KEEPING CHURCH AND STATE SEPARATE: Legal Response

Keeping Church and State Separate

Essays in Response to Oklahoma State Question 790


Stating the Problem

Oklahoma State Question 790 is asking citizens to remove Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution.  Article 2, Section 5, reads, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”  This set of essays will provide a clear understanding of the issues and an argument why eliminating Article 2, Section 5, would be unbiblical, historically demeaning, legally indefensible, and impractical to implement.   


Essay #3

“Legal Response”


Colonial America

During Colonial America, religious liberty for all colonists was thwarted through legal entanglements between the established church and local magistrates.  The precedent of separation between church and state was unheard of in Colonial America, making life very difficult for the likes of Baptists, Quakers, and other non-conformist faiths.  Individuals like Roger Williams, Anna Hutchinson, and Mary Dyer were banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because based on the local laws, they practiced a faith contrary to the established church.  Dyer was actually executed at the Boston Commons on June 1, 1660.


Baptists Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, and John Crandall were arrested in Massachusetts for preaching and proclaiming believer’s baptism.  Eventually Holmes was convicted and publicly whipped for his part in the matter. Under the governance of ruling authorities in the Bay Colonies, individuals fleeing persecution from the throne of England landed in America only to discover another oppressor.  Baptist and other dissenters’ stories served as essential evidence for the birth of a national policy on religious liberty.


Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty

At the final resting place of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, visitors will read the following on his tombstone, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of Independence of The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom And Father of the University of Virginia.”  Jefferson, along with fellow Virginian, James Madison, felt very strongly about the the right for every citizen to legally have religious liberty within the new United States of America, as well as solidifying that very same liberty for his beloved state of Virginia.  Thus, he authored the “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” and sent it to the state assembly in 1779, twelve years before the First Amendment was adopted as part of the U.S. Constitution.  


Jefferson wrote, “That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”


He continued, “Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities” (Ragosta, 223-224).


In other words, Jefferson and Madison (who actually lobbied for the bill’s passage in 1786, while Jefferson was Minister to France) were successful in their attempt to separate church and state.  The two Founding Fathers from Virginia believed that no person should ever pay taxes to support any church.  Unknowingly, Jefferson’s statute would be the precursor to his more famous metaphor of establishing a wall between church and state.


Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

Jefferson’s bill did not come without controversy though.  Fellow Virginian Patrick Henry attempted to pass a state bill that would have taxed Virginians in order to support “Teachers of the Christian Religion.”  With Jefferson out of the country and the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom still being debated on the Virginia House of Delegates, James Madison took up his pen in 1785 to author a stinging rebuttal to Henry.  It was called, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.”


Madison argued, “Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”


He turns up his argument, “The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.”


Madison’s words sting.  The great author of the U.S. Constitution proclaimed that any government seeking to take away the conscience of the individual by requiring intellectual or financial submission to religion, perverts conscience and is a tyrant.  However, his most pointed words are for those who allow themselves to be governed by tyrants and are so willing to prostitute their consciences.  They are mere slaves to these tyrants.  


U.S. Constitution – No Religious Text Clause

With Virginia securing religious liberty and church/state separation in 1786, Madison and his fellow delegates began to take up the idea of creating a federal government on May 25, 1787 in Philadelphia.  After decades of religious and civil entanglements, the delegates had to make a clear statement regarding religions proper place in the new government they were forming. 


Before James Madison penned the first sixteen words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Constitutional Congress had to settle the election of federal legislators.  In Article VI, they addressed the issue of a religious test, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”


It is evident that the Founders were adamant that church and state were to be separated when it came to electing officers of the new government.  By making this declaration, the Founders created a secular government where religion would be able to thrive in a free market void of government intrusion.  However, they also secured religions proper place by stating that religion can influence government from outside the wall, but that the election of legislators and the work they conduct should be in the interest of the government and not religion.


Bill of Rights – First Amendment

Immediately, the Founders understood the need for Amendments to the Constitution.  There were glaring generalities that needed to be secured through offering clearer meaning.  Therefore, Madison picked up his pen once again and began to craft the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  The first sixteen words of the First Amendment speak loudly and clearly to what the Founder’s beliefs were when it came to religion’s place in the United States of America.


It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  With the brilliance of these two clauses, known as the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause, the founders ensured the separation of church and state.  The government should not establish, endorse, or favor any religion.  However, the government also has the responsibility to ensure each citizen is able to practice or not practice their faith as their conscience dictates.  Both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses have steered church and state issues since America’s founding.  The Supreme Court has heard and ruled on numerous cases regarding the practice of religion in America, but they all have had to measure those decision agains the Founder’s first sixteen words of the First Amendment.


Even when the Court ruled for a broader understanding of the Free Exercise Clause than separatists would prefer, there still remained a high level of respect for church/state separation.  In the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education, the Court ruled that New Jersey law allowed reimbursement of money to families who sent their students to school using the public transportation system.  In the majority opinion (5-4 decision), Justice Hugo Black and fellow Baptist, declared, "in the words of Jefferson, the clause (First Amendment) against the establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'…that wall must be high and impregnable.  We could not approve the slightest breach."


Treaty of Tripoli

After ratification of the Constitution, the country still muddled through the muddy waters of implementing their new adopted measures for self-governance.  Religious persecution still existed after the Constitution was adopted and ratified, so the country continued to debate the proper relationship between the church and state.  Many still felt like the U.S. Government should somehow acknowledge the institution was governed by the people, but with a direct influence of the Christian religion.


It has never been more apparent that America was not intended to be a “Christian nation” than when President John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797.  American merchant ships were being terrorized by Barbary pirates within the Mediterranean Sea.  To secure safe passage for the merchants, President Washington sent a delegation to negotiate peace in 1795.  By 1797 during the Adams’ Administration, a treaty was agreed upon, ratified by the Senate, and signed by Adams.


The important part of the treaty dealing with religion is found in Article 11.  It reads, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”


The conclusion is clear, America has never been nor should ever be, a government founded on religion.  While the Christian religion has always been influential to our Founders and citizens, the government is prohibited from establishing religion as a foundation for laws that govern the people.  When religion is used as a pretext to the laws and treaties of the country, a violation of the First Amendment is at stake, not to mention a barrier to treaties with other countries where their religion differs from the religion practiced by a large number of Americans.


Oklahoma Constitution & the Enabling Act

The Oklahoma Constitution was ratified by the U.S. Constitution on November 16, 1907, making Oklahoma the 46th U.S. state. When Oklahoma entered statehood, our state leaders understood they needed to comply with federal mandates to join the United States.  One such mandate is known as the Enabling Act of 1906.  According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, “The Enabling Act empowered the people of the Oklahoma and Indian territories to elect delegates to a constitutional convention and set up a state capital temporarily at Guthrie, in former Oklahoma Territory. The capital was to remain at Guthrie until 1913 and thereafter would be located permanently by electors chosen at a statewide election that would be called by the legislature.”


More so, the Act included several stipulations that were required laws in order to enter statehood.  Again, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, there were two specific requirements dealing with religion, “Freedom of religion was to be preserved…and…the establishment of public schools, which were to be nonsectarian.”  By agreeing to these terms, Oklahoma was adopting the principles defined by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  


In addition to the Enabling Act, territories requesting statehood had to also agree that the U.S. Constitution reigned supreme over any state constitutions, as spelled out in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  It concludes, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”


While none-legal but still important, state legislators also heard testimonies from Native American children being whipped and forced to attend Christians worship services at agricultural schools funded by the government.  The new state was well aware of the evils conducted by coerced religion. In the new state of Oklahoma, the notion of “killing the Indian to save the soul” would not be acceptable for a state seeking to enact freedom for all of her citizens. The establishment and promotion of religion by the state would not be tolerated. Thus, when the Oklahoma Constitution was adopted in 1907, Article 2, Section 5, was included to protect the rights of every Oklahoma citizen, especially those coming from Indian Territory.


Conclusions

The previous arguments touch upon the overarching legal history as to why religious liberty and church/state separation are so crucial to the health and well being of our country.  While there remains numerous court cases that can be analyzed and discussed by legal experts, this essay attempted to demonstrate the legislative history of religious liberty.  Religious liberty has always been a bedrock for American principles and the wall separating church and state has been a wise and respectable barrier between the two.  If State Question 790 passes, there will be two immediate consequences.  First, Oklahoma will be seen as a state that does not respect its previous promises of what it means to be part of the United States.  Second, the law will be immediately appealed where it will be ruled unconstitutional based on both the Oklahoma Constitution and the United States Constitution.  This futile exercise conducted by lawmakers is nothing more than a veiled attempt to score political points and cause harm to state agencies (particular public education), but it is also an enormous waste of tax payers money and in direct violation with the founding principles of Oklahoma and the United States of America.

The Two Al’s: Regret and Peace

Al was a chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist.  Born on October 21, 1833 in Sweden, later moving to Paris, Al grew up a devote Lutheran.  His faith was always important to him, as he learned to lean on it during times of struggle.  His most perplexing struggle came later in life when he realized one of his inventions had caused more harm than he could have ever imagined.

In 1867, Al patented an invention that truly changed the world.   He discovered that when nitroglycerin was incased in an absorbent insert like kieselguhr that it became much safer to handle.  Up to this point, nitroglycerin had been used as an explosive but it was so dangerous that many times it killed or maimed its handler.  In submitting his patent, Al decided to name his new invention after the Greek word for power, dynamite.

Decades later, there was another scientist named Al who discovered a formula that was later used to create the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein’s, Theory of Relativity, e=mc2, was crucial to those working on the bomb during World War II.  In his biography on Einstein, Walter Isaacson, notes that when hearing about the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein grew somber knowing his formula resulted in such catastrophic death.

Isaacson notes, “Einstein’s efforts to prevent future death were motivated not only by his old pacifist instincts but also, he admitted, by his guilty feelings about the role he had played in encouraging the atom bomb project” (Isaacson, 490).  After the war, Einstein gave a speech at a dinner in New York City on a cold December night.  The aging theorist admitted he felt a great kinship with the scientist for which the event was named after, The Alfred Bernard Nobel Peace Prize Gala. 

Alfred Nobel created the peace prize “to atone for having invented the most powerful explosives (dynamite) ever known to his time” (Isaacson, 490).  Einstein felt as though he were in a similar situation, “Today, the physicists who participated in forging the most formidable and dangerous weapon of all times are harassed by an equal feeling of responsibility, not to say guilt” (ibid.).

How often do we carry around these same feelings?  How many times have we been part of something that felt right at the time, only to produce unknown consequences we wish had not occurred?  How many times have we made a mistake we wish we could go back and change, but realize we must now live with the consequences?  For those of us that carry these burdens over our shoulders, there is hope.  Like Nobel and Einstein, we too can live with our pasts as we strive after justice and peace for the future.  Listen to the words of James 3:17-18, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

America, We Are Better Than This!

The presidential debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may have very well been the lowest moment in American political history.  Even before the debate began, one of the candidates decided to put on a spectacle that felt more like a sideshow circus act than a presidential debate.  The debate did not make it any better, for within the first thirty minutes both candidates were leveling sexual accusations against the other or the other’s spouse.  One candidate even threatened to jail his opponent if elected.  


America, we are better than this!  We are better than what we are seeing and hearing from this election.  We have candidates from our two major parties whom the country does not embrace all that enthusiastically.  We have slipped into rhetoric that sounds more like a…I was going to say a middle school lunchroom…but I feel like they are even better than what we are currently seeing and hearing.  What has happened to us, America?  How did we get to this point?  How have we fallen so far? 


In my sermon yesterday, I made the following statement, “The reality we don’t want to face is that what we have seen over the last few months sadly reveals what we have become (as a nation).”  American politics is simply mimicking what plays out all across this country.  Let me be even more pointed, we elect the politicians we deserve.  What does this mean? America, we deserve what we are seeing and hearing because simply stated, they…are…us.  


The Prophet Hosea rebuked a nation that had prostituted itself.  Listen to his words, “Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.  There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.  Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed.  Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish (Hosea 4:1-3a).


America, we too are heading down this road of self-destruction.  We are heading down a road where disgusting sexual discourse and possible sexual assault can be explained away if it benefits “our” candidate.  We are heading down a road where “saying anything to get elected” is just “playing politics.”  We are heading down a road where the real issues are only a backdrop to the reality-television mentality we crave.   We are heading down a road where we hold our next president to the same standards we hold for a contestant on the next season of “The Bachelor.”


America, we are better than this!  While we are a deeply divided nation now, my prayer for our country is that we learn from this mistake.  The time to rise out of our current predicament has arrived.  The time for new leaders to emerge, from a new generation, has come.  Our democracy is stronger when liberals and conservatives work together with integrity, civility, and wisdom to make this nation a more perfect union.  We must live with our past mistakes, but this is no excuse why we cannot begin working towards reconciliation and a better tomorrow.  We can have a brighter future, but we need new leaders with new voices to begin the march forward.  


Again, the Prophet Hosea, ““Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.  Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:1-3).


America, we are better than this!

 

 

Can we talk about sex?

Debra Hirsch has recently released a book entitled, Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations about Sexuality and Spirituality.  In the Washington Post’s “OnFaith” section last week, Hirsch discussed her book.  She made the point that for the most part, the church often only debates the “rights-and-wrongs” about sexuality and spirituality.  The church never really has a meaningful conversation about the topic.  Listen to her comments….


Why do we always seem to get stuck talking about the negative stuff? Why does our first response to all things sexual usually come with a pointing finger? Why do sexual sins seem to overshadow all others, marking us with both shame and disgrace? Why do we have such a problem relating to sexual minorities, both in and outside the church? Sex certainly gets a lot of airplay, but sadly, it’s mostly negative.


Hirsch is correct.  Anytime the church discusses – more like debates – the topic of sexuality, it often begins with someone declaring an act “sinful” and someone else making a counter point.  Now, we come by this honestly, because the Bible often mentions sex in a negative light.  The Old Testament spells out certain cultural laws, while the New Testament mentions it in very vague and uncertain terms.  There are moments when sex is discussed in a positive manner, but we tend to skim over those because they make us uncomfortable.


Several years ago as we debated human sexuality in a Doctor of Ministry seminar, I jokingly said to my cohorts, “I just wish Jesus would have left us a Christian version of the Kama Sutra.  It sure would have made all this much easier for us.”  Alas, he did not.  But maybe that decision was on purpose, because Jesus left us a guiding principle for everything we do as Christians….LOVE (Matthew 22:34-40).  


Love should be the focal point of any discussion we have within the church.  When we veer away from love, we tend to become judgmental and shortsighted.  In my own Baptist tribe, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, we are undertaking a project called Illuminations.  Leaders of this project will be charged, among other things, to address the 16 year old policy against hiring LGBTQ people.  


Even within the moderate-leaning fellowship, there are individuals and churches still uncomfortable with this issue.  My hope and prayer for this process is that love will guide these deliberations.  CBF’s Illumination Project should not be about what is right-and-wrong about human sexuality, but whether or not we are going to let love win the day.  If love is allowed to supersede all else, then each of us can maintain our individual conscience while honoring the consciences of others.  As Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Hamilton) recently said, “Love is love, is love, is love…”

Sixteen

It seems like yesterday that I woke up to a new world, a world where a sixteen-year-old discovered both the freedom and responsibility of sliding behind the wheel.  There was nothing better than my first solo-drive when no parent could tell me to turn down the radio. My mom sent me to the grocery store for bread, but she might as well have sent me to the moon.  The exhilaration of driving a car by myself gave me a sense of empowerment and freedom.  To think my parents and the State of Oklahoma had confidence in me – even though a bit shaky I am sure – offered the affirmation that every teenager needs. 


This morning, another sixteen-year-old woke to a new world.  Our youngest son, Tanner, has filled our lives with warm memories, joyful excitement, and ceaseless energy.  His mother and I are so proud of the young man he is becoming.  There is no other sixteen-year-old boy in the world more kind, more generous, and more excited about life than Tanner.  He wakes each day as though it were Saturday morning, full of endless possibilities and potential adventures.  


When he was a toddler, he used to wake up early and venture into our bedroom.  As two young and exhausted parents, Missy and I would be attempting to drain the last bit of sleep out of the morning.  Tanner would quietly walk to my side of the bed, clasp my face in his little hands, and declare in his “inside” voice, “BUT DADDY, IT’S A SUNNY DAY!”  For Tanner, a sunny day meant long walks in the park, soccer games in the backyard, or just finding a warm place outdoors to be a family.  


From the very beginning, Tanner has had places to go and people to see.  Missy and I realized some years ago that we are just passengers on this incredible journey he is traveling. He has taken us on such a wonderful path thus far, we cannot even imagine what the roads ahead are like for him.  Of course, there will be mountains, there will be valleys, there will be straight roads, and there will be curved roads.  Therefore, on this day he sets out for a new adventure on his amazing journey, I offer the following prayer for my sixteen-year-old son who has truly been driving all of his life…


Dear Lord,


May your grace, mercy, and love fall upon my son.


May he discover your love, your joy, and your hope as he sets out on his excursion.


May you keep his roads straight, while protecting him over the mountains and through the valleys.


May you always place a sunny day in his mirror, even when the darkness of rain and storm arise.


He is my son, and unto you I trust his future journey.


Amen.


Clergy and Law Enforcement Discuss Community Policing

Over the last few months, Norman clergy and law enforcement have been gathering to discuss the state of our community.  NPD’s Chief Keith Humphrey and other law enforcement leaders have been wonderful as we discuss the role of cultural diversity and the importance of community policing.  Clergy have been able to communicate to law enforcement some of the concerns heard within congressional conversations, as well as provide much needed support and encouragement to the brave men and women who patrol our neighborhoods.


In addition, law enforcement has been able to educate clergy about their efforts to incorporate community policing in Norman.  The clergy have learned a lot about police tactics, some that even seem “rude” to citizens but are very important for the safety of officers and citizens.  While learning about each other in these conversations, the most important development has been the humanization of the other.  When law enforcement and the community begin to converse with one another and develop relationships, community begins to emerge as we discover we are more alike than different.  


During our last meeting, Chief Humphrey made a statement that caused a hush to fall over the room, “I just wish every city in America realized we are one incident away from our city being the next Ferguson.”  In this one sentence, the Chief summed up the reason we have been convening over the last few months.    Clergy and law enforcement leaders acknowledge the complexities and depth of the issues we are facing.  We cannot solve these issues in one set of meetings.  However, we can begin to work towards a more beloved community.  


Clergy and law enforcement want to offer an opportunity to address these issues before another incident arises.  If our efforts are successful, we may even be able to prevent incidents like we have seen across the country from developing in our community.  Therefore, in conjunction with The Xenia Institute for Social Justice, we would like to invite you to an evening that hopes to begin connecting law enforcement and community.  The meeting is October 10th, 7:00 PM, at First Presbyterian Church of Norman (555 S. University, Norman, OK, 73069).  


Speakers for the event include Norman Mayor, Lynne Miller; Norman Police Chief, Keith Humphrey, Assistant Director for LGBTQ Program (OU), Kasey Catlett; and Special Assistant to the Vice President (OU), D’Andrea Fisher.  The event is open to the public, so please plan on attending.  Let’s come together as we all seek to make Norman a more perfect community where peace and prosperity can live within all of our citizens.  

Rosh Hashanah: 18 Words

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, celebrated this year from sunset on October 2nd to the evening of October 4th.  The term literally means, “head of the year,” but is celebrated over the first two days of Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar.  Why the seventh month?  It marks the completion of Yahweh’s creation and considered by many Jews as a new year for people, animals, and contracts.  


According to The Huffington Post, “The American Jewish World Service, a faith-based human rights organization, is welcoming in the New Year with a campaign to inspire hope.”  They are asking Jewish world leaders, and even those outside their community, to offer 18 words or less that will foster positive and productive change over the new year."


The Huffington Post explains why the number 18, “Each wish was limited to 18 words. Eighteen has long been a sacred and cherished number in the Jewish tradition. Through gematria, a system that assigns a numerical value to letters in Hebrew, the number 18 is linked to the Hebrew word “chai,” which means life. As a result, the number is associated with blessings and celebration. Some people give monetary gifts in multiples of 18, with the intention of blessing the recipient with a good life.”


Here are some examples…


“At a time of great divisiveness in our country, we need moral courage.” 

-Rabbi David Ellenson


“I hope that we rededicate ourselves to helping the less fortunate, and shine light on darkness.” 

-Rep. Eliot Engel, NY


“The battle to end inequality and injustice is timeless.” 

-Sir Michael Mortiz, Sequoia Capital 


“Remember: Native, African, Mexican, European, Asian, LGBTQ, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, Refugee, Americans.  Remember: vote, vote, vote.” 

-Mandy Patinkin


After reading these, and others like them, I was inspired to come up with my own 18 words of hope for the upcoming Jewish year. 


“World, breath deeply the peace of God – offering grace, love and hope to those oppressed, marginalized, and ostracized.” 

-Dr. R. Mitch Randall

What will your 18 words be for this year?

Black…Lives…Matter

Black…lives…matter.  Hang on, simmer down, let’s think about this for a moment before you hit “send” on that email or click “reply” to this post with another hashtag to retort my claim.  Have you ever stopped to actually think about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and what it truly means?  If not, humor me for a moment as we really examine what this movement is communicating and combating.


According to their founders and leaders (Patrisse Cullers and Opal Tometi), #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that other lives do not matter.  In fact, they have been very clear about this notion.  The #BlackLivesMatter movement is simply asking the culture to remember that young black men in particular are flesh and blood, part of this great global community and beautiful diverse ecosystem.  


It has been asked, “Why do they even need to say #BlackLivesMatter?”  Critics of the movement like to respond to the saying with #AllLivesMatter or another specific hashtag that they think somehow lessens the statement.  FYI: It does not.  The reason the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so important is that America has never truly sought genuine reconciliation for its original sin of slavery, plus we simply ignore the current blatant institutional racism that persist in the country.


If you honestly think about this for a moment, you will begin to understand how this problem is overarching and demeaning.  According to U.S. News and World Report, institutional racism is a way of the life in America, “It’s probably time to dust off some of the profound, disturbing statistics on institutional racism in America that have been painstakingly chronicled by groups like the Sentencing Project, the ACLU, American Psychological Association, the Education Department’s Civil Rights office and many others” (Institutional Racism Is Our Way of Life, Jeff Nesbit, May 6, 2015).


In his article, Nesbit cites numerous statutes to back this claim…


Black children make up 18 percent of the pre-school population, but represent almost half of the out-of-school suspicions.


During K through 12th, black children are three times more likely to be suspended than white children.


If black children find themselves before a judge, they are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons.


After college, the jobless rate for blacks has been double that of whites for decades. A study even found that people with “black-sounding names” had to send out 50 percent more job applications than people with “white-sounding names” just to get a call back.


If black graduates get a job, for every $10,000 increase in pay, blacks’ percentages of holding that job falls by 7 percent compared to whites.


Institutional racism exist in neighborhoods and communities as well. About 73 percent of whites own homes, compared to just 43 percent of blacks. The gap between median household income for whites (about $91,000) compared to blacks (about $7,000) is staggering, and that gap has tripled in just the past 25 years. The median net worth of white families is about $265,000, while it was just $28,500 for blacks.


On the roads, a black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop, and six times more likely to go to jail than a white person. Blacks make up nearly 40 percent of arrests for violent crimes.


If a black person kills a white person, they are twice as likely to receive the death sentence as a white person who kills a black person. Local prosecutors are much more likely to upgrade a case to felony murder if you’re black than if you’re white.


Racial bias in jury selection is ridiculous – qualified black jurors are illegally turned away as much as 80 percent of the time in the jury selection process.

The result? About a quarter of juries in death penalty cases have no black jurors, and more than two-thirds have two or less. When a black person is accused of killing a white person – and the jury consists of five or more white males – the odds go way up for a death penalty verdict. Defense lawyers, and prosecutors, know that having just a single black man on the jury substantially changes the odds.


Black people stay in prison longer than white people – up to 20 percent longer than white people serving time for essentially similar crimes. They get much harsher sentences – black people are 38 percent more likely to be sentenced to death than white people for the same crimes.


And the color of the skin of the victims matters greatly in the punishment for capital crimes. Whites and blacks represent about half of murder victims from year to year, but 77 percent of people who are executed killed a white person, while only 13 percent of death row executions represent those who killed a black person.


Finally, if there is one glaring statistic that demonstrates our country’s overarching institutional racism, it is our prison system.  Accord to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people of color make up 30 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.  More specifically, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.  I know we don’t want to face this America, but that is blatant institutional racism right before our eyes.


Now, I understand this is a lot of information to absorb, but it demonstrates the reality we face.  When I’m faced with such a problem, I always like to go to the Scriptures to find a response.  In the Gospels, we find Jesus standing up for minorities and outcasts.  We witness him embracing people different than himself,  Samaritans and Romans.  We see him engaging sinners and bringing hope to those who had none.  We see him fighting an oppressive system that was leaving the poor and vulnerable behind.

In the end, Jesus lived out those words he cited before beginning his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV).  If Jesus were standing in our pulpits today, I truly believe he would declare to his church, “Black…Lives…Matter!”

Homes: Open Doors and Broken Windows

Over the last year, I have been traveling more than usual.  From family get-togethers, through work related trips, to sending my son to college, my rapid rewards points have piled up quite nicely.  Here is the list of places I have been over the last nine months: Ghana (1), Boston (5x), Washington DC (3x), Austin (1), Orlando (1), Greensboro (1), Joplin (1), and Atlanta (2).  Each of these trips were meaningful and important in their own way, but the one thing that remained consistent through them all was the great relief I felt when I returned to my family and friends.


Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, “Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”  There is something magical about returning home after a long trip.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Missy and the boys have never rolled out the red carpet, waved palm leaves, or sang praises honoring my return.  However, the smell of pork tenderloin in the oven and the sounds of homework being completed by rap music fill my heart and soul.  


Sadly, however, not everyone has a home like mine.  According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, violence by family members or close friends is on the rise.  One in three women and one and four men have been victims of violence by an intimate partner, while one in five women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence.   For children, one in fifteen children are exposed to violence each year, while 90% of these children have been eye witnesses to violent attacks (www.ncadv.org).  


My heart breaks when I think about families suffering in silence, as anger and violence begins to take over their homes.  At NorthHaven, we have started a monthly gathering called, Family Matters.  During the meeting, we leave the topics open for discussion which has led to a variety of conversations.  Most have been pretty docile, but there are times when you catch a glimpse or hear a story that breaks your heart.  As the church, we are called to pray for these families, but we are also called to take them into our fold and let them experience the love of home.


In a world that often feels dark and where people feel alone, the church can be a home for them to discover love, acceptance, and hope for a better tomorrow.  The Gospel can still be the Gospel if the church chooses to enact it in our ministries and relationships.   In other words, we need to offer more open doors and help fix broken windows  

A Mother’s Letter to Her Son: My. Heart. Hurts.

Guest blogger, J'Nell Lane, NorthHaven Day School Teacher….

My heart hurts. I am a Caucasian-American woman. I am a wife, to a wonderful African-American man. I am a mother, to two beautiful bi-racial children, one who happens to be a little 3 year old boy. You may ask, why does my heart hurt? When actually, the question of the day is, why would my heart not heart?

My heart hurts deeply as I watch the many stories pouring from our media outlets. Each day, there is a new hash tag. Each day, a new family and a new city are plastered over the media. This is not about #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter, #alllivesmatter, or any other hash tag that has been put out there. For me, this is about #HumanRaceMatters.

My Dearest Son,

From the moment I first held you, your beautiful caramel skin and your big brown eyes captured my heart. Your black curly hair was so soft and I loved smelling it and feeling your soft curls. Your dad and I have raised you from day one, to have love in your heart and to always be true to yourself, no matter what crosses your path. When I look into your sweet face, I see: a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a friend, a loving child of God.

You have been taught to love all those around you; to love Jesus; to always pray; to forgive others always; to never hold grudges; to have manners; to respect yourself, as well as others; to be a good citizen; to obey the rules; to respect the laws around you; but most important to never give up or settle in life.

Your dad and I have strived for you to know love and peace; to be the man that we know in our hearts that you can be. To stand up for what is right, no matter how un-cool you may think you look. But soon, things will change for you. Soon, you will no longer be walking the streets beside your parents. Soon, you will no longer be eating dinner with your grandparents. Soon, you will no longer be riding in the passenger seat of the minivan. 

Soon, your life will be different.

Soon you will have to be more self-conscience of what you wear; how you talk; the way you walk. Soon you will have to make a decision of whether or not to keep your insurance card in the visor or in the glove compartment, for fear of being mistaken for reaching for a “weapon” or whether or not to simply ask someone else to get it for you out of its location. Soon you will have to make a choice of how late to be out at night for fear of being targeted. Soon you will be judged on whether you have more black or white friends or whether you have a black or white girlfriend. Soon you will subconsciously determine whether or not to wear a hooded sweatshirt or a zip up jacket when it is cold outside.

Sooner than later, you will be out on your own, alone and being judged by all those around you. You will be faced with decisions and situations that I have never been faced with. You will be in a world that I never had to face in your shoes. But as your mom, I can only pray that you may never lose sight of the value your life has. May you always show respect to those in and out of uniform. May you always be true to yourself, as a man and as a human. May you always be the one to remain peaceful, calm, and to show love to all those around you.

Tonight, as you read this, you may be fearful but the Lord says in Isaiah 41:10 “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

Tonight, and every night, from here to eternity, this will be our prayer for you: “Dear God, please protect my son from those who are judge-mental, from those who are racist, from those who look to cause harm. Please guide my son in his decision making. Remain steadfast in his heart, so that he will always turn to you Father. Lead him with your light, from the shadows of his darkest hours. Lord, just place your loving hands upon him each and every day. In your name, Amen.”

Love Eternally,
Mom & Dad

You see, I have had to think about and write a preview of what my life will look like with a bi-racial teenage son, who will be out in our world where you are viewed by the color of your skin. I have had to theorize about a conversation that will not take place for several years, simply because my son will be a bi-racial man, where there is a good chance that he will be profiled, due to his race.

Unfortunately, there will be moments in his life, where he will be judged simply by that. But I pray that his foundation in our home will prepare him to conquer it with no hesitation, because you see….God created the amazing human race. A beautiful mixture of colors, shapes, and sizes. A race where we were taught to love one another, and with love will come peace. So it isn’t just about one specific race or ones choice of career path mattering more than the other…to me it’s all about. . .

#HumanRaceMatters

J’Nell Lane