About “Irish Slavery”

This is not a political column. A political column would say:

BLACK LIVES MATTER!

But I am not a liberal. Holding a sign is necessary, but not nearly enough.

This is a radical religion column.

At issue: There is a section of my ancestral group who makes a big deal about Irish people having been slaves in the U.S. This is not literally true. You can find details in history books, or you can talk with your grandparents, or Snopes.

What gets my goat are white liberals who are outraged that any white person should claim having been oppressed, or who are, in their opinion, exaggerating. As though degrees of hatred and suffering are a bickering point. Thereby ignoring the roots of oppression.

You probably know this: In 1847 a movement called “Irish Lives Matter” would have been revolutionary, and more than a little helpful. The British decided that Irish, being poor and Catholic, were not quite human, and so were free to send in military, steal land, create wealth during the famine, and then they, literally, drove carriages to their estates passing corpses and people dying on the roadsides. Irish lives did not matter. Not because they were Irish, but because the structure required our being crushed, as they were crushing black Africans.

One group of people recognized that Irish lives mattered. The Choctaw people of Oklahoma sent relief money to Ireland during the famine, just sixteen years after white people force-marched them on the Trail of Tears. (This year Irish people sent respirators to Native Americans ignored by our white supremacist government.)

Conservatives use the phrase “All lives matter,” as an excuse to ignore blatant systematic racism. Don’t let them usurp the truth of that statement.

With apologies for those of my ancestral group who see solely through the lens of their own experience, think a minute. Are some trying to downplay the oppression of blacks by displaying their own? Illogical, but probably.  Was there a time when the British should have been confronted with an “Irish Lives Matter” uprising? Yes.

When I see the face of an elder black woman who has battled through hardship and hatred, who has come up loving and strong, I see my grandmother’s face. In that moment, I do not care which woman suffered more. My body aches. What I do know is that  Black people are rising up again against injustice and everyone of us must join together to radically change a structure that depends on the crushing of Black people.

The lesson, as BLM has been trying to make clear, is that Black lives matter right now. The system that requires their oppression needs more than defunding. When that happens, no one need fear that they will be next, re: the wisdom of pastor Martin Niemoller.

These are the things I learned from my family, Jesus, Buddha, from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Choctaw nation, innumerable others who embody the universality of living things. The universality  of suffering, unnecessary suffering. Of the sacredness of social justice.

If you are are tempted to comment that Blacks suffered more, or Jews suffered more, or Native Peoples suffered more, or that group is exaggerating, or this group isn’t suffering as much as it did before, you’ve missed the point.

The impossibility of encompassing it all, comparing it all, doesn’t matter. When humans come together and say, “Never again,” we can rest. And tell each other our stories.

But I’m not holding my breath.

“Kindred Spirits” County Cork, Ireland
thanking Choctaw Nation for famine relief in 1847

[A version of this column appears in The Ashfield News , MA, July 2020.]

Uganda and Ireland, or The Irish and the Gay People

When I asked Jeannine for an idea for this month’s article, she said, “How about the Irish and the gay people?” It sounded like a special presentation of the SyFy Channel. But it’s true: on May 22 Ireland held a referendum on marriage equality. It is the first country to legalize gay marriage by public vote.  Can this be the same Ireland I love in spite of everything? Will I have to drop the “in spite of everything”?

Long ago I read a book titled: “Saints, Sinners and Schizophrenics, a study of mental illness among Irish bachelor farmers.” Surely I should have seen this vote coming.
Oscar Wilde, Nuala O’Faolain, Emma Donoghue, Elizabeth Bowen, Brendan Behan are among Ireland’s favorite writers. I must have been blind not to have foreseen it.

Regarding the upcoming vote, the Archbishop of Dublin said, “I have no wish to stuff my religious views down other people’s throats….” Just as I read this quote, a chick-a-dee feather blew in our window and knocked me over.

Meanwhile, here in Massachusetts:
On December 14, 1957 Scott Douglas Lively was born in Buckland. In 1986 he became a born-again Christian and in March 2009, Pastor Lively and two other evangelical Christians gave a series of talks in Uganda. “The theme of the event, according to Stephen Langa, its Ugandan organizer, was ‘the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda’ — and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.” [New York Times]
In November of that year, the infamous “Kill-the-Gays” legislation was submitted to the Ugandan parliament. Lively was unhappy that the bill called for the death penalty; he simply wanted homosexuals to be put in jail for life, that’s all. The law also called for prosecution of individuals, corporations, organizations that support gay rights, as well as of people who don’t turn them in to authorities. The law was signed into law (sans death penalty) on February 24, 2014. On August 1st the Constitutional Court of Uganda declared it unconstitutional because of a voting technicality. The government is appealing that decision.

In the meantime, beatings, “corrective rapes”, forced marriages, and murders of gay people have been rampant. Newspapers listed the names of gay men and lesbians along with “tips” for identifying gay people. One paper put the words “Hang Them” on the banner. The picture of one LGBT activist, David Kato, was printed on the front page. He was subsequently murdered.

In May, four asylum seekers from Uganda came to the First Congregational Church, not too far from Buckland, to help celebrate the anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts. Harold, Carlton, Florence, Jingo told us their stories. After finding their way to the U.S., asylum seekers are not allowed to find work. Their families often refuse to harbor them because of their sexual orientation and they end up sleeping in bus stations, on the street, with no resources, financial or legal.

Good news: In June 2008 the Worcester UCC Hadwen Park Church founded the LGBT Asylum Task Force to support the basic needs of people seeking asylum in the U.S. The Force has helped people from 80 countries where homosexuality is a crime, including Jamaica, Cameroon, Lebanon, Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria, Palestine, China, Morocco, Costa Rico, Iraq, and Turkey.

More good news: Scott Lively, now a pastor in Springfield, is on trial for crimes against humanity.

Even better news: The LGBT Task Force has so many asylum seekers to help that they are in desperate need of funds. And anyone with $5 can help! And they take PayPal!
So easy! Just go to http://www.lgbtasylum.org
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Ireland legalized divorce in 1995. This is not the most up-to-date country with regards to marriage rights. Until now. In less than 20 years it turned to openness and acceptance. Anything can happen anywhere. Harold, Carlton, Florence, Jingo carry justice on their back to our country. Time to help them.
And “Éirinn go Brách!”

Movable Brains

My First UCC Encounter

In 1976 the national UCC sponsored a trip to Northern Ireland to support the Peace People’s March for Peace in Belfast. At the time I had only the vaguest notion of what UCC might stand for: Unitarian Christian Church? Universal Christians of California? United Christians for Christ? I’d been spending time with the Catholic Left and with Quakers acting against the U.S. war in Viet Nam. To me, “Protestants” were an amorphous blob of bible readers who couldn’t agree on anything. I knew William Sloan Coffin fit in somewhere. We did work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, but I discovered that there was a Baptist FoR, an Episcopalian FoR, an Adventist FoR and about 10 more FoRs. What were the differences? This foggy notion changed somewhat when the CL group I belonged to joined forces with Clergy and Laity Concerned, composed mostly of Protestant activists.

There are about 38,000 Protestant denominations, so I forgive myself my confusion. Christian Platt is a blogger for the progressive evangelical magazine, Sojourner. (“Progressive Evangelical” still stumps me.) He names the five things he believes hold Christianity back. (Back from what, I’m not sure.) Number 2 is “Denominations.” He claims  “their distinction from others like them are so minute that even the members within a given denomination can’t tell you what makes them unique.” One commenter disagreed. He says denominations are…” the church diversified…the beautiful mosaic of God’s kingdom,”

Okay, now I get it. A bridge made with moving interlocking parts is more stable than a rock-solid immobile one.

Now, 37 years later, I get spiritual support, renewal, intellectual challenge, and community primarily from (gasp) a UCC church. Luckily, my brain is made of interlocking parts. The parts shifting and rubbing against each other bring me to a better awareness of the world. OMG! I’ve got a Protestant brain!

Peace People Ireland March 1976:

137018-004-18C4C15E

http://prezi.com/f3-r0gkrtlz0/the-peace-people/

Sojourners article: http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/09/23/five-things-are-holding-christianity-back