Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"There is no safety here."

I read too many ignorant comments about how "progressive" Christians let fundamentalists define Christianity in America and yet with all the coverage Ferguson, Missouri has received, I didn't learn about the role of the churches in that story until I went to Religious Dispatches:

The Greater St. Mark Church was raided today as St. Louis County Police thought that protesters were spending the night in the church, which has been used as a staging area for protestors.  Police have since closed the building and stated that if anyone congregates on the premises at night, there would be arrests. One member of the Dream Defenders said “what [the police] did today is tell us, what? There is no safety here.”

The Pastor of the church, Missouri Representative Tommie Pierson (D), said of the police “they don’t like us too much.”

Oh, no, that's the least of it*:

In contrast, clergy in Ferguson and from around the country have come to show their solidarity and to help the citizens of Ferguson in their quest for justice. Early on, the Rev. Renita Lamkin was shot with a rubber bullet while trying to place herself between protesters and the police.

Yup.  A pastor took a bullet, albeit rubber (but do you want to get hit with one of those things?) for her belief.

Heard about that, have you?  Or this?

Other local clergy have met with the governor and state officials, while pastors from all over have been coming to aid in the efforts, including a group from Philadelphia that includes the pastor of Historic Mother Bethel AME church, Mark Tyler, and Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, Pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church. The presence of clergy members is a helpful counterbalance to local and state law enforcement presenting themselves as both religious and civic authority.
Maybe these clergy need better press agents?  After all, if a person engages in protest, and no news outlet reports on it (don't get me started on the hours and hours of empty coverage cable news has devoted to this story without once mentioning these stories), is the protest really worth it?

“They attend with pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith."

The Pharisees in this situation are not just the authorities using Christianity to justify their violence and suppression; it's also the people insisting that judgment and law are the only values worth upholding, and mercy and faith are too weak and insignificant to pay attention to.

And yes, I realize the "Pharisees" in that statement includes a large number of people; that's a feature, not a bug.

*Yes, because the church might have engaged in a zoning violation by letting people sleep there overnight.  Apparently in Ferguson zoning violations are enforced by police power.


  1. The Pharisees in this situation are not just the authorities using Christianity to justify their violence and suppression

    Indeed and FWIW, the actual historical Pharisees were certainly not the authorities, either religious (that would be the priests, most of whom were Sadducees) nor political (the Romans and the local aristocracy, the latter of whom were also generally Sadducees). Of course, the relationship of the Pharisees to authority was actually rather complicated.

  2. Yeah, I wouldn't have used them at all if not for the cultural reference they have become (and almost aren't, anymore).

    The Pharisees get a very bad rap in the Gospels; one they really don't deserve. As you said yesterday, what good is it to save the world if it costs the life of one person? It's that awareness of the cost of "law and order" that we need to pay more attention to. And even with the quote, I'd have been better to have re-cast that final point.

  3. But if you do accept the Gospels as, well, Gospel truth and hence view the Pharisees through that lens, the point you make becomes very interesting when you consider that Pharisees were not in authority: the problem with the Pharisees (from the point of view of the Gospels) becomes not that they were abusive of their authority but because they sought accommodation with it. The Pharisees, unlike the "Essenes", did not say that the Temple in Jerusalem was hopelessly corrupt but rather they said "let's just use what influence we have to keep it, at least ritually speaking, on the right track". They did not, unlike the Zealots, say "we need to rebel against Rome and end imperial domination", they said "if Jerusalem be rendered unto Caesar, we can accept that -- just 'spare me Yavneh and its sages' [Gittin 56b]"

    From the point of view of those who were truly oppressed by the Romans, such bourgeois accommodation must have been seen as treachery. And isn't this, in part, what the Gospels' (in particular Matthew's) treatment of the Pharisees reflects?

    Which I suspect is somehow central to your final point, isn't it? I guess the relevant comparison is between the "Pharisees" of the Gospels and the "white moderates" of Martin Luther King, Jr. ...

  4. You make an excellent point. I was taking it more in terms of the anti-semitism so latent in Xianity, that "Pharisees" become "Jews" (although they did, as I understand, the roots of rabbinic judaism are with them) who rejected the Messiah/Jesus because they were too caught up with "the law."

    Which then gets used like a club to defend the status quo; as you also point out.

    You can tell I'm not thinking this through so much as reacting to the next stimulus. But you're clarifying my thought, which always needs all the help it can get....

    (and yes, much of the animus against the Pharisees in the Gospels is because of the power struggles, more social than political power, at least in the modern sense, between Xian communities and Jews/Hebrews. the Gospels give us the view of one community, not the view of an objective observer. I like your comparison to "white moderate" especially.)