Why I’m Terrified by News That Hillary Clinton Used Prison Laborers as Servants

Dear Rebecca:

Have you heard that Bill and Hillary Clinton used slave labor in the Arkansas governor’s mansion? I thought it was a hoax, but it turns out not to be: The “slaves” in question were convicted prisoners on work detail. You can see how this is going to get complicated.

The evidence was in plain sight.

The evidence was in plain sight the whole time: Hillary described it in her 1996 book “It Takes A Village.”

The relevant excerpt:

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.51.47 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.51.53 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.52.05 PM

I admit. It was kind of breathtaking to read.

And then, on second thought, it was kind of personally horrifying. Why?

For a couple of reasons: First, it’s been 20 years since the book came out. Only now is a fuss being made. That means that a bunch of people read it and didn’t think much about the Arkansas tradition – or, in the pre-Internet age when the book came out, didn’t have the voice needed to make the fuss gather momentum.

Second: I can’t honestly say I would’ve done differently.

I think I’m a conscientious fellow. I argue against racism every chance I get. I argue against sexism the same. And yet, I know I’ve been betrayed by a blind spot now and again. It will almost certainly happen again.

It’s easy enough for me to imagine being in Hillary’s shoes: Not comfortable with a practice, but also not wanting to make a fuss about “tradition,” especially when it saves taxpayers a few bucks, and especially since they’re convicts and especially since I know I’m a conscientious person and will treat them well and … oh dear, it’s a slippery slope to being a slave master.

(There are those who will still argue that this was a good deal for convicted inmates, but there’s also a lot of evidence that the justice system is built to feed black men into prisons, too. Watch Ava Duvernay’s “13th” for a quick primer on this. I’m inclined to the latter point of view more than the first. In which case, the moral rule is this: Don’t accept service from people in shackles. Refuse to benefit from that.)

So: I think what Bill and Hillary Clinton did was wrong, and I think it was profoundly human, and that’s what terrifies me.

I’ve been thinking about the ways injustices sustain themselves — I’ll be writing about Jim Comey on a similar topic in the next few days — and one of them is that they embed themselves in custom and tradition, take on an air of authority, make it easier to accept than to challenge.

I’m pretty sure I’m not a better person than Hillary Clinton. And that terrifies me. How easily would I accept slave labor?

Do you know for certain that you would do better?

God have mercy on us.



Political Anger and Political Violence

Dear Joel,

Let’s talk about threats of political violence.

No, not Kathy Griffin. (Though we can talk about her, too. I think a severed Trump head is a fine form of political speech, not a threat against the president, and I wish that someone cleverer than Griffin had done it, that the image had been more meaningful, not less graphic. In fact, I’ve been warning conservative Christians about the risks of a symbolic Trump beheading for awhile now.)

I mean Kim Weaver, a Democrat running who was running against Iowa’s Steve King for a seat in the House. King is a racist and a nativist, and he’s quite open and proud of those beliefs. Weaver had run against King in 2016 and was gearing up to run against him again for 2018. She dropped out of the race this week, though, citing, in part, the toll that constant threats–including death threats–was taking on her.

And I mean Stephanie Clayton, the Kansas House Republican who was threatened with hanging on social media after she announced that she was voting with her moderate colleagues to keep guns off Kansas’ campuses, a choice that most faculty on those campuses support.

And Clementa (“Clem”) Pinckney, a Democrat serving in South Carolina’s House, who was killed when a white supremacist opened fire during his church service two summers ago.

And I mean Gabby Giffords, who had been targeted by violent right-wingers high on the violent rhetoric of Sarah Palin and others long before she was shot in a mass shooting that killed 6 others, including a Judge John Roll–who had also long faced death threats–and a child.

And Robert Smith Vance, a federal judge killed in his Alabama home by a mail bomb sent by a man who’d also been bombing civil rights advocates.

And James M. Hind, the first member of Congress assassinated. Hind, representing Arkansas in the House, was gunned down by a Klansman for his support of the rights of former slaves.

And John W. Stephens, a North Carolina state senator, who was murdered by Klansmen for his popularity among black voters, whose support had brought him into office.

And Tomás “Tomasito” Romero, a Pueblo who was assassinated after his capture for daring to rebel against US annexation of Mexico.

Above, Clayton, Hind, Vance, Pinckney, Giffords, and Stephens–all threatened or murdered by people whose political conservatism drove their violence. 

What do these folks have in common? They all represented a symbolic threat to the rule of conservative white men, and they were all threatened or killed because of it.

It’s not the political violence doesn’t happen to conservatives or that those on the left don’t commit violence (McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, as just one example.) But the violence and the violent rhetoric trends one direction: conservatives fomenting violence and hatred toward those they see as liberal or progressive.

Compare the rhetoric of the Women’s March to that of any Tea Party rally.


Does he know he’s quoting Malcolm X?

[Above, a man at a Tea Party rally wears a hat indicating that he’s a Desert Storm veteran. Behind him is the Gadsen Flag, which has become associated not simply with the Tea Party but with anti-government extremist and hate movements. He holds a sign saying “By ballet or by bullet restoration is coming.”] 

Ask yourself: Do Democrats have to monitor their events to insure that participants aren’t unfurling a Confederate flag?

Consider the millions of racist images of the Obama family, including images of President Obama lynched. Or find the online images of a digital Hillary Clinton being sexually assaulted. (Better yet, don’t.)

In an attempt to find common ground in what feels like a very polarized America, it’s tempting for good liberals to suggest that we’re all guilty of othering our political opponents, that we’ve all engaged in debased language, that we’ve all been demeaned by the current political climate.

But we’re not all equally guilty. Not by a long shot.

Our pal Erick Erickson, in an article denying that we should be concerned about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, said recently that he “would actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other.” He’s part of the problem, of course–and he’s ignoring the fact that it’s almost always been social conservatives who have threatened civil war and see it unfolding with every new sign of equal treatment for women, African Americans, and LGBT people, not progressives. Factions of the right have been living in 1832 South Carolina for all their lives. They’re slobbering for a fight–all the time.

Speaking like a man in the first session of his court-ordered domestic abuser treatment program, Erickson goes on:

If the left really does believe the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise in league with the Russians, they’re either moral cowards without conviction in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country. If the right really does believe the left is engaged in an unconstitutional coup against the lawfully elected President, they’re either moral cowards without convictions in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country.

That’s right: If we really mean what we say when we say about our political opponents, in Erickson’s view, the only courageous option is civil war. Erickson, protected by his own privileges, doesn’t seem to understand what that would actually mean for the world. and doesn’t have the moral imagination to create solutions to these problems outside of violence. And Erickson is typical of many other conservatives in this regard.

So I’m not believing the crocodile tears of Republicans or their feigned horror over Kathy Griffin’s stunt.

And I’m not arguing that since they are propagators of violent rhetoric  we should be too. “When they go low, we go high” is a pretty good motto. And I don’t think we’re near to a civil war, despite Dennis Prager’s might tempt you and me to worry about.

But I am arguing, ever more forcefully, that we shouldn’t cater to the anger of Trump voters. So much post-election analysis expressed surprise at how angry these folks were, calling on good liberals to try to understand things from the perspectives of white voters in the exurbs and in rustbelt towns and places ripped apart by heroin and opioid epidemics. But underneath all that analysis was the idea that we should be afraid of these people. They are desperate… they are angry… they have guns…

And they tell us this themselves in threats veiled and explicit.


Above, protestors at a rally in defense of the display of the Confederate flag on public property display a giant flag from the back of a Cadillac SUV. Superimposed over the stars and bars is an image of an assault rifle and the words “Come and Take It.” I’m clearly supposed to be afraid of these people, who are just itching for a fight. 

But I’m angry too–and not just at Trump but at every fool who embraced his bigotry or willfully ignored it in order to get scammed by the biggest heel in reality TV.  That anger isn’t going away, and I’m not adding fear to it.






Masculinity so Fragile: The Wonder Woman Edition

Dear Joel,

Oh, the hours I spent playing Wonder Woman as a child! She was the ideal superhero–yes, because she was a woman (and a dark haired one at that, which made her the un-Barbie to me–and my joy in discovering her only highlights the pain that children of color often feel when they face another summer with no heroes of color on the screen). But she was also accessible to me: you could step into the role with nearly no gear. Unlike billionaire Bruce Wayne, who relied on a manor full of gadgets to get the job done, Wonder Woman required only three things: Bracelets of Submission (which could be crafted from the blue extra-wide rubber bands that held together broccoli bought at the grocery store), the Lasso of Truth (which we made from any old rope we could find), and an Invisible Plane (which was the easiest of all to craft!). Clearly, DC wasn’t thinking about merchandizing to children when Wonder Woman came to be.

But that she was a woman meant a lot, too. I’d like to say that we simply didn’t see too many women as heroes “back when I was a kid,” but that’s still pretty much the case (though I think there are significant exceptions, including Mulan, Brave, and Moana). We tend to classify movies by and about men as movies (unless they are about war or whatever The Revenant was about) and movies by and about women as women’s movies, as if men’s gendered experiences don’t shape how they view films but movies for women are only accessible to those who have been through the gendered experiences of women.

And writers know this. It’s why Harry Potter is about a boy and his friends Hermione and Ron–a group that is two-thirds boys. When girls take the lead role or outnumber boys, boys start to see the book (or the film) as for girls. And when a book about a boy is written by a woman, her publisher will ask her to use her initials or a pen name to hide her gender. Ramona Quimby and Pippi Longstocking are the literary exceptions in that they are read by boys (or are read to boys), too, but Ramona and Pippi are also girls who are quite explicit about embracing danger, fun, and silliness–and rejecting dresses, obedience, and good manners.  Until Dora the Explorer, we didn’t have a girl character with the kind of multi-media power (a TV show, video games, books, a stage show) that was cultivated for boy characters. Even Dora, though, wasn’t bringing in the boy viewers and so she got a male counterpart: her cousin Diego.


Above, left to right: Pippi Longstocking challenges Adolf, the strongman, at the circus, Ramona Quimby tears around on her tricycle, and Harry Potter and his pals Hermione and Ron pose for a picture

So, while it’s so important for women to see women as heroes on the screen, the major obstacle to them getting there is the idea that men won’t watch them. Yet the fact that audiences for things like monster truck rallies and pro wrestling events and Mel Gibson films are mostly men doesn’t prevent them from being produced–nor does the fact that some films (50 Shades of Grey, all those lovely Jane Austen adaptations) were watched primarily by women mean that such films shouldn’t be produced. Twilight made a boatload of money but was marketed mostly to women and girls.

If we already produce movies with a gendered market in mind, why the hesitation to produce more movies with women in the heroic roles? As the success of Wonder Woman among women viewers shows, women are available and ready to watch.

I’m not sure, then, that the problem is so much with films with strong women characters as much as it is with men who can’t imagine a woman saving them. Films like 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight might be movies for women, but they don’t threaten men. Wonder Woman is going to save men. She might even physically save them. (As happens in real life, too–women work as fire fighters and on avalanche rescue teams and as hostage negotiators and they often actually physically save the lives of men, sometimes even by picking them up and carrying them to safety.)

So, yes, as you point out, if you are a white man mocking women crying at Wonder Woman, don’t; it’s easy but ugly to “sneer at people taking seriously something you don’t have to take seriously because it will never be a problem getting a superhero movie made about people who look like you.”

But I’m also betting that part of white men’s discomfort with Wonder Woman is that she’s saving people who do look like them.


Above, a drawing from a Wonder Woman comic. Wonder Woman rescues a man from a fire by carrying him on her shoulder. How much you wanna bet he tried to insist that he could handle it on his own?



PS. I have a lot more to say about Wonder Woman, including Gal Gadot’s support for assaults on Palestinian civilians, a real-life message that seems at odds with the film’s apparent criticisms of nationalism. I’m also not a huge Chris fan (Pine, Pratt, Hemsworth, Evans) as they seem to me to be the living embodiment(s) of the idea that in order for people of color and women to get ahead, undeserving white men are going to need to step aside. So let me think about it more. In the meantime, I’ll spend my free time this weekend re-reading Herland

126590The cover of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, serialized in 1915 and not published in book form until 1979.

White Dudes and Wonder Woman

Dear Rebecca:

Over the last year, some of my friends have offered up this jokey-not so jokey prayer in public: “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

It came to mind today as I watched white dudes react to the runaway success of the new “Wonder Woman” movie. Frankly, it’s been an awkward grapple.

Here’s Rich Lowry at National Review, wondering why we can’t just enjoy a good superhero flick without getting caught up in feminist politics.

The critics have swooned, and some of them have literally cried over the movie. This is a bit much. The advancement of women in this country, or even just in Hollywood, didn’t depend on the production of a better female superhero vehicle than, say, Elektra (Rotten Tomato rating: 10 percent). Nor is it unusual anymore to see women beat up villains on screen. This hasn’t stopped people from losing their minds — a new American core competency — over Wonder Woman.

More complicatedly, David Edelstein at New York found himself, er, revising and extending his previous remarks giving the movie a mediocre review. After answering charges he’d spent too much time contemplating his looks, he answered the broader charge that he simply didn’t take the movie seriously enough:

I underestimated how much a superheroine at the center of a woman-directed film would mean to many people, and descriptions I considered lively and complimentary would come across as demeaning. Moreover, if Wonder Woman will empower women at this moment in history — in which reproductive rights are imperiled, and an admitted groper is working to undo decades of gains for women — then some of the criticisms of my review are just. I reserve the right to think that this is not, overall, a very good movie. But it is an important one.

For which NYT columnist Ross Douthat offered this bit of snark: “It’s a mediocre movie, but I didn’t understand how important mediocre movies are to the Cause.”

…which seems to miss the mark a bit.

The key to understanding why mediocre movies might be “important to the cause” goes back to Lowry’s column: He’s right! Elektra was a lousy movie that did lousy business. And what happened? Despite the flowering of the superhero genre over the last decade, nobody’s seen fit to make a major female superhero movie again until about now.

When superhero movies about white guys do badly, nobody puts that on their white guyness. Ryan Reynolds survived the critical failure of Wolverine and the failure failure of Green Lantern before finally striking gold with Deadpool. Now, it seems, he’s set for life. Short story: White guys don’t have to worry about mediocrity being a major setback.

Meanwhile, the studios offered up three major women-centered superhero movies over the course of 30 years, they flopped, and based on that — instead of the fact that the movies just sucked — the dudes-that-be decided there wasn’t an audience for women-centered superhero movies. They even decided women couldn’t be the villains.

Wonder Woman, it seems, proves that’s wrong.

So the response to Lowry is: When women are getting as many of these opportunities as men, maybe we’ll be able to dial the conversation back a bit. Until then, the process is natural.

And the response to Douthat is: Maybe you shouldn’t sneer at people taking seriously something you don’t have to take seriously because it will never be a problem getting a superhero movie made about people who look like you.

And the response to Edelstein is … well, I kind of wish he hadn’t written his response at all. Critics are inundated with fanboy — a term I used advisedly — criticism whenever they diss a superhero movie, and maybe he should’ve just shrugged it off. Today’s piece was too defensive to come across well, and certainly didn’t appear to be as considered as most of his film criticism usually is.

But read those last sentences again. He doesn’t owe Wonder Woman, the movie, undue respect if the movie hasn’t earned it. Indeed, he says that his review of the flick — that it’s “not … a very good movie” — stands. He can acknowledge that it’s an “important” movie, though — a judgment that belongs to a slightly wider conversation than the “thumbs up-thumbs down” movie review might permit. Did he do wrong with the initial review? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t miss out on something.

Underlying all this (I think) is this sense, among white dudes, that their experience is the median, and that the white dude consensus about, well, anything is the conventional wisdom — maybe even objective truth — about a thing. But we all bring ourselves, our lives into the movie theater with us, and those perspectives affect how we see the movie. To say a movie is “important” without calling it good is a way of beginning to acknowledge those other perspectives.

It’s worth noting that the front page of Rotten Tomatoes “Wonder Woman” page features 20 reviews of the movie — and just five of them are women. The second page? Twenty more reviews, just one identifiable woman.

Think that influences our perspective, even a tiny bit?

I’m not sure that I’m articulating exactly what I want to say here. (One friend allowed I might be suffering from kneejerk leftism on this matter.) It just seems to me that white dudes — I am one — are often like fish in the ocean: They swim in a culture that often facilitates their desires. That’s not a culture that requires them to consider the feminist politics of a piece of art, or one that makes them grapple with why a movie might be important without necessarily appealing to them.

Apparently, it’s very upsetting when something comes along to challenge that.

Going to see the movie this weekend!



A Brief List of Slavery-Deniers

Dear Joel,

Robert Curry’s view of American history is tragically narrow. For those who haven’t read the short piece that you cited last week, Curry wonders why Obama was so quick to recognize the importance of Islam in the US when it was Christianity that this nation was all about.

Of course, that argument, as you note, ignores the many Muslims who were forcibly brought to the colonies and later the United States as the victims of slavery. It’s like Curry seems to think that the nation was built by Episcopalians and Puritans, not by the actual work of enslaved Africans and their descendants.

Curry ignores that fact that slavery–which brought not only Islam but also food and music derived from Africa–was a key part of the founding of the nation, including in the most religious of places. Curry exalts George Whitfield as “the first truly American public figure, equally famous in every colony,” but Whitfield was also an advocate of the expansion of slavery and profited from that national sin. Would Whitfield have been preaching to crowds of 10,000 if he had challenged slavery rather than supported it? What would his ministry have looked like had he not been pulling in income from the theft of human beings from Africa?

Curry isn’t alone in erasing slaves (and their religions) from American history. Take the plantation tour of your choice; you’re probably going to learn about hoop skirts and architecture, but you may have to ask about slavery and the people whose labor allowed whites the profit to build those grand houses. If you ask, you may be rebuffed by an embarrassed tour guide. Embarrass them further by asking why they don’t know this part of the place’s history.

Image result for plantation wedding

Above, a white couple marries at Nottoway Plantation, which bills itself as “the largest antebellum mansion.” Guests can enjoy the property built and maintained by people who could legally be killed by white supremacists. How romantic! 

Or attend Kappa Alpha’s “Old South” themed frat party. Check them out while they parade in front of a black sorority.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 12.26.27 AM

Above, members of a white Greek organization pose for photos of themselves dressed up like slave owners. Universities trying to defend them say that they don’t “these young folks were in any way trying to be racist” but simply didn’t understand “the broader implications of what they were doing.”

Or read MacGraw-Hill’s US history textbook to see white sins erased as the people they bought and sold are called “workers.”

Or listen to Ben Carson call those who were stolen from their homes, shipped in inhumane conditions across the sea, and sold for profit called “immigrants“–as if they were seeking a better life, not being treated as chattel.

So, while it’s obvious to anyone who has ever thought about it that slavery–and therefore Islam–is central to US history, we need to keep reminding folks of that.


HOW do you love Trump supporters?

Dear Joel,

It’s funny when our faith comes back to us in surprising ways, huh? The desire to be empathetic, compassionate, and responsible to others is what drew me to Mennonites in the first place, and my decision to place myself into accountable relationships with Mennonites helped me develop this kind of thinking as a discipline. After decades of this spiritual endeavor, that kind of thinking should be kicking in when I’m most frustrated with others–it’s times likes these that I’ve been training for. So I’m very encouraged (and I hope other readers are too) to see you coming down on the side of loving Trump supporters.

But how? That’s the harder part for me. I find it almost easier to love those who embrace Trump for his racism than for me to love those who embrace him despite his racism. The first–white nationalists, white supremacists, the alt-right–seem to me to be more honest and thus easier to speak to and about because you know what their issues are. Loving them means working with them to find pathways out of hate (from tattoo removal to legal help) and to keep pressure on them to leave, which can include a range of strategies to make life in a hate group uncomfortable for them.

But for those who ignore, downplay, or excuse Trump’s bigotry–toward women, toward immigrants, toward Muslims, toward people of color–and especially for those who call themselves Christians, love is more of a challenge.

It’s not my usual style here at 606 to get into scripture, but I want to share some thinking I’ve been doing on Jude that has helped me. It may help others, too–and I think the model espoused in Jude can be useful to non-Christians and non-believers, too.

But, first, three caveats:

First, I think that Christians are obligated to love everyone. I think this is true for all Christians, even those who don’t agree on anything else. I don’t think you have to believe that God loves everyone. (I tend to default this belief. I suppose that God loves even Donald Trump, though I have no idea why. And I see no evidence in Trump’s life that God loves him.) But if you’re a Christian, you’ve been told explicitly by Jesus your neighbors and your enemies.

But I don’t place the same burden for loving enemies on non-Christians, not because Christians hold the patent on loving enemies but simply because I’m not going to tell non-Christians to live by a Christian standard.

A second caveat: Especially among Mennonites, it’s easy to turn turning the other cheek and loving your enemies into competition and oppression. The mandate to forgive is used to keep women in abusive marriages, children into abusive relationships with parents, and perpetrators of sexual violence in the church out of jail. That’s not how forgiveness works.  We aren’t in a competition to see who can endure the worse abuse and then forgive for it. Let’s not cheapen forgiveness like that or make it pornographic by gawking at those who exercise it in the most trying of circumstances.

And a third caveat: Jude talks about sin and divides sinners into types, which might sound a little judgmental to some folks. I don’t think that is Jude’s purpose. I think Jude shows us that we can use different strategies to love people who are committed to their sins to a greater and lesser degree. And to be clear: I think supporting Donald Trump is an act of violence against our world’s most vulnerable people and is thus a sin, and because Trump has such power, it is a sin against most of the world’s population. In terms of reading Jude, we might read the words violence the vulnerable or racism/sexism/ nativism/ableism/Islamophobia  when we see the word “sin.”

So, on to the book of Jude:

It’s one of my least favorite books of the Christian New Testament. It’s short and direct, with lots of fire and brimstone, and it’s been used against LGBT Christians. You don’t hear many sermons out of it not only because there’s not much there (25 verses total) but because it’s kind of negative. But I find it also very helpful in laying out some ways of loving those who are hard to love. You can read the whole text in under 3 minutes here.

Jude is writing to Christians and telling them how to deal with those who call themselves Christians but who are not acting like it. The point, though, isn’t about what behaviors will get you in trouble but a warning against a kind of spirit or character: exploitative, duplicitous, deceitful. I don’t believe that the Bible predicts specific political leaders today, but, boy…

Image result for trump as satan

Is Trump Satan? Prolly not, though you can find YouTube videos arguing yes. Are Trump supporters complicit in the evil he is producing in the world? Yes. [Above, an image of Donald Trump with devil horns, a tail, and a pitchfork.]

Jude warns against those who claim to be Christians and yet

  • “pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness” (excuse away exploitative behavior on the grounds that “God forgives so I can do what I want”)
  • revile whatever they do not understand
  • “grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage” (See, any speech given by Donald Trump. If you’re not sure where to start, try this one, given to the Faith and Freedom Conference this past fall.)
  • set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit [love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control]” (See Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.)

Most of Jude is spent warning about these people. We need the warning because it’s not always obvious that a person has this kind of spirit. They may be charming, funny, or charismatic at first. And we shouldn’t confuse them for people who simply get on our nerves, challenge us, or push the boundaries of a group but do so out of love and respect. It’s too easy to accuse people we simply don’t like or who hold different (but carefully discerned) theological opinions of being “false prophets” or “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The point of Jude (in the reading I give it here) isn’t to coerce theological conformity among believers but to care for the community by helping us recognize when someone is heading toward or fully engaged in sin (racism, sexism, violence toward the vulnerable, exploitation of the powerless, etc.) and giving us advice on how to bring them away from sin so that they can be part of a healthy community and can know God’s love better.

It’s not until verse 20 that Jude starts to answer the question of how we are to love them.

First, Jude tells Christians who are dealing with those who claim faith but aren’t acting in accordance with it to practice spiritual self-care: Be strong in our own faith, which means praying, centering ourselves in God’s love, and being patient. When your own faith is strong, lazy faith isn’t appealing. 

Then Jude gives us three strategies, one for each of three different kinds of people we may struggle to love: those who are flirting with sin, those who have just begun to succumb to it, and those who are stuck there. 

  1. For those who have doubt that their faith prohibits violence against the vulnerable, convince them (v. 22). Different translations of the passage tell us to “have mercy” or “have compassion” on these people. The implication is that we should be compassionate with those who have found their faith swayed by false teachers–including those who marry religion and political power. These people may want to be faithful, but a lazy faith is appealing, and so we should meet them where they are. Listen to their doubts, talk with them, and provide whatever it is that they need to reject sin and embrace the work of love. In practical terms, this means taking the concerns of Trump supporters seriously even if they are not valid as a means of meeting them where they are.
  2. “Save some, by snatching them out of the fire” (v. 23). The image here is of something that’s just been thrown into the fire but that can still be saved, if you are quick and willing to stick your hand in to retrieve it. The Trump campaign didn’t merely reveal racism, sexism, nativism, and a gross love of power in American Christianity; it also created those sins in some people, convincing believers who may have been wary about caesaraopapism–the combining of church and state–that Trump could be used by God to give them political power. And though they have been primed over the last 30 years to believe that a messiah was coming in the form of a Republican president, some of them can be moved. Engaging with them can be risky because they don’t have doubts: they are convinced. So you have to be standing on firm spiritual ground to do this work so that they don’t pull you into the fire with them. The language here (“snatching”) suggests urgency and direct action, not the sometimes circuitous, patient method of “convincing.”
  3. And, finally, “on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” This verse employs the metaphor of contagion: just like you shouldn’t touch the clothing of an ill person in order to keep yourself healthy, you shouldn’t get too spiritually close to those committed to sin, those who are die-hard believers that the sins of bigotry aren’t sins at all but strengths. We can love these people too, but we have to hate their ideas. We can’t tolerate their sin while we convince them to leave it; we have to be as firm in our opposition to their bigotry as we are in our love for the individual.

This model may not work in every case, and it could be that not all Christians can engage it in all cases, and certainly other models are also available. You might be able to love people who are stuck in some kinds of sins but not in others because of some circumstance in your own life; maybe you can work with men who have been violent to women and I can’t or I can work with ableist haters and you can’t. You may be able to convince people who I couldn’t talk to–or who wouldn’t listen to me if I spoke. I may be able to “snatch” some “out of the fire” who you are not equipped to work with, and maybe you can confront some people who I couldn’t even approach. But the overall message is clear: Christians, collectively, must address the sins of those who also call themselves Christians, out of love for each other and out of hatred for oppression for the vulnerable. Jude suggests we may do so in conversation or confrontation, depending on the situation.

And you and I (and I suspect, many of our readers) are in an especially strong position to do so because we are white people who can speak to white people in ways that they can hear.

A final thought:

Jude can be harsh, but his advice isn’t to shun people or break off relationships. At the start of the passage, he warns that for those who are committed to sin, their “condemnation was written about long ago”–that is, that it has always been the case that our sins have consequences. (Here I don’t mean damnation to hell. I mean that 150 years after the end of great sin of slavery, we live with the the terrible consequences of that sin.) But he doesn’t discard these people. Instead, he tells us to maintain a relationship with them in order to bring them out of sin–this is showing “mercy” and “compassion.” We should remember that unless we center ourselves in God’s love, we, too, could go wandering off that direction. White people especially have to be committed to not take the easy path of white supremacy, which assures us that our undeserved power is, in fact, what we are entitled to.


Image result for waterless clouds

Above, an image of cracked ground, with waterless clouds above. Jude calls those who call themselves Christians and yet who exploit others “clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.”

How Minorities Get Written Out of American History

Dear Rebecca:
Robert Curry, writing at The Claremont Review (a sort of righty version of the New York Review of Books) takes aim at those sad tropes of political correctness:

In his 2009 speech in Cairo, Barack Obama famously declared that “Islam has always been a part of America’s story.” Yet no Founder was a Muslim, and it is generally agreed that the first mosque in America was a tiny one in rural North Dakota, started in 1929. How then are we to understand Obama’s claim?

How indeed? Well, Curry says, Thomas Jefferson waged war against piracy, and many pirates were Muslim, thus: “In this sense, then, Islam can be said to have been a part of America’s story from the beginning: it defined an enemy of the new nation, forcing America to summon the capacity to govern and defend itself.”

(Mansplain voice.) Well, actually...

Muslims arrived here before the founding of the United States — not just a few, but thousands.

They have been largely overlooked because they were not free to practice their faith. They were not free themselves and so they were for the most part unable to leave records of their beliefs. They left just enough to confirm that Islam in America is not an immigrant religion lately making itself known, but a tradition with deep roots here, despite being among the most suppressed in the nation’s history.

The story of Islam in early America is not merely one of isolated individuals. An estimated 20 percent of enslaved Africans were Muslims, and many sought to recreate the communities they had known.

So. Do slaves count as part of the American story? I’l go ahead and say yes.