An(other) Open Letter to the President of the United States of America

20170824 ESAAugust 25, 2017

The President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mister President:

I learn today that you have pardoned Joseph Arpaio, former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for his conviction related to violations of citizens’ civil rights in defiance of federal court orders.

Further, I learn today that you have issued a directive to the Defense Department which will ban transgender persons from serving in the United States Armed Forces.

And, of course, I have listened to your words and your tone over the last two weeks since white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of them killed a young woman. Your initial response made a false equivalence between people attempting to preserve their civil rights and people who seek to take those rights away from them. Your second response clearly condemned the racist and violent agenda of white supremacy. It was late, but it was clear. But the very next day you returned to that false equivalency again.

Let me be clear with this, sir: there are no two sides between those who would dominate and those resisting domination. We are not talking about plain bigotry. We are talking about who makes choices for other people. The white supremacists claim that they should make the decisions which impact those of darker skins, or who are women, or who find love differently than they.

They are wrong. They should not. And you should not encourage them as you did last week in Phoenix, as you have done today with the pardon for Mr. Arpaio, and as you have done today with a ban on transgender persons.

Fortunately, there is a remedy for this. It is called repentance, and it is an ancient religious tradition. Here’s how it works:

You acknowledge the wrong.

You apologize for the wrong.

You do what can be done to undo the wrong. Now, you can’t revoke the pardon for Mr. Arpaio, but you can clearly order ICE agents to refrain from the racial profiling activity Mr. Arpaio engaged in.

And you strive never to do that wrong again.

Sir, you owe it to the American people. We need to see that you serve all America’s citizens, and not just those with light skin.

If you cannot, there is another remedy. It’s also very simple. It goes like this:

You address a letter to the Secretary of State, which reads:

“I resign the office of President of the United States.”

Because, sir, if you cannot apologize for these words and actions, you should not hold this office.

Peace to you,

Eric Anderson

To the Attorney General of the United States

IMG_2103Dear Mr. Attorney General,

According to your statement in an interview, you do not feel that a judge on “an island in the Pacific” should be able to review a federal executive order.

Apparently, Mr. Sessions, you haven’t heard that federal judges do, in fact, have the power to review executive and congressional action and evaluate them for constitutionality and adherence to other relevant federal law. Or, I suppose, you haven’t heard that the judge in question is, in fact, a federal judge.

I’ll assume that you know that this island in the Pacific is a full member of the United States of America.

Well, Mr. Sessions, this is one of several islands in the Pacific, it’s true. Islands, it seems, where we can read an executive order and spot its inhumanity, its injustice, and its betrayal of American values. Islands, it seems, where we understand the processes of American jurisprudence. Islands, it seems, where we will stand for the best of America when others will not.

Mr. Sessions, you are an officer of the court. You owe a federal judge an apology. Mr. Sessions, you are a cabinet member of this administration. You owe an entire state (some of whose citizens voted for your principal) an apology. Mr. Sessions, you are a human being. You need to examine your heart, abandon these policies of racial and religious discrimination, and start over.

Mr. Sessions, you need to repent.

Sincerely yours,

Eric S. Anderson, Pastor
Church of the Holy Cross United Church of Christ
Hilo, Hawai’i

Another Day that Should Live in Infamy

internmentIt’s called Remembrance Day. I only became aware of it a couple of years ago. And, I shamefacedly confess, I am all too subject to forget it. To forget Remembrance Day is not just a terribly irony – it’s a social, moral, and spiritual travesty.

On February 19, 1942, President Frankly Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the detention and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in the United States without due process of law. Today is the 75th anniversary of that order, and it is a day that should live in infamy.

The irony that the US should imprison citizens in concentration camps – Roosevelt’s word – and condemn Germany for it, is chilling, to say the least. Mercifully, Americans did not seek a “final solution” and begin wholesale murder as the Germans did, but that comes as cold comfort.

Today, the scandal receives little attention. Actor George Takei and a number of theatrical professionals brought the story to Broadway in 2012 in the musical Allegiance, which I saw in a wonderful stage-to-film event a couple months ago. Congress voted restitution payments to survivors in 1988, and included a formal apology in the legislation. The most recent reference I’ve heard to it in national news, however, was author Carl Higbie’s assertion that Order 9066 provided a legal framework for a registry of Muslims.

His Fox News interviewer, Megyn Kelly, was horrified. But it is true that the federal courts upheld Order 9066 during the war – though these decisions were reversed in the 1980s when newly discovered documents revealed that evidence had been withheld, and false evidence presented, during the legal proceedings of the 1940s.

I will not forget.

I may forget the date – I’m not good with dates – but I will not forget the injustice, the suffering, and the evil. Why?

I will remember because many of the parents and grandparents of the people I serve endured the unjust suspicion, prejudice, and oppression of the US military during the Second World War. Two of the people at whose funerals I have officiated were forced into internment camps. And I know members of East Hawai’i’s Muslim community, and they know the history.

They wonder if they are next.

I will remember in order that no one will be next. 

Today in worship, we joined in a litany for Remembrance Day. Written by Ellen Godbey Carson of Church of the Crossroads UCC in Honolulu, it concludes with these words:

Loving God, help us be your hands in the world.
Give us the courage to stand up, speak out,
and protect the dignity and rights of all of your children.
Help us learn to celebrate our differences rather than fear them.
Help us learn to love the whole of Your diverse creation!

Photo by Russell Lee.

We Must Not Be Silent – Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2017

img_1818This address in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day was presented on January 16, 2017, at Ho’oheau Park in Hilo, Hawai’i. I am tremendously grateful to have been invited to participate in the program.

It is confession time: I have spent too long silent.

If you’d like excuses, and if if you don’t, I can provide some: I thought the victory had been won: by thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of marching feet when I was still a child. I thought the victory had been won.

I thought the victory had been won: by attorneys contesting unjust statutes for the highest courts, and winning their cases. I thought the victory had been won.

I thought the victory had been won: by people of color coming out to vote with courage and commitment. I thought the victory had been won.

I thought the victory had been won: by the repentance of haole hearts.

I was wrong.

The statistics told me the truth. And as long as the rates of incarceration, or poverty, or ill health correlate to a race, the victory has not been won.

People I love told me the truth. And as long as stories told by people of color in their encounters with authority fail to match the stories I tell about my encounters with authority, the victory has not been won.

When the President-elect condemns John Lewis faster than he condemns David Duke, the victory has not been won.

And it has gotten worse.

In my lifetime, I have heard public racial epithets fade away, as those who spoke them paid a social or economic or political price. And in my lifetime, I have heard them return, as those who spoke them failed to pay a social price that they were not willing to pay.

The words, and even more the deeds, the policies, and even more the structures, must face a social, economic, or political price that they are not willing to pay, or the victory will not be won.

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote: “My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral high light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

I would add now, that we are finding through painful experience that freedom may be denied again by a resurgent oppressor.

I must not be silent. You must not be silent. We must not be silent. And the time to speak is now.

Dr. King also wrote, in that same Letter from the Birmingham Jail: “More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge the time is always ripe to do right.”

The time is always ripe to do right.

The time is ripe to reject religious tests for entry into our nation. The time is ripe to demand that citizens not face hurdle after hurdle to exercise their right and responsibility to vote. The time is ripe to demand that health care not be limited to those with wealth, and that those who are sick may obtain the treatment which is their due as human beings. The time is ripe to do right.

I must not be silent. You must not be silent. We must not be silent. The time is ripe to do right.

Thank you very much.