Month: August 2013

Jim Crow and Voter ID laws: Civil Rights Week, Part 2

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, DC.  To commemorate this historic occasion, I’m focusing on a couple of films and a classic book.

In my last post(click here) I talked about our family’s recent viewing of two films that addressed the issue of Civil Rights: The Butler and 42.  In this post, I’ll discuss The Strange Career of Jim Crow.

The book, written by C. Vann Woodward (professor at Yale), was called by MLK,  “The historical Bible of the Civil Rights movement.”  If you’re interested in Civil Rights, you need to read this book.  Woodward’s work (sold almost a million copies) tells the tragic story of oppression and injustice within a country that claimed to value the truth that “all men are created equal.”  Whoops!

In the thirty years immediately after the Civil War, the political situation for blacks in the South was much better than it would be once the “Jim Crow” laws started to kick in, about 1900.  (According to Woodward, the derivation of the term Jim Crow is unclear.)  Most blacks were able to vote, they could sit or dine wherever they wanted and were well-represented in politics (at least compared to 30-40 years later).

An English member of Parliament, Sir George Campbell, who traveled the South in 1879 with an interest in race relations was shocked, “the humblest black rides with the proudest white on terms of perfect equality…I was, I confess, surprised” (p. 37).  The situation during this period was arguably better for blacks in the South than in the North.  In 1885, a newspaper in Charleston said, “We need, as everyone knows, separate cars or apartments for rowdy or drunken white passengers far more than Jim Crow cars for colored passengers” (p. 50).

But then the economic crisis of the 1890’s came along, and people needed someone to blame, so many whites blamed the blacks.  The so-called Jim Crow laws multiplied depriving blacks of rights, and segregating schools and businesses.  To succeed in this endeavor, blacks need to be disenfranchised, or deprived of the right to vote.  So, restrictions ensued, limiting blacks with literacy tests, polls taxes and property tests.  In Louisiana, the number of registered black voters was 130,334 in 1896, but 8 years later in 1904, that number had plummeted to 1342–99% of the black voters were excluded (of course, all women were still excluded from voting until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed).

All this leads up to the so-called Voter ID laws, popular in some states, including my own PA.  Just to be clear, the rationales given for Jim Crow laws in the South were about as convincing that the ones given for Voter ID laws in our country today.  Realistically, voter fraud is not a problem in our country.  The US isn’t Zimbabwe.  The big problem is that people don’t want to bother to vote, in most elections, turnout is less than 50%.  No one wants to vote twice.  Voter ID laws are just a way to restrict certain people, usually minorities, the elderly or the economically disadvantages from voting.  (For those of you who want smaller government, enforcing ID laws will cost money.  How many of you find drivers license centers too efficient?)

Jesus began his ministry speaking of how the Spirit came upon him (quoting Isaiah 61) to help many of the people that Voter ID laws are attempting to disenfranchise: “to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18-19).  Jesus’ mission was a precursor MLK’s dream.

Civil Rights Week (The Butler, 42, Jim Crow)

This week is Civil Rights Week for the Lamb family.  Yes, I know Black History month is February, but we think it’s good to think about these issues at other times of the year too.  I’m glad our family with 2 teen boys choose a film focusing on race over The Wolverine and Elysium.


1) We saw Lee Daniel’s The Butler on Sunday night as a family.  A powerful portrayal of US history, focusing particularly the Civil Rights movement from perspective of a black butler serving in the White House.  The story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), which is loosely based on the true story of Eugene Allen who served 8 presidents.  (Allen’s story is told in The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood.)  The film is full of ironies.  LBJ (Liev Schreiber) got the Civil Rights Act passed (1965) and yet frequently used the N-word.  Reagan (Alan Rickman) helped Gaines and the black White House staff get more equitable wages, yet opposed sanctions against racist Apartheid South Africa.  The Lamb family loved this flick: 4 thumbs up.  (Technically, we have 8 thumbs, but I think each person only gets to vote with 1 thumb, so 4 is a perfect score.)

2) On Tuesday and Wednesday night we watched 42, the biopic telling the story of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), the first black major league baseball player.  The boys were familiar with the story from a young age, reading a children’s book, Teammates, about the relationship between Robinson and all-star short-stop Pee Wee Reece.  (I was moved to tears whenever I read it.)  The Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, with the most bizarre facial expressions) selects Robinson to break the color barrier.  After brutal verbal racial abuse by the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies (embarrassing for us Phillies’ fans), Robinson returns to the tunnel, smashing his bat.  Rickey comes to talk, Robinson yells, “You don’t know what it’s like!”  Rickey, “No, I don’t.  You do.”  Good response.  It was great to see the Dodgers eventually stand up against the racial hatred.  I wonder what they would have done if Robinson was having a mediocre season?  Lamb family verdict: 4 thumbs up.


3) On the recommendation of my younger son Noah, who read it for AP US history, I started reading The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward.  I’ll share some thoughts this classic history of racial segregation in the next post.

Prophets in the Former Prophets 2

This post is only for people who read the Old Testament and are confused sometimes.  If the OT always makes sense to you, skip it.

In a recent post I included a table of prophets and the rulers that they served under (click here to read it).

Ben commented that prophets predated kings, and I added that they also post-date the prophets–once the monarchy was gone, prophets kept ministering (Jeremiah, Ezekiel).

Seven observations about this Table of Prophets in the Former Prophets:

1) The vast majority of the prophets were from the Northern Kingdom (a lot of blue in the right column).  Did the NK just need more help?  Actually the middle section of 1, 2 Kings is mainly about Israel, the Northern Kingdom, which is surprising because David and Jesus were from Judah.  Hmm.

2) Ahab was the king with the most prophets, both good and bad.  He was a complex person.  His wife Jezebel gets a lot of the blame for his problems, but it’s more complicated than that.

3) There are a lot of anonymous prophets.  Why not mention their names?  The identity of these prophets doesn’t seem to matter.  They are merely messengers for YHWH.

4) Some prophets are patriots (supporting the leaders, the government, the nation: Jonah, Isaiah), but most of them are not, as they condemn the government, not for being too big and taxing too much, but for worshiping other gods, being violent and not caring for the poor.  True prophetic patriots are not afraid to criticize their country.

5) Only two of the prophets with books named after them appear in this list: Jonah and Isaiah.  Why not?

6) There are frequently multiple prophets at the same time, often giving contradictory messages (1 Kgs. 13, 18, 22).  How does one discern which is genuine?

7) The first and last prophets in the Former Prophets were women (one of my supervisors at Oxford, Hugh Williamson, pointed this out to me on a bus at the SBL conference), Deborah and Huldah.  Deborah was a leader of the entire nation, politically and spiritually.  Huldah prophesied to righteous Josiah about the future of the nation, even though male prophets such as Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum and Habakkuk were available.  Josiah preferred a woman prophet.  God spoke through women in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

Does God speak through women in your church?  How?

Prophetic Figures in DH

Frank Viola Interview: God Behaving Badly – Is the God of the Old Testament an Angry, Racist, Sexist Masochist?

FrankViola FaceLast year Frank Viola (author of God’s Favorite Place on Earth, Jesus: A Theography, etc.) interviewed me about God Behaving Badly.

Not the major league pitcher of the same name, but this Frank did pitch in high school.  Now, he blogs, writes and preaches about God, Jesus and his faith.

He has edited and re-posted the interview this morning.  Click here:
God Behaving Badly – Is the God of the Old Testament an Angry, Racist, Sexist Masochist?.

(Frank added Masochist to the three other terms I used.  It’s a nice touch, don’t you think?  I usually use the adjective, not the noun form.)

Here is one of Frank’s questions:

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity (Deuteronomy 25:11-12) 

Doesn’t this make clear that the Old Testament was written by a man? Come on now. How is this consistent with a good, loving, reasonable God? If God wrote this, I wouldn’t want anything to do with a God like that. What say you? 

Other questions focus on circumcision, crushed testicles and genocide.  You’ll have to go to the interview to read my answers.

When it was posted Rachel Held Evans called it the best interview of the week.