Will the Real Rosa Parks Please Stand Up

Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated. Behind Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a reporter covering the event. United Press photo

Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery’s public transportation system was legally integrated. Behind Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a reporter covering the event. [United Press photo]

During the recent second GOP presidential debate, the candidates were asked which woman they would put on the $10 bill. The less than serious answers included a wife (Mike Huckabee), and a mother (Ben Carson). Others chose American iconic figures Susan B. Anthony (Rand Paul), Clara Barton (Scott Walker), and Abigail Adams (Chris Christie). Two candidates chose women who were not even Americans: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Jeb Bush) and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mother Teresa (John Kasich). Carly Fiorina chose “None of the Above” as her response, indicating that no change should be made. But perhaps the most interesting response of all was for civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz (an un-holy trinity if there ever was one) all said that they would be open to having civil rights activist Rosa Parks on the $10 bill. These GOP candidates seemed to love her. Rubio called Parks “an everyday American that changed the course of history” and Trump said Parks would be the best choice for the currency – after, of course, his own daughter. “Other than that, we’ll go with Rosa Parks. I like that,” the billionaire decided. Cruz praised Parks, calling her “a principled pioneer that helped change this country, helped remedy racial injustice.” He said putting her on the $10 bill would be “an honor that would be entirely appropriate,” though he would prefer to have her picture on the $20 in lieu of Andrew Jackson’s.

But wait a minute. Which Rosa Parks are they talking about? Is it the simple standard, mythic and inaccurate portrait of Parks or the more accurate and more complicated portrayal of the civil rights leader? So will the real Rosa Parks please stand up.

Let me briefly relate the standard, largely inaccurate version of Parks’ story.

“Rosa Parks was tired…” That phrase appears in almost every retelling of the story of 1 December 1955. Rosa Parks was tired, the story goes; she had no idea that she was about to do something important. Pat Rediger writes in Great African Americans in Civil Rights: “On that famous day when she was arrested, it would have been much easier for Rosa to give up her seat. Three other black women who were sitting beside her did. (Actually, two black women and one black man.) She could have avoided being arrested, fingerprinted, and sent to jail. But Rosa was tired. Her back was sore from pressing pants all day at work, and she was tired of racism”

We like this story because it is so simple and so human. We see that Rosa Parks is just like us, an ordinary person with a regular job, a person who is tired at the end of a day’s work. And then, tired as she is, she resists when someone tries to force an injustice on her. But Rosa Parks says no. That is not the way it was at all. She later recounted: “I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day…. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

So Rosa Parks was told to give her seat to a white man, refused to do so, and was arrested. Then Martin Luther King found out what Parks had done, and he made a speech that inspired other black people to stand by Parks. The next day, all across Montgomery, Alabama black people refused to ride the bus. After a year, the law was changed. It was as simple as that.

The lesson of the story, when it is told this simply, is this: If you just do the right thing, you can change the world. But that lesson is dangerous because the world does not work like that. It did not work like that for Rosa Parks – not when you know the real details – and it is not likely to work like that for those who try to fight injustice in their own lives.

For people to understand how the Montgomery bus boycott really worked, they need to know that succeeding in the fight against injustice did not just take individual courage: it also took organization.

Many of us have learned the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a neat, tidy story of individual heroism. Rosa Parks, a seamstress tired after a hard day at work courageously sat down, a young preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, charismatically stood up. Together, they inspired people to march, and change happened.

But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, that story is the stuff that myths are made on. Understanding the truth beyond the myths can help us better understand current injustices. So, here is the Rosa Parks story as you may never have heard it before – and there is a wonderful piece of irony in the story. I have saved it for the end.

Let me begin with Rosa Louise McCauley, born 4 February 1913. She was the granddaughter of slaves. Her grandfather taught her courage during a wave of racial violence in 1919. He sat on his porch with a shotgun telling young Rosa that he dared the “Ku-Kluxers” to come. Rosa McCauley was soft-spoken but strong-willed and a great student. When a white boy on roller skates tried to push her off the sidewalk, she pushed back. His mother threatened to have her arrested. Another time she threatened a white boy who taunted her on the way to school with a brick.

A rare photo of Raymond Parks

A rare photo of Raymond Parks

In 1931, Rosa McCauley met Raymond Parks, a self-taught, politically active barber, and married him in 1932. He was known for his willingness to stand up to racism, and was the first man she deemed radical enough to marry. He was active in the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of nine black men falsely accused of raping two white women, eight of whom were sentenced to death. The Communist Party of America financed their defense and Raymond Parks became an activist in the effort, delivering food to the young men in prison and organizing protests.

Rosa and Raymond Parks had thought the NAACP was too elitist and cautious, but after learning a friend was involved, Rosa Parks went to her first meeting in December, 1943. She was the only woman there, was asked to take notes, and was elected group secretary that day, a position she held for the next twelve years. As secretary, she recorded countless cases of unfair treatment, brutality, sexual violence, and lynchings.

E. D. Nixon

E. D. Nixon

In 1942, Edgar Daniel Nixon (known as E. D. Nixon) entered the picture. Nixon came to the Parks home to register them to vote. A member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union, Nixon had led a voter registration drive in 1940 when he increased the rolls of African American voters from thirty-one to more than seven hundred. In 1945, he ran for President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the first working class man to do so. Parks said that while Nixon was not formally educated, he was sophisticated in ways that mattered. She considered him the first person beside her husband and family who was truly committed to freedom.

Through the NAACP, Rosa Parks attended NAACP events in Jacksonville, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington D.C. where she received leadership training from legendary organizer Ella Baker, the NAACP’s Director of Branches. Baker became a role model and mentor to Parks, and encouraged her to create a NAACP Youth Council in Montgomery.

Fred Gray

Fred Gray

Another figure important to understanding the Rosa Parks story was Fred Gray, at the time a twenty-four year-old attorney, the twelfth African American lawyer in Alabama and the second in Montgomery. Rosa Parks took him under her wing, lunching with him regularly and having him involved in the NAACP and civil rights cases.

In addition to her husband, to E. D. Nixon, and to Fred Gray were Clifford and Virginia Durr, Montgomery’s leading white liberals. One day, Rosa Parks was working for Virginia Durr when they discussed her NAACP work. Virginia Durr suggested Parks attend the Highlander Folk School in New Market, Tennessee where integrated groups of activists developed their leadership skills and civil disobedience. Clifford Durr was a board member and the Durrs raised money to send Parks to a two-week workshop on civil rights. Because it was dangerous to be caught going to Highlander, Virginia Durr rode the bus to New Market with Rosa Parks.

Virginia and Clifford Durr

Virginia and Clifford Durr

At Highlander, Parks and forty-seven other diverse activists lived in an integrated community and developed their strategies and tactics as leaders. She came to admire Highlander director Myles Horton’s spirit and sense of humor. She was also in awe of Septima Clark, the lead instructor, who like Ella Baker, became a role model and a mentor for her as a woman activist. The workshop rejuvenated Parks, but she was pessimistic about the prospects of a mass movement in Montgomery.

While at Highlander, Claudette Colvin, the fifteen year-old secretary of her Youth Council, was on her mind. On 2 March 1955, Colvin had refused to move to the back of a bus and was arrested. Her arrest outraged the community. While Rosa Parks and Virginia Durr raised money for her case, the male leaders in town were concerned that she was too dark-skinned, poor, and young to be a sympathetic plaintiff to challenge segregation. The police also charged her with assaulting officers rather than with violating segregation laws, which limited their ability to appeal. She also became pregnant around the time of her arrest, and her legal team thought an unwed mother would attract too much negative attention in a public legal battle.

On 21 October 1955, eighteen year-old Mary Louise Smith, another Youth Council member, refused to move to the back of a bus and was arrested. She was also considered too poor and young to be sympathetic.

Then on Thursday afternoon, 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks, the Assistant Tailor at Montgomery Fair Department Store, boarded a Montgomery city bus and took her seat in the “colored” section. On the city buses of Montgomery, Alabama, the front ten seats were permanently reserved for white passengers. Rosa Parks was seated in the first row behind those ten seats. When the bus became crowded, the bus driver instructed Parks and the other three passengers seated in that row – all African Americans – to vacate their seats for the white passengers boarding. Eventually, the three others moved, while Parks remained seated, arguing that she was not in a seat reserved for whites. Joseph Blake, the driver, believed he had the discretion to move the line separating black and white passengers. The law was actually somewhat murky on that point, but when Parks defied his order, Blake called the police. This same bus driver, James Blake, had thrown Parks off his bus in 1943 for refusing to move. She said “I had felt for a long time that if I was ever told to get up so a white person could sit, that I would refuse to do so.” Officers Day and Mixon came and promptly arrested her.

Immediately, E.D. Nixon – her friend, coworker, and fellow activist at the NAACP – was notified, and so was Fred Gray, the young African-American lawyer who would handle the case. Gray was the same lawyer who had previously agreed to handle Claudette Colvin’s case if Nixon had chosen to carry that case forward. Nixon and Gray agreed that in Rosa Parks they had a solid citizen around whom the community could rally, and her long activism in the NAACP convinced them that she knew the importance of her case and possessed the courage and commitment the situation would require.

Later that night, Gray phoned his friend Jo Ann Robinson, president of the three hundred-member Women’s Political Council. Robinson started phoning other activists and they agreed that Rosa Parks was just the right sort of person – outwardly ordinary and mild-mannered, inwardly steadfast – around whom a bus boycott could be organized to protest the law. After making her phone calls, Robinson stayed up until dawn with a mimeograph machine, creating over five thousand fliers that would be distributed over the weekend to churches, schools, bars, stores, and private homes.

The next morning, E.D. Nixon phoned Martin Luther King Jr. and other black ministers in Montgomery. Nixon warned them that he wanted to take a segregation case to the Supreme Court, and asked them to organize the support of Montgomery’s black church congregations. King, a young man new to Montgomery and to his congregation, was reluctant to make waves so early in his tenure, but Nixon and the other pastors convinced him that, as an outsider, he had the advantage of not having made any local enemies yet. King agreed to head the effort. He and the other ministers immediately began to use their congregations to mobilize public support for Rosa Parks. She would not be ignored. She would not be alone. Anything that happened to her would happen in the spotlight of public attention. Every black person in Montgomery would know her story.

On Monday morning, when Rosa Parks walked into the courthouse, five hundred supporters stood outside to cheer her. Monday evening, when King and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy arrived at the special boycott meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, they found four thousand people jammed into the church and crowded onto the lawns and surrounding alleys and streets. And, thanks to the fliers, no blacks rode the Montgomery buses that day. Ultimately, the boycott was extended and the African American community of Montgomery stayed off city buses until 20 December 1956, following the United States Supreme Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle, which affirmed a lower court’s ruling that segregated seating on public buses was unconstitutional.

What Rosa Parks did was a spontaneous act of courage, but the only reason her individual act made a difference was because activists organized countless other acts of support. Does Rosa Parks sound like the accidental activist we have learned about in popular culture – the tired seamstress who just wanted to rest her feet after a hard day at work? No. She was an experienced civil rights leader. She often said that the only thing she was tired of was being segregated and mistreated.

And – there is a bit of delicious irony in all of this. I suspect that the Republican candidate who stated that it would be “an honor that would be entirely appropriate” to have Rosa Parks’ portrait on the $10 bill, might be surprised to learn that Parks sat on the national board of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the GOP’s biggest political enemies.

Senator Ted Cruz, ironically, is currently leading the Republican attack on Planned Parenthood, trying to pressure his colleagues in the Senate to threaten a government shutdown to end federal funding for the family planning provider.

Parks’ role on Planned Parenthood’s national board is not the only bit of her history that might make Republicans uncomfortable. She was also influenced by the Communist movement, which laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement in Alabama. In her younger years, she attended Communist Party meetings with her husband, though neither she nor her husband ever joined.

That is the real story of Rosa McCauley Parks. And now you know the whole story, not just the myth.


Read Your Bible Again, Kim Davis

Mike Huckabee, Janet Huckabee, Kim Davis, and Joe Davis

Mike Huckabee, Janet Huckabee, Kim Davis, and Joe Davis

Oh, how I wish Christopher Hitchens were around to write about this. I miss his style, his wit, and his wisdom, but alas he died too soon. So here goes.

While in the Carter County Detention Center, Kim Davis, the official who refused to issue marriage licenses due to her Christian belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, said she was prepared to remain in jail where she had been reading her Bible since her incarceration. After spending six days in jail on contempt of court charges, with several Republican presidential hopefuls rushing to defend her controversial stance in the name of religious liberty, Davis was released.

When Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, she based that decision on her religious beliefs. On August 31, in response to the United States Supreme Court’s refusal to grant her stay request, she said: “I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.” Davis stated that she experienced a “religious awakening” in 2011, following her mother-in-law’s “dying wish” that she attend church. Since then Davis identifies herself as an Apostolic Christian, a sect that follows a literal interpretation of the Bible. She worships three times a week at the Solid Rock Apostolic Church near Morehead, Kentucky. Following her conversion, Davis let her hair grow long, stopped wearing makeup and jewelry, and began wearing skirts and dresses that fall below the knee, in keeping with Apostolic/Oneness tenets regarding “external holiness” (modesty).

Davis says “God’s Word” instructs her not to issue licenses for gay marriage, even though the law compels her to do so. Presidential contenders, including Senator Ted Cruz and former Governor Mike Huckabee, both Christian fundamentalists, have praised her stance.

But I particularly like what Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey has said: “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.”

It is undeniable that the Pentateuch (the Torah), does not like same-sex relations. In the Biblical account of the Garden of Eden, God decrees that a man will be the husband and a woman the wife. (See the second and third chapters of Genesis) In Leviticus 18:22, the text states, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” In Leviticus 20:13, it is specified that both parties in male-male sex shall “be put to death.” That seems pretty much like an open-and-shut case, though one might wonder why Davis, Cruz, Huckabee and others of that stripe seek only to deny gays marriage. Why not execute them as God decreed? After all, that is the biblical way!

But here is the rub. Christian theology teaches that the New Testament amends the Old: What happened in the days of the apostles corrects what came long before. In Acts 13:39 are these words: “By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” I know that Jesus is quoted as saying: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” It is frequently argued that if Jesus did not “destroy” the law, then it must still be binding. Accordingly, such components as the Sabbath-day requirement must be operative still, along with perhaps numerous other elements of the Mosaic Law. This assumption is grounded in a misunderstanding of the words and of the intent of this passage. Jesus did not suggest here that the binding nature of the law of Moses would remain forever in effect. Such a view would contradict everything we learn from the balance of the New Testament. Jesus overturned existing law about sin, about the Sabbath, about the afterlife, and about many other matters. His ministry proclaimed “a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:6.) “Letter” in this context means archaic law – that is, the law that Davis, Cruz, and Huckabee want to have applied today.

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient Scripture, by the most amazing of coincidences they do not mention the other stuff there. For instance, the ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. So the Christian male with a tattoo on his arm that reads “Mom” who declares that God forbids homosexuality and then puts on his cotton/polyester shirt and shaves before going out for dinner at a Red Lobster Sea Food Restaurant is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

If banning homosexuality is “God’s authority” to a modern Christian, the ritual murder of children ought to be as well because such an act is mandated in Scripture. So why do not today’s Judeo-Christians believe in filicide? For mainstream Jews, some ancient doctrines have been reinterpreted by rabbinical commentary or by civil law; for Christians, premises of ancient Scripture have been amended.

And what does the New Testament say about homosexuality and gay marriage? There is silence on the latter and on the former, there is only one real reference. In Romans 1:26-27, Paul observes the following of idol worshippers: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

Christian Fundamentalists prefer translations, such as the God’s Word Bible, that substitute the word “perversion” for “error” in the above quotation from Romans. Yet Many Church-married, monogamous, man-woman, devout Christian couples engage in acts once thought of as perversion. (I will not elaborate here.) Beyond this, Paul frowned on all sexual interaction, including those by men and women married to each other. (I Corinthians 7:29) Paul would love it if all men were single like he; he also told women to remain unmarried. The apostles demonstrated no interest in any form of carnality. While some scholars believe that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, there is no hard evidence to support this belief, and if Jesus experienced erotic longings, the specifics of such desires are lost to history. While the Old Testament is chock-full with lust and rape, by the time the New Testament was written, it was as if sex had gone out of style. Those who beheld Jesus bathed in the glory of the resurrection believed that the long-dreamed of golden age was about to arrive. Sex just did not seem terribly important compared to that.

At any rate, the key word in Romans 1:26-27 is not “perversion,” but “natural.” At present, the science of the question of what a person’s natural sexual preferences are is unsettled, but it tends heavily toward the idea that people are born that way. If we are born with our sexuality, either it is a gift from God or it evolved naturally. And if same-sex attraction is natural, then it is in concord with the New Testament.

In the eight hundred thousand words of the Bible, one can find a verse to support just about anything. Even so, it is disturbing that contemporary Christian conservatives lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon Jesus who offered the world unconditional forgiveness.

So what does all this have to do with same-sex marriage and Kim Davis? The general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, the largest and most influential Apostolic Pentecostal denomination, issued a statement earlier this year in response to the Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriages. In his statement, he defines God’s plan for marriage as “the union of one man and one woman who make a lifelong commitment,” and encourages Christians to “defend the freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion.”

Believing that marriage is “the union of one man and one woman” must make a reading of Deuteronomy 22:13-30 a little awkward, for that is where marriage is defined as being between a man and a VIRGIN, and that is where the punishment for a non-virgin seeking to be wed is outlined: she is to be “taken out and stoned to death.” Groups such as Apostolic Christians, who constantly cherry-pick the Scriptures to support their own point of view while they tacitly ignore others that do not, embarrass and undermine Christianity as a whole. The words of the Bible are made manifest through acts of love, not through acts of hatred and bigotry. It is that plain. It is that simple.

While I do not share Kim Davis’ understanding of the Bible or of Christianity, all of this may explain the basis for her actions. Having said that, however, I must also say that Kim Davis represents the fear of, the ignorance about, and the prejudice against gay and lesbian people that our society has witnessed, all of which is largely based, I believe, on religion and of a misreading of Scripture.

And, really, what does that have to do with the hopes and aspirations of two women or of two men in the 21st century who love each other and who want to live for and with each other in a blessed partnership of intimacy and faithfulness? To use a biblical text to condemn the legitimate desires of homosexual people is to attempt to perfume a sick homophobia with the sweet aroma of Holy Scripture. On the basis of the Bible, prejudiced people such as Kim Davis have fashioned bitter, hostile, destructive attitudes that have victimized gay and lesbian people through the ages. This means that the Bible has been used to justify the murder, oppression and persecution of those whose only crime, or “sin” if you insist, is that they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority of society. (In a 2015 Yougov survey of 1,000 adults, 2% of the sample identified as a gay male, 2% as gay female, 4% as bisexual (of either sex), and 89% as heterosexual.) Such a tactic is so blatantly evil, so overtly ignorant, and so violently prejudiced that it should be worthy of nothing but complete and utter condemnation. If that constitutes biblical morality, I want none of it.

When it came to addressing homosexuality, admittedly a contentious issue in many Christian circles, former President Jimmy Carter, a devout Baptist, talked about its historical nature and delved into his views on how civil ceremonies should be treated. He said: “Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things – he never said that gay people should be condemned.”

Another misconception that people like Kim Davis hold is that homosexual people can be cured of their “disease.” Such cures have never worked. A cure can be achieved only if the diagnosis is correct. No cure can be achieved if the diagnosis is wrong. Homosexuality is not a disease. It never has been; it never will be. Sexual orientation is not a lifestyle of choice. It is an expression of one’s being. Homosexuality is not something one does, it is something one is. In the struggle to overcome this prejudice, the Bible has been quoted with regularity to prove that homosexual people are “sinful.” Most of these quotations came from the book of Leviticus. People used that ancient biblical text as a weapon to justify both their prejudice and their hatred.

Homosexuality is not a sin. It never has been; it never will be. None of those who claimed this literal Bible as their authority would ever have gone to a doctor who practiced medicine out of a medical textbook written when the Bible was written. They know that the world changes and that knowledge grows. They certainly have not chosen to abide by any of the other literal mandates from Leviticus. They do not eat kosher food prepared in a kosher kitchen. They do not put to death those who worship a false god. They do not propose the death penalty for those who have sex outside of marriage. They do not treat epilepsy and mental illness as if they result from “demon possession.” On the issue of homosexuality, however, they insist on quoting this ancient text literally whenever it appears to justify their prejudice, give substance to their fears or affirm their ignorance. In the process of doing these things, well-meaning, but uninformed people actually have turned Christianity from being a source of life into being an instrument of oppression and death.

They apparently do not notice that in the gospels there is the universal invitation of Jesus: “Come unto me all you.” He did not say, “some of you.” They do not recognize that the promise of the Christ in John’s Gospel is an abundant life for all. Abundant life never results from rejection and the withholding of love. They seemingly do not listen when they sing the hymn: “Just as I am, O Lamb of God, I come.” Perhaps this essential biblical inclusiveness will finally break through their prejudice, causing their eyes to be opened to the reality that love always enhances life, while hatred and fear never do anything other than to replicate themselves. One can always hope.

Of course, some have seen this inclusiveness more quickly than others. Justice Anthony Kennedy has seen it more quickly than Justice Antonin Scalia, both of whom were Ronald Reagan appointees to the Supreme Court. Some churches have seen it more quickly than others. The United Church of Christ and my own church, the Episcopal Church, have embraced it more quickly than the Southern Baptist Convention, or even the United Methodist Church. Some politicians and other leaders have also seen it more quickly than others. Both President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden as well as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Vice-President Dick Cheney and former First Lady Laura Bush have supported it more quickly than Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum, and former Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. Once the vision became clear to a few, the movement toward acceptance in our society was rapid. Today, homophobia is dying across the world. Maybe not in the Rowan County Courthouse in Kentucky, but in nearly two dozen countries around the world legislation has been introduced allowing gays and lesbians to marry. The majority of these are in Europe and the Americas. Ireland made headlines in May of this year after becoming the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

We are walking into a new place in our consciousness. Love is triumphing over fear and hate. We are journeying out of the darkness of prejudice into the light and love of acceptance. So, in the name of God, under the authority of the Supreme Court, and according to the laws of this nation, those whom God has joined together let no one separate.

So please, Kim Davis – and others like her – please read your Bible again, but this time really read it. There is a prayer in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that may help. It goes like this (underlining, mine): “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Yes. Amen.

Go It, Old Girl!

Queen Elizabeth II (then and now)

Queen Elizabeth II (then and now)

Today – 10 September 2015 – Queen Elizabeth II will pass the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Buckingham Palace has calculated that Queen Victoria reigned for 23,226 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes (to be precise) – taking into account 63 years, 15 leap days, additional months and days and the meticulous timings of her accession and death.

Queen Elizabeth II will enter the history books when she overtakes Queen Victoria sometime during 9 September 2015. This event takes into account 63 years plus 16 leap days, additional months and days and the timing of King George VI’s death. We should therefore date her reign as longer on 10 September 2015. Though her reign is the longest in British history, the record for the longest reign belongs to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who as of this writing has been on the throne for 68 years, and is the current longest reigning monarch in the world. Will Queen Elizabeth II surpass his record? Only time will tell, but the answer is in her genes. Her mother, Queen Elizabeth – Queen Consort of King George VI – lived to the ripe old age of 101! All things are possible.

Princess Elizabeth, the elder daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, was born in 1926 and became Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms at the age of 25, upon the death of her father. She has reigned through more than five decades of enormous social change and development. The Queen is married to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and has four children and eight grandchildren. Upon her accession to the throne, the new Queen was asked by her Private Secretary what her regnal name would be, to which the new Queen responded, “My own, of course – what else?” She was thus proclaimed as Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

Many people in the United Kingdom have not known another monarch. The British are very used to her. In contrast, Queen Elizabeth II has been monarch during the presidencies of Harry S. Truman, Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Milhous Nixon, Gerald Rudolph “Jerry” Ford, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Ronald Wilson Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton, George Walker Bush, and Barack Hussein Obama.

Three down. . .

On 30 May 2009, Queen Elizabeth II had reigned for fifty-seven years, three months, and twenty-two days. She surpassed King Edward III, who reigned for fifty years, four months, and twenty-five days from 1327 to 1377. She also bested King Henry III, who reigned for fifty-six years and twenty-nine days from 1216-1272. By the end of 2012, she eclipsed King George III, who reigned for fifty-nine years, three months, and two days from 1760-1820.

. . . and ONE to go!!

Queen Victoria [63 years, 7 months, 2 days]

Queen Victoria
[63 years, 7 months, 2 days]

Still, the longest reigning British sovereign is Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who reigned for sixty-three years, seven months, and two days from 1837-1901. Queen Elizabeth II, therefore, will have to reign until 10 September 2015, when she will be eighty-nine years old, to actually transcend Queen Victoria’s record and become the longest reigning sovereign in British history. That feat is by no means impossible. At this writing, the Queen is in good health, is full of vigor and vitality, and shows no signs of slowing down. As it has been said, records are made to be broken! In 1897, near the end of her long reign, Queen Victoria appeared in her wheelchair on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for her Diamond Jubilee. So indisputable were the feelings of loyalty and pride toward their queen that those who gathered there for the occasion greeted Queen Victoria with roaring shouts of “Go it, old girl!” So, too, with Queen Elizabeth II. She has so transformed public opinion of the sovereign and of the monarchy that shouts of “Go it, old girl!” are both appropriate and imperative as she continues her long reign. At the time of the Queen’s milestone, Prince Charles, “King-in-waiting,” will be almost sixty-seven years old and could well be the oldest sovereign to become king when he ascends to the throne! Further, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, second in line to succeed his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, after his father, will have passed his thirty-third birthday and Prince Henry (“Harry”) will be nearly thirty-one-years-old. Prince William is already married and has two children, thus securing the crown for the House of Windsor for quite some time. Prince Henry has yet to marry.


Queen Elizabeth II Portrait of the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee by John Swannell. The portrait’s perspective is from inside Buckingham Palace looking through the iconic balcony seen on so many occasions. In the photograph, the Victoria Memorial appears in the background.

Queen Elizabeth II
Portrait of the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee by John Swannell. The portrait’s perspective is from inside Buckingham Palace looking through the iconic balcony seen on so many occasions. In the photograph, the Victoria Memorial appears in the background.

At this point in history, the future of the British monarchy looks most secure. It has survived for the better part of a millennium. It has survived conquest, invasion, usurpation, murder, divorce, execution, and abdication. It has survived the Reformation and the Commonwealth. It has survived good sovereigns, bad sovereigns, mediocre sovereigns, and great sovereigns. It has survived “Bloody Mary,” “Bad Dick,” Oliver Cromwell, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” a “Nine-Day Queen,” and Wallis Warfield Simpson. It has moved from an absolute sovereign who answered to no one but God to a constitutional sovereign who answers to Parliament and ultimately to the people. Though it has its many detractors, the monarchy in its present form is still the preferred form of government for the majority of the British people.

The future of the House of Windsor looks equally secure. It, too, has survived difficult times: the Great War, the Battle of Britain, the end of the Empire, the “Troubles” in Ireland, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the European Union. In each instance, the House of Windsor has adapted itself accordingly, and has become accessible to the people it serves. Unlike the Tudor Queen Elizabeth I, her namesake, Queen Elizabeth II can rest, assured that the House of Windsor will not end when she ends her days. The greatest legacy of the Prince and Princess of Wales is the security and stability of the House of Windsor for years, perhaps even generations, to come. As Queen Elizabeth  II marked her Diamond Jubilee anniversary, she dedicated herself anew to continuing to serve fellow Britons and those around the world who count her as head of state. Releasing a special set of portraits, taken by John Swannell in the Center Room at Buckingham Palace in December 2011, Queen Elizabeth II sent a message indicating that while she has seen “great advances” since she took over at her father King George VI’s death on 6 February 1952, she is looking forward to the future with a “clear head and warm heart.”

As an American, this event on 10 September 2015 has little significance. We Americans fought a war in the eighteenth century to rid ourselves of the British monarchy, but as an Anglophile – which I am – this occasion is certainly one to celebrate. So I say:


The Ugly American – Part 2

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

In my post last week, I likened Donald Trump to that of the ugly American – the loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home. It is a pejorative term. I will continue in that same vein this week and then have a few concluding thoughts.

Not only has Trump made derogatory remarks about Mexicans and Senator John McCain, but also Trump has made an abundance of degrading remarks about women.

For instance, in the first Republican Presidential Debate, Trump was his usual “ugly American” self in his response to Megyn Kelly’s question about misogyny.

“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’” Kelly began.

Trump, being Trump, interrupted with what he thought was a joke. “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” he said. (Strike One!)

But Kelly was not deterred. “You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees,” she persisted. “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the ‘war on women’?”

Here Trump had a real choice. He could have distinguished himself between his role as reality-TV host and his new role as (Gasp!) GOP front-runner. He could have dialed back. He could have expressed – if not contrition; it is fanciful to imagine that emotion, feigned or real, in the Trump playbook – at least some understanding that what was appropriate on Celebrity Apprentice might not be fit for the campaign trail or, heaven forbid, the Oval Office.

But no. Instead, Trump doubled down in his characteristic fashion – first by changing the subject, and then by lashing out. (Strike Two!)

Trump’s response deserves attention, not simply because of what it tells us about his attitude toward women – who, by the way, account for over half of voters – but about his fundamental fitness for the office he seeks.

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump said. “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness,” he added. “And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”

This statement not only is wrong – incivility is a bigger problem in public discourse than political correctness – but also is intellectually incoherent. Truth-telling about Mexico and China, whose threats Trump went on to cite, has nothing to do with, and offers no justification for, being rude and abusive toward women.

But Trump could not/would not stop himself there. He went on to a thinly veiled menacing threat. “What I say is what I say,” he began. “And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.”

That is – until he did do just that. Hours later. He shared a tweet that called Kelly a “bimbo” and told reporters that she “behaved very badly.” (Strike Three!)

Regarding the women who have appeared on The Apprentice, Trump said, “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously.” (Gee, it must have been his hairdo that they found so irresistible.) Trump has a history of being a crass, tasteless, and ugly American when it comes to women.  He is a man who has made his money on real estate deals, casinos, and bikini-clad women parading as sex objects. (He owns two beauty pageants.) He has called women more insulting names than just “fat pig,” “dog,” “slob,” and “disgusting animal.”  And he is proud of it.  I will not quote all of Trump’s conquest-laden boasts, but take my word for it, he is the all-time champ in this area.

And then there are his infamous business dealings. Even ignoring how often the word “bankruptcy” and “Trump” are uttered in the same sentence, should he be the Republican nominee, the Democrats will have plenty of targets at which to shoot. Even the shirts and suits for his Donald Trump Signature Collection clothing line are made in China and Mexico, respectively. Those two countries are not exactly bastions of fair labor practices.

Now Donald Trump does not seem to care who he upsets with his “ugly American” brand of arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, loud, and ignorant fear-mongering rhetoric that is so typical of today’s Republican Party. He is so over-the-top odious that the words disgusting, offensive, revolting, repulsive, repellent, foul, vile, abhorrent, loathsome, nauseating, appalling, monstrous, intolerable, atrocious and nasty (Did I miss anything?) do not quite describe this totally unkind billionaire who wants to rule the world.

Trump is, in my humble opinion, a caricature of the “ugly American” – a walking, talking outlandish cartoon character who seems to have stepped right out of Central Casting.

There is one thing more. I find the assumption in Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan to be cleverly catchy, but enormously erroneous. That assumption is inherent in the word “again.” Trump contends that somehow America has lost her greatness because low-paying jobs are being filled by Mexican illegal aliens and American consumers are buying products made in China.  Trump measures America’s greatness by her manufacturing capacity, by the number of Americans employed, and by her “first place at the table” in economic and military terms.

But that is not what makes America great.  In fact, America is not great because of her people at all.  The greatness of America transcends her citizens, her money, and her achievements. I suspect that Donald Trump confuses the trappings of wealth and comfort with true greatness.

America is great because she was founded on principles of liberty, natural law, and an enlightened government.  America is great not because of who can be kept out, or how high a wall can be built to keep them out. America is great precisely because of who can be let in – who can be absorbed from the peoples of the world and still remain distinctly American.

America is great because again and again, she stands for what is right, not for her own gain.  She is not perfect, but she usually does what is good and right. America saved the world because it was the right thing to do in WWII.  America fought the Chinese and the North Koreans in the early 1950s because it was the right thing to do and not to let South Korea fall into the hands of a communist regime that today starves its own citizens to make more nuclear bombs.

America’s greatness lies in her basic goodness. Regardless of what others may think of America, “ugly” is not one of the words that describes her.

But at this critical juncture in her history, it seems to me that what America needs most is an authentic statesman or stateswoman who knows the difference between leadership and management and who will inspire the goodness that is America’s greatness, not some blithering, bullying, bombastic, billionaire bigheaded television personality and wannabe political presidential contender. America deserves better than that. America needs someone to bind up the wounds that divide this great nation. And, the Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, she will get that person – and if we are lucky, it will not be Donald Trump.