by Lou Cespedes
When I was younger, Bill Clinton once said in a conference for the Clinton Global Initiative, that religion is the practice of seeking personal and corporate perfection, but that politics was about resolving individual and corporate imperfection. They may sound the similar, but the former fundamentally seeks to eradicate imperfection, while the latter is designed to harness reason in the sphere of corporate action to ease conflict.
Religion’s role is to guide spiritual growth of the believer. For the Jewish faith, ritual is the highest priority, through which strict adherence to “the law” delivered by G-d to his people is found in critical interpretations called “responsa” and biblical “exegesis”. Catholicism and some of its breakaway faiths are rooted in ritual and patterned “call and response” without clear or critical interpretation of the Word. In the Protestant faith, we are underpinned by the belief we have no ‘intermediary’ between G-d and the individual, and that we are directly empowered by the “comforter” and G-d’s promises in the Gospel and New Testament. We Protestants are “protestors” against the very power structures of “religion itself”. It is nothing short of ironic that Christians are not front and center in our criminal justice and policing crisis.
Jesus came to save his people, but instead saved “everyone else” and in the process established the Judeo-Christian paradox that is the foundation of our country and culture. One of my favorite figures, the Apostle Paul, experiences this paradox in the book of Acts 25 and 26 which is a foreshadowing of Americanism, individualism, Protestantism and jurisprudence. The Apostle Paul discusses this conflict in the Book of Romans Chapter 11, declaring Christians as equivalent to Jews. Often America is referred to in parallel with Israel, “as the land of milk and honey”, or as “the promised land”. These belief structures within Christianity and Judaism, are part of our language, and runs through what is commonly referred to as “doctrines” in our social constructs, relationships, decision making, and social contracts. In other words, “religion” is filtered through “language”, (which I described in a previous article as the first plague) and is imbedded in our loose religious affiliations and uninformed assumptions about faith.
Religion is the second plague in our community and is the conduit through which many of the greatest abuses and successes of human enterprise have been carried out. War, slavery, and pedophilia have been justified and tolerated by religious institutions. Civil rights, conversely, was also largely organized through faith communities. Today, the mission of religion creeps closer and closer to the mission of politics, abandoning our nations “secular” paradigm enshrined in separations of church and state. Our founders understood the corrosive power of religion to achieve “consensus” and “compromise” and its authoritarian trappings. We see this clearly today in our national politics and propaganda. But we also clearly see it in the permissiveness and subservience of Christian culture in our own community.
In our own community it is important to draw distinctions in how these religious structures operate within the spectrum of our social contract. In Judaism they are mandated to “gather” their own within their own “law” as detailed in the Pentateuch. As Christians we are mandated to “spread the Gospel” and “save” others. In addition, I will draw a third comparison to Jehovah’s Witnesses, which believe strongly in the idea of G-d’s governance, strictly adhering to the concept of “gathering”, “self-reliance” and “neutrality” but with non-participation in secular institutional process. Simply put, they do not vote, and they believe that social progress can only be achieved through the growth of the “kingdom”. These 3 religions represent among the strongest currents in our community, among a wide range of churches, sects, and denominations: Reform Jewish, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, SDA, UMC, RC JW, Pentecostal, Baptist, Episcopalian etc. They also each have their own institutional and organizational networks and pillars, some more powerful and effective than others. It is in the correspondence between individual faith and religious institutional power that our community’s most significant ailments manifest themselves and dictate our black and brown people’s communal failures in educations, housing, economic development, unemployment and lack of advancement. You must see where I’m going with this; don’t you?
The two best organized religious groups in our community, Jehovah’s Witness and Jewish Orthodox, are diametrically opposed in their missions of social advancement to the detriment of the remaining Christian groups, because despite both having very advanced and robust regiments of religious practice and means of communication and dissemination within their respective congregations, one group promotes active participation in politics, while the other promotes abstention from politics. Orthodox Jewish congregations in our community are culturally politically and racially homogenous. Christian groups are composed of culturally diverse people and languages, which only compound either their political abstention or indifference. When filtered through language religion complicates our ability to define and articulate a consolidated community agenda. In the vacuum, a dangerously confused political narrative develops that uses religious “language”, the church and local pastors as “props” for political leaders. The faith community has little recourse to “protest” (again the irony) or dissent. We have a fractured Christian community that cannot discern G-d’s will for ourselves (I Corinthians 11 v. 17-33), versus a unified Jewish Orthodox community that has institutions, resources, and representation working in unison with media and its faith community. Furthermore, our local pastors in E. Flatbush are enabling the worst elements of law enforcement and politics within our community. This is repugnant and shameful.
It is unbearable to see how the black and brown Christian faith community and our local religious leaders struggle to pair action with the teachings of the Gospel, and how clergy have failed to keep the covenant the Lord has demanded from them in service to our community.
I Corinthians 1 v. 1-10
Twitter: @loufor45 Instagram: Loucespedes