Points Of Light

I was scrolling through Facebook Sunday afternoon, after my return from Danville, and came across a post by a longtime friend, Chris Douglas. He was commenting on a shared article detailing many truly horrifying things done to African-Americans in the period leading up to the Civil War. Chris pointed out that people inclined to minimize these truly despicable behaviors, discounting evil because it was reflective of the “culture of the times,” are simply wrong.

Good people then knew better, and they were doing more than protesting.

Let us note that at the very same time, Hoosier Levi Coffin was among leaders organizing an illegal Underground Railroad (in which the David Douglas family participated); Calvin Fletcher was providing legal defense to escaping slaves; Central Christian Church of Downtown Indianapolis (Disciples of Christ) was advocating disobedience of the Fugitive Slave Act; Hoosier Ovid Butler was providing racially integrated college education; and Hoosier Abraham Lincoln (moved on to Illinois) was speaking against slavery.

I was especially struck by the truth of this reminder, because I had just returned from giving a guest speech at the Danville Unitarian Church (posted Monday), where I had encountered precisely the sort of Hoosiers Chris was describing.

It was gratifying.

Danville, Indiana is a small town on the western outskirts of Indianapolis.(When I say small, I mean it; the town has a population of around 9800.) The church is in the middle of Danville’s small downtown, and I would estimate that somewhere between 40-45 congregants were at the service.

This was the second time I’ve spoken at this particular church, and both times I’ve been really impressed by members expressing a welcoming and decidedly non-prescriptive theology. (The core of Unitarianism is a genuine respect for each individual’s search for his or her own truth.)

This was most definitely not a collection of fundamentalist/Nationalist Christians. (I especially loved one of the songs: John Prine’s “Your flag decals won’t get you into heaven anymore..”)

The entire service emphasized inclusiveness and service to the community. (There were two offerings; one of food for those in need, and a conventional “pass the plate” to support the congregation.) At times, the small congregation felt more like a supportive family than a gathering of co-religionists.

During the question and answer session that followed my talk, it became clear that this group of people, from a very small town in a very red state, is profoundly worried about the direction of the country. Like the early Hoosiers cited by my friend Chris, they aren’t just complaining about the problems they see; the email asking me to speak specified that they wanted suggestions for actions they could take to improve civic knowledge and elevate political conversations.

After the service, one of the congregants proudly shared with me that she had been concerned a year or so ago when a proposal to resettle a Syrian refugee circulated–she’d worried about rightwing resistance and anti-immigrant attitudes. But there had been absolutely no negative response. Her pride was obvious. In small-town red Indiana, the refugee had been welcomed, just as she–a trans woman–had been welcomed by this congregation.

Chris’ point is worth underlining. The tenor of the times and/or the political environment are never an excuse for hatefulness, for bigotry, for brutality. (Ask the Germans who hid Jews from the Nazis.) Fear of social disapproval cannot serve as an excuse for keeping quiet and staying on the sidelines when our fellow human beings are being abused by people engaging in deeply immoral behaviors.

Harming people simply because they are different is always objectively wrong.

In every era, when bad people do bad things, good people stand up to them. And good people are everywhere–including churches in small towns in bright red states.

I always feel better after being with Unitarians.


  1. JoAnn, to answer your question about Mitch’s low tuition to in-state students, he’s bringing over the very high paying wealthy Chinese students who pay international tuition without blinking over the price.

    Our local Unitarian Church is much the same way. The previous pastor held Buddhist meditation practices which I frequented often. He also jumped into the political scene to help the National Day of Prayer from a small Baptist exclusionary program to one open for all faiths.

    I found it interesting that Trump yesterday started threatening the American people with massive riots and protests if he was impeached. I hope we get to find out if these cult members have it in them. And Mueller last week hinted that Pence might get an indictment soon.

    How will the GOP cult handle the fall of Trump/Pence in 2019, especially the Evangelical right who has cashed in all their chips with the Alt-Right Cult?

  2. My father was a Sunday school teacher as well as elected official. He grew up Baptist it was very evangelical and how he approached people. He taught me how to love people of all cultures Being a public servant in so many different ways. I still recall handing out food to the very poor rule area population. This is before food stamps and it was a government program. I am so glad that there are churches in areas that are giving kind and evangelical many different ways.
    I learned that my own heritage as people that worked alongside the friends church or the Quakers which were in support of the underground rail road.
    I am lucky that I’ve been given the opportunity to serve in Innercity missionary Churches, And volunteer in our inner city public schools. To volunteer for a school, get your background check and show up and there will be a school that will use you. I appreciate having been given the opportunity to be college educated and find it interesting how many people come out of our schools lack the knowledge they need simply to survive in our society.
    Reaching across cultural barriers is very important for kids to be able to have a deeper understanding of how fortunate they are.
    We expect other people to be like us and therefore we lack understanding of how misguided some people can be.
    Oh that might be a small trip for us to visit a church in Danville, it may be a good thing to visit one and see how they respond cross culturally.

  3. Frequently, even though our Bible tells us that something is okay, our humanity tells us it is not.

  4. My wife and I were discussing scenarios the other day in light of a prospect that Trump/Pence would not be reelected or Trump would be impeached. We considered the possibility that Trump would declare Marshall Law for “national security”, his now favorite whine when he doesn’t get his way – and a favorite meme of dictators. I said that the people wouldn’t stand for it and would rebel. She pointed out that the military and Trump’s goober army have the guns, and that they would impose their will on the rest of us.

    So, the key to this problem is whether or not the military would obey the Marshall Law orders when there is clearly no danger of any invasion, but only a resistance against HIM, president Combover.

    Anyone out there know any military personnel who would be privy to what might happen given that scenario?

  5. Levi Coffin was a Quaker, and much of what you say applies to my Quaker meeting in Muncie, as well. It isn’t unusual for Buddhists to be Quakers, for example. We have a huge food pantry who serves everyone in need — regardless of orientation. We see that of God in everyone, and people of all religions, or non-religions — are welcome. It all comes down to realizing your own, basic goodness, and seeing that in others, too, regardless of the cultural trends of the time.

  6. Perhaps when all is said and done history will write of these times that the downfall of America was temporary and caused primarily in 2016 by apathy among the good people. If that is the way that it ends, and we can solve our problems with resorting to the social instability that France is going through these times can be seen as our wake up call. I certainly know that I for one could not even imagine the Trump America until it was here.

    Apathy is curable if caught in time.

  7. Vernon @ 9:14 am, as Combat Infantry Veteran in Vietnam (Draftee Type), I feel confident we draftees would have probably disobeyed orders for Marshall Law back then.

    That said the National Guard and Police have not displayed a reluctance to use deadly force during the 20th Century against civilians.

    My concern these days with an all volunteer military and the Warrior Cult ethos accompanying it, obeying orders may supersede, questioning their legitimacy.

    Oddly enough it could be Wall Street that would resist the turmoil of President Agent Orange declaring Marshall Law, the economy – markets would take a huge tumble.

    By the way did you see Pastor Pence sitting behind President Agent Orange looking like something out of a Wax Museum, with Pelosi and Schumer??

  8. Vern – I think a declaration of martial law by Trump would cause such turmoil in commercial and financial circles from assembly plants through stock exchanges that Republicans in the Congress would (finally) intervene (as with Nixon) or (with Democratic support) institute the 25th. As for revolt among the Trump cult – won’t happen except in Trump’s narcissistic Otherworld – even cultists recognize that America is bigger than any president, that presidents come and go, but that a continuation of America and its values and institutions is essential we are not to become a colony of China or Russia and return to pre-1776 colonial status after some 230 years of flirtation with Athenian democracy.

    Trump’s bullying and threats are on the way out with a Democratic House as shown in his conversation with Nancy and Chuck yesterday. He must now, in words of the street, either grow up or get out. His frustration is going to multiply as the House will not play sycophant to his petulance, and we can expect him to lash out in ways we cannot know at this time. I would hope his “give me the wall or I will shut the government down” attitude will not morph into “quit beating on me or I will (fill in the blanks – declare martial law, start an atomic war, institute a new Smith-Hawley Act of tariff isolation by executive order, start a war with Mexico to attain border security, nationalize the media in the interests of national security etc. etc. etc.). The possibilities to end our democracy and initiate authoritarianism are endless in diseased minds.

    Our task? Keep an eye on this ignoramus to see how he handles the coming confrontation that he cannot bully or otherwise control, a first in his experience, and perhaps work in secret and bipartisan fashion with Republicans to have an emergency plan to salvage America if he totally goes off the rails because if America goes, it really won’t make any difference whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, white or black, evangelical or atheist, rich or poor. Even Republicans should understand that reality. (See Rome, Greece, Babylonia et al.)

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let’s also keep an eye out for McConnell’s and Ryan’s possible lame duck sessions over the next few weeks in which they may be trying to pull a “Wisconsin” on us just before the House gavel is exchanged in early January.

  9. Chris Hedges has a long article on Radical theologian James H. Cone. Cone is quoted as saying:

    Of the biblical story of Cain’s murder of Abel, Cone writes: “… [T]he Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen: your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!’ ” Cain, in Cone’s eyes, symbolizes white people, as Abel symbolizes black people.

    “God is asking white Americans, especially Christians, ‘Where are your black brothers and sisters?’ ” Cone writes. “And whites respond, ‘We don’t know. Are we their keepers?’ And the Lord says, ‘What have you done to them for four centuries?’ ”

    “I felt that white liberals had killed King, helped by those Negroes who thought he was moving too fast,” he writes. “Even though they didn’t pull the trigger, they had refused to listen to King when he proclaimed God’s judgment on America for failing to deal with the three great evils of our time: poverty, racism, and war. The white liberal media demonized King, accusing him of meddling in America’s foreign affairs by opposing the Vietnam War and blaming him for provoking violence wherever he led a march. White liberals, however, accepted no responsibility for King’s murder, and they refused to understand why Negroes were rioting and burning down their communities.”

  10. ML,

    Having served in the National Guard during one of those riots in one of our inner-cities, the tragic triumvirate of racism, poverty and war were on full display. Those things are STILL with us, but instead of there only being 200 million of us in 1965, there are now over 320 million American citizens … and others. The percentage of poverty is still about 15%, the same as it ever was in the North. Clearly, there seems to be no end to racism as it is passed along from one generation to the next. The United States has only been at peace for 8% of its existence.

    Capitalism was, and is responsible for all three of our “horsemen”, either indirectly or directly. The poverty in the South after the Civil War drove black people north where the employers were eager to pay half wages. The white counterparts returning from the war found their jobs taken by blacks and had a mighty struggle to find a way to support their families. The word “resentment” took on a whole new meaning.

    Our brand of capitalism is all about low wages, even though it is on a relative scale worldwide. Yet, our corporations today eagerly send labor jobs to other countries paying pennies on the dollar. Add to that the overwhelming desire to build war machines to “defend freedom from oppression”, and we embrace the modern version of King’s lamentation.

    Are we in a nutcracker of our own making where we simply cannot bring ourselves to end our thirst for war, poverty and hate? What is it about the culture of racism that requires that mindless hate be passed on to subsequent generations? Is it just the very primitive tribalistic instincts I’ve written about so often, or is it just another way where people feeling powerless have to express their pecking order superiority? What if we decided to rebuild our cities, roads and bridges instead of another nuclear submarine or aircraft carrier. Welding jobs apply to both opportunities. Electricians can work both sides of that choice. Plumbers? You bet. Carpenters? Of course. Engineers? They are the most adaptive people in our industrial base.

    We simply are too lazy, as a society, to make the changes necessary to break the habit of fighting each other, hating each other and making war on other people. It takes intellectual energy to do these things, so the question before our society and ourselves is: Will we ever make that leap, or will we just slowly strangle ourselves to death. It may not take as long as one might think.

  11. Sheila thanks so much for your lovely, positive remarks about those of us in the UU faith. I joined the UU church many years ago because of its inclusivity and its long history of standing on the forefront of social justice. Clara Barton was a Universalist and nursed soldiers during the Civil war. It made no difference if the soldier was in the Union or the Confederate army. She is a wonderful example to me of what it really means to practice the teachings of Jesus. During the most divisive years of our country, she refused to submit to acting out of hate but instead reached out in love.

    I got to hear you talk about gerrymandering at the UU church in Oaklandon. Thanks so much. I learned a lot that day and even gave a speech at my Toastmasters club urging members to speak up and stand for a system that ends politicized gerrymandering.

  12. Sheila: “I always feel better after being with Unitarians.”

    So do I. After a year long struggle to find a progressive church in Lake City where I might feel welcomed and safe in expressing my liberal views and having no good result, I looked south to Gainesville and found a wonderful UU congregation. They are a blessing.

    Monotonous (10:54) I have never considered Cone to be a “radical” theologian. Instead I consider him to be an honest theologian. I have read a number of his books and enjoyed each one, garnering more respect for him with each page I turn. I believe I have mentioned his “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” on this blog before as one of the most seminal books I have ever read. Would that more (many, many more) whites would read it as well as blacks who are unfamiliar with him. He was a great man and I mourned his passing earlier this year.

  13. Wray @ 1:09 pm, within the context of our major religions almost anyone in power within these institutions taking a half step to the “Left” is a radical.

    I was raised a Roman Catholic (I am Agnostic now) the Roman Catholic Church here in the 21st Century has relegated woman to steerage. Side Bar – It amazes me an adult woman would want to be Roman Catholic.

    Vernon @ 11:38 am, as Boomer I grew up in the South Chicago area. With strong Unions the big employers could not discriminate at least in terms of wages. That said there was segregation in the big steel mills in sense that the dirty, dangerous areas had mainly Blacks and Hispanics. However, that began to change in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I worked in an Engineering Department (All White) and one day the foreman came in and said we were getting a Black Man (Willie was his name), because we had to integrate.

    We constantly heard at the mill, that management would drop hints at moving “South” to avoid Unions. Unions were dangerous to the status quo, since the Proles in the Union realized that at within our souls we all wanted the same thing.
    Union General Carl Schurz Warned That a “System of Terrorism” Was Taking Hold in the Post-War South in 1865.

    Schurz also noted the paradox that under slavery the black man had some protection as the valuable property of wealthy whites. Poor whites who harmed a slave could be sued, not by the black man, but by the slave owner. After Emancipation, whites looked upon the “the maiming and killing of colored men” as minor matters with few consequences.15

    Schurz also wrote to the President about the beginnings of the infamous Black Codes. These were state and local laws passed in the South in 1865 and 1866 that sought to keep blacks in a state of subjugation. One law Schurz described made it a crime for a black to be found on the highway without a labor contract. This law was designed to keep African Americans from moving from the plantations where they had been held as slaves to look for better paying work.


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