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.

These Things I Wonder

If you read this blog with any regularity then you know that I am not short on opinions. There are very few subjects on which I could not share some thoughts and which I do not have an opinion. Not that my opinions are necessarily right, but I usually do have one. One of my favorite graduate school professors would often say that he was “often wrong, but never in doubt.” Perhaps that fits me, too. Still, there are some subjects on which I have not been able to form an opinion. Within the past week, in fact, there have been three. That’s quite a few for such a short period of time, so I found myself somewhat frustrated by my inability to come to a conclusion one way or the other. So, I am going to share them with you, in the hope that (1) if you have opinions on these topics that you are willing to share you will do so, and (2) that if you have questions you wonder about too that you will share those as well. You can do either–or both–by leaving a comment.

First, I have been unable to decide whether Kim Davis was right or wrong in her refusal to issue marriage certificates because of her convictions that homosexuality is a sin. Herman Cain explained his opinion that elected officials have to obey the law whether they like it or not. To be honest, that was how I was leaning initially, even though I respected Davis’s willingness to take a stand and even go to jail for what she thought was right. As I read more, though–particularly Eugene Volokh’s piece in The Washington Post and Joe Carter’s article on The Gospel Coalition web site, I was feeling more inclined to say Davis was right. There are allowances made for religious convictions in many work environments, and there are laws designed to protect those convictions in the workplace. As Carter clearly pointed out, Kentucky should have made plans for how to deal with this issue before it came up. He also correctly points out, though, that part of the problem resulted when the Supreme Court–a branch of the federal government–interfered in a matter that is properly the domain of the states. The federal government then intervened in a state issue again when a federal judge ordered Davis jailed. It would certainly seem that there are reasonable and relatively simple ways to accommodate homosexual couples receiving a marriage license without Kim Davis having to put her name on them, so on this issue I think I may be close to having an opinion…certainly much closer than I was at the end of last week…but I am still not sure.

Second, I have been wondering about the expectations that there are, or should be, for pastors and other church leaders. It is biblical for them to be held to a higher standard, and there are clearly spelled out biblical expectations and qualifications for individuals holding the position of pastor and elder, so I am not questioning that. However, I am not sure I have a clear grasp of how high those standards need to be, or could realistically be. Last week Ligonier Ministries announced that it was suspending R.C. Sproul, Jr. until July 2016 because he visited Ashley Madison, the web site designed to facilitate discreet affairs. A recent hack of the Ashley Madison site has apparently resulted in a tremendous amount of information being released about users of the site. I would not even begin to defend the site itself. However, assuming Sproul’s admission was complete and what he has stated about his visit to the site is comprehensive, I was left wondering. Sproul said that he visited the site one time, in what he called a “moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity.” He said he did leave an old e-mail address at the site, but he left it after that one visit and has never returned. He did not sign up to use the site’s service and he has not had any contact with any of the site’s clients. Was Sproul wrong to visit the site? Yes. Should a one-time visit to a site result in a suspension of nearly a year from the college and ministry where Sproul teaches? I am not sure. By no means do I want to downplay sin, and I certainly do not intend to suggest that we should lower the standards to which pastors and Bible teachers are held. At the same time, if Sproul’s explanation is entirely truthful, he erred but recognized his error and repented. He did not visit the site again. Sadly, I am sure that there are many pastors and Bible teachers who have had thoughts that they should not have had. I would like someone to show me an adult male who has not ever had moments of unhealthy curiosity. Grace is biblical, too. Grace does not mean letting someone off; there are still consequences to choices and actions. We must not allow a misunderstanding of grace to lead us into thinking that we can or should excuse away any sinful behavior. At the same time, we should not overreact to something or assign a harsher-than-necessary penalty in order to make someone an example, make a point, or demonstrate our attention to a current hot-button issue. I had hoped to find the thoughts of Christian leaders and teachers whom I respect on this matter, but thus far I am finding nothing. Tim Challies said on his site that he was “sickened and so sorrowful” to hear of Sproul’s actions and subsequent suspension, but that is all I have found to date. Yes, pastors and Bible teachers need to be held accountable, but is it possible to set the bar impossibly high? I am not sure.

Third, I am wrestling with whether or not there is such a thing as presuming upon God’s provision and the support of God’s people. My family recently received a support letter from a missionary family that is supported by the financial donations of individuals and churches. This family is currently expecting their tenth child. It is common sense that the more children someone has, the greater the amount of financial support they will require in order to be able to provide for their family. I have long said when people have criticized the Duggar family for having so many children that if (1) they have the financial wherewithal to care for those children, and (2) the children are receiving the love, care and attention they need, then how many children they have is really none of my business or anyone else’s. The Bible makes it clear that children are a gift from God and there are definite passages of Scripture that indicate that having many children can bring great joy. I have two children, and I am content. I do not feel any compulsion or obligation to have more. I know families with lots of children who are able to provide for them, and I think that’s great. If a family requires government aid in order to provide for their children, though, I do not think it is wise to have more children. I do not think it is good stewardship. I question whether it pleases God. Now I am certainly not suggesting that missionaries or other Christian workers in support-based positions are the equivalent of folks on welfare or other government assistance programs. However, these are people who are, for all intents and purposes, telling God and man, “I will work full time for God and trust Him to provide for my financial and material needs.” There are many scenarios and situations in which I do not have a problem with that. There are other times when I struggle with it. For example, should faculty members at Christian colleges have to raise their own support so that the school does not have to pay them, and therefore can keep the tuition low? My opinion is no. I think the students attending the college are receiving a service that has value and for which there is no reason they should not pay. It would make far more sense to have a reasonable tuition and to pay the faculty a reasonable salary so that they can devote their full time and attention to their ministry of teaching rather than scrimping and devoting time to asking for support. There are plenty of ways to provide financial assistance to deserving individuals who need it without keeping tuition artificially low across the board. At what point, though, does it become irresponsible and presumptuous for a family in a support-based position to keep having children, therefore creating a need for increased financial support? I am not sure.