White Christians Say “Redskin” Shouldn’t Offend Indians

Flipping through radio stations this afternoon I landed on a Christian station. Within a minute I heard such an absurdly offensive assertion that even the callers were confused.

On Way, Truth, Life Radio (WTRL) 89.9 in State College, PA the evening begins with “In the Market with Janet Parshall.” This program is produced by Moody Radio which gets us to the core of American Fundamentalism. What is the purpose of Moody Radio?

Moody Radio promises to provide programming filled with solid biblical insight and creative expressions of faith that help you take the next step in your personal relationship with Christ.

This isn’t just about programming radio for your listening pleasure; this is about converting people to their distinctive understanding of Jesus Christ. I didn’t even know that it was a Christian station until I heard a little spot from Ken Ham who is the brain trust behind the infamous Creation Museum in Kentucky. His little bit was about how dragons were real and that they were in fact dinosaurs.

The assertion that Janet and guest Craig Parshall made went something like this:

  • Football teams market their brand based on success.
  • Invoking a racial slur is not a good business decision if you want to have a successful image.
  • Therefore, “Redskins” is not a racial slur.

The hosts went on to say that the debate over the mascot of Redskin is a fabrication of political correctness. “Where do we go with this? Where does it end?” they said. A 49er is a dirty gold digger. A Buccaneer is a nasty pirate. So what about them?

What I heard was: Well everyone else is doing it so why can’t they?

I wouldn’t dare teach my 8 and 6-year-old boys that such an ethic is responsible. I teach him to be principled no matter what others are doing or saying. That is just what virtuous people do from Socrates to Confucius.

The image of the Indian our Radio hosts conjured follows a white myth of the Indian. He is an emotionless, brave, and fearless warrior. The Indian is more of a mystical deity than a human being. This was a popular image in film before the Great Depression.

As I learned in a recent presentation, viewing, and discussion about the film Reel Injun, that mythic imagery was blown up by one movie – John Wayne’s persona in Stagecoach. From that point through several decades, the American Native was seen as savage, mindless, aggressive, unethical, and closer to animal than man. The women were sexualized and became sources of masculine pleasure. The American Indian became the race that could uphold white dominance all the way through to the Civil Rights era.

This is significant. Either the mascot for the Redskins was an intentional slur drawing on the image of the savage native, or it was that false idealization of the native as someone less than human. No matter what, the image of the Indian changed. Even if the image of the Redskin may have once been an image of dignity, it most assuredly has not been this way for a very long time.

Ethics 101: Just because something is so, therefore does not imply that it ought to be so.

In my mind that was where the academic assertion fell apart. I thought it was absurd, short-sighted, and a clear ploy to get me all frustrated. It worked because I kept listening.

A self-identified Choctaw called in. He said in no uncertain terms that Redskin is an offensive term and has been for quite some time. It did not make sense to him why his people were not given the same protection as other minorities. Why couldn’t his people tell us why a term used to give them an identity? Why couldn’t they dictate their own racial identity? To me, that seemed like a very reasonable question.

Rather than address the question, they dictated to this Choctaw why he should not be offended by the term “Redskin.”

Let me put this in sharper terms to highlight the offensive nature of this statement and the assertions made by the Parshalls – two privileged white people talking on a self-identified Christian program.

  • Faggot should not be offensive since it can mean a bundle of wood or even a cigarette.
  • Nigger just means the color black.
  • WOP is just an acronym for someone without papers, basically an illegal immigrant.
  • Kike is really a term that points to the anti-Christian sentiment of immigrant Jews.

If you were offended by any of that, good. You should be. I should be and am. The conservative diatribe that I heard is what I have been hearing for the entirety of this year with regard to racial slurs: It’s 2013 people, lighten up.

It does not matter what year it is. It does not matter how long and deep a tradition is. If we are acting with indifference and apathy to the psychological and social needs of any group of people, we are ceasing to protect the pursuit of happiness that defines an American citizen.

Theirs is not a position against political correctness, whatever that may mean.

It is a bold-faced dismissal of people of color.

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Overcoming My Learning Disabilities

Shortbus Lick Windows Wear HelmetOctober is Learning Disability Awareness Month. This is part of my story.

It was 1983. I will never forget my five years as one among many other sequestered kids stamped with the label of learning disabled.

When I was in 3rd grade my family was hanging on by a thread my mom did everything she could in her power to hold together.Problems in the family placed undue stress on us all.  We each had our own issues and found support for better or worse from different places. Developmentally, I did not have much of a choice for what kind of support I needed. The home was it.

Third grade was my education bottom. So depressed from the immense stress in my environment, I was admitted to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, DC. That was the beginning of 5 year of placement in a restrictive education environment. There I spent three months in residential care to regain footing in my delayed cognitive and social development.

If the reactions to stress are flight and fight, I flew. But I never flew away from anything. I flew inward. Shutting the world out with the walls of my imagination worked for a while. It was a cocoon. The strange thing about cocoons is that the caterpillar literally digests itself into a soup before it develops into a butterfly. Gross. But it’s a really good metaphor for my mental state at the time.

What I learned most was how to game the system. There were specific outcomes that had the reward of a less restrictive treatment. Once you hit the highest level which was “Unaccompanied walks” off the premises, you were just a step away from discharge. I could actually walk outside of the “yard” where we got to spend time in the sunlight and play games like at recess! Once I figured out how to game the system, I knew I could get out.

When I was discharged from that program, I spent the next year at a school called the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents (R.I.C.A.). The program lumped together all of us dysfunctional kids in one place separated only by age, or at least that’s the way it felt. Even at “P.I.” everyone was tossed together. For several years, I felt like a leper quarantined from the rest of society.

R.I.C.A. “mainstreamed” me to a “regular” elementary school for a few months before I was able to join that school full-time. However, even there I was in my own little classroom that looked the same as the other places. All of us special ed kids were again lumped together. On the scale of autism and dyslexia to depression and broken homes, we were all part of the same crew. We were visibly separated from the rest of the school in that little cloistered group. Outcasts, that was where I began to hear the terms “sped,” “retard,” and “stupid” among other things. My one goal was to get out.

Eventually, I was mainstreamed into the “regular” classes. That happened through middle school. I went to a middle school in Potomac, MD where the kids were far wealthier than us, so even there I felt different from everyone else. It wasn’t until 8th grade and out of that environment that I began to feel truly “normal,” or as normal as I could be.

I had a new home, new school, new friends, and a new start. From that point on I got better and better at just “doing school.”

Despite the fact that many of the procedures made me feel like an outcast during and for long after my treatment, something must have worked. I learned how to manipulate the system and as I later found out, I learned how to manipulate people. Was I better psychologically? I doubt it. I could hide more effectively and play the role of someone healthy even though I knew deep-down I was still a hot mess. Later in life, I was able to overcome and most of the scars have healed.

I recently completed a doctoral degree in a program for which I earned a 4.0 GPA. I earned two master’s degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, one of which I received a Fellowship for thesis work and the other I received a full academic scholarship. I graduated college with a 3.0 and made the Dean’s list twice.

These were all statistically rare achievements for someone with mental and learning disabilities such as mine.

I say that not because I am special, but that it can be done.

Hiding in Plain Sight: College and the Mentally Ill

Stigma and mental illness

There are students in deep pain and struggling with emotional problems and mental disorders all over college campuses.

Most of us have no clue who they are.

As Kay Redfield Jamison, co-Director of the Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins University, recently said to a group of Northwestern University Students:

“No one noticed that I was in any way different,” Jamison said. “I had no idea how I managed to pass as normal in high school, except that other people are generally caught up in their own lives and seldom notice the despair in others if those despairing make an effort to disguise their pain.”

Jamison is not only a leading scholar of mood disorders, she is also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She wrote her story of suffering, recovering, and managing her own illness in the book An Unquiet Mind.

If we sense that something is “wrong” in someone’s behavior, the attitude of the “rugged individual” might take over.

If only that person would just be happier, calm down, keep their mouth shut, stop being so impulsive, stop being so rude, or stop being so quiet and awkward. Mental illness is just a phantom problem. It’s really an issue that the individual must resolve on their own. If people would take more responsibility and just act differently, all would be ok.

A few facts:

  • Public rejection of the mentally ill is far more common than not. Socall & Holtgraves (1992) argued that “a mental illness label, regardless of a person’s behavior, can result in public rejection” (p. 441).
  • Stigmas about mental illness seem to be widely endorsed by the general public in the Western world” (Corrigan & Watson, 2002).
  • A CDC report (2012) found that while most adults believe treatment of mental disorders is effective, less believe that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.
  • Coverage of mass shootings and the near immediate link to mental illness do not help public sentiment towards the mentally ill. Rather, in a study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry (McGinty, et. al., 2013), “The stigmatization of people with mental illness may lead to a reluctance to seek treatment or raise other barriers to care” (Barry, 2013).
  • Those with mental illness may internalize public stigma and as a result will be less likely to self-disclose their problems. This is in spite of the growing body of research showing that self-disclosure has positive effects for the mentally ill person and to reduce public stigma (Hyman, 2008).

Disclosing a mental illness is a big risk. If one encounters public stigma about a mental illness the results can damage reputation, employment, friendships, etc. Even if these are not facts, the risk of further alienation is a problem that most of the human race would rather avoid.

For those who aren’t even sure that they have a mental illness but just feel different about the world and their identity, reaching out for help might be compounded by all of these factors. They will go undiagnosed and untreated for illnesses that they have no personal power to manage without help.

When we bring these issues into an environment where often thousands of young adults live, work, and play together it can be a cauldron mixing together a dangerous brew. When we add substance abuse to mental illness the problems worsen. It is then that violence is more likely. More students may bring their drug habits on campuses that started in high school. Add to that fact, 80% of college students will drink and half of those will binge drink.

Students need to feel safe in order to self-disclose that they have either been diagnosed with a mental illness or feel that they might have something wrong. College is a petri dish of social experimentation and dysfunction and mental illness is just not a good fit.

The environment must do a better job of reducing social stigma and giving the mentally ill a safe space. Colleges have made a strong effort to give women and minorities a safe place on campuses, and it is time for them to do the same for those with mental illness if anything is to improve.

Jamison spotlighted Harvard’s improvement in mental health services as an example of the important role universities play in advocating for students.

“I think if (support) does not come from the president’s office, you may as well kiss it goodbye,” Jamison said. “The president’s office has to take this really seriously, and commit money to it, and time.”

___________________________________

Sources:

Barry, C. (2013). Media coverage of mass shootings contributes to negative attitudes towards mental illness. In Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Retrieved 10/09/2013, from http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2013/webster_mass_shootings_mental_illness.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, National Institute of Mental Health, The Carter Center Mental Health Program. Attitudes Toward Mental Illness: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Atlanta (GA); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2012.

Corrigan, P., and Watson, A. (2002) Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. February; 1(1): 16–20.

Hyman, I. Self-Disclosure and Its Impact on Individuals Who Receive Mental Health Services. HHS Pub. No. (SMA)-08-4337 Rockville, MD. Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008.

Socall, D., and Holtgraves, T. (1992). Attitudes toward the mentally ill: The effects of label and beliefs. The Sociological Quarterly , Vol. 33, No. 3 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 435-445.

Church: I Know How You Will Die

GravestonesCongratulations on the new organ. I think it is wonderful that you have an old building with lots of history. You have a legacy and have had a physical fixture in town for a century. These are important parts of your saga and it is good to remember them. You have a long memory and a wonderful tradition as a critical member of the town.

But you are dying.

I saw the wonderful people of your community aging and holding on to that legacy as they should. They have the longest memories of your house and its tradition to pass down to the younger generations. It is they who will take their place as the elders of the community. But as I sat in your pews, I saw one young person for at least every three of your elders. A legacy cannot be passed on if there are no recipients of your memory.

Who will hear your stories to tell their children and grandchildren?

Sociologists have been telling us that church attendance is decreasing due to a simple demographic fact. If a society does not replace itself by about 2.1 persons for each generation, it will die out. Some factors that affect mainline denominations is that families produce fewer children if at all. Their evangelical counterparts do a much better job of making babies and raising them in the church.

You don’t have enough people to sustain your beautiful physical architecture. More importantly, you don’t have enough people to receive your spiritual wisdom and witness to the Good News.

If the population is unsustainable because you don’t have enough kids who have been brought up in your church, you must have more immigrants from other cities, religions, and people who are longing for something greater than themselves.

There are people all over the world yearning for a spiritual experience. There are people who want to be part of something bigger and more magical than the mundanities of life. People are isolated in jobs they are unhappy with, stressed from too much homework and after school activities, going through divorce, recovering from addictions, facing bankruptcy, and struggling immigrants literally looking for a place to call home.

Many people have this yearning totally unaware of the message that we are healed, we will be OK, and we can help each other make it through what seem to be unmanageable conditions in life. People truly do desire spiritual healing and a sense of the divine. People are seeking purpose and how to make all of life more meaningful.

Even if the media shows how nasty people can be, and they certainly can, the goodness we see from ordinary people is astounding. Running up into burning buildings, serving soup to the homeless, driving drunk and high people home to keep them safe, spending time with disabled kids or those without families are common actions by the people of this society. Deep down people want to be good and want to be part of a society that helps them to be good and helpful to others. But for those who struggle to help themselves manage their own lives, helping others seems like too much to ask.

This is where you can step in. You don’t need a new program or ministry of outreach. You don’t need brochures or fancy websites. You don’t need door-to-door proselytizing. People don’t want more marketing. We have all been conditioned to associate marketing and advertising with lying. With the American legacy of televangelists and hateful messages delivered by so-called Christians, marketing will repel those you want to invite.

These are all just facts of our society you just can’t control. You cannot change any of this.

What you can change is to be a place where people can find help and healing from the travails of life. Listen to others and talk about how you found peace and healing in the church. Give people phone numbers and then call them. Call not to invite people to church, but just to see how they are doing. Send a note or two. Not a note with a mug, brochure, newsletter, and envelope for giving. But a note to acknowledge that you saw them, remember them, and are happy they are alive.

We are naturally attracted to both charisma and to those who we feel are responding to our needs.

I write this because I entered the doors of one of your churches this morning. I came in with my two boys. I fit the role of a single dad. My kids were restless. It was a new place and they may have been intimidated. I brought them there because the service would have been familiar to them. We were immigrants. We were looking for a room, a place to stay. No one said hello to me or them. I grabbed what I thought was a bulletin and the only words spoken to me were, “That’s the church history, this is the bulletin for today.”

I pulled my boys out of the church because they were making too much noise. You watched me have a “team meeting” with them in the foyer where the greeters ironically stand. I had come through a different entrance where no greeters stood. You didn’t even hold the door open for me as much as hold it so it did not make noise when it shut. I came back in and my boys started laughing before getting restless and cranky again. Quite a ruckus. You looked at me a couple of times and smiled. I was starting to get frustrated and realized I could not control the situation. I left the building with them. I may never come back.

The irony is that you were celebrating your 100th anniversary and rededication of the building. You shared a story or two of the church’s early days in 1913 and used the same order of worship from back then. Nicely done.

But you missed the point. I am not sure if you talked about looking forward at all because out of necessity, I missed most of what you had to say.

I am writing this to tell you that the future was in my arms. Those two restless boys are all you have left if you want another 100 years of life.

I may never come back. If I don’t, I am taking a part of your possible future with me.

A simple “Hello, I can help you with that” would have attracted me for another week. Instead I was invisible and felt only apathy.

Perhaps what you celebrated wasn’t a 100 year anniversary

I may have witnessed the beginning of a long and drawn out funeral.

My Education: The 1 Thing I Must Do

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. – Søren Kierkegaard

Most of what I think I need in life is rather inconsequential. Most of what I have – data plan, TV, clothing, furniture, computer, food in the cabinet, job, etc. – I don’t actually need. These are musts in life that I have convinced myself I must have to be happy.

Perhaps what we believe to make us the happiest is the greatest delusion in our society.

I need food, water, and shelter to supply my basic needs for living. But I also need love and a sense of belonging to a wider human community. These are hard-wired into my DNA as a human being. But even a dog requires these things to be happy.

So what makes me a human?

Purpose. What is it that gives me the greatest amount of contentment around the idea that I am doing what it is I ought to do with myself aside from meeting my basic needs?

I find this identity in the honor of being a father to my two sons. I find that in helping others to feel that in spite of the challenges of the world, I can find a way to be content. I find it in the ability to communicate what I know only to be helpful. That is to say, if I am not doing something each day to help someone in the ways that I am most fit, I am not content with my own life.

I cannot fix a car, offer much in the way of financial gifts, offer home repair services, and the like. So what is it that I can do?

I communicate, listen, and offer what I know. 

This is what I do best. This is why I write. This is why I work. This is my idea. This, I believe, is why I am within the frame of human history.

In research and project management the first step is actually the last step: determine what you want the outcome to be. The rest is finding out how to get there.

Perhaps the great test in living a meaningful and content life is to imagine your funeral. What will people say about you? Who will be there? Who will weep at the thought of your absence? With your sound, touch, smell, ideas, and presence vanished, what will people say about you?

I recall the final story in the film Big Fish. The son carried on his father’s legacy by telling the greatest story of all – about his father the way his father would tell it. Not only the fact that his son told the story, but that the story was about how deeply his father is loved, revealed just how deeply his father affected others and changed lives for the better.

When our stories live on in our absence, perhaps how they are told and who continues to tell them is the greatest evidence that we have indeed found that truth that is for each of us the idea for which we are willing to live and die.

Our obligation, what we truly must do, is to do it well and commit our lives to improving it each day.

Bill O’Reilly’s Jesus and Bully Christians

Candida Moss and Bill O'ReillyWhy is so much written about Jesus every year? Most of what will ever be written about Jesus has been done. There are just not many directions left to go. So when popular books about Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Reza Aslan come out just several weeks apart, how are they selling so many copies?

Jesus sells.

Even if Santa and the Easter Bunny sells toys and candy, Jesus will sell you books, movies, and television advertising dollars. The brand of Jesus is massive and since it has no copyright anyone can plaster it on a book or movie title. The controversy alone will sell a few copies. Bill O’Reilly is not a biblical theologian, scholar, or historian. Reza Aslan is none of those, nor are either scholars of religion. Yet both have equal credibility in the marketplace of Jesus. At least Aslan seems to have written his book himself and enters it in a much larger academic discussion. O’Reilly had the assistance of Martin Dugard who is an author and a running coach.

So what happens when a scholar of the bible, biblical history, theology, or other disciplines challenges the assertions of Bill O’Reilly? O’Reilly invites her on his show so he can talk more about himself. Just minutes after his performance, menacing  self-professed Christians come out of the woodwork like carpenter ants eating their way through liberal scholarship.

Dr. Candida Moss, who is on the faculty of Notre Dame University, wrote a column that rightly challenges O’Reilly’s lack of methodology and paucity of evidence to support his assertions. O’Reilly’s assertion is that Jesus died because he interrupted the revenue stream to Rome. Moss offers another side to this interpretation:

Even if Jesus’s actions had been all about taxes, he died protesting a skeletal taxation system that privileged the rich. Wealthy citizens were exempt from most taxes altogether, non-citizens paid a flat-rate poll tax regardless of income, the property tax was 1 percent, and the money from taxes was used to build roads and fund the military. It’s not like the Romans did anything obscene like tend to the poor.

O’Reilly is a skilled rhetorician and, like Sean Hannity of the same network, employs a cookie cutter method that makes even the smartest people look like fools to his audience.  He sets his terms early, misdirects the subject, then forces that misdirection with continued dismissal and ad hominem – “pinhead” “loon.”

In an interview O’Reilly recently staged with Moss, he follows this pattern. He sets his terms and forces them to work for him and against the other person. O’Reilly dismisses her before we even see her.

This woman, Dr. Candida Moss who teaches theology at Notre Dame says that Jesus was a socialist and was disappointed in me for not highlighting his politics. – Bill O’Reilly

“This woman” is about as gendered a dismissal as one can hear. Here is a way to make this clearer. “This black man…” Her gender is irrelevant to her academic credentials and arguments against O’Reilly’s. Moss is also a full professor who teaches New Testament and Early Christianity who is in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame. There is a significant distance between her rank and that of an instructor or “teacher,” which as O’Reilly’s tone suggests is not all that credible.

By asserting his focus on history he dismisses her by saying she teaches theology. Therefore, what she has to say about his book is irrelevant. It does not matter at this point if he is a lousy historian, which the very words he uses about his book demonstrate, he is simply better than her.

Bill is also a lousy theologian and he knows it which is why he limits the terms to his “history.” Theological decisions have been made about the texts from writing to canonization to translation. It is quite laughable he goes on to say that Jesus cares about the soul not politics. How is that not a theological claim? Theology, politics, and religious structures were all combined for centuries before and after Jesus. You just can’t have a history about Jesus without making theological judgments. Bill’s theological judgments are weak, he knows it, so he dismisses it.

Nor did she ever say that Jesus was a socialist but for that of a retweet of Reza Aslan! But with Bill’s set up, Moss may as well have not been on the show. That one sentence quoted above is all that outlets like Town Hall need to work the conservative angles in order to keep the liberal-shaming engine running.

But it gets worse. It is the reaction and dismissive tone towards Dr. Moss that left me feeling disgusted and a bit ashamed. The amount of comments that dismissed her scholarship, demeaned her femininity, likened her to a sort of infection at Notre Dame, spoke as if she knew nothing about the bible, and so forth are troubling. Not just the amount, but the quality of these posts by those who profess a Christian faith is disturbing. No Christian should tolerate such transparent derision towards another human being with a different perspective.

As if this is not bad enough, the capper is likening her to a yeast infection.

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The rhetorical strategy of O’Reilly and his ilk is to fabricate “liberal” as some menacing evil. By leaving out details and dismissing others, they craft a narrative that is made virtually impenetrable by loud voices and media sales. The anti-intellectual mindset of the audience they continue to create only buttresses the defenses and gives just enough reason to wage war against other ideas and perspectives on just about anything.

In the end, to many, Bill O’Reilly’s Jesus is the only reliable picture of Jesus since all others come from the liberal academic society – a society that only has a political agenda.

And our society continues to get dumber and meaner as a result.

See also: