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Monday, March 9, 2015

Pastorgraphs: “Better or Worse”

E-Vangel Newsletter
March 9, 2015

Christ United Methodist Ministry Center

“Christ in the Heart of San Diego”
3295 Meade Avenue - San Diego, CA 92116 - (619) 284-9205
Pastorgraphs: “Better or Worse”

With all the attention on “Selma” (both the movie and the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”) the question on everyone’s mind seems to be: “Are things in America today better or worse?” The answer seems to be both better and worse. 

At least that is the conclusion of Carlton Reeves. Make that The Honorable Judge Carlton W. Reeves. And let’s get one thing out of the way quickly. He grew up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, my hometown. I continue to be amazed at the number of people who grew up in our little town (population 10,000 or so) who have excelled in so many different fields of endeavor. Judge Reeves became only the second African-American judge to be appointed to the U. S. Southern District Court in 2010. He replaced Judge William Barbour, also a Yazoo City native. And one last sidebar: The U. S. Senate a year ago approved President Obama’s nominee for U. S. District Judge for Northern Mississippi by a vote of 90-0. She is The Honorable Debra Brown, another Yazoo City native, and the first black woman to be a U.S. District Judge in the state. Those appointments themselves argue that things are different, and better in America, especially in Mississippi
Judge Reeves fell under the national spotlight last month with his sentencing speech that, according to National Public Radio, has been read over one million times and counting on their website alone. Reeves was handing down the sentences for the last three of ten white young adults who beat up a black man in a Jackson area parking lot one June night in 2011, running over his body with a truck and leaving him to die.

Instead of simply pronouncing the sentences, Judge Reeves asked the defendants to be seated. He proceeded to read a 2,500-word statement that major news media called “stunning”, “searing” and “breathtaking”. His language was blunt. He used the “N-word” 11 times. But he delivered his speech without anger or bitterness.
Rather than quote portions of the speech, I invite you to read it for yourself here. (

And it is not just about blacks and whites. On the same day a major political party invited the Israeli Prime Minister to address Congress, the head of that same party in Missouri was facing allegations he spread “anti-Semitic rumors” that contributed to the suicide of GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Schweich. Schweich, it turns out, was an Episcopalian. One of his great-grandfathers was part Jewish. But what in God’s name does it matter? Plus, the trial began for a neo-Nazi who allegedly killed three people outside two Missouri Jewish Centers. When arrested, he is reported to have asked authorities, “How many Jews did I kill?” Two of the three he is reported to have slain were United Methodists. Will we ever get to that glorious day when there is no difference between Jew or Greek? Lord, I hope so, and soon.

And the day after International Women’s Day, we must give pause before answering the question, “Are things better now for women and girls?” Will our daughters and granddaughters finally live in a world of equality where there is neither male nor female as it is in God’s eyes?

Up until that June night in 2011, I was a member of the “Moonlight and Magnolia” crowd, as Judge Reeves called it. We are the ones who want to believe in our heart of hearts that, though slowly, Mississippi and America are getting better. But my heart was broken, my spirit too, for James Craig Anderson who was senselessly run down, beaten and killed by a gang of young white racists. You see, if the youth are no better than their lynching grandparents or great-grandparents, it is difficult to argue times have changed.

But times have changed. Justice here was swift and severe, a far cry from the all-white juries, lawyers and judges who failed to convict those who killed Civil Rights organizers and “uppity” blacks who didn’t “stay in their place”.

Those of us who grew up in Yazoo City during the Civil Rights era were extraordinarily blessed to have strong leaders who stood up against the KKK and White Citizens’ Council. But just ask Judge Reeves if Yazoo was perfect. Of course not. As he said, the town was divided by a railroad track, and everyone knew his or her place. But it was a good place that has produced more than its share of leaders in so many professions and fields of endeavor. Lord, will we ever escape the legacy that divides bond and free? I hope so, and soon, very soon.

Judge Reeves concluded his sentencing with these word, almost atoning in spirit:
“These sentences will not bring back James Craig Anderson nor will they restore the lives they enjoyed prior to 2011. The court knows that James Anderson's mother, who is now 89 years old, lived through the horrors of the Old Mississippi, and the court hopes that she and her family can find peace in knowing that with these sentences, in the New Mississippi, justice is truly blind. Justice, however, will not be complete unless these defendants use the remainder of their lives to learn from this experience and fully commit to making a positive difference in the New Mississippi. And, finally, the court wishes that the defendants also can find peace.”

For Christ’s sake,
Bill Jenkins

From The Quote Garden:
Mississippi has a tortured past, and it has struggled mightily to reinvent itself and become a New Mississippi. New generations have attempted to pull Mississippi from the abyss of moral depravity in which it once so proudly floundered in. Despite much progress and the efforts of the new generations, these three defendants are before me today: Deryl Paul Dedmon, Dylan Wade Butler and John Aaron Rice. They and their co-conspirators ripped off the scab of the healing scars of Mississippi ... causing her (our Mississippi) to bleed again.”
~ U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves

Photo Credit: below: Rev. Janet Jacobs, Director of Gambling Recovery Ministries, and retired local pastor of the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, preached yesterday at Exodus UMC. Her Sermon: “The Vision” was inspiring and timely for both Exodus and CMC.

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