A “Sickening” Overreaction

I did not watch the Oscars, but I do not live in a cave, either, so I know about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. I do not condone Smith’s actions. Oscar hosts and presenters have always been expected to taunt, tease and, sometimes, humiliate, those in attendance. Whether you think that is right or wrong, that’s the way it has been…and what Rock said about Jada Pinkett-Smith was quite mild compared to what I have heard from some hosts and presenters in the past.

I have heard some people suggest that the reason behind Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head might be a factor in Smith’s response, but that doesn’t seem to hold much weight. She shaved her head last July after encouragement from her daughter to do so. She apparently acknowledged several years ago that she had struggled with hair loss issues and the tests to try to determine the reason revealed no medical issues. Relieved by that, Pinkett-Smith said that she “put it into a spiritual perspective, like the higher power takes so much from people,” like cancer, for example, and she was grateful that she was only losing her hair.

I realize that it is more common and probably less attention-getting for men to lose their hair than women, and I am not going to suggest, as someone who began losing his hair before he even graduated from college and has been “bald” for many years now, that I can empathize with what Pinkett-Smith went through in dealing with hair loss. But, whether appropriate or not, a bald head does tend to attract some wisecracks. For Rock to make a passing reference to G. I. Jane 2 in regard to Pinkett-Smith is pretty tame.

In 2013, Seth MacFarlane uttered what may be the worst attempted joke in Oscar history, saying, “The actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” The crowd wasn’t amused, and MacFarlane tried to blow it off. Of course, neither Lincoln nor his wife was present. A close second came in 1955, when Bob Hope said, “The winners will take home an Oscar. The losers will all be presented with monogrammed do-it-yourself suicide kits.” In 2010 Steve Martin asked, inexplicably, of Meryl Streep, “What’s with all the Hitler memorabilia?” In 2014, Ellen DeGeneres called Liza Minelli, who was in the audience, a Liza Minelli impersonator and then added, “Good job, sir.” Chris Rock himself has said worse—see 2005’s crack about Jude Law and his 2016 introduction of Stacey Dash as examples.

Referring to director Alejandro González Iñárritu, a citizen of Mexico, Sean Penn said, in 2015, “Who gave this son of a [expletive] his green card?” Yikes. But Iñárritu said later that he thought it was “hilarious” and that he and Penn had that kind of a relationship, a “brutal relationship” that included some “very tough jokes.” Maybe Rock and Smith don’t have that kind of relationship. Maybe Will Smith really just was not okay with someone making fun of his wife. I don’t know.

If the outrage over Smith’s slap of Rock results in less mockery, that may well be a good thing. Despite Smith’s action being wrong, though, and condemnation of him slapping Rock being appropriate, other parts of the response to it by some has been simply outlandish. Wanda Sykes, who co-hosted the Oscars, called it “sickening,” said she felt “physically ill” and three days later said she was still “traumatized” by it. Sykes also complained that no one had apologized to her as the co-host. Sorry, Ms. Sykes, but I don’t think you are the one deserving an apology.

Another of the co-hosts was Amy Schumer, who took to Instagram two days after the event to declare that she was “still triggered and traumatized” and “waiting for this sickening feeling to go away from what we all witnessed.”

Let’s put this in a bit of perspective, shall we. Last fall, Schumer marched in the Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington, D.C. At that time, Schumer posted on Instagram a photo of herself holding a sign proclaiming “Abortion is Essential.” She has also posted on Instagram, “Everyone deserves to have a safe and supported abortion, at any time and for any reason.”

Back in 2006, in response to President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominations, Sykes said in a comedy special, “I got two abortions on the way here. I was, like, ‘I got to stock up.’” She said essentially the same thing in her book Yeah, I Said It, writing, “Women and our right to choose were going to be challenged with Ashcroft around. When Bush appointed Ashcroft, I went out and got me four abortions. I stocked up. The doctor was like, ‘Listen, you’re not pregnant.’ I said, ‘Hey, just shut up and do your job. I’m exercising my right while I can, dammit.’”

As I have already said, Will Smith was in the wrong. But when you joke about the murder of unborn children, you have no standing to claim that you are sickened and traumatized by an adult male slapping another adult male for making fun of his wife. Doing so would seem to put Schumer and Sykes in the running for a Best Overreaction award. I would like to ask Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes to do a little research into what abortion entails, especially a late-term abortion, since Schumer thinks “everyone” should have the right to an abortion “at any time.” Perhaps then they can get back to us on what is really sickening and traumatizing.

Writing New Rules

On December 1, a bill, Bill C-4, unanimously passed the Canadian House of Commons. On December 7, it passed the Senate and on December 8 it received Royal Assent. On January 8, it took effect.

Bill C-4 is titled, “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code” and it specifically addresses conversion therapy.

Now, in order to be as generous as possible, I am going to give you the definition of “conversion therapy” provided by GLAAD, the organization founded in 1985 as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Their definition is, “Conversion therapy is any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

The key words in that definition, and that lead to the problem I am now addressing, is “any attempt.” I will explain in a moment why that is so problematic.

First, however, I want to make it explicitly clear that I do not support anyone being forced to go through any kind of treatment against their will. You have quite possibly heard some horror stories about such so-called therapy and I do not in any way support such activity…nor do I believe that the Bible does so. There is no denying that some people have suffered considerable harm—emotional and in some cases maybe even physical—under someone’s guise of curing them of homosexuality. I condemn that and I believe that Christians have a responsibility to care for such victims if given the opportunity to do so. But conversion therapy can include much more than that—which is why the words “any attempt” are important. And while there may well be many legislators in Canada who were well-intentioned and want only to protect people against coercive so-called therapy, the Canadian legislation certainly includes more than that.

Why is this Canadian legislation such a big deal that I am talking about it—especially since I do not live in Canada?

One, because the U.S. has shown a tendency to follow in Canada’s footsteps in many areas of law. Canada, for example, legalized same-sex marriage ten years before the U.S. did. In 2018, cannabis became legal in all provinces and territories of Canada. Where are we headed?

Two, and more importantly, is that this is a big deal. It is serious. It is more than it initially meets the eye.

Part of why I say that is explained in this quote from CTV News, a Canadian news outlet. It says of C-4, “It includes wider-reaching vocabulary of what constitutes conversion therapy than what the federal government attempted to pass in the last Parliament, and expands beyond the past proposal which focused on outlawing the use of the practice against children and non-consenting adults.”

The article later says that conversion therapy “can take various forms, including counselling….”

The bill makes it a criminal offense to even promote conversion therapy—including counseling.

More than that, however, the bill includes specifically religious terms and attacks.

The preamble to the bill states that conversion therapy “causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it” and “causes harm to society.”

How?

“[B]ecause…it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality…and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”

I don’t know if you are grasping the significance of that, but a bill, that has now passed the Parliament in Canada, received the approval of the queen, and been enacted into law, says that what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender is a myth.

Right now, if you are in Canada and you believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender, then, according to Canadian law, you and your belief are wrong. They are nothing more than myths.

So much for freedom of religion. And Canada does, by the way, have freedom of religion. Or at least it did. I am not going to go into the structure of the Canadian constitution, but a significant part of it is the Constitution Act of 1982, which includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that states, in Section 2, that everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication….

And yet, the law now says that if you think, believe or are of the opinion that heterosexuality is right and homosexuality is not, or bisexuality is not, or that someone’s biological sex should coincide with their gender identity, that you are wrong. And not only are you wrong, but if you express that to anyone else in any form that could be considered therapy—despite the freedoms of expression press and other communication—you are breaking the law!

Later, the bill states that “[e]veryone who knowingly causes another person to undergo conversion therapy — including by providing conversion therapy to that other person — is (a) guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.”

The information released by the Canadian Department of Justice about this law, and posted on the official website of the Canadian government, links to a policy statement from the Canadian Psychological Association, which says that conversion therapy includes “prayer or religious rites” and “individual or group counselling.”

A Department of Justice news release says that conversion therapy is discriminatory and proven to be harmful even for adults who consented to it.

And the government’s explanation of the changes to the criminal code says that “These proposed new offences would not criminalize interventions that assist a person in exploring or developing their personal identity, provided that they are not based on the assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is preferable to others.”

So bottom line, what does all of this mean? If you are a pastor or a Christian counselor, and you believe that what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender is correct, and you allow that to influence your counseling or your prayer with someone—even someone who has consented to counseling and therapy with you—you are breaking the law.

Now, that’s a lot of background. I realize that. But it was necessary because it, I hope, makes clear exactly how serious this matter is. If we sit idly by and bury our heads in the sand and think this is not a big deal we are going to find, very soon, that this is happening here. In fact, I dare say we would find that it would not be very long before what I am saying here would be illegal if I were saying it from a church pulpit or in a counseling session.

That is troubling. I am not, after all, looking to go to prison. Far more dangerous than the possibility of going to prison, however, is the possibility that any pastor, any church or any Christian might shy away from standing firm on biblical truth in the face of such a possibility. We must never allow the fear of persecution—and certainly not the fear of prosecution—to deter us from believing and proclaiming God’s Truth. Should that time ever come, we must, like Peter before the Jerusalem council in Acts 5, says, “We must obey God rather than men.”

That sex is intended for marriage and that marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman and that whether or not someone is a man or a woman is determined by their anatomy and their biology, not by their whims or their feelings…none of that is a myth. All of that is God’s design.

The Bible makes no distinction between biological sex and gender.

Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 5:2 – “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Manwhen they were created.”

Mark 10:2-9 – And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Now, maybe I am missing something, but it seems to me that those three passages make it crystal clear that God created male and female. He did not create entities who could then decide. God, in His sovereignty, by His design, created two sexes. Two genders. Male. Female. If you are a male, you are not a female. If you are a female, you are not a male. You do not get to pick which one you will be—it is not multiple choice. You do not get to change which one you are.

And regardless of how anyone feels, it is a scientific fact that there are genetic differences between males and females. Their bodies are made differently—by design. Neither is better than the other, they are just different.

We see this clearly in sports, when the issue of biological males identifying as women and competing in women’s sports is revealing just how different they are. It has been in the news quite a bit recently with the transgendered swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania. That swimmer, who competed for three years on the UPenn men’s team and, after undergoing hormone therapy is now competing as a woman, has obliterated college records this year. This year, that swimmer has the fastest time by any “female” college swimmer, including a time 0.64 seconds faster than Olympian Torri Huske in the 200m freestyle and a time nearly three seconds faster than Olympian Brooke Forde in the 500-yard freestyle.

A few years ago, a study was done comparing the best elite female athletes to men and boys. That study gave a great example: Allyson Felix, the most highly decorated track athlete in U.S. history, male or female, and who holds the record for most gold medals ever at the track and field World Championships—more than Usain Bolt—and who specialized in the 400m sprint for the latter part of her career and had a lifetime best of 49.26 in that event—in  just the single year of 2017, men and boys around the world beat that time by more than 15,000 times.

Now, do all transgender individuals choose to pursue athletics? No, of course not. But these examples give very clear evidence that there are differences—real differences between men and women.

Of course, the most obvious difference is that men are biologically and anatomically incapable of giving birth. And, despite Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim to the contrary in September, only women menstruate.

God created male and female. There are only two options, despite what Facebook or others may say—some organizations claim there are as many as 72 gender options. There are two, male and female, and you don’t get to pick. God chooses for you.

The Bible is just as explicitly clear about homosexuality. The passage that we already looked at in Mark 10 makes it clear that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Clearly, then, homosexual marriage is contrary to God’s design. Even if you were to take marriage out of the picture, however, homosexual activity is also outside of God’s design.

Leviticus 18:22 – “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

Romans 1:26-27 – “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Paul includes homosexuality in I Corinthians 6 when he presents a list of behaviors that are not pleasing to God. Paul addresses homosexuality again in I Timothy 1:8-10. Not only does he specifically name homosexuality in addition to the broader category of sexual immorality, he states that such behavior is “contrary to sound doctrine.”

Homosexuality is not okay. It is not just an “alternative lifestyle.” And certainly no one is made by God to be a homosexual. Homosexual behavior is very real, but that’s what it is—a behavior, not an identity. Not who a person is. And homosexual behavior is sin. There is no other way to honestly and legitimately interpret Scripture.

Plenty of people—some of them prominent and influential—have argued that the Bible’s teaching about homosexual behavior is out of date and no longer relevant, but no one has ever argued sincerely that the Bible does not teach that homosexual behavior is sin.

Back to why I am addressing this even though I do not live in Canada…consider an ordinance under consideration right now in West Lafayette, Indiana. Proposed Ordinance 31-21 has an odd title: “AN ORDINANCE PROHIBITING THE PRACTICE OF CONVERSION THERAPY AND DISCOURAGING ITS USE BY LICENSED PROFESSIONALS.” Hopefully you noticed why I say odd; I do not think it is common to have a law that both prohibits and discourages something! But the ordinance begins with this as the first of its many “Whereas” statements: “contemporary science recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity.” That is a bizarre statement because all of those things are anything but natural. Indeed, Scripture specifically refers to homosexuality as going against nature.

Further troubling is another assertion, citing the Committee on Adolescence of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 1993 claim that, “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety….” Oddly enough, yes, when you tell someone that they are doing something wrong, they might feel some guilt. That is how it is supposed to work in a healthy mind, actually.

But the point of the ordinance is specifically to ban so-called conversion therapy being performed by unlicensed individuals—unlicensed, that is, by the State of Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency. That would include many pastors and biblical counselors. And what exactly will they be prohibited from doing? The ordinance bans “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

The Lafayette Journal & Courier reported that Dr. Steve Viars, an area pastor, raised concerns about the proposed legislation. “Imagine a scenario where an area teenager voluntarily visits a self-identified faith-based counselor, but because the counselor used the Bible as their source of truth, the local police department imposed a fine of $1000 per day,” Viars said. The article further notes, “Concerns of protecting free speech and freedom of religion have been raised, and [David] Sanders [a council member and co-sponsor of the ordinance] assures that these protections are being considered as the ordinance’s wording is being reworked.”

I do not know anyone in West Lafayette and I am not going to assume anything about anyone’s motives. But the law in Canada and the proposed ordinance in Indiana are both examples of why it is so important to be aware of proposed legislation/ordinances and the consequences, intended or otherwise, of the language they contain. Hopefully the Indiana ordinance can be amended to ban what is truly inappropriate while protecting both the freedom of religion and the freedom to counsel someone from the perspective that homosexuality and alternative gender identities are sin.

Now, let me transition a little bit because there are two other important points to make.

First, plenty of people have criticized the Church for picking on or singling out homosexuality when there are so many other sins. I oppose that sentiment. Yes, there are many other sins in the Bible. And I both believe and hope that I would be just as adamantly opposed to those other sins if our society tried to normalize them and force us to accept them. If this afternoon a movement began to make some other sin acceptable and normal and legally protected—and also to prohibit Christians from speaking out against it and taking a stand for what Scripture teaches, I hope that we would stand up and oppose that.

I am not naïve enough to think that our society is going to embrace the Bible and build our legal code around it completely. In fact, I don’t even know that I would want that completely. After all, if you look at colonial New England where it was against the law to break the Sabbath, that wasn’t a very effective way to win people to Christ or to cultivate sincere faith in Christ.

But I will not—and we as Christians must not—allow the world or the government or any other entity or person to tell us that what God says is sin is not sin. If God calls it sin, it is sin. Period, full stop. It is not up for debate.

Finally, we must be careful not to treat those who support homosexuality or transgenderism as rejected by God. Meaning, therefore, that we cannot reject them. We do not have to approve what they do or stand for. In fact, we cannot approve what they do or stand for. But we must always remember that every human being is created in the image of God, God loves each and every person and He sent His Son to die on the cross for each and every person. We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God and need a Savior. God detests all sin.

We must never compromise on the truth…and we must always share God’s truth in love.

Image credit: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0Pix4free.org

A Division of the Republic

Today is January 6. I would love to say that is only noteworthy for those who celebrate Epiphany, those who, like my nephew, have a birthday today, or because of the historically significant events that occurred that day prior to last year. There are several of those by the way—Samuel Morse unveiled the telegraph, Theodore Roosevelt died, New Mexico joined the U.S. as the 47th state, and it is the day on which both George Washington and George H.W. Bush got married. For pop culture fans, it is the day on which “Wheel of Fortune” premiered. For sports fans, it is the day that Nancy Kerrigan got attacked in 1994. Hopefully in the long run at least some of those events will prove more memorable than what happened one year ago today.

On January 6, 2021, something happened in Washington, D.C. Sadly, what you think of the event, even what you call the event, seems to be heavily influenced by your political leanings. A riot seems to be the most frequently used term, as well as the term that I find to be accurate. Dictonary.com gives three definitions for the noun riot: “a noisy, violent public disorder caused by a group or crowd of persons, as by a crowd protesting against another group, a government policy, etc., in the streets; a disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons acting together in a disrupting and tumultuous manner in carrying out their private purposes; violent or wild disorder or confusion.” All three are fitting for what happened on that day.

History.com says that “a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters descend on the U.S. Capitol, attempting to interfere with the certification of electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election. The rioters assaulted the Capitol police force and ransacked the complex, destroying property and sending members of Congress and their staff into hiding in officers and bunkers. A protester who was shot by police, died in the chaos, and more than 100 police were injured.” None of that is really debatable, though there are plenty of attempts being made to spin those events.

Mike Huckabee, writing yesterday, said, “Get ready for a surreal couple of days during which the Capitol Hill breach will be presented as ‘one of the darkest days of our democracy’ (quoting Colorado Rep. Jason Crow) and worse than the Civil War, Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Combined.” Huckabee is noted for his wit and sarcasm, but trying to minimize what happened last year through hyperbole is not only ineffective, it smacks of disregard for the reality of what occurred. To be fair, Vice President Kamala Harris did say in her speech this morning, “Certain dates echo throughout history, including dates that instantly remind all who have lived through them where they were and what they were doing when our democracy came under assault. Dates that occupy not only a place on our calendars, but a place in our collective memory. Dec. 7, 1941. Sept. 11, 2001. And Jan. 6, 2021.” I don’t think last year’s riot rises to the level of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in its magnitude or long-range impact, but at the same time, January 6, 2021 was the act of U.S. citizens and cannot be minimized.

 At least Huckabee used the word riot when describing the events later in his piece. Just that word sets some people off. One of the commentors on Huckabee’s web site is a perfect example; he wrote, “it distresses me to the point of anger when anyone refers to what happened last Jan 6 as an ‘insurrection’ or ‘riot’ Both of those involve violence and destruction of property of which there was little if any… at least not at the Capitol building.” Such is the denial of reality we see among Trump followers.

But Huckabee took issue with Brit Hume’s comments two days ago. ““We are not living in normal times. What we need is for people to calm down. The bitter divisions that we see in this country are exacerbated by this tendency to exaggerate, and to do so grossly,” Hume said. Huckabee seemed okay with that part of it. But he took exception (his words) with Hume saying, “It was a cockamamie scheme by Trump that was bound to fail and did.” Huckabee countered that with, “He had called for a peaceful protest that was PRO-democracy. And we certainly can’t blame him for the riot.”

That, of course, is the recurring theme among Trump supporters—he cannot be blamed for the riot.

In An AP article by Jake Coyle, published yesterday, it was reported that a Quinnipiac poll found that 93% of Democrats considered the riot an attack on the government while only 29% of Republicans felt that way. A separate poll found that 40% of Republicans saw the riot as violent while 90% of Democrats did so. In what has to be the most idiotic statement I have come across about the entire event, Representative Andrew Clyde, a Republican from Georgia who is in the pictures of a door to the House chamber being barricaded by men with guns drawn against the mob, said last May, “Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos, pictures. You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” Florida Representative Matt Gaetz has uttered plenty of baloney about that day, but then uttering baloney is what Gaetz does best.

I am not going to get into whether or not Trump provoked, or inspired, the riot. There are plenty of others out there who have commented on both sides of that. It is a fact, though, that as he concluded his speech that morning, Trump said, ““We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. So we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue – I love Pennsylvania Avenue – and we are going to the Capitol.” We do know that Trump did not act to deter the riot or to distance himself from it. His first tweet during the event was to say that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution….” Not until 4:17 p.m. did Trump release a video asking those in the Capitol to go home, while also calling them “very special.” That was more than two hours after the Capitol was breached and five minutes shy of two hours after Pence was escorted out of the Senate chamber. Trump’s tweet about Pence lacking courage went out, by contrast, two minutes after Pence was escorted out.

Albert Mohler, who has maintained his support for Donald Trump, opined about the riot in his WORLD Opinion piece posted today. He writes of three Americas revealed by discussions of the January 6 events and rightly suggests that “mainstream America” is probably in agreement that “the events were a national embarrassment, a riot against lawful order, a stark portrait of political violence, and a sobering vision of a crowd out of control.” I am pleased that Mohler has the courage to call the events “horrifying, and bizarre,” and to acknowledge the Capitol was broken into by force, that the lives of elected officials were threated and that the Capitol was desecrated. He said that American witnessed a mob “expressing total disdain for our constitutional order. A nation that tolerates this kind of behavior and lawlessness undermines its own legitimacy.” He even said that “the passions behind those events were incited and flamed by the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The mob was encouraged by the president….”

Trump and others are trying to downplay the event even today. Conservative radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted that “All the January 6th stuff this week is a distraction technique….” Matt Braynard has asserted that “January 6th was America’s Tiananmen Square.” Trump himself said that President Biden’s speech this morning “used my name…to try to further divide America.”

In the midst of the riot I posted this on Facebook: “This nonsense in Washington, D.C. is not okay, folks…. Storming the Capitol is not a protest. This is no different, and no more excusable, than the CHOP foolishness in Seattle last summer. Anyone who really loves this country and really believes in the principles on which this country is founded should condemn this. Looking through the pictures of the hooligans inside the Capitol makes me sick…both angry and painfully sad.” I feel no differently now. The riot was exactly that—a riot. It was not a protest, it was not peaceful and it is nothing to be proud of, by any stretch of the imagination. I believe that there were peaceful individuals and events in D.C. that day, and I am sure that there were some people who got swept up into the crowd and even went into the Capitol who had no intention of defacing property, attacking anyone or engaging in criminal behavior. There is, though, a reason why “wrong place, wrong time,” is a cliché. The bottom line is that our nation is deeply divided. Donald Trump plays a considerable role in that division but neither he nor anyone else can bear the blame alone. Every one of us who truly cares about our country, about the ideals upon which it was founded and about basic, common decency must stand up for our convictions. We have to speak the truth and we have to demand the truth. We cannot allow ourselves to go along with unscrupulous individuals or to contribute to the division because it seems to be the best available option or the candidate most likely to win at the time.

Please note that I am not suggesting that we compromise on our convictions or beliefs. (Quite the opposite, in fact. Had more conservatives not compromised by deciding to support Donald Trump we would probably not be in this position right now). Convictions are good. The United States government was designed to allow for disagreement and to work slowly so as to prevent quick changes and knee-jerk reactions. Amy Gutmann, in the Fall 2007 issue of Daedalus, wrote, “In a democracy, controversy is healthy,” adding, shortly thereafter, “The public interest is well served by robust public argument.” She was absolutely right. But she was just as right when she said later, “when disagreements are so driven and distorted by extremist rhetoric that citizens and public officials fail to engage with one another reasonably or respectfully on substantive issues of public importance, the debate degenerates, blocking constructive compromises that would benefit all sides more than the status quo would.” That was published before Donald Trump was elected, indeed before Barack Obama was elected. And yet, in the fourteen years since it was published, we have seen her words come alive. Disagreements are distorted. Extremist rhetoric is used on both sides. Politics has become a zero-sum game, with both leading parties casting aside members who dare to hold to their convictions rather than party demands. Just look at Tulsi Gabbard, Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney as three recent examples or consider the opposition Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have faced for refusing to support the repeal of the filibuster or the passage of Biden’s bloated spending plan.

Last year, shortly after the riot, John Horgan, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Georgia State, said in an interview, “The United States is in a very precarious spot right now. We’ve witnessed a steady erosion of democratic norms, with increased polarization and radicalization that has reached a boiling point.” He later added, “The country is now so polarized it will take years to heal. It will require positive, constructive leadership at many levels, bipartisan reconciliation and a very basic recognition that we came close to losing a sense of what it means to be a democracy. I don’t believe we realize just how perilous things are right now.”

Gutmann was right and so was Horgan. Sadly, President Biden has not brought positive, constructive leadership. Sadly, Donald Trump has not only continued to demonstrate the same kind of attitude he had while in office, but he is considered the front runner for the Republican nomination in 2024. We don’t need Joe Biden and we don’t need Donald Trump. Nor do we need political parties that pursue victory at any cost.

In 1780 John Adams wrote, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”  Two hundred and forty years later, I think we have seen that he was right.

Photo credit: Blink O’fanaye, Flickr.

The Wrong Message

Robert Jeffress leaves the platform at First Baptist in Dallas after introducing Donald Trump.

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, welcomed Donald Trump to their service this past Sunday morning. The church’s website proclaimed: “The focus of the music and message this Sunday will be on the most important event in human history—the birth of Jesus Christ. President Trump is known for his love for Christmas and what it represents. We are thrilled to have him join us this Sunday morning.” Apparently Trump was in Dallas for a rally that afternoon with Bill O’Reilly, but Jeffress seized the opportunity to have him at First Baptist.

Readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of Donald Trump. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say now that I am not a fan of Robert Jeffress, either. To give you an idea why, consider the biography of Jeffress that appears on the First Baptist web site. It begins, “Dr. Robert Jeffress is Senior Pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas and a Fox News Contributor. He is also an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.” It then proceeds to tout his “more than 4,000 guest appearances on various radio and television programs” before listing some of the shows he has appeared on. After mentioning his radio program, TV program and books, it says, “Dr. Jeffress led the congregation in the completion of a $135 million re-creation of its downtown campus. The project is the largest in modern church history and serves as a “spiritual oasis” covering six blocks of downtown Dallas.” Presumably that means First Baptist’s modern church history because if it means modern church history in the broader, worldwide sense then it is an outright lie, but either way…brag much? Jeffress seems to fully embrace the notion of “celebrity pastor.”

Having said that, Jeffress does seem to teach biblical truth. I may not like his personality, his arrogance or his priorities, but I am unaware of any heresy he preaches.

Before preaching his sermon, Jeffress said that Trump’s remarks would be the “climax and conclusion of the service.” While Trump spoke of the biblical account of Christmas, in words he admitted were prepared for him by the church, he added references to Afghanistan, police reform, America first and his never-ending crusade to “make America great again.” He even managed to work in his irritation with the press that Melania Trump received for her selection of White House Christmas decorations while Trump was president. Trump then received a standing ovation that included some chanting “U.S.A.!”

The bulletin at Fist Baptist on December 19

Absurdly, the church’s executive pastor then took the stage and said, “While we were very honored to have the 45th president of the United States with us today, I must remind you that it is our longstanding policy as a church that we do not endorse or oppose any political candidate for public office or otherwise intervene or engage in any political campaign.”

Uh huh…

Interestingly enough, the church’s website even contains a small-print disclaimer that appears on every page and reads, “First Baptist Church of Dallas does not endorse or oppose any candidate for political office. Instead, any information, videos, appearances, posts, etc. related to any political topic are provided for informational purposes only, and represent the personal views or opinions of the individual expressing them, but do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of First Baptist Church of Dallas.”

Trump made it clear that he was going well astray of the remarks that had been prepared for him, but since Jeffress has been an unabashed supporter of Trump all along there is no way he could truly have been surprised. After all, Donald Trump has never stuck to a script in his life and he is not going to pass up any opportunity to make something about him. I am not embellishing here, either; while introducing Trump, Jeffress called him one of his closest friends. He even said that Trump was “the most consequential president since Abraham Lincoln.” After the service Jeffress had the temerity to say that he did not think that Trump had said anything political and that the “full house” at First Baptist was evidence of Trump’s popularity.

Trump’s visit to First Baptist is certainly not the first time a political figure has attended a church service. That happens often and on both sides of the aisle. It is not the first time a political figure has been acknowledged at or given the opportunity to speak at a church service. Again, happens on both sides of the aisle. But a politician should never be the center of attention at a church service. Indeed, no human should ever be the center of attention.

It is incredibly sad that Robert Jeffress would preach a message that was, by all accounts, biblically accurate and invited unbelievers to salvation, yet call Trump’s remarks the climax. That absolutely sends the wrong message. Intended or not, Jeffress essentially declared that the account of Christ’s birth is nice, but Donald Trump is better. There is no greater climax than the birth of Jesus Christ in human form, coming to earth as a baby, knowing He would grow up to die on the cross for the sins of humanity. How tragic that minutes after that truth was proclaimed—and thankfully it was proclaimed—the congregation was chanting about human politics. A church service should never become a political rally. Chants of “U.S.A.!” in a worship service should sadden any true believer.

A Fitting Honor

TIME‘s Athlete of the Year, Simone Biles

This morning, TIME announced that Simone Biles has been selected as its Athlete of the Year. It did not take long at all for the backlash against the choice to begin, particularly amongst the so-called conservative online press. The Western Journal headed its social media post with “’How can TIME choose her over much more deserving athletes?” and linked to a piece by Jack Davis published just an hour after TIME’s announcement was made. And this is how he began his comments:

The old adage was that “winners never quit and quitters never win.”

But in 2021, quitters can be named Athlete of the Year.

This is a ridiculous and, frankly, stupid statement to make. It completely disregards Biles’ own statements made shortly after she withdrew from the team competition in Tokyo that she was experiencing “the twisties,” If you’re anything like me, you had no idea what that was exactly when you first heard it. If you follow the Olympics then you probably know now, but just in case, here is a definition provided in a July 28 Washington Post article by Emily Giambalvo—”the twisties”

describes a frightening predicament. When gymnasts have the “twisties,” they lose control of their bodies as they spin through the air. Sometimes they twist when they hadn’t planned to. Other times they stop midway through as Biles did. And after experiencing the twisties once, it’s very difficult to forget. Instinct gets replaced by thought. Thought quickly leads to worry. Worry is difficult to escape.

The same article quotes Biles saying, “I had no idea where I was in the air. I could have hurt myself.”

Athletes are not machines that can perform on demand. I cannot imagine that anyone wanted her to dominate the Tokyo Olympics more than Simone Biles wanted it herself. The expectations were through the proverbial roof. I detest the term GOAT, but if there is one in the world of gymnastics, it is Simone Biles. As the commentators never tired of pointing out, Biles does skills that other gymnasts can only dream about doing; she has four skills named after her. That means that she performed those skills, previously unperformed by anyone else, at a major international competition. Prior to the Tokyo Olympics there was speculation that Biles might increase that number to five.

Biles has won 25 World medals in Olympics—19 of which were gold—and both of those numbers are the records for gymnastics. Biles was the first woman to win five World floor exercise titles, to win three World balance beam titles and to win five World all-around titles. Not the first to accomplish that combination, mind you, but the first to reach all three of those levels. She is a five-time U.S. floor exercise champion, five-time U.S. balance beam champion, six-time U.S. vault champion and seven-time U.S. all-around champion. She has seven Olympic medals, tying her with Shannon Miller for the most by an Olympic gymnast. This is not the resume of a quitter.

Why, then, such a negative reaction to TIME’s choice?

Well, back to Davis’s pitiful opinion piece, Biles withdrew from the team competition of the Olympics because “she was not sufficiently mentally focused on what she was doing and could have injured herself had she competed in her condition.” That’s a gross and, I dare say intentional, misrepresentation of the facts. While technically a true description of the twisties, the implication is clearly that Biles was slacking, not giving the competition the attention it demanded and her performance was suffering as a result.

Davis continued with, “Time [sic] explained that those old-fashioned views about athletes achieving excellence in their sports had nothing to do with its decision.” Again, the implication is that Biles has not achieved excellence. Might I direct you back two paragraphs for evidence of the absurdity of that suggestion. Was Biles the best athlete of 2021? Probably not. She certainly did not achieve the level of success expected of her in Tokyo. But it’s not like she was a slouch. She qualified for the Olympics, after all, and at the age of 24. Sixteen is considered to be the peak age for a gymnast. The Tokyo Olympics was the first time since 1968 that there were more non-teens than teens competing in gymnastics, and even in Tokyo the median age was 21 and the average age was 21 years 11 months. Even though every member of Team USA’s artistic gymnastics team in Tokyo was 18 or older for the first time since 1952, Biles was the oldest on the all-around team by three years. McKayla Skinner was on the USA squad as a specialist, and she is older than Biles by just over three months. The other specialist was Jade Carey, who was 21, and who ended up subbing for Biles in the all-around. But the other three original members of the team were 20 (Jordan Chiles) and 18 (Suni Lee and Grace McCallum). Biles returned to the Olympics for the individual balance beam competition and she took Bronze. The winners of Gold and Silver were Guan Chenchen (age 17) and Tang Xijing (age 18) respectively. So you’ll pardon me for calling the assertion that Biles did not achieve excellence nothing but hogwash.

Later, Davis wrote, “The article extolling her selection labeled those who believe dropping out of Olympic events partway through them is not the hallmark of a champion as ‘naysayers.’” Davis pointed this out derisively, but the statement is correct. Athletes cannot be demanded, or even expected, to be super-human. Many athletes—perhaps Simone Biles more than any—do things that the rest of us cannot even comprehend, much less imagine doing. But they are still mortal. They are still human. They still have bad days and struggles and doubts. And that does not even include the fact that doing Olympic-level gymnastics with the twisties is just plain dangerous.

Davis enjoyed pointing out that “many disputed Time’s selection.” Of course, none of the “many” that Davis quoted were gymnasts. As best I can tell, none of them is even an athlete. I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that Biles’ withdrawal from Olympic events—not her quitting—was not only justified but groundbreaking. Her teammate Suni Lee said, “What Simone did changed the way we view our well-being, 100%. It showed us that we are more than the sport, that we are human beings who also can have days that are hard. It really humanized us.” 1988 Olympian Missy Marlowe said the twisties is “like a nonserious stroke.” 1996 Olympian Dominique Moceanu, who was only 14 at the Atlanta Olympics, tweeted that Biles’ decision “demonstrates that we have a say in our own health—’a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian.” Dominique Dawes, who competed in three Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000) said that she quit during the 2000 prelims but was not allowed to do so. “[I]t was too much on me emotionally,” Dawes said. “However, I was not able to make that decision. It was very much a controlled atmosphere.” Nastia Liukin, who won the All-Around gold medal in 2008 and was a commentator at the Tokyo Olympics, said, “Thank you for creating a safer space for current and future athletes to unequivocally be themselves.” And 2012 Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber said “I never remember feeling like I ever got to make those decisions, even if I had wanted to,” continuing, “the gymnasts don’t have the voice, it’s up to the coaches. And I sometimes describe it as we’re just kind of like robots that do what we’re told.” Wieber, who is now the head gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas, called Biles “a pioneer,” and Moceanu, who owns and coaches a gymnastics camp, said, “What she did was actually very brave and is a positive sign for the future of the sport.”

All of this would be sufficient to justify the selection of Biles as TIME’s Athlete of the Year for someone who feels such justification is necessary, but there is more. Biles was also one of four gymnasts who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September regarding the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Larry Nassar. While the other three gymnasts—Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols—were all outstanding gymnasts, with Raisman and Maroney competing in the Olympics, only Biles is still actively competing. She had to testify just a month and a half after the Tokyo Olympics—an Olympics at which she was representing not just the United States, but also USA Gymnastics. Of that, Wieber commented, “I can take some guesses and imagine that it’s probably difficult to represent an organization like USA Gymnastics for her, an organization that has failed her so many times and failed a lot of us. I’m just making assumptions here, but I can imagine that it, it adds to the weight of what she carries with her every day of having to represent that organization.” No doubt Wieber is right, given what Biles said in her testimony:

I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that led to my abuse and allowed it to continue, are directly the result of the fact that the organizations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete – USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) – failed to do their jobs.

Later, Biles said, “We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at the FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed, and we deserve answers.” As she also pointed out in her statement, Biles was the only athlete at the Tokyo Olympics who was abused by Larry Nassar.

Put the Senate committee testimony and the impact of the Nassar abuse and investigation together with everything else described here and Biles should be an obvious choice for Athlete of the Year, not a choice that is second guessed and mocked.

And yet, mockery and scorn is exactly what Biles is receiving. Not only did Davis write his absurd opinion piece, but The Western Journal published it. The Independent Journal Review then published it, too. So opposed are some to the Biles choice that one tweet that Davis chose to include suggested four other candidates for the recognition—only one of which is an American! It is true that TIME’s Person of the Year is not always an American, but it is, after all, an American magazine, so I think a Serbian tennis player, Australian swimmer and Russian tennis player should take a back seat in this discussion.

Far worse that Davis’s article, however, are the comments on the social media pages for The Western Journal and the Independent Journal Review. One charming individual, for example, said, “she’s a triple winner in the Victimhood Olympics – Female, Black and suffers from anxiety.” Several people commented that it was a “woke” decision. More than one called her a quitter, including one guy who said, “She quit on her teammates and America,” echoed by a lady who commented, “She let our country down and deserves no recognition!!” Not to be outdone, another lady said, “She is a failure and a crybaby who deserves nothing.” Someone named Joseph Casale probably topped them all, though, calling Biles the “coward of the year.”

One of the wonderful freedoms we enjoy in the United States is the freedom of speech, and that means that people have the freedom to say and write stupid things. That means internationally known companies and publications, like TIME, and a guy in front of a keyboard or pecking away at his phone like Jospeh Casale—or me. But I could not sit idly by and watch Biles’ recognition be trashed as some politically correct participation trophy. She deserves the recognition and I commend TIME for the choice. Should she ever (miraculously) see this post, I want Simone Biles to know that I do not think she let down her teammates or America…and I admire her courage.

Go Away, Brandon!

A “Let’s Go Brandon” flag from Liberty Maniacs

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you have heard and/or seen the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon!” The use of the phrase began with a NASCAR race on October 2 in Talladega. Driver Brandon Brown was being interviewed by a reporter who suggested that the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go, Brandon!” That was not at all what the crowd was saying, though; turns out the actual words were far less encouraging. In fact, they weren’t even polite. The crowd was actually saying, “F— Joe Biden!” I did not take long for “Let’s Go Brandon!” to catch on as a way of expressing dislike for President Biden.

The only good thing about it is that it does not contain the actual profanity the crowd was chanting, which, sadly, I have seen displayed numerous times in public, often on flags using the same design as pro-Trump banners but with the other words. It was not that long ago that publicly displaying the “f-word” would have been considered extreme and unacceptable. Now people are literally flying it from their front porches.

In an AP article, Colleen Long called “Let’s Go Brandon” the “G-rated substitute for its more vulgar three-word cousin.” The problem is that despite it G-rating, everyone now knows exactly what the phrase means. And precisely because it is, in and of itself, G-rated, people who would never utter what the NASCAR crowd was chanting or fly profanity from their porch are perfectly comfortable displaying and/or being seen with the child-friendly alternative. You can find it on flags, stickers, t-shirts…even “ugly sweaters.”

In the same AP article quoted above, Long pointed out that Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Florida ended a speech on the House floor with the phrase, South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan wore a “Let’s Go Brandon” face mask at the Capitol, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas posed with a “Let’s Go Brandon” sign at a World Series game and the press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky retweeted a picture of a sign in Virginia bearing the phrase. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert famously wore a dress with the phrase on the back to meet with former president Donald Trump. (The dress was also a dig at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress worn to the Met Gala). When Boebert tweeted a picture of herself in the dress standing next to Donald Trump giving a thumbs up, she headlined it with “It’s not a phrase, it’s a movement! #LGB”

In late October a pilot for Southwest Airlines concluded his address to passengers with the phrase. Just a few days ago I saw someone wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase at a Christian school. Jim Innocenzi, a founding partner at Sandler-Innocenzi and a prominent figure in political advertising for the GOP called the phrase “hilarious” and said, “Unless you are living in a cave, you know what it means. But it’s done with a little bit of a class. And if you object and are taking it too seriously, go away.”

Well, I have news for Mr. Innocenzi: G-rated or not, that’s not okay. There is no way to say “f—” with class. Not even a little bit. To normalize such a profane insult toward any elected official, much less the President of the United States, is not appropriate or respectful. While it is true that we enjoy freedom of speech in the United States, and the ability to express our displeasure with and dislike of our elected officials should not be taken for granted or infringed, there is still something to be said for basic decency.

Just yesterday Amanda Prestigiacomo published an article on The Daily Wire in which Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame defended the use of the term. Rowe, according to Prestigiacomo, said that the phrase is “a refutation of not only the president, but of the media and the Left’s effort to change the meaning of language.” I am afraid Mr. Rowe is being too clever by half. While he is correct that much of the American public is growing tired of the mainstream media telling them “that what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing is not what they’re seeing and hearing,” he is bestowing upon “Let’s Go Brandon” far more intention and meaning that it really has. There is zero evidence that Kelli Stavast, the NBC Sports reporter who claimed in the interview with Brandon Brown that the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go Brandon!” did so with any intentionality. Bruce Haring, on Deadline, said that Stavast “is either hard of hearing, or a very, very quick thinker.” There were immediate claims that Stavast was gaslighting the public and that the media would do anything to protect Joe Biden. I suspect, however, that Stavast is not hard of hearing and that her misinterpretation of the chant was not quick thinking on her part. She was trying to conduct an interview. No doubt she had an earpiece in, was trying to hear Brown, and was trying to do all of this with a noisy crowd screaming to be heard on the live camera. Stavast certainly could not repeat what the crowd was actually chanting, and it is entirely plausible that she thought the crowd was showing support for Brown’s first victory. It strains credulity to think that Stavast was intentionally, as Rowe suggests, trying to tell the television audience that they were not hearing what they eventually realized they were hearing.

Later in the Daily Wire piece, Rowe is quoted as saying, “I don’t think people who yell it are necessarily enemies of the president. I think they’re enemies of being told that what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing isn’t real, that it’s somehow a figment of their imagination. People are sick of that.”

I am sure they are. But let’s not try to excuse a euphemistic means of saying “F— Joe Biden” by instilling in the phrase something that it is not. To do so is to do exactly what Rowe claims people are sick of—to claim that what people are saying is not what they are really saying. Stavast was in an of-the-moment situation with conditions that were not ideal. Rowe is speaking a couple of months after the fact, having had plenty of time to think through what he is saying. If anyone is gaslighting here, it is Rowe. He makes valid points that are worthy of attention. Unfortunately, he detracts from a valid and important discussion that needs to be had by claiming that those legitimate concerns are encapsulated in “Let’s Go Brandon.”

So, I have a better idea… Go away, Brandon. Please.

Equitable Grading

Paloma Esquivel’s recent article in the Los Angeles Times about grading practices is mindbogglingly contradictory. The headline says that schools are “ditching the old way of grading” in light of skyrocketing numbers of Ds and Fs brought on largely due to COVID-related changes in education. The article begins by referring to a teacher who became increasingly frustrated a few years ago with the fact that grading “had become a points game.” His solution? He “has done away with points entirely. He no longer gives students homework and gives them multiple opportunities to improve essays and classwork. The goal is to base grades on what students are learning, and remove behavior, deadlines and how much work they do from the equation.”

This sounds lovely, but it is a false dichotomy. I will not address homework here, because that is a separate issue and one I have discussed previously. To imply, though, that basing grades on what students are learning is a new concept is laughable. Effective grading has always been based on what students are learning. Furthermore, to suggest that using points has nothing to do with what students are learning is equally laughable. If, after all, a teacher gives students a quiz with ten questions designed to gauge the student’s mastery of content, and the student misses three of the ten questions, it is neither inequitable nor unrelated to learning to give that student a grade of 7/10 or 70/100 or 35/50 or whatever scale is used in grading the quiz. In other words, it is quite possible to base grades on what students are learning and still utilize points.

That move away from points is, Esquivel writes, part of a trend of “moving away from traditional point-driven grading systems, aiming to close large academic gaps among racial, ethnic and economic groups.” This is both a false dichotomy and an insult to any student considered to be disadvantaged by their racial, ethnic or economic group because the unmistakable implication is that such students are not capable of learning well enough to achieve a good grade.

Esquivel continues, “Los Angeles and San Diego Unified — the state’s two largest school districts, with some 660,000 students combined — have recently directed teachers to base academic grades on whether students have learned what was expected of them during a course — and not penalize them for behavior, work habits and missed deadlines.” Again, this is making an unfair implication that utilizing points automatically and necessarily does not result in a grade based on actual learning.

There is another dangerous element to this too, though. Eliminating behavior and missed deadlines from grading serves only to create a false concept among students that those things do not matter. In reality, though, both matter. Or at least they are supposed to matter. That behavior matters regardless of performance is something that our culture is increasingly coming to terms with; thing, for example, of how many professional athletes are now disciplined or even released because of their off-field behavior, regardless of how well they perform during game time. Movie stars and television personalities, politicians, business executives… All are being increasingly held accountable for behavior even when it is not directly related to the performance of their job. It is not, then, inappropriate, nor is it unfair, for bad behavior to impact a student’s grade. And to say that missed deadlines should not apply is truly silly. See how well and how long it lasts trying to tell your employer that deadlines shouldn’t apply to you…for whatever reason. The notion that allowing students to revise essays or retake tests means deadlines have to be eliminated is simply not true.

Esquivel quotes Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, L.A. Unified’s chief academic officer, as saying, “It’s teaching students that failure is a part of learning. We fall. We get back up. We learn from the feedback that we get.” Again, this is true. Again, it is not new. And again, it does not negate a points-based grading system. But Yoshimoto-Towery claims that traditional grading systems have been used to “justify and to provide unequal educational opportunities based on a student’s race or class.” This is patently false, and again such an implication serves only to insult students and their families by implying that some students just cannot succeed without “the system” being manipulated in their favor.

The COVID pandemic, Esquivel writes, gave teachers a new insight, as teachers suddenly “saw how some teenagers were caring for younger siblings while trying to do their own work and witnessed the impact of the digital divide as students with spotty internet access struggled to log on to class.” Do some teenagers have more responsibilities than others outside of school? Of course. Does that impact the amount of time those students have to do homework? Certainly. Does it mean that those students do not need to master content at the same level as other students? No. Internet access is a valid concern, but one that serves only to reinforce the importance of in-person learning, not one that means that grading scales and systems need to be chucked. Carol Alexander, director of A-G intervention and support for L.A. Unified, said that the pandemic heightened awareness of such differences, “but those different circumstances of learning have always been present.” Quite right. And despite them, students of all ethnicities and socioeconomic classes have always found a way to succeed if they—and their parents—prioritize their education.

The West Contra Costa Unified district, which is majority Latino, issued a memo last year encouraging its secondary teachers to give a five-day period to turn in work. Makes sense amidst COVID. The memo also said, “Assignments, exams, quizzes, or projects will be marked ‘Missing’ until completed” rather than be given a zero. Missing assignments would “not be given a zero, but rather a failure to turn in or F in the gradebook to maintain the relative mathematical validity of the gradebook.” This is nothing more than fancy footwork; an assignment that is missing is still missing, and therefore ungradable, regardless of what it is called or how it is entered in a gradebook. Presumably if that assignment were never turned in the student would never receive a grade for it—or for the class.

Next Esquivel cites Placer Union High School District, which directed its teachers “to base grades on ‘valid evidence of a student’s content knowledge and not…on evidence that is likely to be influenced by a teacher’s implicit bias nor reflect a student’s circumstances.’” If that’s a novel idea, that’s terrible. Of course student’s grades should be based on evidence of content knowledge! There is no place for teacher bias in grading. Notice, though, that the statement also says that grades should not “reflect a student’s circumstances.” Exactly! Grading systems should be fair and consistent across the board—regardless of any extraneous factors (including ethnicity, socioeconomic status or any other circumstances). Esquivel, and the memos and directives she cites, like to use the word “equity.” Equity means “fairness or justice in the way people are treated.” That means treating all students fairly and not treating them differently based on any factor other than mastery of content and completion of course assignments. The Placer board policy says, in part, “A teacher shall base students’ grades on impartial, consistent observation and evaluation of students’ learning and their proficiency in Essential Learning Outcomes.” Again…duh!

Shockingly, Esquivel writes that prior to the pandemic, “In Los Angeles, the district had begun to train teachers on practices including basing grades on whether students are meeting academic standards.” Whatever else student grades had been based on before I would love to know. If grades were truly being given on the basis of something other than meeting academic standards then there was a real problem. “In the recent guidance,” Esquivel wrote, “teachers were directed to base final academic grades on the ‘level of learning demonstrated in the quality of work, not the quantity of work completed.’” I do not understand the idea that a grade would be based on a quantity of work completed. Presumably all students would be assigned the same work. If some completed all of it, but did so poorly, that should be reflected in their grades. If some completed only a little of it, that too should be reflected in the grades. Even if 15% of assigned work was completed perfectly, that leaves 85% of the work undone. Unless work is being assigned purely as busywork, no one could demonstrate mastery of a course by completing only 15% of the work assigned.

Esquivel quoted Yoshimoto-Towery as saying, “Just because I did not answer a test question correctly today doesn’t mean I don’t have the capacity to learn it tomorrow and retake a test. Equitable grading practices align with the understanding that as people we learn at different rates and in different ways and we need multiple opportunities to do so.” This is both true and false. Answering a question incorrectly today does not mean the one answering could not learn the correct answer and get it right tomorrow—or next week—or next year. That’s true. But if the standard or expectation is that you should know it today, and you do not, it is not unfair or inequitable to tell you that you got it wrong today.

Incomprehensively, Esquivel says that “shifting away from traditional grading to basing grades on whether students have mastered standards is not easy.” I would love to know what Esquivel, or any of the Los Angeles area educators she references, think traditional grading was based on. To her credit, Esquivel does quote Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute as pointing out that telling students that deadlines do not matter does not prepare students “for successful careers or citizenship.”

Thomas Guskey, author of On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting, told Esquivel that reforming the grading system is “not about watering down expectations; it’s about ensuring that grades are meaningful and fair.” With that I can agree. Grades need to be meaningful and fair. If they have not been then that needs to be fixed. Let’s just be careful that in the process of pursuing that meaning and fairness we do not achieve the opposite.

Hypocridity

1024px-The_'No_Cop_Co-Op'_in_CHAZ

I have seen quite a bit of hypocridity coming out of Seattle lately. You may be thinking you have never heard of hypocridity, and that’s true—because it is a term I just made up. It is a blending of hypocrisy and stupidity, and it is a dangerous combination.

More than a week ago the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, was “formed in the wake of police giving up the week-long blockade of the East Precinct,” according to a June 9 post on the Capitol Hill Seattle blog. Per a tweet from Mayor Jenny Durkan, the abandonment of the precinct wasan effort to proactively de-escalate interactions between protestors and law enforcement outside the East Precinct.” She went further than that, however, saying, “Keeping demonstrations peaceful must be a joint effort between our community members and law enforcement. I am hopeful that tonight, with these operational changes, our city can peacefully move forward together.”

Here is a beautiful example of stupidity. According to Durkan, the “joint effort” necessary to maintain a peaceful demonstration is the evacuation of police so that the protesters can do whatever they want. But that is not a joint effort. That is total capitulation. Just imagine what would happen if the world was suddenly full of “joint efforts” in which one side caved completely to the other!

Per the same blog post, Seattle Fire Department personnel “removed ‘many personal effects of the officers normally stationed in the East Precinct’ as part of a ‘proactive effort to guard against potential damage or fire.’” That doesn’t sound like they were anticipating a peaceful demonstration, does it?

An update to the blog described Tuesday morning, June 9 this way:

The first morning brought a new configuration to the streets. The police barricades and walls left behind have provided protesters the resources they need to create their own path through the neighborhood. Barriers have been dragged into a zig zag maze to block traffic from passing through 12th Ave or up and down E Pine with a steady stream of cars and trucks performing u-turns and three-point turns to avoid the blockades. Tent shelters have been put up to help keep volunteers dry at the edges of the core around 12th and Pine. At one on the southeast corner of the intersection, a few people sat around while one approached CHS and encouraged “white people” to come to the scene and help them hold the block. Above the walled-off entrance to the building, the sign has been spray painted to now read “SEATTLE PEOPLE DEPARTMENT EAST PRECINCT.”

In other words, the peaceful demonstration had tuned into a takeover.

Evan Bush wrote a piece for the Seattle Times on June 10 that said, in part, “A new protest society — centered on a handful of blocks in Seattle’s quirky, lefty Capitol Hill — has been born from the demonstrations that pushed the Seattle Police Department out of its East Precinct building.” The same article quoted protester Sarah Tornai saying that people desire to be “autonomous from the way the Seattle Police Department has been policing them.”

When CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Jenny Durkan on June 11 how long the autonomous zone situation would continue, Durkan replied, ““I don’t know. We could have a Summer of Love!”

Seattle’s KOMO news reported that Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said, also on June 11, “There’s no game plan for this. This is absolutely unprecedented. I’ve never seen people force a decision to be made to move officers out of this facility in this manner. So, there is no game plan, there couldn’t be, because it’s unimaginable, what’s happening to us right now.” Best added that police response time to priority calls inside the zone had more than tripled, from five minutes to eighteen, while the response time to secondary calls was nearly an hour. “There are people’s lives who are affected,” she said. “Emergency calls, which often means somebody’s being assaulted, sometimes it’s a rape, sometimes it’s a robbery, but something bad is happening if it’s a top priority call, and we’re not able to get there….”

That doesn’t sound much like a summer of love…

In a June 16 piece for Slate, Jane C. Hu wrote that after hearing rumors and seeing reports that there were ID checks and armed individuals patrolling the streets, she went to check it out for herself. She reported barricades, but no ID checks. She also reported, “it’s obvious to anyone in Seattle that the zone is not autonomous.” The people inside the zone are still using water and electricity, for example. This may be why the preferred name was switched from CHAZ to CHOP—the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.

Hu added that while there were no armed guards or ID checks, “if people recognize you and they’re not fans of your work, there is a chance you’ll be confronted by a crowd asking you to leave.” In other words, anyone and everyone is welcome…as long as the crowd does not dislike you.

Hu also described the No-Cop Co-op. “The ‘No Cop Co-Op’ had piles of bread, jam, oats, and peanut butter, with a sign encouraging people to avail themselves: “Do not take one granola bar—take the whole box. Take an entire case of pop. You do you. Just stop looking and start shopping,” she wrote.

Hmmm. You do you…but if people recognize you and don’t like you, you will be asked to leave. Makes sense….

Then, also on June 16, FOX News reported between the city and the CHOP protesters that would “remove temporary roadblocks and replace them with concrete barriers.” The barriers would be installed by the Seattle Department of Transportation and would be placed in such a way that emergency vehicles would be able to access the area.

So, Seattle city services would install the barricades, and Seattle emergency vehicles would be able to provide services in the area… Not much autonomy in that arrangement, is there?

Nevertheless, Mayor Durkan still thinks its all great. “Seattle is the best city in America. Don’t let Fox News distort the truth. And take a look at the real truth of the ‘nation formerly known as downtown Seattle,’” she tweeted on June 17. That was two days after a crowd broke down a fence and demanded that the owners of an auto repair business release a man they had caught after he broken into the business and tried to start a fire. More than a dozen 911 calls were placed by the business owners, but no emergency personnel arrived. The Fire Chief later visited and said he was looking into why fire personnel had not responded to the calls. The answer later emerged; per FOX News, “the fire team was waiting on a police escort to the business, but police did not want to enter the area to escalate tensions. Seattle police took a report of the incident and sent officers to the periphery, but did not engage with the business owners or protesters or take the suspect into custody.”

Ami Horowitz, who says he calls the CHAZ/CHOP group the Confederacy of Dunces, produced a digital short (available on YouTube) in which he conducted interviews on the street inside the zone. One masked individual told him, “If there is no change, there might be a lot more destroying until there is.” This individual went on to say that he thinks some “some destruction and looting kinda sends the message to the people. And breaking their sh*t is justified.” Indeed it does send a message… This individual was accompanied by a woman who said, “I mean, white people owned slaves, so fu*k them.”

Both of these folks were white, by the way….

Jaiden Grayson, identified as one of the leaders, said that she does not show up to peacefully protest, but to “disrupt until my demands are met. You cannot rebuild until you break it all the way down.” She continued, “Respond to the demands of the people, or prepare to be met with any means necessary. By any means necessary.” When Horowitz said, “That’s not just a slogan…” Grayson replied, “No. It’s not a slogan. It’s not even a warning. I’m letting people know what comes next.” Horowitz pressed Grayson further, and she said “absolutely” the police, the courts and entire criminal justice system needs to be abolished.

“And then what?” Horowitz asked.

“Again, you’re asking a question that cannot be answered,” Grayson answered. “The unraveling that happens to that system is also exactly what will fuel the black minds in the black bodies that will recreate a new world.”

Let’s ignore the fact that you cannot recreate something new. Grayson clearly has a vision for a “new world” that goes beyond what most of the folks in CHOP have in mind. Anyone happy to live in a place that has, as NPR News reported today, “established a food co-op, a community garden, medical stations, a speaker’s stage, movie nights, book exchanges and round-the-clock security patrols” in a week’s time is simply living out a silly dream and abandoning reality. There seems to be plenty of talk, but none of it addresses work, income, ownership or responsibility. Indeed, according to Hannah Allam’s NPR report, many black activists—like Grayson—are now concerned that CHAZ/CHOP is now “a majority-white protest movement whose camp has taken on the feel of a neighborhood block party that’s periodically interrupted by chants of ‘Black Lives Matter!’”

Let’s stop the hypocridity and get serious about problem solving. An autonomous zone or occupied protest is not going to accomplish that.

Silence Is Not an Option

SilenceI know I am not the only one that has continued to read and think about the death of George Floyd and the protests that continue to spread around our nation. Just about everyone has had something to say and you cannot spend any time online at all without encountering something related to Floyd’s death and /or the protests. But in the past 24 hours I have been intentionally seeking and reading what African Americans have to say about it all. I have been doing that not because I think they have a monopoly on offense at the actions of Derek Chauvin, because I do not. Nor have I been doing it because I think that African Americans somehow have a more valuable or more relevant perspective or insight on the tragedy of Floyd’s death. I do, however, recognize that many African Americans have a different perspective and different insight into the situation than I do, and considering them has value.

Herman Cain began his May 31 commentary with this statement:

Everyone who saw the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is right to be incensed by it. It’s one of the worst and most obvious instances of police brutality we have ever witnessed as a nation.

I agree with Mr. Cain completely and I specifically appreciate his use of the word “everyone.” There is no way that anyone, regardless of skin color, could watch what happened to George Floyd and think it is possible for it to be justified or necessary–or that it should not result in the full punishment the law allows.

Also on May 31, Ben Carson’s Facebook post began with this: “The blatant callous murder of Mr. George Floyd is one of the most heartless acts of cruelty ever recorded.” Again, I agree.

Senator Kamala Harris, who is at the other end of the political spectrum from Cain and Carson, released a statement on May 29 that said that the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are “the result of broader systematic racism that exists in our country.” Her statement concluded,

Police brutality is a matter of life and death for Black people in this country, and we have to be clear about the injustices within our criminal justice system and demand accountability to the communities law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve.

Do you notice a difference in what Cain and Carson said and what Harris said? Cain and Carson addressed the death of Georg Floyd as a terribly evil act without any reference to race. Harris made race and racism the foremost issue in her comments.

Oprah Winfrey posted a statement on Twitter on the same day that Harris released her statement. Winfrey pointed out what was going through her mind as she went through the motions of her day, “I think: he doesn’t get to do this.” She concluded her statement:

#GeorgeFloyd, we speak your name. But this time, we will not let your name be just a hashtag. Your spirit is lifted by the cries of all of us who call for justice in your name.

There was not a single mention of race or racism in her post. There was no mention of a Black community or any institutional racism. Instead, she used the words “all of us.” That is as broad and as inclusive as Herman Cain’s “everyone.”

On June 1, Dawn Staley, the women’s basketball coach at South Carolina, posted on The Players’ Tribune an editorial entitled “Black People Are Tired.” With a title like that, it is hard to interpret her us of the word “us” as meaning anything other than African Americans. And that is unfortunate, because I agree with much of what she has to say. Staley shared a very personal story about her mother having to leave South Carolina as a thirteen-year-old because of her grandmother’s concern that she might be lynched. Staley said that happened about sixty years ago. That is tragic and there is no excuse for it.

That’s why I both appreciate Staley’s post and dislike it. She says that Black people are angry. They should be. But all people should be angry. Being white does not give me a pass on being angry about George Floyd’s death or about the fear of Dawn Staley’s grandmother.

Staley goes on to write:

When you are privileged — when you are the privileged race, you don’t have to think about what we think about daily.

You just see the world through your own eyes. And it’s a lot different than it is through a black person’s eyes. A lot different. Say what you wanna say, but it’s a lot different.

I cannot dispute that. I have only ever been white and I will only ever be white. Accordingly, I can never experience life through a black person’s eyes and can never approach life with the experiences and history of a black person. And while it may be appropriate and helpful for me to understand and acknowledge that, it is not helpful for Dawn Staley or anyone else to suggest that because of that I cannot contribute to the solution. Staley writes,

That’s why I have to constantly ask myself: Am I doing right by our players?

Are they learning? Are they understanding? Are they being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman in our society?

That’s a problematic line of thinking. First of all, as she acknowledged earlier in her piece, Staley does not coach black women only. Thus, to equate doing right by her players with being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman is drawing an unhelpful line on her own team.

She seems to recognize the problem there, because she immediately writes this:

And that’s not to divide our team by race. It’s just a statement of reality that as human beings, we see color. Yes, we see color. We feel color. Without a doubt. And it’s a shame, but that’s how we have to navigate the world.

This is the second problem with her line of thinking. It is not how we have to navigate the world. To suggest that it is is to suggest that we cannot do better. Early in her piece Staley says, “People are mad because NOTHING HAS CHANGED.” Saying that continuing that way is “how we have to navigate the world” is to assert that nothing can change.

I may not be able to agree with him on much, but Mokokoma Mokhonoana was spot on when he said, “Racism is one of the most common results of the combination of stupidity and the ability to see.” We do not want to deny people the ability to see. Not literally, anyway. A world full of blind people would have quite a few problems. What we need to do, then, is try to fix the “stupidity.” It’s been widely said—and I’ve said it myself—that you can’t fix stupid. But that is not really true. Racism is a learned behavior and any learned behavior can be changed.

Herman Cain wrote,

…we make a mistake if we see this entirely in the context of race. Statistically, black-on-black crime is a much bigger problem than white-on-black crime. Statistically, police officers are much more likely to be victims of deadly violence than they are to be the perpetrators of it.

None of that gets better if we view each other with suspicion and hostility.

That’s another way of saying that we cannot see and feel color…and he is right. What we must learn to do is see human. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeing and taking notice of skin color. In and of itself, it is no more wrong than noticing if someone has brown, green, blue or gray eyes or blonde, black, brunette or red hair. The problem is not in the noticing. The problem, rather, is in the notion—the belief—that skin color matters.

It is not wrong for there to be genuine and healthy differences of opinion. It is not wrong for me to think that the comments by Kamala Harris and Dawn Staley are not all that helpful. It is not wrong for me to think that Sarah Parcak was in the wrong when she tweeted instructions designed to help rioters know how to tear down monuments or that celebrities paying bail for “protestors” is not helping address the real problem. It is not wrong for me to think that Billie Eilish’s Instagram rant was a waste of cyberspace or for me to think that Reese Witherspoon’s use of Instagram to urge parents to talk to their children about racism was worthwhile and helpful. It is not wrong for me to find some of Natasha Cloud’s piece “Your Silence Is a Knee On My Neck” to be offensive while also agreeing wholeheartedly with her conclusion that “if you’re silent, you are part of the problem.”

I am not going to stop intentionally seeking to hear, read and understand the black perspective. I do hope, though, that there is also an intentional effort for all of us who are furious about what happened to George Floyd to seek to understand each other and to work together to achieve real change. The collective “we”—all of humanity—will never agree on everything. Nor would we really want a world in which we did all agree on everything. What we must do, though, is agree that all human lives matter and every human being deserves to be treated with respect. That the problem can be resolved peacefully. And that silence is not an option.

Truly Haunted

800px-Wandbild_Portrait_George_Floyd_von_Eme_Street_Art_im_Mauerpark_(Berlin)
Mural portrait of George Floyd by Eme Street Art in Mauerpark (Berlin, Germany)

A week ago I, like thousands of others in the United States, saw, for the first time, reports that an African American man had died in Minneapolis while a white police officer was kneeling on his neck. My initial reaction was probably somewhat numb. The stories of African Americans dying at the hands of, and/or in the custody of, law enforcement have become too common. Too, I am reluctant to jump to conclusion, especially when it seems that maybe I do not know or understand the full story. Furthermore, I am a relative of a police officer and a friend of a number of others, and I recognize that their jobs are often thankless—that they have to make difficult decisions every day, often without the time and the privilege of thinking through every possible option before acting.

When I saw the video footage of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd, though, I was confident that, whatever the further details of the situation may be, the matter was not handled properly and there was no reason for Floyd to have died. I could not imagine any scenario in which the officer would not be charged with murder. When Jacob Frey, the mayor of Minneapolis, said that Floyd “should not have died” and that the officer involved had “failed in the most basic human sense,” I had to agree. Melvin Carter, the mayor of St. Paul, said that the cell phone footage of “a defenseless, handcuffed man one of the most vile and heartbreaking images” he had seen. I had to agree. When Senator Amy Klobuchar said, “Those involved in this incident must be held accountable,” I had to agree.

Less than thirty minutes ago, as I write this, the results of Floyd’s autopsy were released. The finding was that Floyd died as a result of asphyxiation from sustained pressure.

The New York Times has put together a video that resulted from “combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts.” It is an interesting video. It makes valid and significant points. For example, the police officers who responded to the scene were expecting, based on the 911 call they received, to be dealing with a man who was “awfully drunk” and out of control. No doubt that influenced their attitude and mindset before they even encountered Floyd. It also states that Floyd told the police officers who tried to put him into their vehicle that he was claustrophobic and unwilling to get in. I am sure that police officers hear excuses on a regular basis, and I cannot fault them for not putting much stock in that statement from Floyd. It goes to explain that nine minutes into the arrest, officers Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin arrive together. Apparently they are partners. Assuming the Times report that Thao has had six complaints and been the subject of a brutality lawsuit, and that Chauvin has had seventeen complaints and been involved in three shootings is correct, one has to question why these two men are partners—if not why they are still on the police force at all. Why Chauvin gets involved in trying to get Floyd into the vehicle, and why he then pulls Floyd all the way through and onto the road, is unclear. What is clear is that he puts his knee on Floyd’s neck and it remains there. According to the Times, it remained there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Someone is heard telling Floyd to get up and get in the car. Whether or not that is Chauvin, I cannot tell, but obviously Floyd could not get up or get in the car while Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

According to the Times, Floyd tells the officers at least sixteen times in less than five minutes that he cannot breathe. To be fair, the first time I watched the footage of the incident I was skeptical of Floyd at first. After all, if he could continue to say that he could not breathe, he was obviously breathing. My thinking changed, however, when Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after Floyd stopped saying anything and appeared to be either unconscious or dead. Bystanders repeatedly asked that Chauvin get off of Floyd or that he at least check Floyd’s pulse. Again, I am sure that police officers hear many things from the public in the midst of an arrest and no doubt tend to ignore them, but it is clear that both Chauvin and Thao can hear them because Chauvin appears to draw mace from his belt and Thao is interacting with the bystanders and trying to position himself to block their view. Chauvin keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly a minute after EMS personnel arrive, and while Floyd is put into the ambulance and the ambulance drives away, he is pronounced dead at the hospital.

More than likely, you know most, of not all, of the above. There is nothing that can be done to change any of that, but there is much that can be learned from the incident. There are many questions to ask and attempt to answer. And then, of course, there is the reaction that is spreading across the country in the form of riots and looting. I would naïve to think or suggest that I have all of the answers or even that I have much to add to the discussion that is unique or new. But I am going to share a few thoughts regardless.

First, as I have already mentioned, law enforcement is a difficult and often thankless job. It is also a necessary job. As long as human beings are the ones serving in law enforcement, there will be mistakes made. There will be “bad apples.” There will be individuals who misuse and abuse their authority and their power. That is not a racial issue, it is a human issue. No race or gender or ethnicity is exempt from flaws. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there are more than 800,000 law enforcement officers currently serving in the U.S. I am confident that many of them do their very best every day on the job and that they are just as upset over the death of George Floyd as anyone else. According to the same source, there has been an average of one law enforcement officer dying in the line of duty every 54 hours over the past ten years. That is a startling number, and a great reminder that law enforcement officers literally put their lives at risk to do their jobs.

Second, while it is clear that Chauvin needed to be both fired and charged, not much more than that is entirely clear yet. I read person comment on Facebook, of Chauvin’s charges, “Never seen a charge this fast with peaceful protests, all I’m saying.” Well, there is no way to know if the charges would have come that quickly without protests, though I cannot help but think that they would have. And if the point of the protests was to get Chauvin charged then the protests should stop. Is a third degree murder charge too lenient? My inclination is no…unless there is more to the story that we do not yet know. Multiple news sources, for example, are reporting that Floyd and Chauvin worked at the same night club in Minneapolis, El Nuevo Rodeo, and may have known each other. That needs to be investigated. If there was some personal motive behind Chauvin’s actions then the charges need to be increased and the protests against police discrimination and brutality are off the mark. Specifically, as The Western Journal noted, “that should give pause to those portraying law enforcement and the criminal justice system as being inherently biased against minority Americans.”

Third, cooler heads really do need to prevail. Saying something that captures headlines but has zero basis in reality is nothing short of stupid. Leslie Raymond, the president of Minneapolis NAACP, called Floyd’s death a “cruel display of the state-sanctioned murder.” That’s absurd, and not even remotely helpful. Raymond went on to say, “Their actions represent a dangerous precedent set forth by the racist, xenophobic, and prejudicial sentiment in our society against Black people.” Again, both absurd and unhelpful. Floyd’s death was wrong and that would be true even if the perpetrator were black and the victim were white. It would be true if the perpetrator and victim were both white. Or both black. Or both blue. That is a deeper truth that needs to be grasped. The taking of a life is wrong. Period. That’s not a racial issue.

In today’s issue of The Briefing—which is excellent in its entirety—Albert Mohler writes,

Every single human being is of the same dignity and of the same worth and have the same value, precisely because we are made by the same Creator equally in his image. And thus, every one of us bears the same dignity and that dignity must never be denied. It must never be slighted. It must never be reduced. It must never be hidden.

Mohler is correct, and that is why the death of George Floyd must not go unnoticed or unpunished.

Yesterday Wynton Marsalis wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page addressing Floyd’s death and the deeper issues surrounding it. About halfway through, Marsalis wrote,

The whole construct of blackness and whiteness as identity is fake anyway. It is a labyrinth of bullshit designed to keep you lost and running around and around in search of a solution that can only be found outside of the game itself.

Excuse his language, but Marsalis is spot on. The problem is not racism and the solution is not eliminating racism. He continued,

Our form of Democracy affords us the opportunity to mine a collective intelligence, a collective creativity, and a collective human heritage. But the game keeps us focused on beating people we should be helping. And the more helpless the target, the more vicious the beating. Like I was trying to explain to my daughter, something just feels good about abusing another person when you feel bad about yourself.

I do not know if Chauvin felt bad himself, or somehow felt bigger, badder and tougher by kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, but the temporary good feeling that comes from abusing another is not a racial issue. It is human issue and a heart issue. It is, in fact, the very issue at the root of the current riots and looting. No one in their right mind thinks for a second that the destruction and violence we are seeing around the country will bring back George Floyd, make law enforcement officers act differently or improve race relations in the U.S. There is nothing constructive or helpful about the riots and looting. It is, quite frankly, part of the labyrinth of bovine feces Marsalis referred to in his post.

Earlier in the post, Marsalis describes a conversation he had with his eleven-year-old daughter about the death of Floyd. She asked him why “that man” would “just kneel on him and kill him like that in front of everybody?” Like a good parent in a teachable moment, Marsalis responded with an illustration and asked his daughter to come up with the answer herself. She gave some good ones, but she never quite got to where Marsalis wanted her to go, prompting him to—at her urging—just tell her. What was the deepest reason he had in mind? “Because he enjoyed it. For him, and for many others, that type of thing is fun.” He elaborated, saying, “this type of fun is much older even than America itself.”

I do not agree with everything that Marsalis said in his post. I do agree, however, that the death of George Floyd is not fundamentally a racist issue. That Chauvin enjoyed it—assuming he did (and there is no evident hesitance or concern on his face in the video)—would likely have been true if almost anyone had been under his knee. I do not know, of course, but I suspect that if we ever find out for sure, we will discover that Floyd said or did something to Chauvin that upset him—either when they worked at the club or just before Chauvin pulled Floyd through the vehicle onto the road—and Chauvin wasn’t going to put up with it.

This is a human flaw illustrated perfectly by Haman in the Old Testament book of Esther. Haman was a Jew and he refused to show Haman the physical homage he felt he deserved. Esther 3:5 reads, “And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury.” So full of fury was Haman, in fact, that he had a 75-foot gallows constructed and devised an elaborate plan to get the king to let him execute Mordecai—all because he got on his nerves. If you are not familiar with it, you can read the book of Esther to see how that worked out for Haman. Unfortunately, Derek Chauvin succeeded in killing George Floyd. Whether that was his intention or not I do not know and I doubt anyone ever will truly know. But, in the words of Max Lucado, here is what we do know: “the heart of the human problem is the heart of the human.” Why would Lucado say that? Because Jeremiah 17:9 says this: “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable” (HCSB). That is true of Derek Chauvin. It was also true of George Floyd. Whether we like it or not, it is also true of you and me.

Seemingly everyone, everywhere, is saying something about how wrong the killing of George Floyd was, and that’s fine. Within the past couple of hours I have seen messages from two of my alma maters condemning the actions of Derek Chauvin. One was headlined, “University condemns racial injustice and senseless violence.” The other included the statement, “Justice demands that we all do our part to confront and overcome the legacy of bigotry….” I suppose it is good that these schools, and others, are making such statements but they do not really do much.

Fifty-seven years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Sadly, our nation is still not that place. The color of one’s skin still matters far too much. No murder sentence for a police officer will change that. No riots will change that. No university announcements or presidential proclamations will change that. Nothing will change it until we realize, as Wynton Marsalis said, “The whole construct of blackness and whiteness as identity is fake anyway.” Or, as Albert Mohler said, “Every single human being is of the same dignity and of the same worth and have the same value….”

Maybe Nkwachukwu Ogbuagu said it best: “I have this feeling in me that those who continue to see race and color in everything must be as miserable as those who continue to see ghosts in every nook and cranny. They have no peace of mind because they are truly haunted.”

 

Photo credit: Singlespeedfahrer / CC0