Voting Rights Act of 1964 is a landmark piece of national legislation
in the United States that outlawed discriminatory voting practices
that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of
African Americans in the U.S.
the language of the 15th Amendment, the Act prohibits
states from imposing any 'voting qualification or prerequisite to
voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge
the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of
race or color ….'”
Act is before the United States Supreme Court. Reading about the
challenge to the Act and some remarks of certain Justices of the
Supreme Court, I found my mind wandering back to Lucius.
was my friend for several years, those years between the eighth grade
and the time I got my driver's license.
didn't live in my neighborhood. He lived in a neighborhood off the
main road about a mile north of my neighborhood. The streets in my
neighborhood were paved; the streets in Lucius' neighborhood were
dirt. The lawns in my neigborhood were manicured and green with
grass. The lawns at Lucius' neighborhood were dirt. My house was
brick. Lucius house was a weatherd board frame structure that didn't
seem big enough to accommodate Lucius and his siblings.
didn't ride my school bus. He rode another bus. Lucius didn't go to
my school. Though we were the same age and lived only a mile from
each other, Lucius went to another school on the other side of the
county. I used to bring a lot of books home to do my homework. Lucius
didn't bring any books home. Back then, naïve as I was, I thought
that was because he was so smart.
daddy shopped at the big department where my grandfather shopped. My
grandfather used to take me there when he went shopping. And on
occasion, Lucius and I would be there at the same time. We'd hang out
together while my grandfather and his daddy would do their shopping.
We'd hang out, that is, until one of us had to go the bathroom. We
couldn't use the same bathroom. In fact, we couldn't drink from the
same water fountain either. There was a law against it.
were too young back then to talk much about politics. So, I don't
recall ever asking Lucius who he'd vote for when Eisenhower was
running for President. Looking back on it, I doubt Lucius would have
been that interested. After all, no body in his family could vote.
that was a lifetime ago. And that's the point, it was my lifetime
ago. And while I'm a senior citizen to be sure, it wasn't that long
wish I knew what happened to Lucius. I'd love to ask him about his
opinion of the Voting Rights Act.
pundits still say it's going to be a close one. There's even the
possibility of one winning without the majority of the popular vote,
What disturbs me most about this election is the possibility one man will win and we all will lose.
We have become a divided nation, a nation of dogmatic positions, of uncompromising demands, a nation of “my way or the highway.”
can't tell you which program it was, but on a National Public Radio
program in the last few days they reported on the extremes to which
we've gone. One family was having a cookout, barbequed ribs on the
grill. But the husband of the host family told his brother-in-law he
would have to bring his own ribs if he was going to vote for President
not sure exactly what the implications of that conditioned invitation
were, the thought a vote could be bought for the price of some ribs, the
proclamation of “you're not welcome unless you conform to my views,” or
simply “I'm the north end of the southbound horse married to your
am sure of this. We are a house divided. We have become a people who
believe that those who disagree with us are the enemy. We have little
patience for those on the opposite side of the political issue.
much of the division is based on a particular religious perspective.
It's one I'm not comfortable with, one based on dogmatism, a certainty
of the will of God. It is that position that makes me uncomfortable.
What kind of God would be a God whose absolute will I could comprehend?
Years ago, I read Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming, The Rise of Christian Nationalism. In
this book she illustrates how an increasingly uncompromising
fundamentalism is gaining traction in our political processes. She
illustrates the ever-widening gap between the believers and the
non-believers. I have this dread that, whatever the results of the
election, we will be drawn more and more into this divide and the
possibility of bridging the chasm will become more and more difficult.
are times when I feel part of the problem is the hesitancy of those
less fundamental, more tolerant of other views, lest prone to wish for
some type of oligarchical outcome of the electoral process, never
standing up to the fundamental assumptions of the other side. And yet,
to stand up with any sense of insistence, would move toward the same
intolerance that makes the other side unattractive.
don't have an answer here. I just raise the question. And I'm firmly
convinced that whatever the outcome, whether Mitt Romney is elected or
Barack Obama gets another four years, it will not be either of the
candidates abilities that determine our future. It will, rather, be our
ability to confront, deal with, and resolve the divide between the
religious right and left.
I don't know about your neighborhood, but where I live every corner, every intersection, and scattered about the county in the front yards of homes are these signs. They are large signs, sometimes. They are small signs, most about the size of a real estate “For Sale” sign. All these signs have three things in common.
Not one of the signs is proclaiming support for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Every one of the signs contains the word “Elect or Re-elect.” And every one of the signs promotes a candidate for local office. From State Court judge to District Attorney, from Probate Judge to Chief Magistrate, from Sheriff to Count Commissioner, people want to occupy public office.
Tip O'Neill, the legendary Speaker of the United States House of Representatives said, “All politics is local.” That's the essence of democracy. And it is also the most scary thing about democracy.
Here's the thing. I'm not an uninformed person on the issues facing my local community. I know more that three dozen people around here. I know and am known by the Mayor and the Chairman of the County Commissioners. I write a column for the local newspaper and through those writings have met various people.
I'm troubled by those political signs stuck in the ground at every major intersection and in various front yards. What troubles me is I don't have the slightest idea who the vast majority of those people seeking to become my public servant are. And it's not just me.
I said to a friend the other day, “I see you have a sign to elect Jerry Somebody as Chief Magistrate in your front yard. Tell me about him.”
“Oh,” said my friend, “I don't know much about him. Shirley Cramer knows him and she asked me to put the sign out.”
If the election were held tomorrow I'd go into the voting booth blind as a bat. My selections on the ballot would be multiple guess. I'm starting to scare myself.
“All politics is local.” And because it is, and because I'm so ignorant about my local politics, I'm beginning to understand why so many state legislatures are passing such idiotic bills. “All politics is local.” And because it is, the problem with politics today is me.
While there are a number of reasons her article should be read by anyone concerned about the future of this country. I was struck by, or perhaps it would be more proper to say, convicted of, the ease with which supposed rigid religious dogmas or views can be altered, if not completely changed, by the expediency of the moment.
At the beginning of her Newsweek / Daily Beast article Ms. Goldberg states, “Like many evangelicals in Iowa, Steve Deace, an influential conservative radio host, is wrestling with the possibility that Newt Ginrich may be the most viable standard bearer for family values voters in the next election.”
Now, I live in Georgia. I was serving a parish in Newt Ginrich's district when he first was elected to Congress. While my political views have been usually is strong opposition to the Speaker's, I have been fascinated with his ability to manipulate. (I do not mean that in a negative sense. All of us try to manipulate things to our own self-interest. Newt Ginrich is just better at it than most.)
It was Newt Ginrich who first recognized the possibilities of C-Span having cameras in the Chamber of the House of Representatives. He also realized the cameras were trained on the person speaking. And for quite a while Newt arranged for various representatives from his party to speak on partisan issues. It was all for the benefit of the cameras. There was no one else in the chamber. But the camera didn't show that. It looked good for the folks back home, their representative was making a lot of speeches. He must be a rising star.
Speaker Ginrich also noted the value of using cameras, ostensibly for educational purposes, to further a partisan agenda by showing the speaker lecturing to a group of college students, at an actual college, but which lectures were not to educate but indoctrinate, using public airways and cable franchises.
For all of his power, influence and reach, however, the former Speaker of the House, was never embraced by the religious right element. There were those terrible stories of him presenting the divorce papers to his first wife at her bedside as she was being treated for cancer. There were the stories of his being involved in an affair with the woman who would become his current wife while insisting President Bill Clinton be impeached for sexual misconduct.
Newt Ginrich's moral, or lack of moral, baggage made him unacceptable to much of the religious right. But now, as Ms. Goldberg's article points out, those who before would have condemned his behavior as unacceptable are finding reasons to forgive and elevate him if he is the one who can best promote their agenda.
In the Newsweek / Daily Beast article Ms. Goldberg speaks of Steve Deace, comparing New Ginrich to King David. After all, King David did have that sordid affair with Bathsheba, and he had her husband killed, and there's that long, long, list of his indiscretions. But, as the evangelicals in Iowa are now pointing out, God did use King David.
Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, a religious and political right institution, is quoted by Ms. Goldberg as saying: “Under normal circumstances, Ginrich would have some real problems with the social-conservative community. But these aren't normal circumstances.”
Now having put forth more than one page above about the former Speaker of the House, let me state: This is not a writing about Newt Ginrich. But it is a writing that marvels at the ease with which religious folks can redefine their ethical positions. Maybe Tony Perkins would call it circumstantial ethics.
With just a few opinion polls and debate performances pushing Newt Ginrich to the top of the pack in Iowa, the conservative Christian bloc, now seeing him as electable, is saying, “Well, you know, old Newt, I mean I know he was a sinner, but he has repented of his sins and, you know, God loves the prodigal who comes home.” Newt the forgiven sinner easily becomes Newt the standard bearer of God blessed American virtue.
What bothers me most about what I recognize happening with the Christian right and their changing attitude toward New Ginrich is I am reminded of me.
There's an old story I often tell my like-minded liberal friends when I want to get a laugh. It concerned a true incident. Back in 1965, when I was serving my first church, there were racial demonstrations going on in that rural Georgia county. Some of the big names of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had come down to organize marches, demonstrations, and to generally make life difficult for the local sheriff and those who were resistant to the inevitable march of change. One day, I was at a meeting of local clergy where the general theme of the conversation centered around “Now, we need to be careful during these times that we don't do anything that might hurt our relationship with our people.” I was quiet during the meeting.
After a while one of the more prominent pastors in the community, a pastor of a big Southern Baptist church, said to me: “Well, Brother Kent, you haven't said anything. What's your take on this?”
I replied, “You know, I understand what you're saying about not harming your relationship with your people, but I have to tell you, this is a group of almost two dozen Christian clergymen, and not one person has said anything about setting a Christian example.”
“There you go,” yelled the prominent pastor. “All you Methodists do is talk about integration, integration, integration, and now one of you would let your daughter marry a black person.” (Now, it should be noted he used another word other than “black.”).
I looked at him a moment and then replied, “That may be true, but I wouldn't let her marry a Baptist either.”
(Here note my apology to my Baptist friends. But I was young then and I was mad.)
That story can elicit a laugh, as I say. But the truth of the matter is that prominent pastor had my number. Because I left that meeting and I went back to my church and I wrote my sermon and I delivered that sermon the next Sunday and nothing in that sermon said anything that would harm my influence with my people.
There have been countless of times in my ministry when I've chosen not to notice, when I've chosen to not say to a lay person, “Stop it! That's a sin and you should be ashamed.” There have been a number of times when I've not said to a church superior, “There's no way I'm going to be part of that.”
I suppose in my present position I'm more prone to speak up and draw the line in the sand. I can do that now because I'm retired and I'm serving that church because I want to. But even now there are times when I don't point to the moral line drawn in the sand and say “Don't cross this line.” Truth is, I'm more prone to moving the line to suit my own particular circumstance.
So, where does this leave us? It leaves me in the exact position as my those on the opposite side of the spectrum from me. We're both experts at moving the moral line to suit our purposes.
Am I wrong in thinking that in that kingdom Jesus talked about we'll all know where the immovable line is drawn?
Mama was a smart woman. I didn't say Mama was an educated woman, in the traditional sense. She only completed the fourth grade, which is shocking as her father was the principal. Her baby sister told me it was because Mama was spoiled. But that's another story. Mama was a smart woman.
Being the smart woman she was, Mama knew things had to be run according to a set of rules. One made one's bed in the morning whether or not another might or might not come into one's room. One arrived where one said one would arrive at the precise time one promised to arrive. One said, “May I be excused,” before leaving the table. And after church one said to the preacher, “Enjoyed the sermon,” whether one did or not.
Mama insisted shoes being worn should be shined. Mama was a stickler on a proper crease in one's pants. Ladies always, according to Mama, wore a hat to church and always carried a properly matching purse. Gentlemen, according to Mama, opened doors for ladies, and this applied even after Mama experienced her and the rest of the ladies Womens Liberation.
Mama, despite her limited fourth grade education, was a keen critic of the world we inhabited. The governor, she once told us, needed to learn to read his own speeches. The street cars, she said, (if you're so young you don't know what a street car is ask your grandmother), would be a lot neater if the transit people would provide a trash container. That container, she noted, could be bought for a quarter at Woolworth's. (If you're not familiar with Woolworth's, ask your grandmother.) The preacher would do better, despite the fact she told him she enjoyed the sermon, if he'd use a manuscript so he wouldn't walk three times around Jericho before he arrived at Jerusalem.
Mama was a diminutive woman. She was barely five foot tall and never was she overweight. Yet, Mama was definitely physically above average. When she was ninety, her baby sister, the same one who was the rat about her being spoiled, called me over to Mama's house. Mama was hoeing the garden. “Tell him about you foot,” baby sister said. “Doctor said I sprung it pretty bad,” said Mama. “Tell him what the doctor said,” baby sister demanded. Mama said nothing. Baby sister waited. “Tell him what the doctor said.” Mama said nothing. Baby sister turned to me and once again was the rat. “The doctor said for her to keep her weight off it.” Mama picked up her foot and continued to weed the garden as she hopped along on the other foot.
I remember the day I became aware of Mama's strength. It was the day the back of her hand contacted my nose two seconds after I disrespected my mother.
As the 2012 election picks up momentum, I've been thinking about the vitriolic language spewing forth from the mouths of candidates. I've been thinking about people applauding other people dying. I've been thinking about the booing, the disrespect.
Mama was a smart woman. Mama was a strong woman. Mama knew what was wrong and what was right. If Mama were alive, some of us would get the back of her hand and some others would have their mouth washed out with soap. I learned my manners from my Mama. I don't know where they did.
Copyright The material on this site, unless otherwise noted, is the property of the author. Church-related use is permissible, but a small nod of the head in the direction of the author will be appreciated.