violence

Ferguson, MO vs. Malcolm X:  Are We Chasing Our Tails?

So, it happened again.  An unarmed black teenaged male was killed by a white cop.  The response was our usual predictable outcry, “No Justice, No Peace.”  Unlike the previous incident in Sanford FL (in which the white community watch volunteer provoked a black teen to fight before killing him and was acquitted of the crime), the recent events were marred by violent confrontations between a handful of demonstrators and police.  Some businesses were looted and private property destroyed.  Did the policeman act in self defense, or did the victim have his hands up and demand that he not be shot?  That is for a judge and jury to tell, of which I am neither.  But, pondering the works of one of our most venerated African-American heroes and the universal faith of Orthodox Christianity, I can’t help but wonder if we should respond to violent and non-violent racism in a different way.

A great read

In 1964, Malcolm X did the unexpected.  He took the pilgrimage to Mecca and completely forsook the reactionary racist doctrine of America’s Nation of Islam.  He saw the universal brotherhood of Orthodox Islam and concluded that if the United States had a similar religious perspective that the problem of racism could be solved.  After speaking with an American ambassador to an African nation, he also concluded that it was our nation’s atmosphere nourishes the racist psychology of white people (see “The Autobiography of Malcolm X, chapter 19, pgs 370 & 371).

While I reject Islam as the solution, I do agree with his conclusion of the problem of racism in our nation.  We have been fighting for our rights in this nation since we were brought to Jamestown as indentured servants in 1619.  While we are no longer under the yokes of slavery or Jim Crow, the mentality of white supremacy has not been completely defeated.  In some cases, Satan has morphed this evil to be more subtle to hide behind the mask of economics, lifestyle, politics, and religion.  In other cases, he has caused people to simply ignore the importance of improving race relations.

But, here is the problem.  While Satan has used new methods to maintain the same atmosphere, we fail to fight the atmosphere.  At best, we have non-violent marches, petition drives, and rallies to draw attention to one incident or another.  We elect public officials hoping they will make great changes on our behalf.  Sadly, a handful of us will respond to racism with violence.  Sadder still, too many of us play into current apolitical and unreligious “hood rat” and “thug” images that only serves to maintain racism as many blacks are as annoyed by them as whites (listen to Chris Rock’s “Black People vs. Niggers” on the Bring the Pain release).  Carrying signs and shouting “Fired Up!  Ain’t Taking No More” only works on obvious flare-ups.  It does not address the underlying spiritual sickness of white supremacy.  In fact, as long as we fail to attack the spiritual sickness we make ourselves just as, if not more sick than white racist.  The more we see that our non-violent efforts produce limited success or fail time and time again, the more likely we will use violence against our oppressors and ourselves.

A Nativity Icon from the Coptic Orthodox Church

Strangely enough, Malcolm X gives a hint to what I believe to be the solution to America’s racist atmosphere.  In chapter 19 of his Autobiography, he mentions the Desert Fathers as the founders of Christianity (pg 368) and names St. Augustine as a savior of Catholicism (pgs 369 & 370).  The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (the Orthodox Church) was the beacon of the human brotherhood that Malcolm had in mind after his Hajj pilgrimage.  Not only Augustine, but Athanasius the Great, Cyril of Alexandria, and other African saints preserved true doctrine from heretics and were and are honored by Orthodox Christians of all races all over the world.  While ethnocentrism is a problem among several congregations, Orthodoxy has never considered one race greater than the other.

The Bishop of Rome and the kings of western Europe grew in power and wealth above their eastern Christian kin and declared themselves as the superiors of the faith.  The magisterial and radical reformations produced even more superiority complexes causing years of inquisitions, persecutions, and wars from Spain to Poland.  America was founded people who were guided by these perceptions of Christianity and Biblical interpretations.  They felt no need to study and adhere to the doctrines the apostles handed down to the African, European, and Middle Eastern saints and scholars.  And when these colonists came across illiterate brown skinned people, the whites considered themselves to be superior as they had the weapons and wealth.  This is the atmosphere we have in the United States.

As long as African-Americans consider western forms of Christianity to be a beacon of hope, we are only going to chase our tails in the fight against racism with even non-violent protest.  Western Christendom with its power and wealth created the atmosphere of white supremacy which teaches us that our African Christian heritage (and those of eastern European and Middle Eastern Christians) is unimportant.  Oh, we can talk about the African Methodist Church as the first black denomination.  But, it was founded by blacks who were fed up with being segregated by whites in the Methodist Episcopal Church.  We can talk about how Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great Black Baptist preacher.  But, when did any black Baptist convention establish its doctrine from the black saints rather than the white slave masters?  COGIC and other black Pentecostals do not offer a solution to America’s racial problem as well.  The Azuza Street “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” happened after a similar all-white event happened in Topeka Kansas.  If either of these were a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit, why did they not bring English speaking American black and white Christians together in one church the same way that Pentecost in Acts 2 bring together believers from all over the known world when the Apostles spoke in many different languages? Non-denominationalist are equally as delusional as they use an Old Testament that was compiled by Medieval Jews who sought to discredit Christ rather than the Septuagint (Greek language) Old Testament that the Apostles used and was compiled  in Egypt 250 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  The oldest Hebrew scriptures, the Dead Sea Scrolls match the Septuagint (the Orthodox Old Testament is based on this version), and differ from the western Christian version in the same ways the Septuagint does.

Fr. Raphael Morgan was ahead of his time

Rather than chasing our tails protesting in the circles of a western Christian atmosphere, I propose African-Americans walk (if not run) toward Orthodox Christianity.  Those who feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed in a predominately white eastern jurisdiction, such as the Greeks, Russians, or the Middle Eastern Antiochians should find Coptic or Ethiopian congregations as these churches are undeniably African.  We shouldn’t do this with any illusions that everyone who practices the ancient faith is perfect.  But, we should understand that this church was not founded on the streets of Ferguson or on a rock in the Plymouth Colony.  This is the church that came to Africa by Mark and Matthew at the same time and with the same spirit Andrew and Paul brought it to Europe, as Thomas took it to India, and James held things down in Jerusalem.  This is the church that put the both testaments of the Bible together with the New Testament being canonized in 4th century Carthage.  This is the church where anti colonial freedom movements in Cyprus and Kenya found common ground against the imperial western Christian Britain.  This is the church of Africa’s last Emperor of the line of King Solomon and Jamaica’s most heralded musical son.   This is the church that began on the day of Pentecost with God fearing men from all nations who came to Jerusalem to worship.

Western Christendom cannot bring about racial harmony.  Roman Catholicism has known about the African saints for quite some time.  Yet, they have not shared this knowledge with us.  Mainline and Evangelical Protestantism has given us the bizarre “Great Apostasy” theory that the true church disappeared after the death of John the Evangelist (or the rule of Emperor Constantine) and they “discovered” it as they cut their ties with papal authority.  Thus, such denominations ignore the importance of even European saints, much more the holy men and women of other lands.  Non-denominational churches are no different than the denominational ones they broke away from.

It is time for us all to come home.

The Orthodox Church has never been perfect when it comes to racism in America (oh, that I wish it was).  But, the Church is rooted in the universal brotherhood of all who believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and live by the doctrines and traditions handed down by Jesus and the Apostles.  The Church acknowledges saints from all cultures and races and allows its members to learn more about how they walked with the Lord.  There is no point in running around in circles when God has provided us with a path to truth.

 

 

 

 

Iconoclasm: The Deeper Root of a Violent Society

 Racism is a rejection of the image of God in humanity. And when practiced by Christians is nothing short of heresy and doctrines of demons.

I agree with Edward. If you believe in God, then you believe in the scriptures that God is infallible. If you believe in God, that he is infallible and His scriptures are the truth, then you must believe that God mad man in his own image. In layman’s term, God doesn’t make junk and mad no man inferior to another. Now let’s say you do not believe in God and you are one of those Darwinist. Then you have to believe that all men evolved from the amoeba and evolved into man, which means, all men are the same. So either way, how can a racist support his or her argument that one race is superior to the other? To be a Christian and a racists means you believe God is fallible. To be a Darwinist and be a racist, well, then I guess you really are not a Darwinist.

Comments from two of my friends on Facebook in response to my post:

The problem is deeper than racism. We have a deep disrespect for humanity due to lack of humility.

St. John of Damascus

I have recently reached the conclusion that iconoclasm (the destruction and rejection of icons) has played a major role in the violent and hedonistic society we live in.  In Orthodox Christianity (the faith that gave us the original canon of holy scriptures), venerating icons is a part of public and private worship.  The paintings are never worshiped as God or gods unto themselves, as was the golden calf  and golden bulls of the Old Testament.  Nor are they the graven images prohibited by Mosaic Law.  But like the cherubim on the mercy seat and temple curtains that God commanded to be made in the place of worship (Exodus 25:17-22, 26:31-35), icons are symbols of the presence of the Lord in the church and home.  Because He is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ is depicted as a revered image alone and in various Gospel stories like the Resurrection of Lazarus and the Transfiguration.  Likewise, images of Mary are revered as she gave birth to God the Son.  Her example of humility and devotion makes her first among the myriad of men and women who have led exemplary Christian lives, the saints.

The saints are from every variety and form of humanity.  Since Christianity was born in the Middle East, many of the men and women seem Arabic and Mediterranean in appearance.  As the faith spread into Africa, Asia, and Europe; images of the saints often took on the features of the local population.  Yet, icons were painted (or written) to a particular pattern and style so that anyone from anywhere in the world would know that this was a holy image.  In fact, it is not uncommon for icons of saints of different races to be present in various Orthodox Churches.  St. Moses the Ethiopian (aka: the Black) is venerated by Russians and Serbs.  Jesus and Mary can be seen as pale skinned in some Ethiopian congregations.  There are Oriental saints as well as the  Native  American St. Peter the Aleut that can be found in any branch of Orthodoxy.  The point of iconography is to honor and celebrate the godliness of these men and women.

The logic of worshiping with icons is simple.  If these icons of wood and paint are no longer here in the flesh, we are to transfer that love to the ultimate icons that we see everyday: other human beings.  Men and women are the ultimate  icons as we are not made by human hands, but by the hand of God.  Therefore, we are to see the presence of Jesus in all people.  Any woman can be the potential birth giver of great holiness.  Any person can be a great example of Christian living.  This is why in an Orthodox service we greet the bishops and priest with a holy kiss and likewise greet each other in significant services such as Forgiveness Vespers on the Sunday that starts Great Lent.  As we worship before the icons in church and at home (Orthodox Christians maintain an icon corner in their homes as an extension of the church), their sober faces look at us as we judge ourselves if we have loved others as Christ loved us.  Of course, there are Orthodox Christians that do struggle with race supremacy.  But, the struggle is about the same as those who deal with other demons such as adultery, alcoholism, and any other sin.  With the humble prayers of the church, confession, guidance from a spiritual father or mother, and (most necessary and above all) the grace of God; we struggle to and overcome these demons.

During the Magisterial and Radical Reformations, Protestantism launched a campaign to destroy icons and reject their place in worship.  While it could be argued that the Roman Catholic Church (which split from Orthodoxy in 1054) of the Middle Ages began to focus too much on individual artistic style and strayed away from the patterns of the early church fathers, Calvin and his spiritual offspring failed to try to discover the theology of holy images.  To them, the narrow interpretation of the Second Commandment (“Thou shall not make any graven images unto me …, Exodus 20:4-6) and removing all “Popish” elements from Christian worship was all that mattered.  Thus, rather than simply throw out the dirty bath water of Roman Catholic diversions from the faith (which was the goal of some like Huss and Luther), Protestantism threw the precious baby of iconography and its theology out with it.  Iconoclasm became welded in Western Europe and dominated America.

Iconoclasm has borne some very bitter fruit. Perhaps most destructive of these is our disrespect and dishonor of one another.  No longer do we see the “Word made Flesh” before us in church and at home.  By denying the sight of such an icon as being a part of personal and public devotion, we unwittingly deny that He became flesh.  We may worship and honor His divinity in sermons and songs.  But, without the visual honoring and loving of Jesus incarnate as a man, we deny the value of His humanity.  As He identifies Himself even with the least of people, we therefore discredit the value of one another.  By rejecting the image of the woman bearing the source of our salvation (even with women serving in the clergy), women are reduced to mere sex objects.  By rejecting image of the Holy Child that sits on her lap (and in rare Orthodox icons, nurses at her breast), children can be exploited and, if we wish, killed before birth.  By rejecting images of righteous living of those who do not look like us, we fear and hate other races.  By rejecting the righteous images of ourselves, we destroy ourselves.  Furthermore, as Protestants, we reject the tried and tested humble prayer disciplines of early Christianity (“they ain’t in the Bible”), the sacrament of confession (which is Biblical), and only time seek the guidance of a spiritual father or mother when we want something from God for selfish and unselfish reasons (and in this materialistic society, we too often seek the former) we have taken away the very tools needed for us to build a society where people truly love and honor one another.

No one kills a weed simply by picking its flowers, leaves, and seed heads.  These things only come back and, sometimes, stronger than before.  It is only when we poison, dig up, or destroy the root that the weed does not rise again.  So, to fight against racism, ban abortion, or be involved in some other sort of social improvement on either side of the political coin while ignoring the roots of our violent society is an ultimate waste of time.  Sure, there may be some temporary victories, at times there are some lasting and significant victories that can (if properly channeled) lead to a better society.  But, too often, these efforts are seen as an end unto themselves and never seek to touch the deeper problem of humanity.  Thus, we are reduced to being leaf pickers instead of root killers.  Such efforts are easily exploited by charlatans on the left and right who profit from our emotions.

I propose that we kill the roots of violence in society by learning to and honoring one another as the image of God.  Set aside political, racial, and sexual ideologies and reconsider what it is to be Christian in the eyes of those who put the canon of scripture and established church doctrine in the first 1000 years of our faith.  Speak with Orthodox priest about the importance of icons, the theology behind them, and their relevance in our lives today.  With his advice and guidance, follow a prayer discipline that includes the veneration of icons and learn about some saints from other parts of the world.  For a good layman’s resource, I suggest Deacon Michael Hyatt’s (the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing and Orthodox Christian) podcast on the Seventh Ecumenical Council.  You Tube broadcaster and blogger David Withum has a very good series, “In Defense of the Holy Icons.”  If you want original source material, St. John of Damascus’s “Three Treatises on the Divine Images” is available.  Boycotts, campaign speeches, marches, and speeches will not mean a thing unless each of us is humbly addresses our own faults and failures.

Only when we have love to see each other with the eyes of the God who became a man can we have meaningful change in our society.  This is especially difficult as the charlatans urge us to choose either the left or the right side of corrupt human existence.   We belong to God.  Thus, we should and must offer ourselves to Him.