You are currently viewing archive for April 2009
Category: Politics
Posted by: AWilkes

A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but an accurate weight is his delight

—Proverbs 11:1

I call upon all people of goodwill to support H.R. 1459, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. Senator Jim Webb recently sounded the alarm about the brokenness of our prison systems. His pronouncement, of course, is nothing new, but it lends visible and much-needed support to the cause of prison reform. And, to be sure, altering cocaine sentencing policy lies at heart of prison reform.

But why, inquiring citizens ask, should we use every available means at our disposal to contact our respective members of the House Judiciary and House Committee on Energy and Commerce and express support for H.R. 1459? Briefly phrased, cocaine sentencing disparities disproportionately impact minorities, interrogating our national commitment to equal justice under the law. H.R. 1459 aims to alter the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate two things. First, it aims to “eliminate increased penalties for cocaine offenses where the cocaine involved is cocaine base.” And secondly, it aspires to eradicate “minimum mandatory imprisonment penalties for cocaine offenses.” The title of H.R. 1459, Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, assumes that a gross inequity exists within current sentencing policy (the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, PL 99-570, to be exact). The inequity, referred to by many as the “100:1 quantity ratio”, means that “it takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger…harsh five and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences”. According to a report by the 2009 Criminal Justice Transition Coalition, the disparity, despite being “facially neutral”, unevenly penalizes minorities.

If we are to achieve our country, as the eloquent James Baldwin once said, then policies championed by the White House must not unfairly punish those who go to the crackhouse. If we are to achieve our country, let us call on Vice President Joe Biden, a repentant architect of this sentencing policy, and the White House Office of Urban Policy to proudly and persistently support this bill. All too often, the penal structure of our criminal justice is a modern-day example of unbalanced scales. Although not always in intent, cocaine sentencing consistently—and adversely—impacts minorities in ways that are so horrifically disproportionate that the words of the black bard Tupac Shakur come to mind: “Lady Liberty needs glasses/ And so does Mrs. Justice by her side”. Let us move from aspiring to equal justice under the law to its actuality, and achieve our country by supporting H.R. 1459.

Shoutout to James Rucker and for being a drum major for justice on this critical issue.

Andew Wilkes
Category: Church
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems on religious fundamentalism:
Twenty-five years ago when I was a young zealous seminarian studying to be a minister I slipped an unsigned piece of paper under a professor’s door that read MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN (roughly translated “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting”). I slipped the Aramaic portent of doom under my professor’s door because I believed the position he’d taken on a particular issue on campus at the time proved that he was unsaved, racist, and evil. I was wrong.

I was wrong for wrenching those words from Daniel 5:25 and using them to repudiate someone I disagreed with.

I was wrong for thinking I knew God well enough to know what plans God had in store for my professor.

Whether my professor was unsaved, racist, and evil, as I believed, or not, I had no business doing what I did. I was wrong for trying to get back at him in that militant sort of way that Christians have for settling scores, namely by hurling random passages from the bible at someone I perceived an enemy.

Worst of all, I was wrong for fanatically believing somehow that I was doing God’s will in slipping that unsigned note under my professor’s door.

Karen Armstrong, a celebrated historian of religion, is someone I turn to when I want to understand why religious people do the things they do. Especially religious fundamentalists. Armstrong focuses on the rise of religious fundamentalist movements in the 20th century in her book, The Battle for God which is a great way for describing what fuels fundamentalism whether it’s Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, or Islamic fundamentalism.

Writing about all three fundamentalist movements, says Armstrong: “They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil.”

I certainly saw myself as in a battle with my professor for the soul of our campus. I was convinced, along with other students who shared my religious beliefs, that the battle we were in with the administration was larger than the parties involved, that it was a battle between the forces of God verses the forces of, well, the “un-God.” It was “us” vs. “them,” and, believe me, it feels intoxicating to believe it’s you and God against the world.

However imperfect the word “fundamentalism” may be for describing such a complex phenomenon, it’s as good as any when it comes to trying to capture a position that sees modernity as a threat to God and that urges a return to some idealized past and set of doctrines steeped in a world that’s long gone.

Here’s what I know for sure as a former fundamentalist.

It’s a short bus ride from fundamentalism to fanaticism.

What I mean is that fundamentalists love reading tea leaves. Tragedy and misfortune are a specialty. In fundamentalism, all adversity is a test. Every disagreement is a battle. Every difference of an opinion has cosmic implications. Which explains why fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were quick to get on the news and proclaim that the collapse of the World Trade Center was God’s judgment for the sins of the secular humanists in the U.S.

Whether it’s flying planes into buildings, gunning down medical personnel who work in abortion clinics, strapping on bombs and detonating them in synagogues and mosques, assassinating heads-of-state and toppling governments, brandishing guns and bats at church meetings, labeling those whom you disagree with theologically as evil or the devil, slipping notes of condemnation under a seminary professor’s door, or dashing off long, rambling emails filled with bible verses masquerading as prophecies (of doom) – fanatics are not only convinced that they know God’s will. Fanatics convince themselves that they are doing God a favor by the cruel, unloving acts they commit “against the enemies of God.”

Thinking back on it now, when I wrote my third book, Listening For God, I was not, as the jacket cover says, writing simply about the waxing and waning of the faith. I was writing about the death for me of a particular kind of faith. I still believed in God. I just no longer believed in the kind of God I once believed in. I still read my bible, I just stopped asking it for answers it was never meant to yield. I still believed myself to be a Christian. I just no longer believed there was only one way to be a Christian. That is a hard realization to awaken to when you’re a young black girl from the Protestant south. Things were no longer either black or white, so to speak. And that was a kind of death for me. I still loved and longed for God, and still do. There’s just no place in my heart for a particular sort of belief anymore.

Instead of demonizing him, I should have made an appointment with my professor and talked to him about our differences. I should have risked hearing him out. I should have tried to find common ground. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to see the world through his eyes. I didn’t want to understand him. Above all, I didn’t want him to see how scared I was of him. I wanted to be in the right, and in order for that to happen, someone had to be wrong.

I’ve been in lots of other ideological scuffles since I slipped that note under my professor’s door. I’ve even lived long enough now to become the professor who walks in to find anonymous slips of paper under her door and anonymous emails filled with God talk in her box. When I’m feeling charitable, I smile and remember. I remember what it feels like to be zealous for God. I also remember what it feels to use God to mask your fears.

What made you change? someone wants to know right now. If only, there were simple answers. What makes anyone change? Life. And being open to mystery. As well as being open to contradictions and being wrong, I suppose.

A few years after I slipped that note with the words MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN under my professor’s door, his wife got sick and died a slow painful death. A short time after that, so did my mother
Posted on: 04/03/09:

Can Socialism Tame Capitalism?

Category: Misc.
Posted by: LBobo

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Peter McLaren speak on a “Critical Pedagogy for the 21st Century”, at the St. Louis University (St. Louis, MO) on Monday, March 30. McLaren is a professor at UCLA. He shared some things that got me thinking.

McLaren is a confessed humanist Marxist/socialist. Socialists vary in their views on justice but here are some commonly shared commitments:

1. Commitment to the public ownership of all means of production (unlike the libertarian who favors economic system based on individual rights; under this laissez-faire capitalism, all means of production are privately owned and there is a totally free market) and;

2. Commitment to the idea of equality; both moral equality (everyone’s life matters) and equality of condition (equality of opportunity, equal satisfaction of needs, and other factors that foster greater social equality). Socialists would argue that limitations on certain economic liberties are justified to promote equality.

[For more on the topic of libertarian (or individualistic), socialist and liberal views of justice, see Social Ethics, Mappes and Zembaty, Chapter 8, Social and Economic Justice, p. 371-73.]

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