The Lies That Divide Us

On January 6, 2021 America watched as a crowd of thousands of people participated in a protest that turned into a riot.  That riot included storming the nation’s Capitol building while our elected leaders were still there, working to fulfill their duties to the constitution and to the people that elected them. 

Photo by Pacific Press/Getty Images

Among the rioters storming the Capitol Building were believers in Q Anon, members of The Proud Boys, The Oath Keepers, and other followers of groups who have white supremacist beliefs or who subscribe to wild conspiracy theories.  The nation looked in horror as our fellow citizens trashed the Capitol and sought out elected leaders to abduct.  Many of us responded with confusion and incredulity, not understanding how so many fellow Americans could be duped by what has become known as “the big lie.”  

When I first heard this term, I understood “the big lie” to be the unfounded and clearly debunked claims that the 2020 presidential election had been rigged, and that Trump had actually won by a landslide.  (Even though 60 court cases and even the President’s own Attorney General’s office found no evidence of any wide-spread voter fraud.)

However, what has become clear to my colleagues and me, through listening to the wisdom of many voices, including leaders of color across this nation, is that this lie is just one of a multitude of lies.  These lies have origins that date way before our previous administration.  These are lies that go back hundreds, even thousands of years.  

The “big lie” that the election was stolen was really just the tip of the iceberg of a larger lie—a lie that lots of stuff is being “stolen from us.”  There is the lie that “all these Latinos are sneaking over the border and stealing our jobs.”  There is the lie that “all those people from the inner cities want to come out here and take our guns, take our belongings, take down our monuments, and take away our history.”  All of this talk is, of course, only thinly veiled language for the big “take away.” The real underlying fear is all about the taking of, or diminishing of, the privileges of whiteness.  If there was any doubt about that, this photo of a confederate battle flag being defiantly waved around in our nation’s Capitol makes the point very clear.

Photo by Saul Loeb, AFP Via Getty Images (as printed in the USA Today)

Here’s where there is some little nugget of truth involved.  (Stay with me.)  While it’s clearly not true that all Latin X immigrants want to “take all our jobs” (many immigrants are taking jobs that most white folks just don’t want, like migrant farming, cleaning, and the most brutal of landscaping work), and while promoting common sense gun laws don’t equal “taking all our guns,” there is a clear effort underway to undermine the historical and current caste system in our country that is centered in race.  

That ongoing effort to dismantle white supremacy in America is very real, and is warranted for many reasons, not least of which because the whole concept of race is itself a lie.  Don’t take our word for it.  Listen to the podcast Scene on Radio, Season 2, cohosted by John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika.  Watch the sermon, A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery, by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III.  Explore The 1619 Project, a research and journalism effort by the New York Times and written by Nikole Hannah-Jones.  They all tell it quite plainly.  To a large degree, our country was founded with a sinister lie imbedded within it— that there is this thing called “whiteness” that comes with privileges that make it better than “blackness,” or any other race.  

Lies don’t just come out of nowhere for no reason.  A lie gets told because it benefits someone to tell it and to perpetuate it.  As the trainings of the Racial Equity Institute (referenced in the Scene on Radio podcast) make very clear, the origin of the lie of race was started as a means of providing a relative few plantation-owning colonists access to a lot of cheap labor.  This cheap labor meant higher profit margins for them and their huge family businesses.  Poorer whites were then hired as overseers or other types of middle management, instead of being competition for the plantation owners.  Privileges of whiteness were codified into law to keep poor whites loyal, and keep them pitted against people of color.  

An entire Civil War was fought and hundreds of thousands of people died to perpetuate this lie.  Generation upon generation of African-descended people were kidnapped, enslaved, raped, and tortured, all in service to this lie.  All this pain, all this carnage, all this division, was the price paid by so many to make and keep a relatively small number of people really, really wealthy.  It was a price clearly paid by exploiting people of color, but it was also, to one degree or another, a price paid by essentially all of us, no matter what color we are. 

Which leads to yet another lie.  The exposing of this lie is perhaps the most scandalous and threatening of them all in America today.  We at Youth Mission Co have found that exposing this lie is what sometimes gets us called “communist” or “socialist” or “un-American.”  But, here goes…

Woven into the very fabric of our country is a notion… the idea that accumulating lots and lots of wealth is a great and virtuous thing.  In fact, some might say it is considered the ultimate goal of every red-blooded American.  We have convinced ourselves that “greed is good” and that if we just have an open and unfettered playing field, any of us can work hard, compete, and achieve “the American dream” which is typically defined by colossal wealth.  (aka, our “net worth.”)  Why do we do this?  Because we believe that more and more wealth makes us more and more happy. 

This.  Is.  A.  Lie.  

Certainly, the accumulation of some key possessions such as decent housing, food security, etc, give us an important level of stability that makes our lives better.  But the accumulation of massive wealth and the hoarding of resources ends up doing damage to our society, our planet, and ultimately ourselves.  Dr. Cornel West exposes this lie in Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America, when he says, “Market moralities and mentalities— fueled by economic imperatives to make a profit at nearly any cost— yield unprecedented levels of loneliness, isolation, and sadness.”  

In the documentary movie I Am, movie producer and director Tom Shadyack, dives into this issue as well.  He sets off on a globe-spanning quest to discover what is wrong with the world and what we can do to fix it.  Shadyack comes to the conclusion that hoarding resources and amassing extreme wealth is ultimately toxic to a society and to the world.  It turns out that more and more wealth doesn’t make you that much more happy.  In fact, it is in many ways a sign of illness.  He contends that living a life of relative simplicity is actually better for everyone, including yourself.  

So, let’s trace this all the way through… a riot (some have called it an insurrection) happened on January 6, 2021 which was based on a lie that an election was stolen, that was heaped on top of the ongoing lies that all kinds of things are being “stolen” from “us white people,” which is based on a lie that our supposed “whiteness” should automatically give us privileges and superiority over others, which is in turn based on a lie that race is even a real biological thing.  All of this was started centuries ago with the original intentions of making a relatively few people really, really rich, which is all motivated by the lie that extreme wealth can actually make us extremely happy.  

That’s a lot of lies.  

It turns out that the Bible, when read and understood outside of the clutches of what civil rights icon Ruby Sales has called white America’s “spiritual malformation,” actually exposes all of this.  Here are a few examples.  

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”    Mark 10:25  (NRSV)

The Parable of the Rich Fool    Luke 12:13-21

The Rich Young Man    Matthew 19:16-22

Blessings and Woes   Luke 6:20-26

“Do not worry about your life…”  Matthew 6:25-34

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with so many pains.”  1 Timothy 6:10  (NRSV)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28  (NRSV)

There is a whole lot more that could be discussed here.  We could talk about where this delusion that extreme wealth makes us extremely happy comes from.  We could talk about this path the Church has taken that has led to so many Christians to think that these unjust ways of living are all ok. 

But, for the moment, we at Youth Mission Co would like to spend some time exploring this one main idea…  that a major part of Christian mission, especially in this time and in this place, is to expose these lies for what they are.  We believe that Christian mission is today what it has been since the beginning— all about loving God and neighbor, standing with people who are suffering, and preaching the good news of the gospel.  We believe that a big part of Jesus’ good news is that he shows us another way to live besides all these lies and all this division.  His way involves both charity and justice.  It involves humility and boldness.  We believe that homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, disparities in healthcare, education, and incarceration… all these things and much more are the symptoms and byproducts of a series of lies… lies that divide us.

Over the next few weeks we will attempt to do more lie exposing and truth telling.  We will be sharing stories from our mission immersion locations of Asheville, NC, Raleigh, NC, and Memphis, TN— stories that mourn the pain and oppression that is borne of these lies, and the resiliency of those who have fiercely clung to the truth. In our webinar we will dialogue with colleagues and community leaders who are on the front lines of dealing with our individual and collective trauma that come from all the lies.  

We hope that these discussions will inspire you to explore these same issues in your community.  We hope they will inform you and equip you to engage your youth more deeply in Christian mission… a mission for us all to be part of God’s solution to societal injustices… which includes us getting an understanding of how we can stop being part of the problem.  

 

Bill Buchanan is a pastor, husband, father, and Executive Director of Youth Mission Co

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