Email to John Cox, The Washington Post, Column on the Confederacy

Dear Mr. Cox.

Professor Medford’s words should be heeded, and carefully. I recently wrote, “Removing an artifact does not change the facts.”

Having grown up on a small farm in rural Maryland, my family’s roots are in Lower Indiana and Kentucky. Years ago I worked with a contractor who displayed his “Dixie” flag on all of his trucks, his company named “Dixieland”. Until the Charleston massacre and the reverberations that have taken place since I had no real clue about the “hurt” and the oppression the Confederate flag represents for many.

Erasing or eradicating all references to the Confederacy will not erase the facts of history. It also will not erase the lingering racism that peppers much of the South and even parts of the Midwest. “Hate” is a learned emotion and behavior. Holy Scripture, Hebrew Bible, speaks about how “the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons unto the third and fourth generations.” Until families cease to perpetuate hate, their next generation(s) will simply mirror the offenses of the past.

This is a watershed moment in our nation’s history. Let us use this moment for healing and reconciling. In that same vein, more people should learn about the South during the Civil War and the roots of fear embedded in that war from the Southerner’s perspective. Their “industry” was coming to a climactic end. The North made the South pay dearly for their “tyranny” for several decades after.

I reflect on how our nation took an entirely different position after WWII, actually helping Germany and Japan rebuild their nations. Perhaps if the North had taken a similar tact with the South, the bitterness that still thrives in part of the South would have been abated.

While General Robert E. Lee stood on the wrong side of history, he still was an accomplished soldier. I want to believe that the 600,000 men who died during our worst internal conflict of all time died with honor; including those who died on the wrong side of history.

Best regards,

The Reverend M. Vincent Turner

For once, The Evil Doers have lost the day

As an ordained Christian theologian who actually received a graduate degree in Christian theology (which many of the self-defined right clergy did not — including Huckabee son of Satan), it is time to move on. Gays and lesbians won the day, as indeed we should have. Yes, it was a desperate week for all those intolerant right wingers, to whom I offer my condolences. The tight, narrow judgmental world that you have embraced with so much self-righteous aplomb is dying around you and you simply cannot escape that tiny little box that you have thrived in so comfortably, hugging your hate and hypocrisy. Well, now! One of the walls has fallen away; maybe even two of those walls. Oh, my! What are we do to now? I have fielded, dodged and rebelled against your hate and ignorance all of my 47 years as an out and self-accepting gay man. The shame you have put on us for decades now becomes your very own, and for that I am overjoyed.

An Open Letter to Nikki Haley
Governor, South Carolina
The Charleston SC Massacre

21 June 2015

Dear Governor Haley:

This letter is written to express and share my thoughts about the recent mass slaughter of nine black people in the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, Charleston. As the world now knows, the villain is a young white supremacist male named Dylann Roof.
When you ushered forth the words, “This is not who we are,” during an early press conference, I shouted out loud to my television set, “Yes, governor, that is exactly who you are.”
South Carolina has an image and reputation for being extremely intolerant. South Carolina is seen as the State of Hate, along with some of your neighboring states. You are seen as the state that hates blacks, hates gays and lesbians; hates Jews; hates Latinos and any other species of human that is not white and Protestant.
Dylann Roof is exactly, precisely what represents South Carolina in the eyes of the wider world. Housing at least nineteen white separatist hate groups with members numbering perhaps in the thousands, South Carolina can hardly claim to be a place of tolerance and acceptance.
Add to those factors your racist-in-denial U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and his stated enthusiasm for the Confederate Flag and its “roots”. I would more than suggest that South Carolina has its intolerances and prejudices pretty well defined.
What confounds and angers those of us who claim and embrace the Christian faith is how South Carolinians believe themselves to be so “Christian”. Perhaps in word, but surely not in action. During my years in graduate study at seminary we were reminded routinely, “If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk.” But, for whatever reason the self-aggrandizing Southern “Christians” seem to believe they have a lock on God and Christ. Really! As the saying goes, “Talk is cheap.” Dylann Roof represents a quiet but not altogether silent voice of hate that threads itself through much of the South; not solely in South Carolina.
My first and last visit to Charleston was many, many years ago as I was discharged honorably from our United States Air Force. To suggest that Charleston is in competition with Savannah as the “”Jewel of the South” is a bold slap in the face to Savannah.
It is often stated that “perception is 95% of everything.” So, in order to change the perception one must change the image entirely. It appears, at least to the outsider, that South Carolina is perfectly happy to retain its image as a state that supports intolerance. Y’all just gotta get your hate on. How sad is that!
And, oh, one more thought. While I personally do not believe the Confederate flag to be a racist symbol, I understand how and why others do. But, unlike the larger population that re-mains under-educated and under-informed I took it upon myself to learn a bit more about the origin and history of the Confederate flag. Given how the Confederate flag is regarded as a hideous symbol that represents a heinous part of our nation’s history, I agree it should be retired to a museum. The fact the Confederate flag remained at full staff after the Charleston massacre simply validates what many have come to believe about South Carolina: You love to hate. No matter how you may try to sugarcoat that image, that is the image. Change the image, and the perception will change.

Why do you still believe in God?

This question was asked of me recently by a friend and former coworker. It was asked after reading one of my recent posts.
The question at first stunned me. Wow! I said in my reply. Why do you ask? The response was curious. “I am struggling with the concept of God/god; so much hate and cruelty in our world. How do I reconcile with any god where there is so much human horror?” Questioning that belief system is timely.
It is timely because over these last few years my own quest for my love for God and Christ has waned. The Facebook website opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of human cruelty toward one another; and, worse, toward the animal kingdom.
A passage in The Gospel of Matthew remarks how “evil lives in the hearts of men”. I might add “women” to that in today’s context. In a recent Memorial Day movie made for TV by the same title, one of the lead characters, “Opa” the grandfather speaks to the one remarkable difference between humans and the animals: “We humans can kill at a distance,” he muses.
Take that comment one step further: Humans kill for pleasure, recklessly taking the life of any creature we believe it our right to take. Animals on the other hand kill for defense, protection of their young, for food and often in the mating battles between males. Except for the domestic household cat, I know of no other species that kills for the sheer pleasure of it.
Trophy hunters kill for ivory from elephants and rhinos. China supports this massive destruction of both populations. Thousands upon thousands of elephants have been killed just in recent years. The photos of these travesties make one want to vomit.
Then there are the big cat kills, heads for trophy walls; coats for new apparel or for rugs. There is an ongoing massive slaughter of gray wolves in the United States, cattlemen insisting that is the only way to protect their livestock. Not true! Cattlemen simply do not want to spend the money and effort for better ways to protect their livestock; better ways that in fact exist.
In Asia, dogs are killed for food or simple pleasure. Try explaining that one to canine loving Western culture. In the United States dog fighting continues as an underground epic crime against the canines most claim to love so much.
There is absolutely no existential reason to kill for pleasure or sport. Yet, we do it with reckless abandon. I belong to a number of wildlife and wilderness groups. Sadly, while their missions are beyond laudable their successes are not as great and wide as they could be or should be. The thrill of the kill embedded so deeply in the evil hearts of men and women trumps the efforts of environmental protectionists. Even organizations such as the United Nations cannot rein in these earthbound barbarians.
The Jewish Talmud speaks to the proper care of animals, going so far as to insist the animals be fed before their owners feed themselves. Such instruction can be found nowhere in Christian culture. “Christians” have an altogether nefarious and perverted sense of what it means to care for the Creatures of God. God’s “other” creatures are owed and deserving of as much “Grace” as we believe due each human. Simply take a moment to look at our slaughterhouses, havens of the most heinous and despicable “crimes against nature” anyone could dare to imagine.
Yet, humans also are candidates for “free range killing”. The injustices of murder, human against human across this land underscores how we as a people have lost all sense of the Holy Spirit. I don’t like “your ugly ass?” Well, then, I’ll shoot ya. By whose authority? Surely, not God’s!
As a nation Americans worship guns more than God. Guns and greed have become the gods of America. The Commandment “not to murder” rings hollow in the ears of far too many.
But then, we must travel to the outer reaches of our universe to places such as Somalia and Rwanda; the Ukraine; lands of current day barbaric murderers. Genocide is widespread. The media rages onward and outward about this despicable carnage. It rages on, unabated. We wring our hands, shake our heads and then we simply move on. We do nothing. But, we, too, kill by remote control. Gotta love those drones!
For most of my life I have held Native America in the highest esteem. Their “god” was Great Spirit. They sought to work within the balance of ecology and environment. But, wait! “Christian” white men appeared on the scene touting our “manifest destiny”. Was our manifest really inscribed with the right to slaughter thousands of men, women and children? Were we ordained with the right to kill thousands upon thousands of buffalo and wild life, simply for their skins while leaving their skinned bodies on the open prairies to rot?
So. I return to the original question: Why do you still believe in God? Frankly, I am not certain that I do; or, that I can; or, even why. Of course, during graduate study in theology the conundrum between free will and godliness was at constant tension. But, “free will” should not be and must not be construed as freedom to allow all forms of destruction of life, human or animal, including the creatures of the seas.
Growing up on a small seven acre farm in Maryland farm country where my family’s farm was surrounded by other farms reaching 1,000 acres, I learned to appreciate all of life. My parents taught me well. Choirboy, Boy Scout, youth leader and fundraiser, I was the stereotypical “good Christian” boy. That was my “Leave it to Beaver world.” God and Jesus were central to my faith.
Now with consternation, I wrestle with my faith in God, my belief. Human behavior as I have come to witness it is counter-intuitive with “God”. “The sins of the few shall be visited up-on the many.” It is time to rein in those few, that we might live in harmony with all creatures small and large. We are failing the Kingdom. Killers at heart, humans have become the anti-God, the ultimate Satan of Creation. Until we have come to grips with our consummate wrong-doings and turned more aggressively and assertively to becoming the custodians of this Earth as we were instructed by God to be, we simply will continue to live out the evil that lives in the hearts of men and women.

The “Huckabee Factor”

Slightly more than a decade ago I met a transgender person at a Christian religious retreat. This person’s journey, expressed guardedly, was complex and complicated. I experienced a certain respect for this person still going through transition, because they wanted to talk about it where they would feel judged the least. Ah, yes! “Judged the least.”

The fact is, I recall no one, absolutely no one, judging but only supporting this trans-person in affirming ways. God knows, yes “God” knows, what a challenge this person’s journey had been and would continue to be until the full and complete transition had taken place. Did I understand it? No. Do I understand more than a decade later, now with Jenner? No. Do I, like some folk, go “ick”? No. It is their journey; not mine. I have a different journey, as does each person who reads this Email.

During my graduate study at theology school/seminary, our repetitive mantra was, “Honor the holiness of the other [person].” In other words, respect and honor that other person in their place and space in time; their time; not mine or yours.

I opt not to define myself as “religious”. Being religious is far too restricting; confining. I am spiritual. I want to leave to God what rightfully belongs to God and pass no judgment. “Difference” often upsets and undermines our sense of the secure spot of being in our own space with our own understanding. When our own little “container” gets shaken up a bit, we each react in very different ways: Shock, “ick”, recoil; horrified or mortified; or, “Okay, so what?” I go with, “Okay, so what?” Jenner’s transition really has zero impact on me or my beliefs. If she now feels more right with herself, then perhaps she is more right with God. Again, not my judgment to make. If you are a follower of the Christian faith as I am you will recall that Jesus said, “Judge ye not lest ye be judged”, and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” The original orthodox meaning of “sin” was “to be separated from God”. As in, “born into sin.” It did not mean something malicious, pernicious or vicious.

Having shared the above with you, I was moved to rage and anger when I read about Mike Huckabee’s all too predictable insult toward Jenner. He is no “man of God” in my book. Huckabee is anything but. So! Below is what I posted earlier today on a website where I often share my thoughts. But, wait! Before you jump to that, here is one more tidbit to share: When I was growing up, my parents often cautioned, “If you come across a person or a group of people you dislike and disagree with, move on. Leave them. It is not your duty or your place to change them.” Kinda sounds like Jesus when He said to His disciples, “If these people do hear my word, leave them. Shake their dust off your feet and move on.” Now, my post!

“Yep, good ole “pastor’ Huckster-bee. A theological fraud, a self-righteous hypocrite. Screw that commandment “to love”. Screw the idea about not judging. Oh, right, how about those stone throwers!! You got it Huck. I am blessed that I never had to deal with the agony and challengers of transgender people. Do I understand it? No, I do not. However, I will not judge it or condemn it. Each child is given a different path, a different body, a different sexual orientation and a different sexual identity. How sad that you are so wrapped up and warped up in your misogynist, sexist mind cramp that you cannot give a pass to someone who is different; even radically different. People could make fun of how fat and nasty you are. Yeah, I like that one in fact. But, hey! You like being fat and nasty so that one would get us nowhere.”