week Target announced its intentions to remove gendered labels from
its toy and children’s bedding sections. They also intend to remove
gender clues – like the blue or pink background of the shelves.
Foxnews.com started their article on this change in this way, “Target
stores are undergoing a sex change of sorts.”1
Many people seemed to respond to the news as Fox covered it – as if
Target was attacking gender, and they attacked back.
told Target that they’d take their business elsewhere, because they
were traditional people who loved their children. That is, they
spoke as if their lives and values were under attack. I think, for
many people, they were. Now, I don’t think that the concept of
gender is particularly fragile, and I have no concerns that it is
about to break. So I don’t think it is in need of vigilantes
defending the importance of placing Barbies on shelves with a pink
background. At the same time, if gender roles are one of the primary
ways that people make sense of the world, then defending the roles,
and defending the ways the roles are formed, would be a way of
preserving the world as one knows it and in this mindset, as it
is easy enough to understand why people, who are aware of changes
happening all around them, might choose to cling to the social norms
that help them make sense of the world. The fear that could come
with sensing change and feeling out of control could easily arise
into a desire to maintain the norms you have always known. However,
it is dangerous.
experienced their values and ways of life under attack with this
news, and they attacked in kind. There are all kinds of ways that
behaviors like this happen in our society. Most often as a society
we encourage others to behave as we see fit through passive
aggressive comments, but more extreme measures, including violence,
are used as well. It amazes me, actually, how strongly people
associate their security and well-being with the maintenance of
value placed on social norms relates to the high murder rate for
trans women of color. In the United States, the murder rate is 4.5
people out of 100,000 people every year2.
Or, 1 in 22,222. The murder rate for trans women of color is 1
person out of 8.3
That makes it about 3000x higher than the US average. 3000. Times.
Higher. MURDER. Rates. The mere existence of trans women of color
threatens people so profoundly that they get killed. The combination
of racism, sexism, and gender normativity has proven deadly at
enormously high rates.
will go to extremes – including extremes of violence – to
maintain their world view and the social norms. This is also true of
the myths we live by. The reasons for slavery were profit, but
church leaders and theologians used their authority and the authority
of the Bible to justify it.4
They were part of the creation of the theory of race.
the theory of race was created
to justify the money made for slave owners by the labor of slaves.
The myth called race theory has killed millions of people. I have
read about this before, but I reviewed my knowledge this week by
reading a paper by Audrey Smedley, Professor of Anthropology Emerita
Virginia Commonwealth University. She says,
originated as a folk idea and ideology about human differences; it
was a social invention, not a product of science. Historians have
documented when, and to a great extent, how race as an ideology came
into our culture and our consciousness.”5
“English laws had terminated all forms of slavery centuries before
their arrival in the Americas.”6
differentiation between poor workers in the colonies started because
of the fear created by the Bacon rebellion in 1676. It was a threat
to the social stability of the time. Smedley explains, “The
decisions that the rulers of the colony made during the last decades
of the 17th century and the first quarter of the 18th century
resulted in the establishment of racial slavery. They began to pass a
series of laws separating out Africans and their descendants,
restricting their rights and mobility, and imposing a condition of
permanent slavery on them. … Some colony leaders began to argue
that Africans had no rights under British laws and therefore could be
subject to forced labor with impunity.”7
continues, “Colonial leaders were … laying the basis for the
invention of race and racial identities. They began to homogenize all
Europeans, regardless of ethnicity, status, or social class, into a
new category. The first time the term “White,” rather than
“Christian” or their ethnic names (English, Irish, Scots,
Portuguese, German, Spanish, Swede) appeared in the public record was
seen in a law passed in 1691 that prohibited the marriage of
Europeans with Negroes, Indians, and mulattoes (Smedley 2007, 118). A
clearly separated category of Negroes as slaves allowed newly freed
European servants opportunities to realize their ambitions and to
identify common interests with the wealthy and powerful. Laws were
passed offering material advantages and social privileges to poor
whites. In this way, colony leaders consciously contrived a social
control mechanism to prevent the unification of the working poor
this early history, we gained the conception of race. A final note
by Smedley, “In the 1860s, slavery ended, but “race” as social
status and the basis of our human identities remained. Race ideology
proclaimed the existence of separate, distinct, and exclusive groups
that were made unequal by God or nature.”9
intentional creation of race, for the purpose of legitimizing the
barbarous act of slavery – already known to be barbarous for
centuries in British law – but necessary to turn a profit has
dehumanized human beings and legitimized their murders for nearly 400
see, almost every day now, the impact of this theory on the lives of
people in our country. The creation of race theory was not only the
creation of a theory about so-called “blacks” but also the
creation of the idea of so-called “whites.” Since then it has
expended to define and separate people into various “categories”
of humanity with associated stereotypes. The categories also have
associated murder rates. People of color, both men and women, young,
middle aged and old are being killed in our country, including by our
police forces at atrocious rates. The THEORY of RACE is still
perpetuating its evil. It
is time to throw the theory out and replace it with a better one.
better world view comes from a more ancient source. Paul says,
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ
Jesus.” As followers of Jesus, we are not to buy into social norms
about race, or gender, or any theory that some humans have value and
others don’t. There is no distinction. We are united. We are one.
A harm to any individual is a harm to us all.
gospel passage about the Syrophoenician woman comes to the same point
as Paul! Ched Myers, author of Binding
the Strong Man,
points out that the woman’s “solicitation is an affront to the
honor status of Jesus: no woman, and especially a gentile, unknown
and unrelated to this Jew, would have dared invade his privacy at
home to seek a favor. A rebuff by Jesus thus is not only
understandable but expected.”10
And the dog comment was REALLY insulting. But she doesn’t give up!
She argues back with him. Which was a further affront to his honor.
Yet, at that point he concedes the argument, acknowledges her point,
heals her daughter, thereby extending his ministry outside of Jewish
boundaries. And it is said that he heals her daughter because of her
ARGUMENT, not her faith!! To go back to the words of Myers, “Jesus
allows himself to be ‘shamed’ (becoming ‘least’) in order to include
this pagan woman in the new community of the kingdom; so too Judaism
will have to suffer the indignity of redefining its group boundaries
(collective honor) in order to realize that gentiles are now welcomed
love the words. “Judaism will have to suffer the indignity of
redefining its group boundaries in order to realize that gentiles are
now welcomed as
Doesn’t it sound like the work of transforming race theory? It also
sounds like the work of grace, the unmerited favor and love of God
which we all experience whether we realize it or not.
is God’s love for us. We are not expected to be up to the standard
of offering pure unmerited favor and love to others AND YET it is the
goal of Methodists to put aside the things that keep us from being
able to do so until nothing but God’s love lives in us – that is –
until grace can shine through us. We’re at trying to attain life
lived as grace.
both of our texts today, we are challenged to extend the love of God
beyond any reasonable boundary – to all people. In Christ we are
called beyond the things that separate us, beyond the things that
define us, into wholeness with God and with each other. Social norms
don’t stand in the way of grace. We are to throw away anything that
gets in the way of living toward grace, including social norms.
is the most defining doctrine of United Methodists, likely based on
the theology of John Wesley which was entirely focused on it. It is
so our thing that Amazing Grace is our favorite song by a landslide.
Of all United Methodists, 39% claim it as their favorite song.12
And grace, it seems, is the essential way to transform the world.
It leads us to compassion. It leads us to humanizing other people.
It stretches us beyond our comfort zones and our safe places. It
takes our norms and chops them to pieces, and in doing so makes space
for joy and love and wonder to abound.
this sermon series, in addition to all the other things that have
been happening, I’ve been sharing some of the ways I’ve recently felt
free to name and understand the Divine. John Shelby Spong in A
New Christianity for a New World
discusses the idea of God as the ultimate source of love. He says,
“One worships this God by loving wastefully, by spreading love
frivolously, by giving love away without stopping to count the
and brothers – that’s it. That’s God. That’s the gospel. That’s
the Epistle. That’s John Wesley’s point in new words. That’s the
solution to race theory. Love wastefully, and let others see it.
Wasteful, boundless, ridiculous, wonderful love – grace – changes
the world. Thanks be to God. Amen
going gender neutral in some sections” on published on August 13,
Accessed August 15, 2015
of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
chapter 2: “Drawing the Color Line” (Perennial Classics, USA,
Smedley “THE HISTORY OF THE IDEA OF RACE… AND WHY IT MATTERS”
a paper presented at the conference “Race, Human Variation and
Disease: Consensus and Frontiers,” sponsored by the American
Anthropological Association (AAA) on March 14-17, 2007 in
Warrenton, Virginia. Found at
on August 15, 2015, page 2.
Myers, Binding the Strong Man
(Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY, 1988, 2008), page 203.
Shelby Spong A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional
Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born
(HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) page 72.