Every time I get ready to change my Facebook profile picture from my great-grandmother’s serious visage, something happens that forces me to refocus and recalibrate. So, in watching the recent commentary and controversy about Jada Pinkett Smith’s analysis on inclusion and respect (or lack thereof) in Hollywood juxtaposed to the #BlackLivesMatter protests and the water crisis in Flint, I realized I’m not quite ready to let MaMa Hattie and her 1898 classmates from Bluefield Teachers College rest in peace. I decided to post this re-post from 2014 which was a re-post from 2013 and in 2015 it served as part of the impetus for an academic paper, Pharaoh’s Magicians: The Ethical Failure of Public Intellectuals.
On September 1, 2013 we Sunday School Sisters started our 365 Day Consecration for Peace and Justice . Initially we were reacting to Trayvon Martin’s murder, then it was Renisha McBride’s murder and the seemingly countless murders of our children in cities like Chicago coast-to-coast; but then we remembered we are called as prime movers not reactors. “And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath;…” Deuteronomy 28:13. So we readily and easily committed to (1) Prayer, (2) Bible Study and (3) Fasting- knowing the hard part would be (4) Economic Discipline. A year later as we watch events unfolding in Ferguson and elsewhere we see we were right about the consequences of a lack of economic discipline-peace and justice are not prevailing. But we remain incentivized by the numbers.
To recap, a 50% reduction in discretionary spending could result in $6,248.00 saved per household and when multiplied by a factor of 17.8 million (the number of African-American women in the U.S.) we would control $111,214,400,000.00! That’s enough to change public policy and legislation around gun control, the militarization of local police forces, inequitable school funding, the proliferation of GMOs and a few other things to boot. We know that because the political and legislative influence of the Koch brothers is enormous and their combined net worth, according to Forbes, March 4, 2013 Billionaire Issue, http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/# is a mere $72 Billion. (Charles and David each have $34 Billion and William has $4 Billion). Imagine the impact if other demographic sectors joined us-our brothers, our Caucasian-white feminist allies, our evangelical siblings, our intellectual elites, our political pundits…
But before everybody gets too excited it’s important to understand that the exercise of economic discipline and its resulting economic influence, especially in the context of a 365 Day Consecration for Peace and Justice will generate enormous blow-back, even in the midst of a Christian nation. That fact explains why better minds than mine with far greater networks and access are not advancing this obvious and historically effective approach. While Jesus is the Prince of Peace and calls for peace and justice should resonant with His followers and practitioners, the blow-back from applied economic discipline will be far greater than resistance to protests, marches or regional boycotts. My late father-in-law, Rev. H.C. Nabrit, used to say “None opposes a righteous act but the devil”. He was right and the inverse is true as well, namely the devil, the evil one, that lion walking to and fro seeking whom he may devour, will most assuredly oppose all righteous acts. Trust and Believe! We can look to both Scriptures and the movies to illustrate and support that prediction.
Under the broad rubric of “with friends like those who needs enemies”, some of the resistance will come from our own community, from our own spirit of fear, from our own lack of functional faith and from our own comfortable positions of compromise. Gideon gives a peek at the enfeebled, fearful personality of the generationally oppressed. One of my all-time favorite childhood Sunday School songs was about Gideon. “Gideon had 300 men the Midianites had a host, but Gideon had the Lord with him and so he had the mooooooost! Gideon had the Lord, Gideon had the Lord, he won the fight with the Midianites ‘cause Gideon had the Lord.” One day my Daddy, W.L. Penn (who turned 90 at the end of June) a serious, hard-core, Old Testament-type Christian who never believed everything could be resolved through more praise and worship, interrupted my singing. He told me Gideon’s victory was just part of the lesson.
First Gideon had to deal with his own justification of fear, then he had to deal with the silliness and lack of vigilance of others and then, after the victory, he had to deal with those who should have helped but didn’t. “Go back and ask your Sunday School teacher how Gideon taught the men of Succoth a lesson!” My mother was appalled! But he was right. See Judges 6:12-13, “The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us?” Even in the physical presence of an angelic being swearing intention, allegiance and support Gideon struggled to overcome an almost paralyzing, yet unstated fear he presented as a rational challenge. But once he got clear Gideon was ready to share his courage and act on his destiny.
The 2nd part of the lesson comes in Judges 7:2-7. “And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many… Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return…And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand…And the LORD said…The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there…And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you” Like my Daddy always said, “Don’t go for the okey-doke! Pay attention to who’s paying attention. Anyone who’ll kneel with his face in the water isn’t paying attention and isn’t ready for the battle or the victory!”
Then in Judges 7:5-9 Gideon very reasonably asks support from those who will benefit from the rewards of the successful battle and gives ample warnings about the consequences of cowardly refusals. “And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint,… And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army? And Gideon said, Therefore when the LORD hath delivered…then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” The lesson here is don’t expect everyone who will benefit from victory to help secure it. For all my secular friends here’s a link to a familiar childhood story with the same lesson, The Little Red Hen at www.storybus.org. Sometimes you have to be prepared to do it yourself, just like the Little Red Hen. Bottom line? It’s better to go into battle with 300 prayed up and attentive folks, determined and ready to fight than with thousands running their mouths in church, at the barbershop, in the academy or on various television, radio and social media outlets.
Now of course my mother was right too, sometimes we do need to come out of the Old Testament. Romans 12:19 reads, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” So that whole teachin’ folks a lesson thing is moot in the face of the “turn the other cheek, dispensation of grace” thing. But in preparing for this economic battle it’s important we realize that everyone who will benefit from the outcome will not participate in any 365 Day Consecration for Peace and Justice. And that’s okay. Sure, we’ll all benefit from more peace and justice and it’d be wonderful if we’d all help, but victory requires a made up mind, not 100% participation.
But back to the issue of resistance. Again, some will come from within the collective of potential beneficiaries, but some will come from the ranks of the status quo’s current beneficiaries. And I’m defining the status quo as the thoughtless (literally without thought) pouring of our dollars into an economic system that does not serve our best interests. A lack of enlightened self-interest is not how capitalism works and frankly, it’s un-American. Some of us support the status quo in unconscious ignorance as Apostle Paul self-describes in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” But some of us support the status quo intentionally as described in 2 Thessalonians 2:10, “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness…;because they received not the love of the truth…” Just as Gideon found many elders whose population would benefit from freedom, yet were unwilling to assist in the fight for it, many in leadership today will be resistant. And that’s not new.
When Nehemiah began rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile, many in leadership were loathe to help. The 3rdchapter lists the many tribes who helped in the rebuilding, but gives a glimpse of what we can expect from many in leadership, “the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.” To put this in context, Ashhur, listed in the genealogy of Judah, was the father of Tekoa who founded the city of Tekoa (I Chronicles 2:24; 4:5), home to David’s mighty men of valor described in II Samuel 23:26. So just because there’s a tradition of strength, integrity and valor doesn’t mean those traits will manifest and remain constant in each generation. Sometimes people in leadership, be it real or imagined, earned, inherited or assigned, become compromised by the comforts they earn as “spokes-folks” for the people. My Daddy describes them as “collaborators,” the buffer group of folks who in the words of Dr. Renita Weems “become more Philistine than the Philistines.” They are enriched by access, fame or money in return for keeping the masses in line. And that buffer group of well-paid, well-circulated “spokes-folks” extends far beyond the much maligned “Talented Tenth” and purveyors of the politics of respectability to include some seemingly radical academics, feminists, womanists, LGBTs, neoliberals, hip-hop artists, preachers (jack leg & otherwise) and plenty of folks steeped in “pure-d, ratchet-ness.”
To anticipate and plan for the inevitable resistance it helps to understand the carefully designed place of comfort created as compensation for compromise by those “spokes-folks”. As far as I know I’m not Sicilian, but my paternal roots grow through Youngstown so not surprisingly “The Godfather” is one of my favorite movies. (And yes, I know Holiness people are NOT supposed to go to the movies.) Anyway, remember the scene when the Don is preparing his son Michael for the betrayal to come? “Listen, whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor. Don’t forget that…Barzini will move against you first. He’ll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting, you’ll be assassinated.” I won’t say that Mario Puzo plagiarized that idea, but a similar concept is presented in the 6thChapter of Nehemiah, starting with the foiled betrayal, in verse 2, “That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief…”
It was attempted repeatedly, “Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.” And followed later by more intrigue with the often suspect and diabolical “open letter” alleging all manner of wrong-doing, “Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand; …It is reported…that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king.” The open letter of accusation is followed by another attempt at betrayal under the guise of reconciliation, “Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.” But in verses 8-9 Nehemiah, with the aid of his own Godfather/Father God (get it?) peeped their hold card. Their transparent attempts to undermine the work through fear and intimidation failed, “…There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart…For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.”
That has to be our prayer as powerful women of virtue moving forward on this 365 Day Consecration for Peace and Justice. If we, the 17.8 million black women in the United States, reduce our discretionary spending by 50% we will control $111,214,400,000.00, a sizable segment of the U.S. economy. Clearly our daily prayer for peace and justice must include the plea, “O God, strengthen my hands” because the closer we get to economic power the deeper the resistance will get. We have to be prepared for derision, “You won’t do that for 365 days!”; deception, “You can’t do that for 365 days!”; and threats “Do you know what will happen if you do that for 365 days?!” And some of that will come from within our own community. Along with fasting, Bible study and intercessory prayer and supplication, we may have to step outside of scripture and tell some of our siblings what Michael Corleone told his brother, “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.”
The truth is that beyond filthy lucre, we have more wealth than we realize. Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” And we have the power promised in Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” That’s why, no matter how overwhelming the resistance seems, we are standing on 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” We will remain confident and consistent in our determination as instructed in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved… be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,” or as we say in the vernacular “I can show you better than I can tell you!”