Friday, July 29, 2011

Mobs and Prejudice

Friday, July 29, 2011 -- -- Week of Proper 12, Year One
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany
To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, 976)
Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning)      73 (evening)
2 Samuel 5:1-12
Acts 17:1-15
Mark 7:24-37

I've been reading recently about the events of my childhood as we begin to reach the fifty year mark since the days of the civil rights movement.  Newspapers and some television stations are doing retrospectives now about the Freedom Riders of 1961.  In that year, white and black volunteers rode interstate busses into the South to challenge the Jim Crow segregationist laws.  The 1960 Supreme Court ruling in Boynton v. Virginia struck down discriminatory laws in restrooms, waiting rooms and restaurants in bus terminals serving interstate travelers.  The court's ruling was ignored in much of the South.

In May, 1961, the Freedom Riders left Washington, D. C. on Greyhound and Trailways busses to challenge the Jim Crow practices.  In many places, particularly in Alabama, local law officials allowed mobs to attack and beat the riders.  A bus was burned and its riders nearly lynched in Anniston, Alabama.  Violence against them in Birmingham was organized by the Ku Klux Klan, with the particular leadership of Police Sergeant Tom Cook, a Klan member, and the infamous police Commissioner Bull Conner.  The Riders were terribly beaten in Birmingham, and one with a serious head wound was refused admission to a Methodist hospital. 

New Riders replaced those who had been injured.  The beatings continued in Montgomery.  In Jackson, Mississippi, law officers protected the Riders from mob threats, but arrested them by the bus-full.   Some 300 Riders were arrested in Mississippi and then treated with multiple indignities in jail, especially in the state's penitentiary in Parchman.  The Freedom Rides continued throughout the South, but especially into Jackson, until the Interstate Commerce Commission finally issued an order that would enforce the court ruling in November, 1961. 

People were shocked by the disorder, violence, and racial animosity that was stirred up by the Freedom Riders.  Much of the criticism was directed toward the Riders, not only in the South, but also in the North.  Popular opinion often supported the local law enforcement's actions to uphold their laws and frowned on outside agitators whose only purpose seemed to be to stir up trouble and to break laws.  Even the national press often portrayed the Riders negatively.

Some of these stories came to mind as I read today's New Testament passages.  Paul and his companions invoked violent reactions in their own travels across Macedonia.  In the port city of Thessalonica a mob attacked the church house of Jason and dragged some of the Christians before the authorities accusing them of treason.  In the night, Paul and Silas escaped to the south west to Beroea, where things went well, until some from Thessalonica heard about them, and stirred up threatening crowds there.  Paul's "Freedom Riders" provoked violent reactions from the local synagogues, not only because they proclaimed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, but also because they invited Gentile "godfearers" into their fellowship without the Biblical requirement of circumcision and kosher observation.  The Gentiles were often generous contributors to the synagogue, and their loss would be a significant economic threat.

In our reading from Mark, we see Jesus traveling outside his home country, leaving Israel for the region of Tyre.  There a Gentile woman -- an unclean woman -- begged Jesus to heal her daughter.  Jesus' response seems to be a response of cultural conditioning, Biblical language, if you will.  "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."  In Jesus' home and village, Gentiles would have been called "dogs."  There are many passages in scripture where the word "dog" is used as an epithet to call another unclean or low.  (I can remember the "N-word" being used in common conversation, without passion, without express insult.) 

But something about the woman's response -- "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs" -- changed everything.  Maybe it was her humility, or her cleverness.  Whatever it was, Jesus immediately shed any vestige of cultural conditioning and healed her child.  From that moment on in Mark's gospel, Jesus gave to Gentiles the same gifts of healing and feeding that he gave to his own people. 

Where do we see these things today?  Maybe in our cultural attitudes and even our legal discriminations against immigrants.  The anti-Muslim fever of some.  Discriminatory laws and even violence against gay people and transgendered people.  And we still have so far to go to realize the hopes for racial equality that motivated the Freedom Riders.  Blacks in America still suffer from so many forms of overt and subtle racism, and carry heavy weight from the effects of past oppression.

We grow up inheriting the values and opinions of our culture.  It was a great gift to me to grow up in a culture that was so wrong about something important as the South was wrong about segregation.  I think that experience has made me suspicious of other things that look like prejudice and discrimination.  I hope so. 

In every generation there are those who would incite mobs to violence.  They believe they do so in defense of something good that is threatened.  Often, they are wrong.

In every generation there are dogs who only get the crumbs falling from the children's tables.  Who are they?  How can we recognize their full humanity?

In 2061, fifty years, what will we be embarrassed and ashamed about?  How can we choose rightly, now?



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. I really needed to read this today. It's so easy to fall into fear-based assumptions about "the other" when we feel threatened.


At 10:31 PM, Anonymous janet said...

I'll never forget a moment of clarity - raised in Denver, CO born in the early sixties you would think I would have known more about this history. I went through Denver Public Schools, integrated schools, though later I understood better the issue of busing in students of color.. I had a good friend at work, she was black, and we were having a serious conversation about civil rights. It was during this conversation that I realized that the law was only passed in 1964.. I'd had no clue, though I'd been in advanced placement history courses (which says little for my engagement and the school system too!) It had never sunk in that it had taken this long in our human history to pass a just law. And I seriously think that Obama has endured much prejudice - and that has severely hindered him - as we still have not yet integrated our society in our hearts - this many years later. An integrated society is not a few that the majority lets in - and it is not a society that conforms the individual to the collective - the center expands to include the many, until all are included. And this would be a healthy, vibrant society, one I would like to be a part of. It seems Jesus continues to teach us about transcending some of these boundaries that we justify so cleverly. The woman spoke the truth to his heart, and he was able to hear it clearly. I pray for peace, and when I pray for peace, I pray for an inclusive society that joyfully includes all. What gifts, talents, understanding, grace, and clarity are we missing by drawing a small circle around what God has so beautifully created?

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Beautifully said, Janet. Thank you.



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