Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review: Kings and Presidents

I once found myself in a Sunday School class where the teacher asked something like "If there is anything you could communicate to today's youth, what would it be?" Someone in the class jokingly said "Vote Republican!" Although the response was offered in jest, it seemed likely to me that it represented a very sincere sentiment. It was a sentiment that I had encountered many times throughout my life in the Church; namely, that one's Christianity could be validated or called into question depending upon one's political persuasions. 

In Kings and Presidents, Timothy Gaines and Shawna Songer Gaines draw on the stories of 2 Kings in the Old Testament and their own pastoral experience to offer an alternative vision of politics and the Kingdom of God. At the heart of that vision is a sharp contrast between the World of Kings and the World of the Kingdom. These authors characterize the World of Kings as one where power, wealth, and influence are utilized to gain more power, wealth, and influence. It is a world with clear winners and losers where one seeks out winning at virtually any cost. The World of the Kingdom, on the other hand, is defined primarily by the faithfulness of God's people. It is not the world of the rich and powerful but of the ordinary and unknown quietly living into God's vision of reality and trusting God to bring about that reality through their faithfulness. In the World of the Kingdom, success has little to do with winning elections and much to do with imitating the savior who empties himself on behalf of others (see Phil. 2:5-11).

This is a message that the 21st century American church desperately needs to hear..... over and over and over again. Entirely too often, we have allowed the gospel to be co-opted by the two party system of our nation - imagining that somehow one party or the other has a corner on the market of what it means to be Christian. We are led to believe that Democrats and Republicans are polar opposites and that, as a result, everything hinges on who wins the next election. In this all or nothing contest, it  then becomes all too easy to regard the other side as our mortal enemy. Although Tim and Shawna spend very little ink discussing Democrats and Republicans specifically, their contrast between the World of Kings and the World of the Kingdom does a nice job of unmasking this charade that portrays our two largest parties as being so radically different. So long as they are both vying in the same arena for the same power, they both play by the same rules of power, wealth, and influence. For whatever real ideological differences exists between these parties, they go about accomplishing those ideologies in remarkably similar ways and thereby reveal that they are not so different after all.  

But neither is this book a call to passivity or inaction. By no means are the authors advocating that all Christians abstain from the political process. Quite to the contrary, this book calls for Christians to be explicitly political. While voting for a certain candidate may be what comes to mind when we hear the word "politics," at its most basic level politics is about how people organize themselves. It is about the ways that their relationships are structured with one another, how they distribute power among themselves. In turn that structuring of relationships and power distribution says something about the beliefs and character of that group of people. A large part of this book's challenge is for the Church to be a people whose relationships - whose politic - reflect the character of the God they claim to serve. After all, the Church has always said that it is the love of this God that will ultimately transform the world - not the next election. The manner in which we engage the politics of our world may be one of the most telling measures of just to what extent we really trust that claim. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Theology of Luck

"Everything happens for a reason."

"It's all a part of God's plan."

"God is in control."

These maxims get tossed around in most churches like hand grenades masquerading as pearls of wisdom. At first glance, they seem appealing - even comforting. Surely, that is the reason they are most often offered; to bring comfort in times of grief and tragedy. They shimmer and sparkle with the very best of intentions in those times of pain and need, perhaps even offering what appears to be a certain kind of beauty so long as we don't think about their ramifications too long or too deeply.  Indeed, these kinds of ideas have become so pervasive in many parts of American culture that they are not limited merely to those who identify as Christian but are often employed by those who would otherwise be unlikely to utilize religious vocabulary.

But when we do begin to ponder statements like these more deeply, their implications often show themselves to be explosively destructive and harmful - bringing more injury than healing. "If God is in control, then why does God allow so much injustice?" "If God's plan includes genocide, maybe we would do well to have a different plan." If everything happens for a reason, do my choices and the choices of others matter at all?" In Theology of Luck, Lane and Fringer help their audience to consider precisely these kinds of questions. By way of accessible and enlightening illustrations, they urge readers to reflect more deeply about what we are really saying when we say things like "Everything happens for a reason."

Most importantly, Fringer and Lane urge their readers to consider what statements like these say about God's own character and nature. In addition to attempting to offer comfort, statements like "God is in control" also serve to emphasize God's power and sovereignty. That is, it seems that for many Christians these statements are offered as a way of affirming God's greatness. Lane and Fringer, however, argue that they do just the opposite. When we make every atrocity in history a part of God's detailed and sovereign plan, we may very well succeed in painting God as powerful but we surely do so at the cost of God's loving character - the most fundamental aspect of God's nature.

Indeed, at its heart Theology of Luck is a theology of love. It argues repeatedly that the most important thing we can say about God is that God is love. All other statements about God - even those concerning God's power, sovereignty, and perfection - must be measured against the statement that God is love. By urging their readers to consider that not every single incident in life is a part of God's pre-scripted plan, that some things are simply what one might refer to as luck, Fringer and Lane are simultaneously urging their readers to give love the primary place in one's theology and thereby in one's own life as well.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Dream Not Yet Realized

It seems to me that many Americans operate under the assumption that racism is a thing of the past. Sure, there are a few racists out there but they are the exception rather than the rule. After all, our nation elected a black president. How could racism possibly be a real and widespread issue in our nation today? We left those kinds of discriminatory attitudes behind long ago. Now we live in a colorblind society where everyone has the same opportunity to succeed and prosper.

The unfortunate reality is quite different. People of color, especially African-Americans, continue to face discrimination that has a regular impact on their life and well-being. Of course, it is difficult for most white folks to imagine this since we don't experience it for ourselves - and when you don't experience it on a regular basis it easy to discount the anecdotal stories or the flashes of media attention as exaggerated biases in perception. After all, I'm not racist, we think to ourselves, and most of the people I know don't seem to be racist so who is it then that is keeping people of color at such a disadvantage?

But the racism that exists in America today typically isn't the brazen and outspoken racism that existed in the Jim Crow era. It is much more subtle than that. It often exists at the level of subconscious biases that we don't even know - or are afraid to admit - that we have. The kinds of biases in perception that all people have - even otherwise good and kind people who would willingly give of themselves on behalf of others. It seems that one of the side effects of demonizing racism in our country is that we've convinced ourselves that only someone who is truly demonic could be racist when, in fact, all one has to be is human. It doesn't take lots of brazenly racist individuals to perpetuate racism. It only takes the subtly biased perceptions of those who hold power - those who control access to jobs, loans, housing, education, and the law - aggregated and multiplied millions of times over across our country to perpetuate a system of injustice that keeps whole groups of people at an overwhelming disadvantage in our society. 

That is one of the reasons I've compiled the data below. It is my hope that something like this can be one lens that helps us to see what we might otherwise not be able to see.

Housing and Loans

“...blacks and Latinos experienced discrimination in approximately half of their efforts to rent or buy housing….three housing studies have shown that when paired with similar white counterparts, blacks are likely to be shown fewer apartments, be quoted higher rents, or offered worse conditions, and be steered to specific neighborhoods.”[1]

 In a 2000 audit of twenty-three U.S. cities, whites were given more information about rentals and were shown more potential rental units and houses. The study also demonstrated an increase in geographic steering by real estate agents which perpetuated segregation.[2]

“In 2000, national black isolation was 65 percent and remained 80 percent or higher in cities such as Detroit, Newark, and Chicago. Due to higher white flight of families with children to segregated suburbs, white children are the most segregated (68.3 percent) by neighborhood.”[3]

“72 percent of black Americans born into the lowest economic quartile of neighborhoods reside in poor areas as adults, compared with only 40 percent of whites. Furthermore, race is also the most salient predictor of intergenerational downward residential mobility, with ‘the odds of downward mobility 3.6 times as large as odds for whites.’”[4]

In a study in Detroit “...53 percent of whites stated their preference for neighborhoods that are ‘all’ or ‘mostly’ white, only 22 percent of blacks preferred neighborhoods described as ‘all’ or ‘mostly’ black. In fact, 62 percent of blacks preferred neighborhoods described as ‘half and half.’”[5]

“...studies done in Chicago and New York revealed discrimination in seven out of ten lending institutions in Chicago and in the one institution studied in New York City.[6] National data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act shows that black applicants are denied mortgages at least twice as frequently as whites of the same income and gender. Finally, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that after controlling for a number of variables, blacks on average are denied loans 60 percent more times than whites.” [7]


The Civil Rights project at Harvard observed a trend starting in 1986 toward the resegregation of schools in the U.S. Due to this pattern throughout the 1990’s, schools were more segregated in the 2000-2001 school year than they had been in 1970.[8]

“Black students are suspended or expelled at triple the rate of their white peers, according to the U.S. Education Department's 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection, a survey conducted every two years. Five percent of white students were suspended annually, compared with 16 percent of black students, according to the report. Black girls were suspended at a rate of 12 percent -- far greater than girls of other ethnicities and most categories of boys.

At the same time, minority students have less access to experienced teachers. Most minority students and English language learners are stuck in schools with the most new teachers. Seven percent of black students attend schools where as many as 20 percent of teachers fail to meet licensure and certification requirements. And one in four school districts pay teachers in less-diverse high schools $5,000 more than teachers in schools with higher black and Latino student enrollment.”[9]


There are currently 18 black members of the U.S. House of Representatives (4.1% of the 435 total members).

 There are currently 2 black senators in the U.S. Senate (out of 100) which is the most it has ever had. There have only been 8 black senators in the history of the U.S. Senate.[10]

Blacks hold only about 1 to 2 percent of all elected offices across every level of government in the U.S.[11]

“Since 2003, thirty four states have implemented voter ID laws[12]… Although it is claimed that these laws are race-neutral, research from the University of Delaware showed that racial animus was the best predictor of support for the law, regardless of political party. Some of the legislatures, such as those in Florida and Pennsylvania, implemented these laws despite openly claiming that voter fraud was not a problem…”[13]

Employment and Economics

In 2003, the median black family income was 61 percent of the white median family income.

Even when blacks and whites of similar characteristics are compared (work experience, education, etc.) the income gap between blacks and whites was still found to be about 14 percent.[14]

Blacks earn less than whites at every educational level. In fact, starting at the Associate’s degree level, the disparity between black and white earners grows with each successive degree attained.[15]

On average a black man who has graduated from college earns less than a white man who never finished high school.[16]

Even as blacks move up the occupational hierarchy, their income falls further behind their white peers.[17]

In a study in Milwaukee, job applicants were divided into four groups: whites without a criminal record, whites with a criminal record, blacks without a criminal record, and blacks with a criminal record. White applicants with a criminal record were more likely to be called back for an interview than black applicants without a criminal record.[18]

“Blacks owned only 3 percent of U.S. assets in 2001, even though they constituted 13 percent of the U.S. population. In 2001, the median net worth of whites, $120,989, was over 6.3 times that of blacks, which was only $19,024. Calculation of mean net worth reveals that, in 2001, the average black family had 17 cents for every dollar of the average white family.”[19]

Every Day Perception

“A survey was conducted in 1995 asking the following question: “Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me?” The startling results were published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. Ninety-five percent of respondents pictured a black drug user, while only 5 percent imagined other racial groups.”[20]

“One study suggests that the standard crime news ‘script’ is so prevalent and so thoroughly racialized that viewers imagine a black perpetrator even when none exists. In that study, 60 percent of viewers who saw a story with no image falsely recalled seeing one, and 70 percent of those viewers believed the perpetrator to be African American.” [21]

“One study, for example, involved a video game that placed photographs of white and black individuals holding either a gun or other object (such as a wallet, soda can, or cell phone) into various photographics backgrounds. Participants were told to decide as quickly as possible whether to shoot the target. Consistent with earlier studies, participants were more likely to mistake a black target as armed when he was not, and mistake a white target as unarmed, when in fact he was armed.” [22]

Law Enforcement

One third of all black males born today can expect to serve some time in jail if current trends continue.

“Eight to nine percent of all blacks are arrested every year….Although blacks have always been overrepresented in the inmate population,... this overrepresentation has skyrocketed since 1960. By 1980, the incarceration rate of blacks was six times that of whites.”[23]

“Almost one in four black men aged 20 to 30 are under the supervision of the criminal justice system any given day.”[24]

“The rate of incarceration of blacks for criminal offenses is over eight times greater than that of whites, with 1 in 20 black men, in contrast to 1 in 180 white men, in prison.”[25]

“...according to the Federal Judicial Center, in 1990 the average sentences for blacks on weapons and drug charges were 49 percent longer than those for whites who had committed and been convicted of the same crimes - and that disparity has been rising over time.”[26]

“... of the people killed by police, over half are black; the police usually claim that when they killed blacks it was ‘accidental’ because they thought that the victim was armed although in fact the victims were unarmed in 75 percent of the cases…”[27]

“Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings. In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent.”[28] 24 states have adopted these laws since 2000.[29]

“... the probability of arrest for cases [of rape] in which the victim was white and the suspect black was 0.336, for cases of white suspects and black victims the probability dropped to 0.107. Blacks represent 65 percent of those exonerated for rape and half of the exonerations of men convicted of raping white women, even though less than 10 percent of rapes of white women are by black men.”[30]

“The Baldus study researched more than 2000 murder cases in Georgia and “found that defendants charged with killing white victims received the death penalty eleven times more often than defendants charged with killing black victims. Georgia prosecutors seemed largely to blame for the disparity; they sought the death penalty in 70 percent of cases involving black defendants and white victims, but only 19 percent of cases involving white defendants and black victims. Sensitive to the fact that numerous factors besides race can influence the decision making of prosecutors, judges, and juries, Baldus and his colleagues subjected the raw data to highly sophisticated statistical analysis to see if nonracial factors might explain the discrepancies. Yet even after accounting for thirty-five nonracial variables, the researchers found that defendants charged with killing white victims were 4.3 times more likely to receive a death sentence than defendants charged with killing blacks.”[31]

Georgia’s district attorneys also invoked the “two strikes and you’re out” sentencing scheme (life imprisonment for a second drug offense no matter how small) only 1% of the time against white defendants but 16% of the time against black defendants. “The result was that 98.4 of those serving life sentences under the provision were black.”[32]

“One widely cited study was conducted by the San Jose Mercury News. The study reviewed 700,000 criminal cases that were matched by crime and criminal history of the defendant. The analysis revealed that similarly situated whites were far more successful than African American and Latinos in the plea bargaining process; in fact, ‘at virtually every state of the pretrial negotiation, whites are more successful than nonwhites.’”[33]

“A report in 2000 observed that among youth who have never been sent to a juvenile prison before, African Americans were more than six times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for identical crimes.”[34]

“In New Jersey, the data showed that only 15 percent of all drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike were racial minorities, yet 42 percent of all stops and 73 percent of all arrests were of black motorists - despite the fact that blacks and whites violated traffic laws at almost exactly the same rate. While radar stops were relatively consistent with the percentage of minority violators, discretionary stops made by officers involved in drug interdiction resulted in double the number of stops of minorities. A subsequent study conducted by the attorney general of New Jersey found that searches on the turnpike were even more discretionary than the initial stops - 77 percent of all consent searches were of minorities. The Maryland studies produced similar results: African Americans comprised only 17 percent of drivers along a stretch of I-95 outside of Baltimore, yet they were 70 percent of those who were stopped and searched. Only 21 percent of all drivers along that stretch of highway were racial minorities, yet those groups comprised nearly 80 percent of those pulled over and searched. What most surprised many analysts was that, in both studies whites were actually more likely than people of color to be carrying illegal drugs or contraband in their vehicles. In fact, in New Jersey, whites were almost twice as likely to be found with illegal drugs or contraband as African Americans, and five times as likely to be found with contraband as Latinos.”[35]

In Feb 2007, the NYPD released stats showing that they stopped 508,540 pedestrians in the previous year - 1,393 per day. More than half of those stopped were African American.[36]

“A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind- discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service. Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote.”[37]

“Two-thirds of people detained in jails report annual incomes under $12,000 prior to arrest. Predictably, most ex-offenders find themselves unable to pay many fees, costs, and fines associated with their imprisonment, as well as their child-support debts (which continue to accumulate while a person is incarcerated). As a result, many ex-offenders have their paychecks garnished. Federal law provides that a child-support enforcement officer can garnish up to 65 percent of an individual’s wages for child support. On top of that, probation officers in most states can require that an individual dedicate 35 percent of his or her income toward the payment of fines, fees, surcharges, and restitution charged by numerous agencies. Accordingly, a former inmate living at or below the poverty level can be charged by four or five departments at once and can be required to surrender 100 percent of his or her earnings.” [38]

“No other country in the world disenfranchises people who are released from prison in a manner even remotely resembling the United States. In fact, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has charged that U.S. disenfranchisement policies are discriminatory and violate international law. In those few European countries that permit limited post-prison disqualification, the sanction is very narrowly tailored and the number of people disenfranchised is probably in the dozens or hundreds. In the United States, by contrast, voting disqualification upon release from prison is automatic, with no legitimate purpose, and affects millions.” [39]

The War on Drugs

“Convictions for drug offenses are the single most important cause for the explosion in incarceration rates in the United States. Drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise of the federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000. Approximately a half-million people are in prison or jail for a drug offense today, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980 - an increase of 1,100 percent. Drug arrests have tripled since 1980. As a result, more than 31 million people have been arrested for drug offenses since the drug war began. To put the matter in perspective, consider this: there are more people in prisons and jails today just for drug offenses than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980. Nothing has contributed more to the systemic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs.”[40]

“...arrests for marijuana possession -a drug less harmful than tobacco or alcohol - accounted for nearly 80 percent of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990’s,”[41]

“In two short decades, between 1980 and 2000, the number of people incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails soared from roughly 300,000 to more than 2 million. by the end of 2007, more than 7 million - were behind bars, on probation, or on parole.”[42]

In 1984, Congress passed a law allowing federal law enforcement agencies to keep all the proceeds from drug related asset forfeitures and to allow state and local police to retain 80 percent of such forfeitures. ”Between 1988 and 1992, law enforcement seized over $1 billion dollars in such assets. These forfeiture laws have in turn allowed big time drug dealers to essentially “buy” reductions in sentences. “In Massachusetts, for example, an investigation by journalists found that on average a “payment of $50,000 in drug profits won a 6.3 years reduction in a sentence for dealers,” while agreements of $10,000 or more bought elimination or reduction of trafficking charges in almost three-fourths of such cases.” This results in the reality that most people serving time for drug charges are doing so for relatively minor offenses. [43]

In many cases, individuals charged with these minor offenses are too poor to afford quality legal representation, or in some cases any legal representation at all. “In Virginia, for example, fees paid to court-appointed attorneys for representing someone charged with a felony that carries a sentence of less than twenty years are capped at $482. And in Wisconsin, more than 11,000 poor people go to court without representation every year because anyone who earns more than $3,000 per year is considered able to afford a lawyer.”[44]

“In 1986, Congress passed The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established extremely long mandatory minimum prison terms for low-level drug dealing and possession of crack cocaine. The typical mandatory sentence for a first-time drug offense in federal court is five or ten years. By contrast, in other developed countries around the world, a first-time drug offense would merit not more than six months in jail, if jail time is imposed at all.” Prior to this act, “the longest sentence Congress had ever imposed for possession of any drug in any amount was one year.”[45]

“A conviction for the sale of five hundred grams of powder cocaine triggers a five-year mandatory sentence, while only five grams of crack triggers the same sentence.” 93 percent of convicted crack offenders are black, 5 percent are white. Powder cocaine users are predominantly white.[46]

Contrast this with alcohol use. “...drunk drivers were responsible for approximately 22,000 deaths annually, while overall alcohol related deaths were close to 100,000 a year. By contrast, during the same time period, there were no prevalence of statistics at all on crack, much less crack-related deaths…. The total of all drug-related deaths due to AIDS, drug overdose, or the violence associated with the illegal drug trade, was estimated at 21,000 annually - less than the number of deaths directly caused by drunk drivers, and a small fraction of the number of alcohol-related deaths that occur every year…” In spite of this, the state level mandatory sentences (there are no federal ones) for alcohol related offenses are “typically two days in jail for a first offense and two to ten days for a second offense.” “Drunk drivers are predominantly white and male. White men comprise 78 percent of the arrests for this offense in 1990 when new mandatory minimums governing drunk driving were being adopted. They are generally charged with misdemeanors and typically receive sentences involving fines, license suspension, and community service.”[47]

“ 1980, only 1 percent  of all prison admissions were parole violators. Twenty years later, more than one third (35 percent) of prison admissions resulted from parole violation. To put the matter more starkly: About as many people were returned to prison for parole violations in 2000 as were admitted to prison in 1980 for all reasons. Of all parole violators returned to prison in 2000, only one-third were returned for a new conviction; two-thirds were returned for a technical violation such as missing appointments with a parole officer, failing to maintain employment, or failing a drug test.”[48]

“People of all races use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than people of color. One study, for example published in 2000 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that white students use cocaine at seven times the rate of black students, use crack cocaine at eight times the rate of black students, and use heroin at seven times the rate of black students. That same survey revealed that nearly identical percentages of white and black high school seniors use marijuana. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reported in 2000 that white youth aged 12-17 are more than a third more likely to have sold illegal drugs than African American youth. Thus the very same year Human Rights Watch was reporting that African American were being arrested and imprisoned at unprecedented rates, government data revealed that blacks were no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites and that white youth were actually the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be guilty of illegal drug possession and sales. Any notion that drug use among blacks is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data; white youth have about three times the number of drug-related emergency room visits as their African American counterparts.” [49]

“Self-report data suggests about 14 percent of U.S. illegal drug users are black; however, blacks constitute 35 percent of those arrested, 55 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of those incarcerated for drug possession.”[50]

“More than 353,000 people were arrested and jailed by the NYPD between 1997 and 2006 for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana, with blacks five times more likely to be arrested than whites.”[51]

[1]  Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, Fourth Edition edition (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013), Kindle loc 935-44.

[2] Margery A. Turner, Stephen L. Ross, George C. Glaster, and John Yinger, Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets: National Results from Phase 1 HDS (Washington, D.C.; The Urban Institute, 2002).

[3]Bonilla -Silva, loc 906-16. For more info see  Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

[4]Bonilla-Silva, loc 923-29. For more info see Patrick Sharkey et al., “The Intergenerational Transmission of Context 1,” American Journal of Sociology, n.d., 113–931.

[5] Bonilla-Silva, loc 4832-38.

[6]Cathy Cloud and George Galster, “What Do We Know about Racial Discrimination in Mortgage Markets?,” The Review of Black Political Economy 22, no. 1 (1993): 101–20.

[7]Bonilla-Silva, loc 950-54. Robert C. Smith, Racism in the Post Civil Rights Era: Now You See It, Now You Don’t (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996).

[8]“Harvard Civil Rights Project Reports Rise In School Segregation,” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, accessed January 7, 2015,

[9]Joy Resmovits, “American Schools Are STILL Racist, Government Report Finds,” Huffington Post, March 21, 2014,

[10]“The US Senate Will Now Have More Black Members Than Ever in Its History: 2,” Mother Jones, accessed January 7, 2015,

[11] Bonilla-Silva, 1085-6.

[12]Suevon Lee ProPublica et al., “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws,” ProPublica, accessed January 7, 2015, “There have been only a small number of fraud cases resulting in a conviction. A New York Times analysis from 2007  identified 120 cases filed by the Justice Department over five years. These cases, many of which stemmed from mistakenly filled registration forms or misunderstanding over voter eligibility, resulted in 86  convictions.There are "very few documented cases," said UC-Irvine professor and election law specialist Rick Hasen. "When you do see election fraud, it invariably involves election officials taking steps to change election results or it involves absentee ballots which voter ID laws can't prevent," he said. An analysis by News21, a national investigative reporting project, identified  10 voter impersonation cases out of 2,068 alleged election fraud cases since 2000 – or one out of every 15 million prospective voters.”
[13]Bonilla-Silva, loc 1072-76. Jamelle Bouie, “Pennsylvania Admits It: No Voter Fraud Problem,” The Washington Post - Blogs, July 24, 2012,

[14]Bonilla-Silva, loc 1457-62. Reynolds Farley and Walter Recharde Allen, The Color Line and the Quality of Life in America (Oxford University Press, 1989).

[15]Jennifer Cheeseman Day and United StatesThe Big Payoff Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings, Current Population Reports. Special Studies P23-210 (Washington, D.C: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002),

[16]Michele Norris, “Race in America, 50 Years after the Dream,” Time, accessed January 7, 2015,,9171,2149604,00.html.

[17]Eric Grodsky and Devah Pager, “The Structure of Disadvantage: Individual and Occupational Determinants of the Black-White Wage Gap,” American Sociological Review 66, no. 4 (2001): 542–67.

[18]Bonilla-Silva, loc 1508-10. Devah Pager, “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” American Journal of Sociology 108, no. 5 (2003): 937–75.

[19] Bonilla-Silva, loc 1529-32.

[20]Michelle Alexander, and Cornel West, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2012), 106. Betty Watson-Jones, Dionne Burston, “Drug Use and African Americans: Myth versus Reality,” Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education 40, no. 2 (Winter 1995): 19.

[21]Franklin D. Gilliam Jr. and Shanto Iyengar, “Prime Suspects: The Influence of Local Television News on the Viewing Public,” American Journal of Political Science 44, no. 3 (July 1, 2000): 560–73.

[22]Joshua Correll et al., “The Police Officer’s Dilemma: Using Ethnicity to Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83, no. 6 (December 2002): 1314–29.

[23] Bonilla-Silva, loc 1160-66.

[24]Derrick Bell, Faces At The Bottom Of The Well: The Permanence Of Racism, Reprint edition (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1993).

[25]Bonilla-Silva, loc 1232-36. Reese, Prison Race by Reese,Renford. [2006] Paperback (CaroIina, 2006). See also             “Compare Arrest Rates,” accessed January 7, 2015,

[26]Farai Chideya, Don’t Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation About African Americans (New York: Plume, 1995).

[27]Lawrence W. Sherman, “Execution Without Trial:  Police Homicide and the Constitution,” Vanderbilt Law Review 33 (1980): 71. Reliable data for the number of people killed by police, whether black or otherwise, is woefully inadequate. See Reuben Fischer-Baum, “Nobody Knows How Many Americans The Police Kill Each Year,” FiveThirtyEight, accessed January 7, 2015,

[28]Bonilla-Silva, loc 1284-92. Sarah Childress, “Is There Racial Bias in ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws? – Criminal Justice,” FRONTLINE, accessed January 7, 2015,

[29]Cora Currier ProPublica et al., “The 24 States That Have Sweeping Self-Defense Laws Just Like Florida’s,” ProPublica, accessed January 7, 2015,

[30]Bonilla-Silva, loc 1359-62. Douglas Smith, Christy Visher, and Laura Davidson, “Equity and Discretionary Justice:  The Influence of Race on Police Arrest Decisions,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 75, no. 1 (January 1, 1984): 234.

[31] Alexander, 109.

[32] Alexander, 114.

[33] Alexander, 117.

[34] Alexander, 118. Eileen Poe Yamagata and Michael A Jobes, And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Youth of Color in the Justice System) Washington, DC: Building Blocks for Youth, 2000).

[35]Alexander, 133-134. State v Soto David A. Harris, Profiles in Injustice : Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work (New York: New Press, 2002). “In Volusia County, Florida, a reporter obtained 148 hours of video footage documenting more than 1000 highway stops conducted by state troopers. Only 5 percent of the drivers on the road were African American or Latino, but more than 80 percent of the people stopped and searched were minorities.” “Color Of Driver Is Key To Stops In I-95 Videos,” Orlando Sentinel, accessed January 12, 2015, “In Illinois, 30 percent of state police stops were of Latinos even though they comprised only 8 percent of the state population, only 3 percent of personal vehicle trips, and were less likely to have illegal contraband than whites.” “Driving While Black: Racial Profiling On Our Nation’s Highways,” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed January 12, 2015,
            “In 2001 study in Oakland, blacks were found to be stopped by police twice as often and searched three times as often as whites.”            “Oakland Police Department Announces Results of Racial Profiling Data Collection Program,” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed January 12, 2015,

[36] Alexander, 134. Al Baker and Emily Vasquez, “Number of People Stopped by New York Police Soars,” The New York Times, February 3, 2007, sec. New York Region,

[37] “A task force of the American Bar Association described the bleak reality facing a petty drug offender this way; [The] offender may be sentenced to a term of probation community service, and court costs. Unbeknownst to this offender, and perhaps any other actor in the sentencing process, as a result of his conviction he may be ineligible for many federally-funded health and welfare benefits, food stamps, public house, and federal educational assistance. His driver’s license may be automatically suspended, and he may no longer qualify for certain employment and professional licenses. If he is convicted of another crime he may be subject to imprisonment as a repeat offender. He will not be permitted to enlist in the military, or possess a firearm, or obtain a federal security clearance. if a citizen, he may lose the right to vote; if not, he becomes immediately deportable.” Alexander, 141-142. Meda Chesney-Lind and Marc Mauer, eds., Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment, First Edition edition (New York: New Press, The, 2003).

[38]Alexander, 155. “Repaying-Debts-Cvr – CSG Justice Center,” accessed January 12, 2015,

[39]Alexander, 158. “Out of Step With the World,” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed January 12, 2015,

[40]Alexander, 60. Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate (The New Press, 2006). Marc Mauer and Ryan King, A 25-Year Quagmire: The “War on Drugs” and Its Impact on American Society (Washington, D.C. : Sentencing Project, 2007), 2.

[41]Alexander, 60. Ryan S. King and Marc Mauer, “The War on Marijuana: The Transformation of the War on Drugs in the 1990s,” Harm Reduction Journal 3, no. 1 (February 9, 2006): 6.

[42] Alexander, 60. Jessica Hallstrom The Pew Charitable Trusts Officer, “One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections,” accessed January 13, 2015,

[43]Alexander, 78-79. Eric D. Blumenson and Eva S. Nilsen, Policing for Profit: The Drug War’s Hidden Economic Agenda, SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, January 29, 2007),

[44] Alexander, 85. Laura Parker, “8 Years in a Louisiana Jail But He Never Went to Trial,” USA Today, Aug 29, 2005. “In 2004, the American Bar Association released a report on the status of indigent defense, concluding that, ‘All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if that are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring. Sometimes the proceedings reflect little or no recognition that the accused is mentally ill or does not adequately understand English. The fundamental right to a lawyer that Americans assume applies to everyone accuses of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the United States.” American Bar Association, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, Gideon’s Broken Promise: America’s Continuing Quest for Equal Justice (Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, Dec. 2004).

[45] Alexander, 87, 90.

[46] Alexander, 112. After standing for two decades, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has been reduced from 100-1 to 18-1 under Obama.

[47]Alexander, 206. C Reinarman and H G Levine, Crack Attack: Politics and Media in America’s Latest Drug Scare (From Images of Issues: Typifying Contemporary Social Problems, P 115-137, 1989, Joel Best, Ed. -- See NCJ-124897) (United States, 1989).

[48]Alexander, 95. Travis, BUT THEY ALL COME BACK (Washington, D.C: Urban Institute Press, 2005).

[49]Alexander, 99. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Office of Applied Studies, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 2000: Version 5, October 11, 2002,

[50] Bonilla-Silva, loc 1239-42. Reese, Prison Race. The racial disparity in drug use, arrest, and conviction has been widely documented. See also Salaki Knafo, “When It Comes To Illegal Drug Use, White America Does The Crime, Black America Gets The Time,” Huffington Post, September 17, 2013, and 

[51] Alexander, 136.Harry G. Levine and Deborah Peterson Small, Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City, 1997-2007 (New York: New York Civil Liberties Union, 2008), 4.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Is this the proof you were looking for?
Evidence that things aren't as bad as they said

Is this the proof you were looking for?
One man innocent, another still dead.

Was it one man who was being tried here
Or your ideas about all the others?

With this question now settled
We can ignore the voices of all his brothers

All is well, no need for change
Let's have peace and be on our way

It's always worked before
It can still work today.

We knew it was a myth
A mere ghost from the past

That stuff doesn't happen now
Such evil could never last

Not in this country
We're the land of the free

All you need is hard work
Everyone an equal opportunity

Is that the proof you were looking for?
Proof that everything is just as it should be.

Is that the proof you were looking for?
To go on seeing the world as you already see.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recordings of Revelation

 As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm teaching a Sunday School class on Revelation. The class is being recorded for the sake of those who can't join us every Sunday. I don't know if anyone else is interested in listening in but I thought I would put the first couple recordings on here just in case.

You can find the recording to our first week here.

You can find the recording from yesterday here.

You can also find a document with my notes on Revelation 1 here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Reading Revelation

The folks in the Sunday School class I teach have asked to study the book of Revelation starting in the fall. I doubt I'll be posting as regularly as I did with Romans but I at least wanted to jot down a few of my basic assumption in how I approach this very unusual piece of Scripture.

So here are a few things I find helpful to keep in mind as you read the last book of the Bible.

1. Revelation is a prophetic book but that doesn't mean its primary purpose is to make predictions about the future. Think about the prophetic books in the Old Testament. They have predictive elements to them. But those elements are more like the "If...then..." predictions I make with my children when they are misbehaving. As in "If you can't listen and follow directions, then there will be consequences." While there is a kind of prediction and future-telling in that statement, we certainly wouldn't see that as being the emphasis of such a statement. Instead, the clear purpose of a statement like that one is to reveal to or remind my children of a certain aspect of my character as their father and the nature of our household.

Most of the prophecies in the Old Testament follow this same pattern. "If you don't stop worshiping other gods and practicing injustice, Babylon will come to destroy you." Again, there is a predictive element involved but the real emphasis of these statements is to reveal something about God, the nature of God's relationship with Israel, and how God is working in the world.

John very much stands in this prophetic tradition. In fact, he eats, sleeps, and breathes it. It seems John can hardly write a line of Revelation without echoing the Old Testament in one way or another. So we should expect then that his prophecy will be very much like the prophecy we find in the Old Testament; that's its purpose would be the same.

John tells us as much with the opening phrase of his work: "the revelation of Jesus Christ." That is, the purpose of this book is to reveal Jesus. The primary purpose of prophecy is to reveal God so it makes sense that the only piece of explicitly Christian prophecy we have in our Scriptures would have as its goal to reveal Jesus; who he is, the nature of our relationship with him, and how he is at work in our world. You can read Revelation as a blueprint for the future, a cataloging of church history since Christ, or a prediction of the end-times if you like. Many Christians have read the book in those ways over the centuries. But to do so is to ignore the nature of Biblical prophecy and what John himself tells us about his writing. Like the rest of Scripture, the purpose of Revelation is to reveal Jesus to us.

2. Revelation is a letter addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century. It is not a letter written to 21st century American Christians. Yes, it was written for us. At least, that is the faith claim we make when we regard it as Scripture. But it was not written to us. And that should make a difference in how we read it. It was written to people who lived under Roman rule and proclaimed that a Jew crucified by the Romans was the one true ruler of the world. It was written to real people who lived in the real cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. As such, it had to make sense to them in some way. It had to speak to their situation. It had to reveal Christ to them, in their world, in their going to the market, in their decision making, in their family life and the life of their city. If we want this book to make sense to us, we must first learn all that we can about their world and how it made sense to them. If we want it to reveal Jesus to us, then we must first make every effort to understand how it revealed Jesus to them.

3. Revelation is an apocalypse. In fact, the Greek word translated as "revelation" is apokalupsis (Ἀποκάλυψις). In our culture today, when we here the word "apocalypse" or "apocalyptic", we probably begin to envision the latest science fiction blockbuster movie. For us, apocalypse usually means robots or a killer virus or nuclear war wiping out most of humanity. Individuals trying to survive in a "post-apocalyptic" scenario has become a whole movie genre unto itself. The very name of the book of Revelation has become synonymous with the kind of terrible, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios it portrays. 

As I mentioned above, the actual meaning of the word "apokalupsis" has little to do with these scenarios. It means an uncovering, a revealing, a disclosure, making fully known. John's purpose in writing Revelation is to pull back the curtain and show us that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than we might normally observe in our everyday reality. 

However, the way in which John goes about pulling back that curtain is what is known as apocalyptic literature. That is, John has chosen a particular way of communicating this disclosure of truth to us and it is not one that he simply created. He is borrowing one of the literary techniques of his time. John's writing seems strange and unique to us because there is nothing like it in the New Testament and for the most part only Daniel and parts of Ezekiel resemble it in the Old Testament. But there were many other apocalypses written in the centuries immediately before and after Christ and as a rule they are highly symbolic writings full of other worldly images like those we find in Revelation.

This is significant because understanding how someone intends to communicate to us deeply impacts how we understand what they are communicating to us. Think of how you might read poetry as compared to a legal document or fiction as compared to a science text book or satire as compared to a newspaper article. Each of these categories of writing can communicate truth but they are each suited to deliver a certain kind of truth. There are different rules for the ways we read and write each of these forms of literature. Most of the time we pick up on those rules intuitively without thinking about them. But when we encounter a form of literature with which we are unfamiliar, say for example the apocalyptic literature like we find in the book of Revelation, it is easy to make a category mistake. As a result, it is important to recognize that extreme, other worldly, life or death images packed with symbolic meaning are the usual tools of the apocalyptic writer in the same way that irony and a dead-pan delivery are the tools of a satirical writer.

Revelation is prophecy. Revelation is a letter. Revelation is apocalyptic literature. Three important things to keep in mind as you read Revelation.

Oh, and one more thing. You'll notice there is no s at the end of that word. And that is not theologically insignificant. John does not see his Revelation of Jesus Christ as one among many possible revelations. It is the definitive revelation - no s - of who Jesus is and how he is at work in our world.

May the Spirit reveal Christ to us as we read the prophecy, the letter, the apocalypse that is Revelation.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

God Has Been Faithful

Paul begins Romans 11 with this question: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” It sure seems that way. Paul finished chapter 9 talking about how Israel has stumbled because they pursued the law incorrectly. He expanded on that idea further in chapter 10 and concluded by echoing Isaiah’s words that they are a disobedient and contrary people. So surely Israel’s time has come to an end, right? They will be replaced by God’s new people, a mostly Gentile people, since his old people have failed to respond to his Messiah, won’t they?

Paul’s answer is a resounding “No!”. We’ve noted many times throughout Romans how central Paul’s own experience - the experience of persecuting the Church out of obedience to the law only to have Christ directly intervene and call him to true obedience and faithfulness - has been to his understanding of all that God is doing through Christ with both Jews and Gentiles. We find he is doing the same thing here as he puts himself on display as exhibit A in his own people’s defense. He is himself an Israelite and God has not rejected him even though God had every reason to do so. Paul had not only rejected Christ but was actively persecuting his followers, entirely “ignorant of the righteousness of God” (10:3). But God in Christ intervened on the road to Damascus to show Paul the way. This is what Paul means when he says it is by grace and not by works. It had nothing to do with what Paul was doing. It had everything to do with Christ stepping in.

And Paul says that the same thing has happened for many other Jews just like him. Perhaps their stories were not all as dramatic as his but it could be no less a matter of God revealing God’s own righteousness to them through Christ. Just as God had reserved 7000 in Israel who had not bowed to Baal in the days of Elijah, likewise God was now preserving a remnant in Paul’s own day even when it looked like all of Israel was rejecting God’s work in Christ.

But neither is this remnant the end of God’s work with Israel. In v. 25, Paul finally spells out for us what he has been hinting at and building up to for a couple chapters now. He says “ Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.” Despite all that Paul has said in these chapters about his fellows Jews and their failure to perceive God’s purpose or to pursue the law properly, he still believes that God is not done with them. God has only hardened his countrymen to give the Gentiles a chance to respond. This response by the Gentiles along with the remnant of Israel that is responding to God’s Messiah will in turn provoke his fellow Jews to jealousy. This, Paul believes, will ultimately cause them to come to Christ as well. God has not abandoned his people.

Somewhere along the way, however, we begin to realize that this is not merely about Israel, as vastly important as that is to Paul. This runs much deeper than just a concern for Israel. It is a concern about the very character of God. It is a concern with whether or not God has kept his promises. So many hundreds of years before, God had made a promise to Abraham. God renewed that promise with Isaac and with Jacob and with the slaves freed from Egypt. Generation after generation of people, of families, of a whole nation depended upon those promises. Their faithfulness was founded on the idea that God would be faithful to them and the promises God had made to their fathers. Paul has told us repeatedly in Romans, from the first echo of Habakkuk but especially in chapters 9-11, that even though God has done something radically, cosmically new and unexpected in Christ, that newness has not negated the old promises. It has fulfilled them. God kept his promises to Israel and that is a point that bears repeating because it means that God will keep his promises to us. It means that God is faithful.

That single idea, the faithfulness of God, is like a character who has been hovering in the background almost unnoticeable through all of act one only to be revealed as the main character here in act two. Without having realized it at first, now that our character has come front and center we realize that he is the one who has been driving the plot all along. Paul hinted at it in his reference to Habakkuk in 1:17. He highlighted the need for faithfulness in light of human unfaithfulness. He told us a new righteousness had been revealed through the faithfulness of Christ. He told us that God had been faithful to deliver from us our exile in sin. Paul told us God had been faithful to deliver him in spite of all he had done. He told us that nothing could separate us from the faithfulness of Christ. Now that Paul has specifically brought to the forefront of our minds that God is faithful to keep his promises, we realize that is exactly what Paul has been saying one way or another throughout Romans. Despite the strangeness of the almighty God working through a crucified Messiah, despite the distressing lack of response by Paul’s fellow Jews, despite it being in a way no one would have ever expected, God has been faithful to keep his promises through Messiah Jesus.

It is fitting then that this unit of Romans 9-11 and the intense theological reflection of chapters 1-11 conclude with a poetic reflection on the mysterious ways of God.

 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things.

God promises a nation of descendants to an elderly and childless couple. Then when they finally have a child, God asks for the child’s life. God promises to cleanse his people but decides to do it by a pagan and godless horde of vicious Babylonians. God promises deliverance through a Messiah only to see that Messiah executed like a shameful criminal. God chooses a people only to have those people reject God while others find God. Over and over again, it seems there can be no way forward with the promises of God. Surely this is the moment when the present circumstances will force God’s promise to bend to the breaking point. Then impossible conception happens. Then resurrection happens. Then revelation on the road to Damascus happens. And God’s promises move forward in ways that we never could have imagined were possible. Unsearchable and inscrutable, indeed. But it is out of this faithfulness that the righteous will live.