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article imageZimmerman verdict: Ivy League prof, 'American god, white racist'

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jul 17, 2013 in Lifestyle
An associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Religious Studies, Anthea Butler, has drawn fierce criticism after a post to an online magazine, the Religious Dispatches, in which she said "the American god" is a "white racist."
The professor posted the blog article on Sunday to, where she is a regular contributor, after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin. According to Butler, the verdict shows that the "American god" is a "white racist" who stalks "young black men."
Referring to a book she read as a seminary student, entitled, "Is God A White Racist?" by Reverend Dr. William R. Jones, she said that at the time, she did not appreciate the message, but "Now, as a wiser, older professor looking at the needless death of Trayvon Martin, I have to say: I get it."
She wrote: "God ain't good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men."
According to Butler, Trayvon Martin's killing was due to racism linked to the history of Christianity in the US. She wrote: "As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history."
She recalled Zimmerman's statement that shooting Martin was "God's plan" and noted how the statement reflects the tendency of conservative Christians to use God to defend ideologies designed to enslave.
She wrote: "When the laws were never made for people who were considered, constitutionally, to be three-fifths of a person, I have to ask: Is this just? Is it right? Is God the old white male racist looking down from white heaven, ready to bless me if I just believe the white men like Rick Perry who say the Zimmerman case has nothing to do with race?"
Butler's reference was to the "Three-Fifths Compromise," which, ratified in 1789, established the Constitutional principle that slaves were only three-fifths of a person.
Butler continued: "Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts... When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am...
"While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are 'pro-life.' They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right, and I am sure my inbox will be full of well-meaning evangelical sermons about how we should all just get along, and God doesn't see race."
According to Fox News, Josiah Ryan, editor-in-chief of Campus Reform, described Butler's reaction as bizarre, saying: "No amount of heartbreak over the Zimmerman acquittal justifies these hateful posts. Professor Butler's remarks were clearly designed to hurt when Americans needed healing and to divide when we needed unity. In tumultuous times students must be able turn to their professors for calm and wisdom. In stoking the flames of hatred, Professor Butler has betrayed her students' trust. UPenn administrators ought not to allow her back in the classroom."
The Huffington Post reports that Butler has responded to criticisms of her comments in the conservative media, saying that her argument was misunderstood. According to Butler some readers missed the fact that she distinguished between "god" and "God." She also noted that conservatives tend to be most sensitive to statements that touch on issues of racism because it highlights aspects of the attitudes they publicly deny.
The Huffington Post reports she said in a phone interview: "First of all they don't understand it's between small 'g' god and big 'G' God. Big 'G' God is the deity. Little 'g' is different kinds of gods. Anyone who reads Religion Dispatches knows this... But this was especially touchy for [conservative Christians] because I hit on some things that are kind of true."
This is not the first time that Butler has come under attack over her comments, the Huffington Post writes. In December, she received hate mail in response to comments about gun control and racism after the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. She has a Tumblr page called "The Things People Say" where she collects angry criticisms she has received. She told the Huffington Post: "The fact that I even continue to write is my way of saying, 'I'm going to engage the public whether you people like it or disagree or not. It is a calling for me. I went to seminary. I got a Ph.D. Some people decide to minister and go to church and preach. My calling is to engage the public and the public's understanding of religion. That is what I do. That is who I am. It's to talk about these hard things, like race and religion." She concluded:
"[It's] foreign to people who think they know how American behavior should be. People say we are post-racial, but we are anything but post-racial. We are in Jim Crow Part II. And that is what's going on. It's tiring, but I am resolute."
Anthea Butler is an author and contributor on MSNBC and CNN. She holds a doctorate in religious studies from Vanderbilt University as well as a masters in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.
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