Senator Jeff Sessions meets with a Congolese United Methodist bishop and IRD's Mark Tooley

January 11, 2017

Racism, Churches, Senator Sessions & the Book of Amos

Some religious coalitions are opposing Senator Jeff Sessions as appointee for Attorney General by alleging he is “racist.” One group is an ad hoc sign-on letter of clerics, academics and activists who’ve no collective ecclesial authority. Another is the National Council of Churches, whose membership of several dozen communions makes it an ecclesial body, if a highly diminished one compared to its more prominent status of 30 or more years ago.

I first met Jeff Sessions when he was a delegate to the 1996 United Methodist General Conference, before his election to the Senate later that year. Over the years we’ve met regularly to discuss church affairs. He’s a lifelong United Methodist, very committed to the denomination and has maintained friendships with many clergy and bishops, among others. Many times over the years he has helped delegates from Africa get USA visas to attend the quadrennial governing convention for the USA-based but increasingly global denomination.

Often delegates in the Congo or Nigeria or elsewhere were rejected by USA embassies and consulates who were suspicious of their travel purpose. The delegates often didn’t speak English, didn’t know how to fully explain their travel purpose to busy officials, and had to travel great distances across sometimes days to reach the embassies or consulates, on trips costing hundreds of dollars they didn’t have and for which the church didn’t fully if at all reimburse them. Sometimes Senator Sessions personally phoned embassies and consulates. Others times his staff sent messages. It was very helpful for these African delegates to have a USA Senator advocate for their fair treatment as legitimately invited guests to the USA. In 2007 I escorted a visiting Congolese bishop and wife to visit the Senator for a very enjoyable chat about the growing church in Africa.

Senator Sessions doesn’t seem to be a “respecter of persons,” to use the scriptural phrase, and seems quite egalitarian in his regard for people. Once I met a young black woman who had briefly worked on his staff. She recalled he had charmingly taken her to lunch at the Senate dining room. She was not, to my knowledge, from a prominent family or politically influential. There was no advantage for the Senator other than the joy of encouraging a young person.

Charging Senator Sessions with racism is absurd. The allegation is for today what charges of communism were 65 years ago. Racism is the unacceptable sin in American public life, for which we should be grateful, but the charge of it has become a tool of defamation. Exaggeration, slander and histrionics are inevitable in politics. Religious officials and groups should have higher aspirations.

The National Council of Churches and its predecessor, starting a century ago, were always theologically and politically liberal. Until radicalized in the 1960s it embodied the historic Mainline Protestant role of mediating American political discourse in a typically stately, elevating and unifying fashion. It later became acerbic, dogmatic, and sanctimoniously partisan, which as much as the demographic implosion of its churches contributed to its massive shrinkage in budget, staff, resources, influence and national attention.

Several days ago I tweeted in response to the NCC’s “racism” charge against Sessions that “sweeping political hystrionics from ecclesial bodies are rarely effective or faithful Christian social witness.” A Duke Divinity School student responded that “bold proclamations have always been a part of biblical witness” and that I should consider the Book of Amos.

The Hebrew prophets were indeed bold unto martyrdom as they challenged their society to repent of sins and reconcile with God. Their call to social holiness is broadly inspirational for every society. But should political exertions fully model themselves on the prophetic example of God’s sanctified prophet of truth versus the false prophets of Baal and other dark forces?

What temporal political voice should fully claim God’s authority? And should political opponents be regarded as entirely corrupt and demonic? Under this paradigm, how can there be debate, civility, mutual respect, or democracy itself? Such spiritual weaponization of politics only leads to further polarization. Historically it ultimately fuels violence and an ideological absolutization inclined to intolerance, repression, and dictatorship.

A society aspiring to human dignity and informed by a comprehensive biblical ethic recognizes that no political force fully speaks for God, hence there should be restraint in rhetoric and attitude, especially by religious voices. Politics is usually more about competing interests and prudential judgments than about absolute good versus evil.

Religious political opponents of Senator Sessions or the appointees of any administration should shun cavalier demonization that may temporarily gratify but whose long term effect will corrode public life. And church bodies like the NCC that speak politically should heed their vocation to advocate the common good achieved through good will, temperance and mutual respect.


9 Responses to Racism, Churches, Senator Sessions & the Book of Amos

  1. I don’t know whether he’s a racist or not. However, in Tuesday’s confirmation hearing, Senator Jeff Sessions made it clear if confirmed as Trump’s Attorney General, he’d protect the rights of capital criminals.

    That’s right! He said he would the protect the rights of homosexuals that the ONLY ONE with the authority to determine what is and what is not a capital crime declares are capital criminals. See Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

    You can be sure he’ll do the same for infant murderers as well–at least, as long as Roe v. Wade is constitutionally recognized as part of the law of land. And, yes, until officially overturned, it is a part of the supreme law of the land. Just ask the millions of babies murdered under it’s constitutional authority.

    All of this is a direct consequence of the 18th-century founders replacing Yahweh’s immutable law for We the People’s capricious traditions and Biblical responsibilities for Enlightenment rights:

    “[B]ecause they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law … they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind….” (Hosea 8:1,7)

    For more, see online Chapter 3 “The Preamble: WE THE PEOPLE vs. YAHWEH” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/BlvcOnline/biblelaw-constitutionalism-pt3.html.

    Then find out how much you REALLY know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/ConstitutionSurvey.html and receive a complimentary copy of a book that EXAMINES the Constitution by the Bible.

  2. MarcoPolo says:

    It’s admirable that Mr. Sessions assisted with clearing the obstacles for the African delegates to travel to General Conference, and his cordial dining date seems to assuage rumors of his racist past, but these things don’t completely exonerate his historical record of racial prejudices enough to qualify him to be the Highest lawyer in the land.

    He still smacks of the “Good Old Boys” stench that we’ve fought long and hard to vanquish.
    We as a nation must find a better candidate for Attorney General than Jeff Sessions!

    • robertthomason says:

      What historical record of “racial prejudices?” What do you base your assertion of the “Good Old Boys” stench on? Because he speaks with a southern accent? Bill Clinton is the poster boy of a”Good Old Boys” southern politician. He was elected president twice despite the stench of corruption and sexual misconduct that surrounded him. Did you have the same attitude toward him as you do Jeff Sessions? Or, are you just another hard left liberal who has no facts to use against a conservative white Republican? Other than gratuitous assertions and back handed smarmy compliments? Just wondering.

      • MarcoPolo says:

        I admit to being a Progressive Liberal, but for all the principled reasons that serve that part of our great American political/cultural/societal spectrum.

        I was raised within a Southern orthodoxy that my father also grew up in. Although he died in 1994, his eighty years of living in the Old South ensconced the “Old Boys” privilege as something expected of every White person, but not necessarily for any other racial ethnicity. That is NOT acceptable today, and I feel that Mr. Sessions still holds some affinity for those days of yore.

        If sexual misconduct were of ANY concern for today’s Republican, then they would NEVER have vote for a philanderer like Trump! Do you not see the hypocrisy there?

        I never intended to come across as smarmy or elitist, and I apologize if I offended you.

        • AndRebecca says:

          We’re not to feed the trolls like you, but here goes: What Southern orthodoxy were you raised in? What old boys privilege extended to every white man? There must be two different South’s, the one you live in and the one everybody else lives in- and you are stereotyping worse than anyone I’ve ever seen. I doubt you’ve even been in the South, and certainly not in the last 25 years. And, I’m not surprised you can’t tell the difference between Trump and Clinton when it comes to women.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Unpacking what you said about there possibly being TWO Souths in America prompts me to agree with you.
            All of my personal residences have been below the Mason-Dixon line, so geographically, I’ve always been a “Southerner”. My family is made up of people from all over the world, so I’ll admit to being more Cosmopolitan than Old South.
            Bill Clinton was prone to the same tendencies as Trump, and I fear the similarities will surface again, and with regularity with Trump. But we’ll have to wait and watch with trepidation to see if he can prove me wrong.

          • AndRebecca says:

            Good grief.

        • robertthomason says:

          I understand your point of view having been raised in Birmingham, AL, during the 1950’s. Yes, whites were the top rung, but what is perhaps a subtle difference is that white Republicans were second class citizens, They were seen as radicals who advanced the blacks at the expense of whites. This was a hold over from the days when the KKK and the white league murdered and intimidated Republicans out of political power. The redeemers restored the Democrats to power as the white man’s party. Hard to believe today but white Republicans before the mid 1960’s were considered traitors to their race. The southern orthodoxy that our parents grew up in disappeared in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Jeff Sessions was in college during that time attending desegregated schools. I don’t think he is invested in the “old boy” concept. But we shall respectfully disagree. Unfortunately, the re-election of Clinton in 1996 after the American people knew more about him opened the door for Trump. Republicans simply followed what we were told by the Democrats, Clinton’s sexual mis- conduct is personal behavior and is between him and his wife. Congratulations, your side won the argument on the sexual misconduct issue.

  3. Garden of Love says:

    I think Sessions will prove to be the jewel of the new Cabinet. He is clearly a decent man of good character, and I think he’ll handle all the mud that is going to be flung at him.

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