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February 2017

Liberty & Equality


W. E. B. Du Bois grew up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (our family visited his birthsite there last year) where he did not experience the racial discrimination common in other places in the country.  When he did later in life it was such a shock to him.  Gary Dorrien writes of the importance of Congregationalism in Du Bois development:

New England Puritanism pressed deep into his mind, persuading Du Bois that truth is a moral absolute transcending mere data.  Though Du Bois shucked off New England theism after he got to college, he never relinquished its belief that liberty is the conformity of one's will to moral duty.

Even as a young man Du Bois experienced a sense of call--"I rejoice as a strong man to run a race, and I am strong--is it egotism--is it assurance--or is it the silent call of the world spirit that makes me feel that I am royal and that beneath my scepter a world of kings shall bow."

Dorrien points out two of Du Bois's early contributions to sociology--he discussed "the moral corruption of the nation in its hallowed constitutional beginning" and he "conceived the color line in international terms."  

Du Bois's overriding question was "What  does it feel like to be treated as a problem?"  Dorrien writes that Du Bois wanted a Hegelian synthesis of what he had gained from black and white experience.  He writes, "Du Bois had a vision of black and white joining together to create a nation based on human equality and freedom."

The radical change for Du Bois came when he moved to Atlanta and experienced "naked hostility."  Dorrien writes, "Du Bois could not produce calm social science when African Americans were being brutalized and lynched."  And then personal tragedy struck.  His two-year-old son became ill and no white physician would treat him.  There were only three black physicians in Atlanta and Du Bois was unsuccessful in reaching.  The boy died before he could be treated.

Du Bois was not initially a critic of Booker T. Washington's.  Dorrien writes, "Du Bois recognized that Washington walked a daily tightrope merely to survive in Alabama, and he knew that Washington was not as accommodating as his cagey speeches to white audiences."  What ultimately led him to criticize Washington was the latter's influence. 

Du Bois believed that Up from Slavery was not the book that African Americans needed to survive the upsurge of lynching and repression, and he shuddered at Washington's growing eminence. The latter factor was decisive.  It was terrible enough that blacks were terrorized and oppressed.  Even worse was that violent white repression was becoming taken for granted, so normalized that white politicians and clergy did not feel compelled to apologize for it.  Du Bois saw it happening in Atlanta.  He despaired that colleagues treated Washington as the final word on racial politics.  The tyranny of Bookerism was degrading and suffocating; Du Bois later recalled, "Things came to such a pass that when any Negro complained or advocated a course of action, he was silenced with the remark that Mr. Washington did not agree with this."  So Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk.

 My previous post in this series was on Alexander Crummell and his christology and his influence upon Du Bois.


I have felt the last few months that the most important task isn't opposition--as important as that is--but reweaving the moral and social fabric which has deteriorated.  Which means I, in some ways, viewed Trump as a symptom and not the disease, the cause.  This is the motivation behind much of my recent reading, writing, preaching, even the podcast.  How to restore morality, decency, faith, society, and democracy.

Today I watched this sermon which David Brooks delivered at the National Cathedral and it expresses so much of what I've been thinking and feeling.  This sermon gives more shape to my thoughts and encourages me at a point when I was doubting the direction I had chosen.  I encourage you to watch it.


"The redemptive, humanizing influence of Christ"


In his lengthy (almost 100 pages) chapter on the conflict between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois, Gary Dorrien takes a detour to discuss Alexander Crummell, whom DuBois met at Wilberforce and was a mentor and influence on his development.   Here is Dorrien's opening description of Crummell:

Alexander Crummell was an Episcopal priest, an intellectual, an Anglophile, and a former missionary and Liberian nationalist.  Like many black nationalists, he was an authoritarian collectivist and racial separatist, in his case with a social gospel theology, a puritanical/Victorian moral code, an American Federalist political philosophy, a romantic idealistic racialism, and a deep admiration for Plato.

What a complex description!

Crummell is one of the figures Dorrien believes is overlooked and thus part of the reason for this volume on black social gospel theology.  Crummell was essential in developing that theology.  Here, for instance, is a paragraph in which Dorrien treats of Crummell's christology.

To be sure, Crummell allowed, Christ had not yet abolished war, but "he has been abolishing war through all the centuries through, by the humanization which He has introduced into the policy of nations."  Under the influence of Christ, the world grasped that it is a "brutish, heathen" thing to love war.  Similarly, Crummell saw the redemptive, humanizing influence of Christ "in the suppression of the slave trade, in the destruction of piracy, in the abolition of slavery, in the reformation of prisons, in the progress of the temperance cause, in the improvement of tenement houses, in the increase of hospitals and infirmaries; in the care of the blind, the deaf, and the dumb; in the godly efforts to prevent the ravages of licentiousness; and in the merciful endeavors to save the victims of prostitution!"  Thought Christ took on flesh only briefly, suffering insult and crucifixion for his blessedness, "yet His divine face, the odor of His sanctity, the glories of His nature, and the mystical power of His resurrection come streaming down the centuries."

What a splendid paragraph!

Dorrien writes that DuBois was affected not only by Crummell's theology but viewed Crummell himself as something of a Christ-figure who had to "battle against hate, despair, and doubt" and face sharp opposition and criticism, always "refusing to be shamed."  Crummell became the paradigm of a Christian clergy person for DuBois, who criticized other clergy who failed to live up to Crummell's standard.

Crummell's life and thought are complex, but one point I want to address is his skepticism of the masses.  As a young man he had witnessed anti-abolitionist riots in New York City, which forever made him distrust the uneducated.  Dorrien writes, "For the rest of his life Crummell loathed the masses, urging that the educated elite of any civilized society had to restrain the majority's stupidity and violence."



My last post in my series reading through Gary Dorrien's The New Abolition was February 3 because chapter three of the book is almost 100 pages long.  And I decided early on to wait until I had completed the chapter before blogging about it, though I will likely break the chapter up into a series of posts.  Why was this chapter so long?  Because it sets up the crucial conflict between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, the conflict which shaped the Black Social Gospel (the subject of this volume) and the future endeavors for African American Civil Rights.

I continue to read not simply to learn more about this vital school of American theology but in the search for a richer understanding of the American tradition so that we might marshal the ideas and virtues of our past in order to confront the current national catastrophe of Trumpism which threatens the Christian gospel, morality, and basic human decency on an almost daily basis.

So the theological developments of people who lived in the midst of a racial dictatorship that daily threatened violence and daily delivered injustice and oppression might be of some use.

Let's begin with Washington and what can be admired about him.  Dorrien writes at the outset that Washington's "accomplishments were colossal, and he achieved them in the face of a viciously oppressive society that erupted over any violation of Jim Crow."  But then Dorrien follows up that praise with a death-delivering sentence: "But Washington believed that he had no legitimate opposition, which contributed much to his downfall--nearly as much as the fact that his humiliating strategy did not work."  But more on the negatives later.

We must remember that Washington was born a slave and at the pinnacle of his power dined with the President.  At the age of five he was valued at $400, Dorrien reminds us.

Washington had overcome resentment, which is a key for any person hoping to achieve moral progress.  One thing I've blogged about is how much resentment, which is a moral weakness, seems to have played a role in the election.  According to Dorrien, Washington realized "that bad systems made people do bad things and that people of noble spirit did not bear grudges."  On the first point he seems to have anticipated Niebuhr.

He was educated by New England Congregationalists who came south after the war to educate the freed slaves.  His education emphasized self-reliance and hard work, which became hallmarks of his own pedagogy.  He believed education was the greatest need of his people, and he devoted his life to it, doing so in one of the most difficult of places--rural Alabama.  

Dorrien reminds us that Tuskegee was "a Klan stronghold before the Klan existed," which means that in the midst of the worst of circumstances Washington achieved much, always walking a precarious line. Dorrien writes that Washington knew "that he had no margin for error."  He became skilled at repressing his feelings in order to get along with white opponents of black education.

Washington's idea "rested on the promise that black economic progress would eventually dissolve the social friction between whites and blacks."  As Dorrien has already pointed out, this simply did not work.  Jim Crow grew worse in the years that white people were lauding Washington and his work.

He rose to national prominence by a speech called the Atlanta Compromise.  Dorrien summarizes it, "The deal on the table was that if white America allowed blacks to succeed economically, black would we willing to wait for their rights."  The story of Washington and the advance of Jim Crow is a reminder that sometimes incremental change becomes accommodation to evil.  But one does not always know these things at the time.  See my post on Frances Perkins, for example, on someone who chose to compromise her ideological purity and was later able to achieve much.

Interestingly, Dorrien points out that DuBois was not critical of the Atlanta speech.  "For the rest of his life he said that the Atlanta speech, in its context, was a 'statesmanlike effort to reach understanding with the white South.'  Had the white South responded with 'equal generosity,' the cause of racial justice would have moved forward."

But some African American leaders began to see Washington's compromise as an obstacle to progress, particularly because he was embraced as THE black leader by whites.  Some, like Ida B. Wells, criticized him for not directly attacking lynching, though Dorrien argues that Washington did his best to address it indirectly by publishing his story Up from Slavery.  Dorrien writes that the book "was published amid this mania of disenfranchisement, lynching, ramped-up segregation, and popular screeds justifying all of it."

One thing Dorrien does not shy away from his quoting the racist language of white politicians and clergy.  Parts of this chapter were quite difficult to read.  Important to read, but difficult.  As important as it is to be reminded of the way the culture once spoke of African Americans, I don't want to print any of those obnoxious statements here.  I refer you to the book.

The most difficult section was reading how the white press reacted to Booker T. Washington's dinner with Theodore Roosevelt at the White House.  Here is one example, milder than many.  This from a Memphis paper, "The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President . . ." and from there the language becomes obscene.

This one event lost Washington any support he had from whites in the South.  Dorrien writes that he "keenly understood that white nationalist rage had surged out of control. He had to calculate the chance of a violent episode every time that he spoke in the Deep South away from Tuskegee, and for months after the White House dinner he stayed in the North." 

Demonic Activity?

In one of the stranger articles I've ever read in the Washington Post, an evangelical pastor in Florida, who seems to have supported Trump before, reveals how he experienced "demonic activity" at Trump's rally this week.  

The article's conclusion is quite frightening:

“I know why people voted for him; I know why people voted against his opponent. But, at the end of the day, what I felt from his leadership in this experience was actually horrifying. There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.”

And there was this strange, revealing, and also upsetting tidbit:

“The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord’s prayer,” he added. “I can’t explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn’t a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative. People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr. Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, ‘be the glory forever and ever, amen!’ As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ ”

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors
by Hena Khan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Goodreads friend marked this as to-read, curious I pulled the link upon Amazon and thought the book looked lovely. We want to raise our son with an appreciation of many cultures, ethnicities, and faiths, so this is the type of book we want in our house. Plus, there is a Muslim girl in his class at daycare with whom he has been good friends. That this book was about a Muslim girl seemed perfect.

The book arrived a few days later and its quite beautiful. Sebastian enjoyed it so much we read it three times that first evening. He has taken to calling the girl in the book by the name of the friend at daycare!

View all my reviews

Immigration Policy

When I was a Republican, one thing I was proud of was that we were the party of free trade and open borders.  Ronald Reagan had granted legal status to undocumented immigrants living here.  And one of the main reasons I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 was his goal of reforming immigration.  In fact, the guest worker program he and Vincente Fox negotiated in the summer of 2001 is still the policy which I support.  It would have made it legal for people to move freely back and forth across the border in order to find work.  This should be our policy.  A border wall smacks of Soviet policy.  I thought Obama didn't go far enough with his immigration policy, that his deportations were excessive, and the detainment camps for children were morally repugnant. These ICE raids of recent days look like an authoritarian state.  I reject the immorality of our national laws on immigration and the worsening moral corruption of this administration.