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What Anti-Abortion Zealots Really Want

preaching anti abortion gospel lexington kentucky (5)

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker struck down an Alabama law that “enabled judges to put minors seeking abortions through a trial-like proceeding in which the fetus could get a lawyer and prosecutors could object to the pregnant girl’s wishes.” (CBS News)

According to CBS News:

Alabama legislators in 2014 changed the state’s process for girls who can’t or won’t get their parents’ permission for an abortion to obtain permission from a court instead. The new law empowered the judge to appoint a guardian ad litem “for the interests of the unborn child” and invited the local district attorney to call witnesses and question the girl to determine whether she’s mature enough to decide.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker sided Friday with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, writing that the law unconstitutionally and impermissibly imposes “an undue burden on a minor in Alabama who seeks an abortion through a judicial bypass,” and violates the girl’s privacy rights by enabling a prosecutor to call witnesses against her will.

Both the judge and the ACLU said they were aware of no other state with such a law.

Every state requiring parental consent for abortions involving minors must also have a “judicial bypass” procedure so that girls can get a judge’s approval in a way that is effective, confidential, and expeditious, the ACLU said.

The state had argued that the law was intended to allow a “meaningful” inquiry into the minor’s maturity and the process was still a “confidential, and expeditious option for a teenager who seeks an abortion without parental consent.”

The civil rights organization said it had the opposite effect, by enabling lawyers for the state or the fetus to subpoena the minor’s teacher, neighbor, relative or boyfriend to testify she’s too immature to choose an abortion, or that continuing the pregnancy would be in her best interest.

It is unclear how many such proceedings have happened since the law was enacted. Walker noted that a district attorney this summer opposed the abortion request of a 12-year-old girl who had been impregnated by a relative.

That Alabama legislators — most of whom worship the Evangelical Christian God — enacted such a draconian, anti-woman, anti-abortion law should surprise no one. Anti-abortionists will not rest until they have banned abortion, criminalized its practice, and granted personhood to human zygotes. In fact, most anti-abortionists object to abortion for any reason — including rape and incest. Some anti-abortionists even go so far as to oppose abortion even if the life of the mother is at stake, believing that God is the giver and taker of life, and if he wants the mother to live he will make it so.

Not only do anti-abortionists oppose abortion for any reason, an increasing number of them object to the sale and distribution of birth control, believing that God alone opens and closes the womb. These zealots, knowing that access to birth control reduces the need for abortion services, choose to let their peculiar interpretations of an ancient religious text trump what is best not only for women, but for the unwanted children they will bring into the world if they don’t have access to birth control.

Previously, I wrote that I no longer use the phrase pro-life to describe those who oppose abortion. The reason is simple. Anti-abortionists are only pro-life when it comes to the unborn. They will go to the ends of the earth to protect human zygotes and unborn fetuses, but once babies are born, anti-abortionists lose all interest in their welfare outside of throwing a few diapers and cans of formula the way of new mothers. Anti-abortionists are overwhelmingly Republican, supporting policies that harm countless people, including mothers and newborns. Anti-abortionists are overwhelmingly pro-war, pro-capital punishment, anti-euthanasia, anti-single payer/universal health care, and a host of other positions that should, in my mind, be inconsistent with people who hold a pro-life viewpoint. While I am sure that more than a few anti-abortionists are not as I describe here, the loudest voices in the movement support policies that are anti-family.

This is why it is impossible for those of us who support a woman’s right to an abortion to find common ground with anti-abortionists. Theologically driven, anti-abortionists will accept no compromise. Supporting abortion rights is, in the anti-abortionist’s mind, akin to supporting murder. I find it hard to work with people who think that, because of my views on abortion, I am a murderer. Even my support of morning-after drugs is viewed as advocating murder. In the eyes of anti-abortionists, the moment sperm and egg unite in the wombs of women, the results are human beings that should have the same constitutional and legal protections as I have. Insane! you say. Yes, but make no mistake about it, if anti-abortionists have their way, aborting a fetus will be considered premeditated murder, worthy, ironically, of the death penalty. Currently, anti-abortionists, as they continue their incremental assault on Roe v. Wade, are attempting to pass state laws that require burials for aborted or miscarried fetuses. According to the Guttmacher Institute, anti-abortionists continue to make it harder and harder for women to receive abortions. Currently:

  • Physician and Hospital Requirements: 38 states require an abortion to be performed by a licensed physician. 19 states require an abortion to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in the pregnancy, and 17 states require the involvement of a second physician after a specified point.
  • Gestational Limits: 43 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy, with some exceptions provided. The allowable circumstances are generally when an abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health. 
  • Partial-Birth” Abortion: 21 states have laws in effect that prohibit “partial-birth” abortion. 3 of these laws apply only to post-viability abortions.
  • Public Funding: 16 states use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid enrollees in the state. 33 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds except in those cases when federal funds are available: where the patient’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In defiance of federal requirements, South Dakota limits funding to cases of life endangerment only.
  • Coverage by Private Insurance: 12 states restrict coverage of abortion in private insurance plans, most often limiting coverage only to when the patient’s life would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term. Most states allow the purchase of additional abortion coverage at an additional cost.
  • Refusal: 45 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion. 42 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions, 16 of which limit refusal to private or religious institutions.
  • State-Mandated Counseling: 18 states mandate that individuals be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (5 states), the ability of a fetus to feel pain (13 states) or long-term mental health consequences for the patient (8 states).
  • Waiting Periods: 25 states require a person seeking an abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between when they receive counseling and the procedure is performed. Twelve of these states have laws that effectively require the patient make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure.
  • Parental Involvement: 37 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.  Twenty-seven states require one or both parents to consent to the procedure, while 10 require that one or both parents be notified.

Here in Ohio, most abortions are banned after twenty weeks. As of January 2021, Ohio law requires:

  • A patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two trips to the facility.
  • Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, or in cases of rape or incest.
  • Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
  • Medication abortion must be provided using the FDA protocol.
  • The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
  • Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
  • Most patients will undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, since the provider must test for a fetal heartbeat. The patient will be offered the option to view the image.
  • An abortion may be performed at 20 or more weeks postfertilization (22 weeks after the last menstrual period) only in cases of life endangerment or severely compromised health. This law is based on the assertion, which is inconsistent with scientific evidence and has been rejected by the medical community, that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy.
  • The state requires abortion clinics to meet unnecessary and burdensome standards related to their physical plant, equipment and staffing.

Since 2011, Ohio Republican governors John Kasich and Mike DeWine have signed into law scores of anti-abortion laws, resulting in the closure of most of Ohio’s abortion clinics. Nine remain. Showing that they will not be satisfied until ALL abortion is outlawed, Ohio anti-abortionists are attempting to pass a fetal heartbeat bill that, if enacted, will effectively ban all abortions in Ohio. 

Adopting a scorched earth policy where no quarter will be given, anti-abortionists despise anyone who dares to deviate from their extremist views. Those of us who support a woman’s right to choose have no hope of finding ways to meaningfully work with anti-abortionists to reduce the number of abortions. So, we go it alone, advocating for easy, free access to birth control and comprehensive sex education in public schools. Realizing that there will always be unwanted/accidental pregnancies — for whatever reason — we believe that access to morning-after drugs is essential.

Dark is the hour for those of us who support a woman’s right to choose, but we must not give in or lose hope. We must continue to fight, pushing back at every turn, until the gains made by anti-abortionists are overturned — either through legislatures or the judicial system.

Recently, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the U.S. Supreme Court [announced it] will hear a case to decide whether states can ban at least some abortions before fetal viability—directly challenging its decision in Roe v. Wade. The announcement to hear the case on a 15-week Mississippi abortion ban comes as abortion rights are already under unrelenting assault around the country, with states on pace to enact a record number of abortion restrictions this year.

Other posts on abortion

Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contradictions

25 Questions for Those who say Abortion is Murder

Abortion: One Issue Voters

Preaching the Anti-Abortion Gospel

Is Abortion Murder? (A Rationalist’s Take)

“Child-Friendly” Faith

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My dear friend Zoe wrote a short post today about child-friendly faith. Zoe rightly questioned whether teaching children there is a Hell and that they will spend eternity being tortured by God for believing the wrong things is a child-friendly faith. Most Christian sects teach that there is a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun; that the only way to avoid eternal punishment and damnation is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31) — trusting that he will forgive your sins, save you, and give you a home in Heaven after you die. Even the uber-liberal Episcopal Church, in its Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith, officially believes there is a Hell, and the only way to avoid Hell is to repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus.

Evangelicals are what I call the Hell Party. Either believe (and do) the right things or you will go to H-e-l-l. While it is true that preaching on Hell is less frequent today, Evangelicals still believe that Hell is a real place, and that non-Christians will spend eternity there after they die.

The statement of Faith for the National Association of Evangelicals states:

We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

….

We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

Evangelicals believe that humans are sinners by nature; spiritually broken, sick, and diseased the moment they come into this world. Through preaching, along with children’s church programs, junior church, Sunday school, and youth group, Evangelical children are frequently reminded of the fact that they are sinners headed for Hell unless they put their child-like faith in Jesus. From birth to death, Evangelical church attendees are told that Hell awaits those who refuse the saving grace freely offered by Jesus (Calvinists reserve salvation for only the elect). As an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years, I preached countless sermons on Hell. My churches’ junior churches and Sunday schools were staffed by people who understood the importance of scaring the Hell out of children. We believed that the sooner we reached children with the gospel, the better. It was not uncommon for church children to make professions of faith while they were still in kindergarten or primary school. The longer salvation was delayed, the greater opportunity Satan had to get his hooks into them.

One church I pastored, Somerset Baptist Church, had a large bus ministry. Every week, scores of children were bused to the church so trained workers could evangelize them. Hundreds of children made professions of faith — often repeating the act one or more times. In 2020, I wrote a post titled Should Parents Choose a Religion for Their Children? Here’s an excerpt from this post:

In the type of Baptist churches in which my wife and I grew up, children are sent to Sunday school and children’s church so they can be exposed to the church’s teachings on Heaven, Hell, Jesus, salvation, death, and God’s judgment. Children are often emotionally and mentally coerced into asking Jesus into their hearts. Children’s church teachers will often ask their young pupils: do you want to go to Hell when you die? or how many of you want to go to Heaven when you die? What young, immature and impressionable child doesn’t want to avoid the flames of Hell or enjoy the wonders of Heaven?

In many ways, Evangelicals who evangelize children are like door-to-door salesmen selling their customers on the importance of owning their product and the danger of putting off a buying decision to another day. Years ago, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. I would praise the virtues of the grossly overpriced vacuum, trying to get prospective customers to see how much better their lives would be if their households owned a Kirby. If the positive approach failed to work, I’d resort to the methods meant to show them how poorly their current vacuüm was working. I’d even go so far as to use my demo Kirby vacuüm to sweep the prospective customer’s bed, showing them all the dead skin and “mites” the mighty Kirby removed from their bed. The goal was always to get the customer to make an impulsive decision. And this is exactly what happens in many Evangelical churches. Uninformed children are wowed with the wonders of Heaven and threatened with the horrors of sin and Hell. Most children who are exposed to these kinds of sales techniques will “choose” to get saved.

Once children are saved, their parents and churches continue to indoctrinate them in their sect’s particular teachings. Remember, these children do not have the rational capacity to make this choice, nor have they been exposed to alternative religions. Are confirmed, initiated, or saved children really making an informed decision to believe the central tenets of Christianity? Of course not. They lack the requisite intellectual skills necessary to make such a decision. Wouldn’t it be better to expose children to a variety of religions, along with humanism and atheism, and allow them to make a reasoned choice of which to follow when they are old enough to do so?

I have many regrets from my days as an Evangelical pastor, especially how my preaching psychologically harmed people. No amount of saying “I’m sorry” will change the fact that my words harmed children and adults alike. Children, in particular, were emotionally scarred by my sermons on original sin, God’s wrath and judgment, and Hell. You see, church children believed that I loved them, and I only wanted what was best for them. And, from an Evangelical perspective, I did. However, years later, I know that berating children over their “sins” and threatening them with God’s judgment and Hell if they didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer is child abuse. I have had enough conversations with adults who were children in one of the churches I pastored to know that I caused them harm. All I know to do is profusely apologize and use my writing to expose what really goes on within the four walls of Evangelical churches.

sid toy story
Sid, Toy Story

Let me be clear, teaching children they are broken (sinners) and in need of fixing (salvation) lest they are consigned to Sid’s Toy Shop (Hell) is child abuse. There is nothing child-friendly about such preaching and teaching. Why does such abuse continue, you ask? Most church children have parents who were raised in Evangelical churches. They, too, were psychologically abused by pastors, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, and youth leaders. What do we know about abuse? Adults who were abused tend to abuse their children. If parents came of age hearing sermons about original sin, Hell, and salvation through Christ alone, their children experiencing these same things doesn’t seem wrong or abusive. Thus, the abuse cycle continues generation after generation.

A child-friendly faith is one that that doesn’t teach children they are broken; that doesn’t threaten them with God’s judgment; that doesn’t put the fear of God into them by warning them that they will burn in Hell (or be annihilated) if they don’t believe the right things.

In the aforementioned 2020 post, I wrote:

While it is naïve to expect Christian parents to keep their children away from their tribe’s religion, society should require them to not unduly indoctrinate their children. That we don’t reflects the fact that we give Christianity a pass on almost everything when it comes to children. We allow Christian parents to pull their children out of public schools so they can be indoctrinated by evangelists, posing as teachers of knowledge, for their particular sect’s beliefs. We also allow Christian parents to homeschool their children. Millions of American children are homeschooled or attend Christian private (and parochial) schools. These children are taught reason-defying myths such as the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and wine and crackers miraculously turning into Jesus’ blood and flesh once they are prayed over. They are regularly reminded that they are sinful, broken humans in need of forgiveness and salvation, and that Heaven awaits them if they believe, and Hell awaits if they don’t. These types of teachings do incalculable emotional harm to children, often resulting in low self-esteem or psychological problems.

Worse yet, these children are taught lies about the natural world they are very much a part of.  Many Evangelical homeschool parents and private schools teach children that the earth is 6,023 years old, evolution is a lie, and the teaching of the Bible accurately reflects the one and only way to understand the world. While parents and teachers will most likely teach their wards science, they often teach a Christianized version that repudiates biological evolution. They also, thanks to a literalistic reading of the Bible, reject most of what cosmology, archaeology, and geology tell us about the age of the earth and the universe. As a result, children who have embraced this kind of indoctrination are crippled intellectually. Ask any secular college or university professor how difficult it is to reason with children who have been indoctrinated with Fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The intransigence of these students is heartbreaking. Stunted intellectually, they often go through life ignoring vast swaths of human knowledge because it does not fit the narrow confines of what they were taught as a child. Of course, this is EXACTLY what Christian churches and their leaders desire: intellectually-neutered people who continue to look to them for answers.

How did the preaching and teaching you heard at church as a child affect you later in life? Did you lack self-esteem? Were you afraid of God? Did your fear going to Hell? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Short Stories: My First Brush With Death

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1970 Nova SS, I bought it in 1975 for $600

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

When did you first realize that you were not invincible? As I attend baseball and softball games this summer, I can’t help but notice how full of life the players are, ready and willing to face all the challenges that come their way. I, too, remember a time when I thought I had the world under my thumb, bending it to my will. I was fearless, arrogant, and full of life, taking on risks that this older version of me would never undertake. From narrowly dodging a semi-truck with my bicycle to climbing under a stopped freight train on a dare, I was known as a boy who loved to push limits, with no thought of what might happen if I miscalculated and came up short. As daredevils know, every successful dare makes one more brazen and willing to push beyond limits. On one hand, such people often accomplish great things, but they are also those who, when coming up short, find themselves needing medical treatment or bail money to get out of jail. There’s a fine line between foolhardy carelessness and taking risks in hope of great reward. Even after successfully making it to age sixty-three, I readily admit that I am not always sure where that line is. I suspect that my tombstone will say, He Died of One Stupid Decision Too Many. There used to be a television program titled, 1,000 Ways to Die. This show detailed the numerous, sometimes humorous, and often foolish and bizarre ways humans have met their ends. Some of my foolish stunts would have made for a great episode or two.

In the summer of 1975, I turned eighteen. I had returned to Bryan, Ohio, from Arizona, and moved in with my mom. I quickly found employment at Foodland, a local union grocery store. To avoid providing me insurance and full-time benefits, the grocery scheduled me to work forty hours one week and thirty-nine hours the next week. I didn’t care. Who needed insurance and benefits, right? My job as the dairy manager was just a means to an end — providing the money necessary for me to keep my car running and spend every night and weekend running around with my friends. My mom rarely saw me. After work, I was out with friends until late, and weekends were often spent doing group activities. Having recently had a bitter breakup with an Arizona college girl whom I was certain was going to be my wife, I had no interest in dating, so group social activities with my friends provided a balm for my hurting emotions.

After moving back to Ohio, I bought a 1960 Mercury Comet — black with a white top — for $200. Over the course of the summer, I put thousands of miles on the car, traveling all over the tri-state area. One Saturday, a bunch of my friends and I decided to go Clear Lake, a nearby body of water in Indiana. I drove, packing eleven friends in a car meant to hold five or six. With nary a thought for safety, off we went to the lake, spending the afternoon swimming and engaging in non-stop horseplay and flirting. Soon it was time to return home. I deposited each of my riders safely at their homes until only a boy named Kenny and I were left in the car.

Kenny was a couple of years younger than I. I knew Kenny through our attendance at First Baptist Church in Bryan. As we were headed towards Kenny’s home, he asked if he could drive my car. Now, I knew he didn’t yet have his license, but the fact that Kenny had grown up on a farm had, I thought, provided him with the necessary skills to drive an automobile, so I said yes! My car had a six-cylinder motor — 144 cubic inch displacement. Top speed was seventy miles per hour. Off we went with Kenny behind the wheel. As Kenny pulled the car onto Williams County Road 15.75, it began to fishtail a bit in the loose gravel. I thought, at the time, no big deal, Kenny will straighten out the car. Instead, as the car increased its side-to-side motion, Kenny panicked, lost control of the car, and drove it headlong into a ditch bank, rolling the car over twice. In a split second, everything around me turned upside down, and when the car finally came to a stop, Kenny’s head was sticking out of the space once occupied by the front windshield and I, having been thrown from the front to the back seat, found myself with the detached seat lying on top of me. Both of us were, surprisingly, unhurt, though I was so disoriented from the crash (perhaps I had a concussion?) that I went to a nearby farmhouse and walked in without knocking, asking if I could use their phone to call the Highway Patrol. Outside of a few scratches and bumps, Kenny and I were unscathed. Unfortunately, my car was totaled.

When the patrolman asked who was driving the car, I, knowing I would get a ticket for letting Kenny drive, lied, telling the officer that I was behind the wheel. This lie, along with four speeding tickets I would accrue in the coming months, caused my insurance rates to rise to $100 a month. Not only did I have an accident and four moving violations on my record, my replacement car for the Mercury was a 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS — 350 cubic inch displacement and 375 horsepower. I went from a car that couldn’t go faster than seventy miles per hour to a car in which I buried the speedometer needle on more than one occasion at one hundred and forty miles per hour.

This accident was my first real brush with death — at least the first one that impacted me psychologically. The car didn’t have seat belts, so Kenny and I could have easily been ejected from the car. We were lucky to have escaped serious injury. Of course, at the time, our luck was attributed to the providential care of the Christian God. I have often wondered what might have happened if I had let Kenny drive while ten other teenagers were beside us in the car. I can only imagine how much carnage there would have been had the car been stuffed full of happy, I’ve got the world by the tail teens when it rolled over twice. Imagine how much differently this story might have ended had everyone who had gone to the lake still been in the car. Fortunately, they weren’t, and all of them graduated from high school, married, and had children (and now grandchildren) of their own. This would not be my last brush with death, but it was my first — that moment in time when all of us come to realize for the first time how mortal and frail we really are.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Justice For Tulsa — And Olivia Hooker

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

He cradled the baby girl in his arms.  But he did not beam with pride; instead, his face took on the sober look of someone who realizes how much responsibility he has.

“Redemption,” he rasped.  “She is my chance at redemption.”

He’d killed.  It was not a boast or a threat ― or even a confession.  Just a statement of fact:  “I killed.”  Several times, many people ― about 600, by his reckoning.  That the murders ― yes, he called them that ― were sanctioned by his country and ordered by someone above him on the chain of command did not matter, he said.  They were murders, pure and simple, he said.

“I killed.  There’s no other way to say it.”  He didn’t wait for me to take in what he’d said.  Truth is, I couldn’t have, not until much later.  “And there’s no justice, there can never be justice,” he continued.  “If you are a human being, there’s no way you can justify killing another human being.”

He glanced at the baby in his arms.  “All I can do is to love her, give her the best life I can.”  That, he said, was his only hope of “redemption” and the only “step” he could take “toward justice.”

One reason why his words have stuck with me is that he is the sort of man he was:  a blue-collar guy from a blue-collar background.  His family went to church every Sunday but weren’t terribly religious otherwise.  He went to Vietnam, he said, “without much faith, with only a vague belief in God” and “came back with none.”

I thought about that man, long gone, when I heard about the events in Tulsa and Charlotte.  I am no historian, but somehow I sensed that the news, well, wasn’t new.  Like too many other American cities, both are simply re-enacting long-standing fears and resentments between white and black, police and civilians, and those who have and those who have not.

All it took was a few minutes on Google to confirm my suspicions.  Although Charlotte would witness neither the peaceful demonstrations nor the angry protests of the Civil Rights movement that rocked nearby Greensboro, it was a very troubled city, at least according to accounts like the one James Baldwin gave in The Fire Next Time.  

Like Charlotte, Tulsa also did not host peaceful protests or erupt into riots during the turbulent 1960s.  But the self-proclaimed “Oil Capital of the World” was the stage for one of the most destructive race riots in the history of the United States.  That conflagration, like too many others that came before and after it, was sparked by “ black ram is tupping your white ewe” rumors.

On the morning of 30 May 1921, 19-year-old shoeshine “boy” Dick Rowland rode an elevator in the Drexel Building with a white woman named Sarah Page.  You can guess what happened next:  Accounts of the incident changed from one telling to the next, each taking on a layer of lurid exaggeration spun from stereotypes about violent, priapic black men.  The next day, Tulsa police arrested Rowland and began an investigation.

The fears that shaped those re-tellings of the story found a platform in an incendiary article in  the Tulsa Tribune that sparked a confrontation between black and white mobs around the courthouse, where the sheriff and his men barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland. Shots were fired and the blacks, badly outnumbered, retreated to the nearby Greenwood district.

At the time of this conflict, the “Harlem Renaissance” was taking shape.  If Harlem was the Florence of Black America, the Greenwood District of Tulsa was ― as it was often called ― the Black Wall Street.  There was, perhaps, no greater concentration of African-American wealth than was found in the banks, hotels, restaurants, jewelry shops and other businesses in the area.  

The white mobs pursued the blacks into Greenwood, shooting at them and rampaging through homes and stores.   Tulsa’s police chief then deputized hundreds of white residents to descend upon the neighborhood commandeered gun shops to arm them.  He also commandeered private planes to drop bombs in the area.

It is no exaggeration to say that, twenty-four hours later, the Greenwood district had been wiped off the face of the earth.  Reports from the time said that 100 to 300 people were killed, but the exact death toll will probably never be known.  Bodies were bundled into trucks and shoveled into mass graves by the Arkansas River.  

The Greenwood district obliterated, the story of its destruction didn’t make it into history  books. I minored in history, but only learned of the Tulsa pogrom accidentally, when doing ― you guessed it ― a Google search on another topic.  Attention has come to it only during the past few years, as the lawsuits for reparations on behalf of the few remaining survivors have been filed.

One of those survivors is Olivia Hooker, 101 years old.  The next time you hear someone say that African Americans should just “get over it,” tell that person about Ms. Hooker. She earned a bachelor’s from Ohio State University, a Master’s ten years later from Columbia and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Rochester.  That, after becoming ― at age 6 ― one of the thousands of people left homeless from the massacre.  Oh, and she was the first African American woman to join the Coast Guard ― after the Navy refused her because of her race.

She is not seeking reparations for herself, she has said, as much as she is trying to ensure that the terrible events of Tulsa are not forgotten.  That is not surprising when you realize that during her life, she has been an educator (both of her parents were teachers) as well as a psychologist and advocate ― and that she joined the Coast Guard, she says, not because she was interested in a military career but simply to break down a barrier.

In other words, she wanted to achieve justice.  And that is what she still wants.

If the birth of a child can be someone’s chance at redemption, could it be that we are gifted with the very old to give us opportunities, however fleeting, to achieve justice?  If this is the case, people like Olivia Hooker are our last opportunities to do so, at least for those whose lives were destroyed by a racial pogrom in Tulsa in 1921.  And for those whose lives have been ended, or upended, by the tensions that have simmered and, at times, flared up during the near-century since those terrible days in Tulsa.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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Bruce Gerencser