims, to know the love of Jesus.  They need to know the loving compassionate Jesus, the One who left heaven's glory to become one of us.  They don't need more condemnation and political pronouncements. 

"When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  Matthew 9:36