Forum, February 2021

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Christianity and race

I have two comments on Tim Gee’s “Are There White People in the Bible?” (FJ Jan.). First, in Ethiopia, the first Christian kingdom, everyone, including Jesus and God, is pictured as Black. Second, according to the U.S. Census, people from the Middle East (such as Iraqis, Syrians, etc.) are considered White.

David Zarembka
Lumakanda, Kenya

Tim Gee usefully points out that the Bible is primarily not the story of European people. In fact, every major scripture—Judaic, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist—is told by non-White people. White folks can claim the Greek and Roman deities. However, Christianity was brewed in a Middle East that had been dominated by Greeks and Romans for centuries. Judaism was never really evangelical, though it had periods of conquest and reform. But when the followers of Jesus shifted from the message of restoring the physical kingdom of Israel to bringing the kingdom of heaven on earth to all, Christianity became a tool of Europeans to subjugate People of Color. Centuries later, Islam became the religion that pushed back against that. But it is no mere happenstance that the pure white dove of Jesus is portrayed as the savior of mankind.

Chris King
Ojai, Calif.

A parallel article showing the ways in which White intellectuals have used the Bible to justify racism and slavery—designating African descendants as “the Sons of Ham,” for instance, or twisting biblical quotes to suit their purposes—would be useful to the discussion as well; they’re part of our heritage, whether we remember and/or approve of such allusions or not.

Ishaya Savitr
Peterborough, N.H.

Excess wealth?

Thank you, Zona Douthit, for stating the challenges of reparations so clearly (“Okay, Boomer, It’s Time to Fund Reparations,” FJ Sept. 2020). Her comments on excess wealth give the lie to all of us who persist in thinking that on some level, we (or our ancestors) did it ourselves. I agree with the author’s quote of Darrick Hamilton and William A. Darity Jr.:

[W]ealth is iterative: It provides people with the necessary initial capital to purchase an appreciating asset, which in turn generates more and more wealth, and can be passed from one generation to the next.

Em McManamy
Providence, R.I.

Reflecting on a dream

What a lovely story of Mahala Ashley Dickerson (“She Had a Dream” by Charlotte Basham, FJ Jan.). She reminds me of my quiet mother, who never said a bad word about anyone even if heavily provoked. She worked at the Quaker Rowntree’s chocolate factory in York, UK, before World War II.

Alan Leigh Sheldrake
Richmond, UK

Such a lovely and tender piece of history, including the raw truth of racist words that sting–and how interpersonal healing might take place if we allow ourselves to be brought low by the Spirit and by the exercise of our own hearts.

I also appreciate the awareness and acknowledgment of the Indigenous inhabitants of the land and hope that Friends across the continent might find a way to participate in the Landback movement.

Liz Oppenheimer
Minneapolis, Minn.

Update on Buffalo Friends?

I am eager to know if there is an update from African and American Friends in Buffalo, N.Y., on the discernment process about the African Friends’ church (“Listening in Tongues” by Sue Tannehill, FJ Nov. 2020). Sue identifies three points that “make understanding between traditions even more difficult.” Has more become clear since the original article was written?

Karie Firoozmand
Timonium, Md.

State-sponsored violence, then and now

It is good to hear the reactions of our Friends Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and Jeremy Routledge to what is happening in America and around the world following the brutal murder of George Floyd (“A Quaker Response to State-Sponsored Violence,” June 2020). For years we have witnessed this sort of behavior by the police and the inability of politicians to take the necessary action to remedy the situation. Nozizwe and Jeremy lived through the state violence that existed here in South Africa during the apartheid era and took action against it and so they speak with authority.

The Black Lives Matter movement is now able to highlight the injustices of the past and make more people conscious of the need to make the necessary changes, both politically and culturally, in many parts of the world. We were fortunate here in South Africa that we had such towering figures as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to lead us and bring about a peaceful transition in what could have been a violent end to apartheid. Our constitution is also a model one that needs to be adhered to by everyone so that justice and peace can be extended and maintained.

Graham Thomas
Cape Town, South Africa

We are sometimes told that the state rests on force. That is not true. It is, I think, true that the possession and use of organized force is the distinctive mark of the state. The state indeed insists on maintaining a monopoly of such force. But its main purpose in doing so is to ensure that individuals and other organizations do not, as the saying goes, take the law into their own hands. The use of the state’s force is to deny the use of force to individuals and organizations in settling their disputes, and to insist that disputes be settled by legal process. Its business is to keep other organizations voluntary, to see that they do depend upon consent.

It is also clear that the state can only enforce obedience to law if the laws are such that most people do not want to break them. Let a state, however powerful, pass a law that the mass of the people do not respect or that a considerable minority violently object to, and the enforcement of the law will be difficult if not impossible.

This is one of the many reasons I’m passionately against capital punishment, and why I love Quakerly ways to discern which laws are just and justified.

David G Tehr
Bassendean, Australia

Friends Journal over the years

When we first became subscribers to Friends Journal many years ago, and through the years, the names on the masthead—editors, board members—were familiar to me; I knew them from one context or another. But now I am old, and all the names are unfamiliar to me.

There have been a few times over the years when, in my view, there were articles in Friends Journal that lacked the light of truth. In some cases I expressed myself in the Forum, and in other cases, to my regret, I did not. As the years have gone by, my involvement with Quakerism has waned. But today the May 2020 issue arrived, and I have to say that I feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in being affiliated with this sect and in being a subscriber to this magazine. Although I am not in agreement with every thought and notion expressed, this issue reveals a level of eloquence and sincerity that can bring some sense of pride and comfort in this dark hour.

At 75, I’ve been retired for some time. But my wife, Cary Andrews, still works as a physician assistant at Montefiore Medical Center, a huge hospital complex in the Bronx, in New York City. Cary was firm in her resolve that now more than ever she was needed there, and she assured me that we would come through this okay. Within a few days of that assurance the tidal wave engulfed New York and Montefiore Medical Center. She developed symptoms, and tested positive for COVID-19. She stayed home for a little over a week, and then went back to work, and has been putting in long hours at the hospital ever since.

One of the articles in the May Friends Journal mentioned “grace.” I am a nontheist and non-supernaturalist but one metaphor has always stuck in my mind: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Loomis Mayer
Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

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