This week, E.J. Dionne wrote:
Do Obama’s critics think that Christians reduce their credibility by acknowledging their imperfections? Is it disrespectful of Christ to admit that Christians regularly fall short of His teachings?
The prayer breakfasts draw many decent souls, I know, but if expressions of contrition and humility are off-limits and acknowledgments of our own limitations are unacceptable, are these gatherings really about praying to a merciful God or are they just celebrations of ourselves?
This week, Bill Moyers wrote:
The victim’s name was Jesse Washington. The year was 1916. America would soon go to war in Europe “to make the world safe for democracy.” My father was twelve, my mother eight. I was born 18 years later, at a time, I would come to learn, when local white folks still talked about Washington’s execution as if it were only yesterday. This was not medieval Europe. Not the Inquisition. Not a heretic burned at the stake by some ecclesiastical authority in the Old World. This was Texas, and the white people in that photograph were farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, some of them respectable congregants from local churches in and around the growing town of Waco.
When the flames died away, Washington’s body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as souvenirs.
Jesse Washington was just one black man to die horribly at the hands of white death squads. Between 1882 and 1968 — 1968! — there were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the US. About a quarter of them were white people, many of whom had been killed for sympathizing with black folks.
This week, Jamelle Bouie wrote:
I should emphasize that blacks of the era understood lynching as rooted in the Christian practice of white southerners. “It is exceedingly doubtful if lynching could possibly exist under any other religion than Christianity,” wrote NAACP leader Walter White in 1929, “No person who is familiar with the Bible-beating, acrobatic, fanatical preachers of hell-fire in the South, and who has seen the orgies of emotion created by them, can doubt for a moment that dangerous passions are released which contribute to emotional instability and play a part in lynching.”
The only Southern Christianity united in its opposition to lynching was that of black Americans, who tried to recontextualize the onslaught as a kind of crucifixion and its victims as martyrs, flipping the script and making blacks the true inheritors of Christian salvation and redemption. It’s that last point which should highlight how none of this was intrinsic to Christianity: It was a question of power, and of the need of the powerful to sanctify their actions.
This week, Jonathan Merritt wrote:
I have deep disagreements with President Obama, and I have written of them on several occasions. But at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President was right. Sadly, many Christians participated in needless hysteria that robs them of an opportunity for honesty and humility.
Thirty-five years ago, Annie Dillard wrote:
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead—as if innocence had ever been—and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been. There have been generations which remembered, and generations which forgot; there has never been a generation of whole men and women who lived well for even one day.
—Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm, Harper and Row, 1977 p 56-57
And, sometime late in the first century, John wrote:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
—1 John 1.8-10, New International Version
Poised now at the threshold of Lent, in the face all we have done — and all we've failed to do — what will we write (and value, and believe, and say, and do, and…)?