Ground Zero Church

Via the Drudge Retort, here is some history worth remembering from Paul Moses in Commonweal — a Catholic magazine.

It seems that in 1879 the Knights of Columbus proposed to build a church on an affluent street in Protestant New Haven, Connecticut. Shades of the ‘ground zero mosque’! Moses quotes from the New York Times archives…

As The Times put it, “When the residents of this aristocratic avenue discovered that they were in danger of seeing a Roman Catholic church spring up among them, with all that the establishment of such a church implied, they bestirred themselves to oppose the project. The wisest of the Roman Catholics here did not favor it, and St. Mary’s was induced to exchange the lot for a good one in some other locality.” But that site was also deemed “too good” for Catholics, so a lesser lot was found. The pastor refused this, according to The Times, and built the church as originally planned on wealthy Hillhouse Avenue.

Follow the link to see how it turned out.

America from the beginning has been a refuge for people who were willing to sacrifice all for the right to practice their religion in freedom and dignity. Let’s celebrate that.

Starhawk in the Washington Post

This was posted by Kladner on Buzzflash— Starhawk, a writer, activist and prominent voice in Pagan spirituality comments on the political hysteria around plans to build an Islamic community center a few blocks away from the World Trade Center Site.

Paganism has been growing in the US since the 1970’s and Pagans have experienced misunderstanding and persecution by some of the same people who are making news by burning copies of the Koran– an act that only disgraces themselves.

Pagans know that when politics and public discourse descend to a hate-fest of blame and condemnation, we could be next. And as someone born Jewish just six years after the defeat of the Nazis, when you start burning books and demonizing religions, I start asking, “When will you be coming for me?”

Read the rest here, it’s brief and to the point.

I’m so glad to see Starhawk in the Washington Post. She opened my eyes to my own spirituality with her book, ‘Dreaming the Dark.’ She has a long career as an activist for human rights and environmental justice. I only wish that some of the religous and political leaders in the Christian faith would speak out as clearly for religious freedom and mutual respect. One Catholic bishop, one Evangelical minister, one Rabbi, one brave politician could do a great deal to bring us back to the angels of our better nature.

Persecuting Christians

Via Democratic Underground a judge has found a town zoning board guilty of discrimination against a Pentecostal church.

The church wants to buy some land and build a bigger church. The town is not happy with a tax-exempt entity expanding its footprint. They say they have enough churches.

With all the talk about finding reasons to deny a Muslim congregation the right to build a community center– one that was approved by the zoning board months ago, it’s important to remember that what goes around comes around.

Our Founders instituted freedom of religion. They didn’t promise it would be comfortable. Gotta go now, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are ringing my doorbell.

Link to the church zoning case here.

Deconstructing Doctor Laura and Newt Gingrich

It’s a weird time to be ‘white’ in this culture. Our American ideal, the cultural inheritance of all of us, is one of equality and opportunity, fairness and rule of law. That our country has, in the words of Condoleeza Rice, a ‘birth defect’, is a contradiction that has not been resolved. You can see it in radio entertainer Doctor Laura screaming racial insults one day and denying she’s a racist the next.

I’ll leave it to Laura Schlessinger to psychoanalyze people she’s never met and not presume to guess what set her off, but there’s a transcript of her rant, and it’s not only possible, but fun and easy to analyze her mistaken reasoning. Please do try this at home.

A caller asked Dr. L’s advice with a marital problem. The caller is black, her husband is white, and some of his friends use offensive language around her. This should have been pretty easy to work out. A married person should stand up for their spouse over their friends when the friends are being jerks. That’s why they call it marriage.

(There’s precedent in the role of the traditional husband, who tells his friends to keep it clean in the presence of his wife. They’ll probably even respect him for being a mensch, and take their stinky cigars and profanity elsewhere. Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, could have settled this. And I wish she had a radio show. She could probably negotiate peace in the Middle East if they’d just listen to her. )

Dr. Laura failed to listen to the caller’s actual problem and jumped right into a trap that lies waiting for anyone who doesn’t question the racism implicit in our history and language. I use the word ‘implicit’ because these kinds of traps are hidden in the assumptions we don’t question.

The name of the trap is Us v. Them. See this transcript of the rant she unleashed on the caller, via Huffington Post…

Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n****, n*****, n*****. I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.

Well, Dr. L is making the fundamental mistake of assuming that because the caller is black, she’s one of Them. Never mind that the reason she called is because racist language is offensive to her. She’s black, and therefore accountable for whatever anyone considered black says.

The white side of that coin is that white is normal, neutral and non-ethnic. What a white person does reflects only on them. For black people this coin is called, ‘heads I win, tails you lose’.

Consider the sad case of a rapper called Marshall Mathers, nearly forty and still whining about his mother. Is it likely that I will find myself trying to explain to a black person why my kind love him so?

That’s white privilege, not being held responsible for M&M. I don’t have to worry that he’s a discredit to my race, no matter how embarrassing he is.

Speaking of embarrassing, political celebrity Newt Gingrich made the same kind of false equivalence, when he was speaking about the Islamic Cultural Center planned near the Ground Zero site.

“They ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in New York City,” Gingrich wrote. “Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca.”

Who is ‘They’? What has the repressive government of Saudi Arabia got to do with the right of Americans to practice their religion? The implicit assumption is that Muslims, whether American, Saudi, Bosnian or Indonesian are all the same. Secondary is the assumption that Islam is not a real American religion, that it’s allowed on sufferance of the majority, and its adherents had better put up and shut up and be grateful they aren’t treated like Christians in Saudi Arabia.

Our Founders understood religious conflict very well, and had the foresight to make it explicit that the government will not officially favor any particular religion. The mosque passed the zoning board and has a right to be there. But it seems obvious to many that ‘They’ should stay in their place.

There are not too many people who will openly brag about being racist. It’s not the American way, not in our best sense of ourselves. But if you go with the flow of our culture you’re going to drift into some dark, skanky places. One day you’ll hear something coming out of your own mouth that you’ll immediately regret. It’s happened to me, it happens to most of us.

Un-raveling racism takes work and insight. You have to question your own assumptions. You can’t just take what the culture hands you unexamined. But it’s not all drudge work, and guilt is not very useful.

Better tools are irreverence, humor, willingness to question assumptions and willingness to listen. It’s not the job of black people to educate white people about prejudice. Being black does not guarantee that you have it all figured out yourself. But when we find ourselves with people who are different, it’s a good idea to listen. You can learn a lot and avoid Dr. Laura moments.

I mean, if she were listening to that caller’s actual question she could have spared herself fifteen minutes of fame she could do without.

LISTENING: Renee, at Womanist Musings has a Womanist perspective on prejudice, open and covert. She knows a thing or two about race and racism.