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Easter Sunday, when Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is also —and not accidentally — a tragic anniversary in American history.
On Easter Sunday 1873, 145 years ago, hundreds of white men in Colfax County, Louisiana, took up arms after Sunday morning worship services and marched to their county courthouse to reclaim control of the local government from representatives who had been democratically elected by black and white people voting together. Standing their ground in the hopes that federal reinforcements would arrive in time, every defender of democracy at the Colfax County courthouse was murdered.
White Democrats across the South took their cue from this violent coup d’etat and developed the “Mississippi Plan,” which capitalized on the narrative of white fear to suppress black political power in the presidential election of 1876 and overturn Reconstruction through a compromise with Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes. This white supremacy campaign also sometimes goes by another name: the “redemption movement.”
Faith stories have power to catalyze movements for good as well as for evil in our world.
A white son of the South, I didn’t learn this history when I was growing up. Without question, I got up before sunrise every Easter morning and went out to the graveyard behind our Southern Baptist church to hear the redemption story of how Jesus died to save us from our sins — and then rose again, despite all odds. Redemption was our story of hope. As a child, I couldn’t have imagined it becoming a justification for terrorism.
But faith stories have power to catalyze movements for good as well as for evil in our world. Any serious attempt to grapple with American history must acknowledge that faith has played a role on both sides of our major struggles — among the abolitionists and the defenders of slavery in the 19th century; among civil rights activists and segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s.
And what is true about our past is at play in the present: Christianity’s redemption narrative is being deployed again today toward disparate visions of what kind of nation America should become. As a white evangelical in this land, I can’t celebrate Easter in 2018 without working to reclaim the concept of redemption from the forces that attempt to use my faith and its founding stories to defend white supremacy.
Christianity’s redemption narrative is being deployed again today toward disparate visions of what kind of nation America should become.
Since he first emerged as a viable presidential candidate in the spring of 2016, Donald Trump seemed an obvious contradiction to the family values that evangelicals espouse. Yet exit polls suggest around 80% of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016 — a higher percentage than George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan ever won. Over a year later, as the president’s approval ratings hover around 40% among the general public, 78% of white evangelicals still say they support Trump. Clearly, this is a matter of faith for an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals.
Trump’s own slogan — “Make America Great Again” — is a redemption story in a nutshell. It assumes a fall from which must now be saved. It may be tempting for some to point to 2008 and hang this white anxiety on America’s first black president. But Barack Obama, as a person, remains too popular among all Americans for this theory to be true. No, the redemption narrative that gave us Trump is not so much about Obama as it is about the black, brown and younger white coalition that made Obama’s presidency possible. No one stated this white anxiety more clearly than Michele Bachmann, in an address to the Values Voter Summit before the 2016 election. “It’s a math problem of demographics,” she noted, claiming “this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles.”
As in Colfax County 145 years ago, faith didn’t moderate white evangelicals’ desire to hold onto political power in 2016; it fueled their resolve to maintain control by any means necessary.
Faith didn’t moderate white evangelicals’ desire to hold onto political power in 2016; it fueled their resolve to maintain control by any means necessary.
But this Easter in America, we also have the opportunity to recall a very different redemption narrative. Rooted in the love ethic of Jesus and the Baptist church that raised him, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked tirelessly with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s to expand civil rights, voting rights and human rights, both in the South and across the nation. SCLC’s slogan was also a redemption narrative: “To save the soul of America.”
Like Jesus, King too was murdered. King died 50 years ago this week while seeking to build a cross-racial coalition to address inequality in America through a Poor People’s Campaign. In a redemption story, every crucifixion demands a resurrection. We who believe in love and justice in America this Easter must reclaim redemption from those who would use it to prop up white nationalism and bigotry. To fail to do so is not only to dishonor the memory of King and the defenders of democracy in Colfax County; it is to reject the life and witness of the resurrected Jesus, whom Christians worship today.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is the author of “Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion.” He serves on the National Steering Committee of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
St Vincent volcano: Around 16,000 people flee communities after eruption of La Soufriere | World News
About 16,000 people have had to flee their ash-covered communities after a volcano erupted on the Caribbean island of St Vincent.
The eruption of La Soufriere on Friday has transformed the island’s usual lush towns and villages into a gloomy, grey landscape.
It was the 4,000-ft volcano’s first major eruption since 1979.
Thousands of residents have had to evacuate their homes and seek shelter with as many belongings as they could stuffed into suitcases and backpacks.
It comes after a strong sulphur smell was unavoidable on Saturday as ash blanketed large parts of the island.
There have been no reports of anyone being killed or injured by the initial blast or those that followed.
The had government ordered people to evacuate the most high-risk area around the volcano before the eruption after scientists warned that magma was moving close to the surface.
Government authorities delivered water, food and supplies to the shelters where many had fled to.
The island’s international airport remained blanketed in ash and smoke on Saturday making the runway barely visible.
Western Australian towns evacuated after tropical cyclone barrels down with 100mph winds | World News
A tropical cyclone has hit the western coast of Australia with winds of more than 100mph (170km) and much of the area put on “red alert”.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology, Todd Smith, said cyclone Seroja was now at category two but had reached “category three cyclone intensity” with damaging winds which would continue into the night.
Emergency services opened shelters in preparation for the high winds and coastal flooding.
Category 2 #TCSeroja rapidly moving southeast. Impacts to the west coast of WA begin this afternoon and inland parts this evening and overnight. Dangerous conditions including destructive wind gusts, intense rainfall and a dangerous storm tide. Latest info https://t.co/bku7VbhoZa pic.twitter.com/UD1DrGfve9
— Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia (@BOM_WA) April 11, 2021
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said in a bulletin: “There is a possible threat to lives and homes.
“You need to take action and get ready to shelter.”
The DFES has so far put five coastal towns on “red alert”.
Some towns north of Perth were evacuated while sandbags were being made available to residents further down the coast.
A category three classification can see wind speeds of up to 170mph (224km).
After touching down on the north western town of Geraldton (124 miles/200km north of Perth) and dumping more than 10cm of rain in just two hours, tropical cyclone Seroja headed inland, lessening slightly in intensity.
However, officials were still braced for a “high degree of damage” to buildings in the area.
A spokesman for the Western Australia emergency services department explained that buildings were not constructed to withstand such strong winds in a region as it typically too far south to fall into the path of cyclones.
Russia: Inside the Kremlin’s military build-up along the Ukraine border | World News
At the Maslovka railway station just south of the Russian city of Voronezh, there’s a small military camp, a few trucks and a tent.
The clearing in front is rutted thanks to the steady unloading of military equipment in recent weeks.
A soldier recognises us from the day before.
“Hello spies,” he said.
Russia’s military build-up in Crimea and along the border with Ukraine has hardly been subtle.
It has coincided with the breakdown of the latest ceasefire in the simmering conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
More and more videos have appeared on social media of Russian troop movements – artillery convoys along the bridge connecting Russia with Crimea; trains loaded with weaponry coming from as far east as Siberia.
These sightings from ordinary Russians alongside warnings from Ukrainian generals preceded the Russian military’s announcement of exercises in the region and sent alarm bells ringing across Western capitals.
The kit unloaded at Maslovka is headed to a nearby training ground, which has been turned into a huge military field camp.
It stretches for around a mile and a half and backs right onto a neighbourhood of dachas, the weekend homes of mostly Voronezh city-folk who tell us the build-up began in late March.
We accidentally drive right in, though the soldiers make no effort to come after us.
There are a large number of military trucks, row after row of tents, troops milling about.
The sign at the entrance is one that most Russian conscripts remember from military service – “Difficult on exercise, easier in the fight”.
The site was first identified through open source methods by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) in Moscow.
“It looks more like preparing for an offensive operation, not just to protect our land,” CIT’s Ruslan Leviev told us in Moscow.
But he does not believe it’s a prelude to war.
“It looks like a show of force to put pressure on the Ukrainian government, to show your posture on the international stage, to show your position to the new American administration.”
Locals pottering around their dachas hardly spare a thought for the military build-up next door.
“If Zelensky (the Ukrainian president) isn’t a fool, then nothing will happen. If he is a fool, anything could happen,” said Nina, a pensioner who we meet watering her garden.
“‘Anyway, it’s not him who decides things, it’s the Americans.”
She does not want to give her surname.
“I hope I haven’t revealed any military secrets,” she added.
“There are always exercises here, every summer,” said Yuri, a local guard.
“Stop all this talk of war.”
But there are not exercises on this scale.
Neither here nor elsewhere along Russia’s border with Ukraine.
Not since the annexation of Crimea has Russia beefed up its presence there to this extent, re-deploying an air brigade from near the Estonian border and sending 10 naval vessels from the Caspian to reinforce the Black Sea fleet.
In response, the US has announced it will send two warships into the Black Sea.
The German chancellor asked Vladimir Putin this week to wind down the military build-up.
This Sunday after consultations with his US counterpart, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted the same.
It does not appear to be happening.
The Russian position is clear. What happens on Russian soil is Russia’s business.
It is hard to argue with that.
The UK 🇬🇧 & US 🇺🇸 firmly oppose Russia’s campaign to destabilise Ukraine. @SecBlinken & I agreed Russia must immediately de-escalate the situation & live up to the international commitments that it signed up to at @OSCE. Our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty is unwavering.
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) April 11, 2021
But ostentatious muscle-flexing around Ukraine is not an option for the West to ignore – the stakes are too high, they are for all involved.
Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky may clamour for fast-track NATO membership but he will not get it.
For all their loud protestations over NATO’s possible eastward-creep, the Kremlin knows that.
US President Joe Biden may declare his unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity but he will be wary of walking anywhere near potential conflict with Russia.
And surrounded as he is by Russian forces, president Zelensky knows re-taking the country’s eastern Donbas region, parts of which are held by separatists, is wishful thinking as is any large-scale fight with his powerful neighbour to the East.
It is of course hard to know what Russia is playing at but they seem to be eyeing the long game.
Coercive diplomacy to extract concessions in negotiations on Donbas, a powerful display of military muscle for the new US administration to take note of while the de facto annexation of the separatist regions of Ukraine chugs along apace.
According to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti, 420,000 people in the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics have already received Russian passports.
Russia is aiming for one million by parliamentary elections this September.
“It’s unifying their legislation with the Russian one, it’s providing them with the Russian vaccine, it’s providing them with passports. It doesn’t mean Russia wants to annex them,” said Maxim Samorukov from the Moscow Carnegie Institute.
“At least in the near future,” he added.
It also provides quite the justification for full-scale intervention should Russia’s calculus change.
President Putin has said allowing Ukrainian troops along Russia’s border with the separatist regions could lead to a Srebrenica-type massacre – the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces.
Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s representative in negotiations on Ukraine, has threatened that a Ukrainian assault on Donbas would be a ‘”self-inflicted gunshot wound in the foot and to the head”.
“If the Srebrenica massacre takes place there, we will have to stand up for their defence,” he said.
Sharp rhetoric to match an aggressive display of military might.
All in the interests of deterrence? Perhaps.
But also an indication that eight years of sanctions has hardly served to deter Russia from at the very least flexing its muscles, if not more.
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