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“Police In Ferguson Keep Praying And Preying”: The Pandering Religiosity Of Law Enforcement Officials

The Greater St. Mark Church was raided today as St. Louis County Police thought that protesters were spending the night in the church, which has been used as a staging area for protestors. Police have since closed the building and stated that if anyone congregates on the premises at night, there would be arrests. One member of the Dream Defenders said “what [the police] did today is tell us, what? There is no safety here.”

The Pastor of the church, Missouri Representative Tommie Pierson (D), said of the police “they don’t like us too much.”

Earlier the same day, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson asked the police department chaplain to pray before giving the late night report. One line was particularly stunning: “Again we come here having used all the energy and all the resources that you have given to our residents, their families, and our peacekeeping force, to bring peace—your peace.”

While the killing of Michael Brown was egregious enough, the manner in which the Ferguson police force and Captain Ron Johnson have used prayer to sanction their police actions and violence towards citizen protestors is detestable.

America has a history of those in authority invoking Christianity to justify slavery, lynching, and bombings. During the conflict in Ferguson, the local and state police who recite nightly prayers before going out to intimidate and arrest protestors follow this historical trajectory.

Perhaps the most galling figure is Captain Johnson, appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to oversee the Ferguson Police and the National Guard. Johnson appeared at a local church to apologize to Michael Brown’s parents, garnering much praise from the crowd for his respectability and Christian piety. Yet while Johnson placates the public with appeals to Christianity he simultaneously sanctions violence at the hands of the state. Perhaps the public will forget, with his constant calls to prayer, that he’s in charge of a force that has used tear gas on, cursed at and abused protestors.

In contrast, clergy in Ferguson and from around the country have come to show their solidarity and to help the citizens of Ferguson in their quest for justice. Early on, the Rev. Renita Lamkin was shot with a rubber bullet while trying to place herself between protesters and the police.

Other local clergy have met with the governor and state officials, while pastors from all over have been coming to aid in the efforts, including a group from Philadelphia that includes the pastor of Historic Mother Bethel AME church, Mark Tyler, and Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, Pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church. The presence of clergy members is a helpful counterbalance to local and state law enforcement presenting themselves as both religious and civic authority.

The whole situation has me thinking a lot about Frederick Douglass’ Slaveholding Religion and the Christianity of Christ. His words still ring true with regard to the empty prayers of the police in Ferguson “They attend with pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

If there’s to be any justice for the shooting of Michael Brown, the pandering religiosity of the law enforcement officials will have to cease. What the community of Ferguson, the parents of Michael Brown, and the whole country need right now is an honest assessment of the facts, for Darren Wilson to be held accountable for his actions, and for there to be clear, truthful communication between law enforcement and the people they serve, without violence.

 

By: Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches, August 20, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bordering On Heartless”: Protecting Ourselves From The Youngest Of Refugees

Glenn Beck says he has come under fierce attack from some of his fellow conservatives for a grave transgression.

His crime? He announced plans to bring food, water, teddy bears and soccer balls to at least some of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have crossed the border into the United States.

“Through no fault of their own, they are caught in political crossfire,” Beck said. “Anyone, left or right, seeking political gain at the expense of these desperate, vulnerable, poor and suffering people are reprehensible.”

Beck, not averse to a certain grandiosity, let us know that “I’ve never taken a position more deadly to my career than this.” But assume he’s right — and he may well be. It’s one more sign of how the crisis at our border has brought out the very worst in our political system and a degree of plain nastiness that we should not be proud of as a nation.

Let’s stipulate: This is a difficult problem. Unless the United States is willing to open its borders to all comers — a goal of only the purest libertarians and a very few liberals — we will face agonizing choices about whom to let in and whom to turn away.

Moreover, it’s clearly true, as The Post editorialized, that “there is nothing humanitarian in tacitly encouraging tens of thousands of children to risk their lives, often at the hands of cutthroat smugglers, to enter this country illegally.”

But instead of dealing with this problem in a thoughtful way reflecting shared responsibility across party lines, President Obama’s critics quickly turned to the business of — if I may quote Beck — seeking political gain. Last week, the only issue that seemed to matter was whether Obama visited the border.

It’s not just partisan politics, either. It should bother religious people that politicians pay a lot of attention when conservative church leaders speak out against contraception and gay rights but hardly any when religious voices suggest that these children deserve empathy and care.

There are those in our clergy who could usefully consider whether they speak a lot louder when they’re talking about sexuality than when they’re preaching about love. Nonetheless, many religious leaders are condemning callousness toward these kids.

“The church cannot be silent,” the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, wrote in Time magazine, “as angry groups of people stoking the flames of fear yell at buses filled with helpless immigrant children and women.”

And Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the media director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for “a moral conscience moment” akin to the response during the civil rights era “in the welcoming of children and others escaping the violence in such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.”

It is said, and it’s true, that the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that swept through Congress and was signed by President George W. Bush in December 2008 has had the unintended consequence of encouraging the Central American children to head north. To protect victims of sex trafficking, the law guaranteed an immigration hearing to unaccompanied minors, except for those from Canada and Mexico.

As the bill was making its way through Congress, members of both parties could not stop congratulating themselves for their compassion. The bill, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said, arose from “exemplary bipartisan cooperation” and showed how big-hearted we are.

“Together, let us end the nightmare of human trafficking,” he declared, “and lead the world to see, in the poignant words of Alexis de Tocqueville, that America is great because America is good.”

Suddenly, we are far less interested in being “good” than in protecting our borders — even if those we are tring to “protect” ourselves from are the youngest of refugees.

All the pressure now is to change the Wilberforce Act so it would no longer apply to Central American children. There’s a strong logic to this. The law does create a powerful incentive for unaccompanied minors from Central America (which is not that much farther away than Mexico) to seek entry, en masse, to our country.

But there is another logic: that the anti-trafficking law really did embody a “good” instinct by holding that we should, as much as we can, treat immigrant children with special concern. Do we rush to repeal that commitment the moment it becomes inconvenient? Or should we first seek other ways to solve the problem? Yes, policymakers should be mindful of unintended consequences. But all of us should ponder the cost of politically convenient indifference.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 13, 2014

 

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Face-Off: Splintering Of The Iranian Alliance

A long simmering rift between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, has finally boiled over. For the last two weeks, the two leaders have been locked in a public battle over Ahmadinejad’s decision to fire his minister of intelligence, a close ally of Khamenei. And, in spite of indications in the last few days that a compromise has been reached—not to mention Khamenei’s repeated pleas that factional feuds be kept out of the media lest the dispute embolden foes and dishearten friends—acrimonious attacks by both sides have continued apace. Regardless of how the crisis is resolved, one thing is clear: The confrontation marks a splintering of the once healthy alliance between the two leaders—and a serious blow to unity within the Iranian regime.

Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have had disagreements over key appointments in the past, but typically they have been waged outside the public eye. The president previously refused, for instance, to comply with Khamenei’s publicly stated wish to dismiss Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, all-powerful behind-the-scenes fixer, and his son’s father-in-law to boot. Everything Mashaei did or said—from his talk of “Iranian nationalism,” a concept condemned by many Iranian clerics as a Western colonial trick, to his cavorting with a beautiful actress—became a subject of controversy and backbiting in the media. But Ahmadinejad, in spite of pressure exerted by the Supreme Leader, has never flagged in his support for his beleaguered adviser and relative.

Two weeks ago, however, these often whispered tensions broke into the open when Ahmadinejad dismissed his intelligence minister and Khamenei opposed the move in a surprisingly public fashion. Instead of trying to solve the conflict behind closed doors, Khamenei chose to publish a letter—pointedly addressed not to the president, but to the dismissed minister—that reappointed the man to his post. Ahmadinejad, for his part, maintained a studied silence, but he refused to attend cabinet meetings and his website continued to carry the news of his intelligence minister’s dismissal. Finally, on Monday, he agreed to attend a cabinet meeting, but the controversial minister of intelligence was absent and his fate is still not clear.

In addition, Ahmadienjad’s announcement that he had reconciled with Khamenei has itself become the focus of a new round of controversy. After comparing his relationship with the Supreme Leader to that of a son and his father, Ahmadinejad has been lambasted by conservative clergy members loyal to Khamanei. The relationship isn’t filial, Khamenei’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards charged, but rather that of an “Imam and Mamoum”—a divinely guided leader and a submissive believer who is led in all matters and at all times. Another cleric declared that refusing to heed Khamenei’s voice is heresy against god himself.

While the facts of the on-going confrontation are more or less clear, the important question is why Ahmadinejad, who began his first term as president by kissing Khamenei’s hand on the day of his inauguration, is now biting the very same hand that was certainly critical in giving him his alleged victory in the contested June 2009 election. According to one theory, Ahmadinejad knows the clergy are increasingly reviled in Iran and is keen on either challenging them or at least distancing himself from them. Others attribute his defiance to the arrogance of power, his tendency to believe in his own lies, and his belief that he, in fact, did win the last election and thus need not play vassal to a weakened Khamenei. Needless to say, the conservative clergy attribute the whole crisis to an Israeli and American conspiracy and claim that “infiltrators” from the ranks of the enemy have bedeviled the gullible president.

Why Khamenei has decided to pick a public fight at this time is no less important to ponder. It appears that, once again, he has chosen a path whose goal is nothing more than establishing and expanding his own authoritarian power—the outcome of which will likely leave the regime fractured and weakened, his power utterly dependent on the whim of the Revolutionary Guards. His rash decision has left him with no good outcome: He must either cave and allow Ahmadinejad to fire the minister—and suffer yet another major blow to his authority—or he can succeed in humiliating Ahmadinejad, creating considerable resentment amongst his base of mainly poor, rural supporters.

A third possibility, however, is that Khamenei and his allies might have chosen this public row as an excuse to offer up Ahmadinejad as a sacrifice and blame him for the country’s impending financial woes. By all accounts, the country’s economic horizon looks bleak. (The only good news has been the price of oil.) Many seasoned economists, including several in key positions in the government, admit that the Iranian economy is heading towards a dangerous moment of hyper-inflation and depression-like unemployment rates. With the economy in rapid decline, the search for a scapegoat will likely intensify. The only thing that’s uncertain at this point is who will take the fall.

By: Abbas Milanti, Contributing Editor, The New Republic, May 6, 2011

May 7, 2011 Posted by | Foreign Governments, Iran, National Security | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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