This morning I came across an article reporting Facebook’s sudden about face on the matter of whether Covid-19 came from a lab in Wuhan. The established narrative was that this debunked, a wild conspiracy theory, and thus the social media giant took it upon themselves to protect us from this misinformation.
Had you posted some speculation about the possible man-made origin of the pandemic prior to this it is likely it would be demoted by Facebook’s algorithms or removed entirely from the platform. This, like questions about the election results or the Biden laptop scandal, deemed to be fake news by Big Tech monopolies, present a prime examples of why I oppose all censorship.
All this to say that, no matter your politics or perspectives, these Silicon Valley elites did a rather poor job of playing impartial arbiters of truth and really can’t be trusted to police the national conversation. Sure, maybe it was an honest effort, confirmation bias can make a fool of the best of us, they were relying on the experts, yada yada, but clearly they can be wrong and can be wrong again.
Wisdom of the Crowds
A few months back I had planned to write a blog on an interesting phenomenon called wisdom of the crowds.
In an experiment, Sir Francis Galton, a statistician, had the visitors to a country fair guess the weight of a dressed ox. He also had some experts independently assess the weight. Many of the non-expert guesses were wild and yet, when taken collectively, as a mean average, do you know who came out on top?
The crowd beat the experts and actually came within 1% of the true weight of the slaughtered animal.
Now this wisdom, when manipulated, say by someone claiming to know the weight, is no longer accurate. And this is not to be dismissive of expertise. There is certainly a place for doctors, lawyers and engineers, professionals, those who have spent years in careful study or ‘know the math’ so to speak.
Still, maybe just maybe we should rethink this idea that some kind of central body, especially in matters of partisan politics, should have complete control over what information is or is not fit for public consumption. I mean, do you really believe that smart people are immune to things like group think, that there’s no echo chamber or chance that they miss something in their ‘expert’ analysis?
It is absolutely fact that well-educated people can get things wrong. Remember that deadly collapse of a bridge under construction in Florida, someone in the FAA approved the 737 Max to fly before it was grounded after two plunged killing all board, surgeons sometimes remove the wrong leg and there’s a good reason malpractice insurance exists.
Even the best of us make mistakes. Add political agenda to the mix and there can be tremendous blindspots.
A friend of mine suffers from a rare genetic disorder. But it had gone misdiagnosed for years. A local hospital even refusing to consider the possibility of a genetic cause by running tests. Well, it turns out, a relative of his, a layperson, reading in publication about someone with the same disorder, put two and two together, my friend finally demanded the tests and that is likely the only reason he’s alive.
So why, again, should we blindly trust a small team of experts when we can open it up to the entire crowd?
Let the Idiots Speak!
One of the things that bugs me most about the whole censorship regime is that truth can come from complete idiots. Yes, I get tired of crackpot conspiracy theories, critical thinking often seems to be in very short supply, and yet I would rather have the open conversation than to arrogantly assume that the unwashed masses have nothing of value to contribute.
First of all, as previously discussed, the established ‘expert’ consensus can be wrong. The problem with experts is that they often have a very narrow focus and rely on other experts rather than research everything for themselves. So, in other words, incorrect knowledge can be repeated over and over again, taken as fact, because everyone trusts their colleagues too much and sometimes, even after peer review uncovers the error, the myth persists.
For example, the Lancet, a renown medical journal, was forced to retract a study they published that came out against use of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment option. How this got past their editors is anyone’s guess, but this shows the danger of relying too heavily on a few experts.
Second, idiots, being less knowledgeable, can be at an advantage as far as telling the truth as they see it. Confirmation bias, as it turns out, is something that plagues the intelligent or those who are more able to rationalize their way around the problems with their perspective. It is far less likely that an idiot will come up with wrong (yet plausible sounding) explanation which sways public policy in the wrong direction—like a PhD college professor could.
Third, children, who are idiots due to their lack of education, are less prone to functional fixedness, they often speak in an unfiltered way and have a fresh perspective that should be heard. The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes describes this well, the child in the tale didn’t know what they weren’t supposed to say and blurted out the truth that the socially pressured adults refused to see.
So, in conclusion, the established ‘truth’ can be wrong, the child (or unsophisticated mind) can sometimes see through the knowledge others have, and therefore we should allow all to speak no matter how stupid they sound to us. No, that doesn’t mean we should let the idiots lead or ignore the experts, but there is great danger in shutting even their incorrect and sometimes offensive ideas out of the conversation.
At the very least, nobody is safe when the tyrant king murders the court jester. When the idiots can be silenced it won’t be very long before the powerful begin to use the label “idiot” for anyone challenging their authority, including you, and who will dare to speak up for you after that?
Remember that viral video, from a few years ago, that has a bunch of young people lined up in a field?
As the music plays, we hear an announcer tell participants this is a race for a $100 bill and then proceeds to list off statements that will allow some to advance. If both parents married, if they had a father figure, if they had access to private education, if they never had their cell phone shut off or had to help their parents with bills, and the list goes on.
However it seems many of my former religious peers, raised in conservative Mennonite cloisters, prior to watching this video, had been completely unaware of this ‘privilege’ of family structure. Suddenly their ignorance had been revealed. But, some, rather than simply ponder and reflect, used this new knowledge to bludgeon others and suggest that anything less than feeling deep shame equal to their own is somehow sinful.
One problem with being raised in a religious culture where indoctrination and conformity is preferred to open discussion is that many coming from this background are nearly incapable of critical thought. A media presentation like this dazzles them and there’s no reason they can imagine to question the conclusions. They see what they’re supposed to see, what was carefully edited and prepared for them to see, and what the lecturer tells them to believe.
The video, unfortunately, frames things in terms of race. The one announcing even explicitly saying “if this was a fair race…some of these black dudes would smoke all of you.”
It’s ironic that this man plays on racial stereotype, the perceived athletic advantage that some have, while simultaneously making the case that privilege is about getting the money at the end of a race. He undermines his own thesis. If some young people, as a result of their athleticism, can get into a prestigious university, how is that not also privilege?
More importantly, where does that leave those of us who neither had the athletic prowess nor the academic chops nor wealthy parents to provide for our education?
My father was absent, out on the road weeks at a time, I went to public school because my parents couldn’t afford the Mennonite school tuition, I never had a cell phone growing up and also eventually had to pay rent to my parents for the privilege of living under their roof, is that unfair?
Who is to say that a person raised in single parent home is truly at a disadvantage to someone with a learning disability?
And is it actually true that those with non-athletic scholarships didn’t earn any of that reward through their own hard work?
A big problem with the presentation is how it frames privilege in a very narrow and misleading way. The list of factors is extremely selective. He never mentioned the many other disadvantages (or advantages) that can shape outcomes, things like physical stature or gender, affirmative action and health. There is also no attempt to explain why these factors should be weighted as they are. Ask different questions and the completion of the results may completely change.
Breaking Down Privilege
The problem with the privilege narrative is not that it highlights the advantages that some have over others. We all know that an athletic tall guy is more likely to dunk a basketball, and have a girlfriend, than the 5′-5″ tall perpetually last-picked dude. All of the things listed in the video may very well have an impact on outcomes and yet there are so many other things people overcome that never got mentioned.
The message is right, in that we should be aware of the disadvantages others face, but does a disservice in framing privilege almost entirely in terms of race. And, with that, feeds insecurities, builds upon division, encourages animosity or guilt—all without providing any actual solutions.
To get to solutions we need to break down the framing:
1) Not About Race
The irony of the “white privilege” claim is that, when we get to specifics, the advantages some have are often not actually about race.
Fatherless homes, for example, have nothing to do with race and everything to do with the choices of a prior generation. My dad took responsibility, he provided for his children, my mom remained loyal to him despite his shortcomings, and us children benefited.
Do you know who else had that privilege?
The daughters of Michelle and Barack Obama.
Not only that, Sasha and Malia, had access to private school, prestigious universities, and other opportunities that a working-class child (such as myself) could only ever dream about. Sure, they may have similar skin color to Trayvon Martin, but that’s where the similarities end and to say otherwise is to be absurd. The average blue collar white person has more in common with racial minorities than anyone in the ruling class.
My school friend, Adam Bartlett, the one who eventually killed himself and another man, was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Not only that, but he wasn’t all that athletic, wasn’t a great student, had nothing given to him by his parents, yet we’re supposed to believe that he had this thing called “white privilege” and was actually better off than the daughters of the President?
This idea that privilege is about color, that fatherless homes and poverty is a matter of race, is the very definition of prejudice. It is a message bad for the racial minorities whom it both disempowers and discourages. It is also wrong, an injustice, to the many people deemed privileged who face the exact same challenges and never get as much sympathy or help.
The truth is that statistics never tell us about individuals. There are many born into poverty and poor conditions who do overcome their circumstances. It has as much to do with attitude, the things we believe and are told to believe about ourselves, as anything else. The very things that can be a disadvantage in one case can be motivation in the next.
2) Let’s Address Culture, Not Color!
If we’re truly interested in changing results then we need to talk about the elephant in the room. Why do some children grow up in single parent homes, in poverty, while others do not? More importantly, what can we do to prevent this from repeating?
Woke nationalism, a far-left Marxist political movement adjacent to this sort of privilege propaganda, would have people believe that more money (in form of reparations or government programs) is the solution to disparities in outcomes. Rather than address the root cause of disparities, they blame-shift and promote acceptance of toxic behavior.
Black Lives Matter, for example, doesn’t support the reestablishment of traditional families. And, worse, many promoters of the “white privilege” narrative would have us believe that things like work ethic are somehow related to skin color. They are explicitly encouraging the very things that the video would have us believe hold people back from success.
Just today, while writing this, a BLM leader in London, was shot in the head. Her story not all that uncommon in the inner-city, where gang warfare and honor culture, a criminal underground, leads to many violent ends.
Are we truly supposed to believe this is black culture?
Should I celebrate that the majority of shootings in my little corner of the world are perpetrated by a rather small minority?
My answer is a hard N-O to both questions.
No, we should not accept fatherless homes as normal nor be an apologist for the honor culture that so often leads to violent outcomes.
No, skin color does not, should not, should NEVER determine our behavior.
It is culture, not color, that is shaping outcomes. And to conflate color with culture is the very epitome of racial prejudice. Seriously, saying that black people must act differently, must be more expressive, must prefer particular kinds of music, must talk a certain way, is the same kind of ridiculous thinking behind minstrel shows. We should be beyond this, we should be judging by content of character rather than color of skin, stop promoting foolishness!
3) Life Is Not Competition
The most egregious presumption in the video is that life is a competition and ending up with more money is the goal. Talk about spiritual rot posing as enlightenment!
Sure, your bank account may be somewhat a product of the home, community and culture that you were raised in. Hunter Biden certainly has an advantage over me in terms of earning potential given his father’s high political profile. And, trust me, it has very little to do with anything he’s done. For sure, if he were the average Joe, if the 1994 Crime Bill applied to him, he might be in jail for a long list of crimes. But that ‘privilege’ doesn’t mean he’s a success compared to me, does it?
Some extremely wealthy and visibly successful people are extremely unhappy with their lives. No amount of access to private education, cell phones, health care, or whatever, is going to solve a feeling of inferiority or self-loathing. And, if anything, more wealth in the hands of a disgruntled person will only enable them to do more evil. I mean, was Hitler, a struggling artist and disenfranchised military veteran, improved by the power eventually given to him?
No, not at all.
This idea, in the video, that life is a competition, that more material wealth equates to success, is completely wrong and deserving of the severest rebuke. What is truly shameful is that those religious folks sharing this message never once stopped to consider the metrics of success presented. So much for the first being last and last being first, as Jesus taught, apparently to them life is all about the accumulation of stuff and political power.
Maybe if we would, instead of pitying and patronizing people, start preaching the truth, start telling dead beat parents, or anyone making excuses for themselves, to repent—then we would see positive change?
But that would require us to see others as being our equals, capable of choosing good behavior. It would require being unpopular and to stand at odds with the virtue signaling of the social elites. Those who are honest about matters of culture, who confront woke nationalism and racist lies, they are the only people systemically oppressed.
Jesus Defies Privilege Narrative
No, matters of bad character and toxic culture are not fixed by more money, consider this parable:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
(Matthew 25:14-30 NIV)
Of the parables that Jesus told, this one has to be one of the most harsh and counterintuitive. I mean, who can blame this servant, given so little, for burying his talent?
Was it fair that, before the investment phase even began, the “wicked” and “lazy” servant was already at a severe disadvantage?
While this parable affirms the idea that what we’re born with has little to do with what we’ve done. However, it departs radically from the central notion of the video that success at the end of life is “nothing to do with what you’ve done.”
This flies completely in the face of the social justice gospel and, frankly, everything that comes naturally to me. As one who always felt like the servant given little and thus was fearful of God, this parable confounded me. Didn’t the initial disadvantage, the unequal distribution of wealth, shape the outcome?
Are we now going to say that Jesus lacked understanding, compassion or sensitivity?
Should we cancel Jesus?
We could replace the wealth or talents of the parable with “privilege points” and not change the message. Jesus who said, “to those much is given much will be required,” also said those who are given less by God should be appreciative and invest well rather than make excuses.
In other words, if you have no father, you can wallow in the disadvantage or choose to invest in the next generation so they do not suffer as you did. If you were excluded, as I was, on the basis of lacking stature and athletic abilities or other things not within your control, you can harbor the grievance, let it take over your life, or you can use it as motivation to do unto others what wasn’t done for you.
The reality is that Jesus was being far more compassionate in addressing the spiritual matter at the heart of many negative outcomes and ignoring questions of fairness. Furthermore, life is not a competition for material gain, it is not about the rank we attain in society either, and to frame it in such a way only shows a complete lack of discernment. The privilege narrative is not only racist to the core, it is also at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Instead of chastising innocent people for their alleged color privilege, trying to burden them down with guilt. Instead of telling some people that they lack the ability to be successful simply on the basis of their outward appearance or place they were born, which is a total lie. We should love our neighbors, rebuke this notion that life is a competition for money, and call all to repentance.
There was a time, many years ago, when I had a particularly severe struggle with insecurities, it was likely related to a recent romantic rejection and this mess of anxieties being part of the aftermath. I had walked into a youth volleyball event and, observed, a couple of girls across the room laughing.
I had known how cruel young women could be about guys who didn’t meet their standards, overheard their giggles and comments related to that slightly awkward and unfashionable older guy who was the constant butt of their jokes. So my fears of this sort of ridicule were not entirely unfounded.
But, after a quick self-assessment, making sure I wasn’t wearing my underwear on the outside or anything too obviously wrong, I did my best to ignore that nagging voice and find another explanation. They could have been laughing about anything, there was absolutely no reason to conclude it related to me and yet the unpleasant knot remained in my stomach.
Had I run with this conclusion, based upon my hallucination of their reason for laughing and not reality, this incident would be added to my existing grievance with the female gender. I was already aware that many girls have a 5′-10″ cutoff for guys they will date, the guy that did end up dating the one I had asked was a six-footer, it could be that they were laughing at my expense?
However, had I went with that, even if I didn’t match across the room and command them, “do better!” Something that most definitely would have branded me as a weirdo even if they were guilty and did apologize. Even if I had simply allowed my own explanation of their actions to metastasize, it would be the root of a very toxic attitude which would further marginalize me.
My initial interpretation, born of my anxieties, not their laughter across the room, was the real problem. Even if we banned all laughter or every snickering teenager girl were reprimanded for their feeding of male insecurities, had a plan been devised to force all girls to date short men as reparations for discrimination and height privilege be excoriated by leaders, the actual issue would never be solved.
No, I’m not saying that genuine acceptance doesn’t go a long way towards healing old wounds. Becoming part of the Orthodox world, where I didn’t have a reputation to proceed (and limit) me, where it was possible to talk to the opposite gender comfortably, did certainly help. And there’s no denying that my being in a relationship has lowered the stakes and helped me to relax around other women.
Still, all that only happened once I stopped caring what other people thought and subsequently became comfortable in my own skin. Today, unless it was a really bad day, I would be more likely to laugh with those laughing and then ask them what they were laughing about. Slinking around, making accusations, might gain you a following on social media and earn the meaningless sympathies of those only hearing one side. But it will do nothing to improve self-image.
Painful as it was, I’m glad that things didn’t work out for me because someone swooped in for the rescue. Had this happened I may never have found my internal spiritual footing and, after briefly appreciating the charitable effort, remained as lacking in confidence. Pity the woman who marries a man looking for her to bolster his self-image and mend his brokenness, that relationship is probably going to be hell in a few years.
My physical stature hasn’t changed since my days of paralyzing approach anxieties and there remains plenty of reason that one may laugh in my direction. But my life improved vastly when those voices of self-pity and doubt were muted. At this point it would not matter if those girls had been truly laughing at me, I wouldn’t take them so seriously anymore. I’m a different man.
The other day I was filling out a survey and came to the questions about my race and gender. I paused for a second, “what am I today?” And decided to select what applied to me in that moment, which is the answer that I would typically use when asked those questions, and yet continued to ponder this question of identities.
I understand why these categories exist, we do have tendencies and traits as a part of a demographic group. Generalities and stereotypes certainly do have some basis in reality and I won’t deny that. However, what makes me bristle a bit is what this grouping too often does to relationships across category lines. It is divisive, it robs us our uniqueness as individuals and also puts us at odds with those deemed to be different from us.
It is too black and white. Too simplistic and encourages a distorted picture of reality in emphasizing that one similarity we share in common (or one difference we have) over everything else. The labels themselves are even dumb. I’m not actually white. My skin is a shade of brown. Furthermore, I probably only ever started identifying as white because someone told me to fill in that box as a child and I mindlessly complied.
The idea of “whiteness” is a social construct and has come to mean much more than it ever did before. Now some claim that everything from work ethic and politeness to mathematics is somehow a part of being white. Which is appalling ignorance, unexcusable, given the contributions of people of all skin shades and cultural backgrounds to civilization as we know it. All people should be offended by that nonsense.
I had a classmate, a Jamaican immigrant, brilliant at math, well-spoken, very polite, the son of an engineer or university professor as I recall. And, by the current color obsessed paradigm, he’s more ‘white’ than I am. It is a backhanded insult to the many, like him, who have natural talents that don’t fit within the narrow categories or grievance culture narratives of the racially prejudiced left.
Which is the crux of the matter. I hate these categories because they lie. As Mark Twain quipped, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Sure one color group may, collectively, produce more elite athletes, another more classical musicians, and another mathematicians. But those group statistics tell you absolutely nothing about individuals nor why some individuals achieved these outcomes.
Much being attributed to color is actually culture. In Europe, in Africa, in Asia, and America, there are as many cultures as their are shades of skin color. Some European regions are known for their industriousness and superior engineering, others for their laid-back attitude and art. The same is true of Asian cultures. The same is true of African people. So how do we know color has anything to do with these differences?
The two biggest lies of our time…
1) The myth that skin color is synonymous with culture.
2) The myth that group statistics determine individual outcomes.
Yes, there may be some statistical correlations between certain behaviors and skin color categories. But that doesn’t mean that what applies to one of a certain category applies to all. For example, many women love pink, but that doesn’t mean the most or even many women are fond of that color. My younger sister defies many of those sort of feminine associated things, she’s not afraid of any critter, has reptiles for pets, and that does not make her less of a woman than those who freak out at the sight of a spider.
It is a complete farce that a coal cracker kid, raised in rural West Virginia, is advantaged over a college educated “person of color” working as a Wall Street broker. Nah, I’ve been around, I know how the cultural elites sneer at ‘deplorables’ and work overtime to make sure that they know their place. Class privilege is often misidentified as color privilege and misidentified by the very people who benefit most from spreading out the blame for their own sins.
The son or daughter of an immigrant wage-slave has more in common with the ‘black’ category than the trust fund babies of any color pointing the crooked finger. This is what grates me the most. In the real world blacks and whites work together. Out on the road, hauling commodities for the man, I swung the sledgehammer as much as that ‘black’ fellow beside me.
So do I really need my prissy, Che Guevara T-shirt wearing sociology professor cousin, son of a doctor, who could somehow afford to travel the world taking photos while I worked for $7.50 an hour, lecturing me on things that I don’t understand as a white male?
No, no I do not!
Those who associate certain outcomes or behaviors with certain colors of skin, who only ever see skin color in their analysis, are the true racists. There is a stronger correlation between fatherless homes and negative outcomes than there is between skin color and negative outcomes. In other words, things commonly categorized as a color privilege is more strongly correlated with family structure.
Think about that when discussion of privilege comes up.
Unfortunately, there is not much to be gained as far as political power in a “the fatherless unite!” campaign. Racial division, by contrast, is an easy sell. Skin color, indeed, is the low hanging fruit of human difference. Tribalism comes naturally, all you need to do is convince people that they are somehow fundamentally different because of something superficial and their confirmation bias will do the rest of the work for you.
Breaking the Bonds of Designated Identities
I’m not going to minimize the importance of life experience and family inheritance in shaping our identities. I was born into a conservative Mennonite home and that identity was very important to me. In public school it made me a religious minority, subjected me to many inquiries, what would now be called micro-aggressions, and some bullying later in life too.
The strange part is that, while being the Mennonite kid amongst my school peers, I never really felt like I fit in with my ethic church peers either. After years of rejections, both in romantic endeavors and even as far as filling offices or missionary opportunities. Finding my place, complete acceptance, within the Mennonite culture had eventually become an obsession. I desperately wanted to be the good Mennonite for reasons that I can’t fully explain.
That pursuit came to an end with a young woman who declared, “I can’t love you the way that you want to be loved.”
Mercifully, over the same time, a truly fatherly figure, Fr. Anthony, an Antiochian priest and college professor, took me under his wing to help me through this collapse of my Mennonite identity that had left me with a meaningless existence and suicidal.
I had to break from my ethnic and religious identity because I had no other choice. It was not pleasant. I loved, and still do love, many parts of the Mennonite culture. My parents are wonderful. My church was not one of those Pharisaical nightmares all too common in that denomination. But, as Fr Anthony offered, maybe I had simply “outgrown” the tradition.
And, truly, in Christ, we are all called to a higher common identity:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
St. Paul, in the context of the tumultuous days of the early church, spent much time addressing the many competing identities within the church. He took on the religious elitists, bluntly telling them to castrate themselves in one letter, and spoke up for those being excluded on a class or ethnic basis. That’s what he’s doing in the passage above, emphasizing that in Christ we can all be “children of God” and share one identity together.
The astounding part is that the church then, like the church now, still struggles on this point. Even in the conservative Mennonite church, where we were basically all from the same ethic and cultural background, there were definitely tiers of acceptance. Some simply check more of the ‘right’ boxes, are more popular, find the beautiful adoring wife, have all the opportunities, work their way up the ranks quickly and others not so much. In short, the words to the Galatians are as relevant now as were then.
Christian Identity Makes Difference Beautiful
One of Mennonite cultural distinctives that I had rejected early on is that of uniformity as a part of Anabaptist non-conformity teaching. My own church wasn’t nearly as strict as some. But there is an undercurrent, undeniably, that if a girl talks more than average she’s a “flirt” or a motorhead guy with a nice car was somehow materialistic compared to a wealthy business owner with three farms. Pity the artistic types in those churches more traditional than mine.
By contrast, an Orthodox Christian friend, gave this wonderful description: The church is like a garden, full of different plants and plants, all watered by the same source.
That is the ideal.
Unity in Christ is not about erasing all differences. Galatians 3:28 is not turning us into an androgynous ‘multi-cultural’ blob of completely equal outcomes. Jesus was not a Communist. Having “all things in common” was not about forced wealth redistribution or reparations. Certainly not about getting mine. Rather it was about bringing our diversity of talents and abilities, bonded together as the body and blood of Christ, to the church.
Diversity can be a strength. Not talking about superficial skin deep token ‘diversity’ achieved through quotas either. Instead, what I love is those of many colors, many backgrounds and classes, working voluntarily towards a common goal, having found a shared identity that transcends all others and allows the entire group to reach full potential. Competing identities keep us in conflict, but through Christ we could create the most beautiful harmonies.
In the end we must free ourselves from identities that keep us at war with each other. However, that is not something we do ourselves. There are many misguided efforts. Many are embracing divisive political ideologies, like critical race theory, that will only produce more hate and mistrust. Condemning “whiteness” or heaping praise on “people of color” and otherwise playing favorites on those currently deemed to be victims is never going to do anything besides add to the confusion.
Only in Christ, in repentance, in faith, can our differences in gender, culture, color or class be something beautiful.
“The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6 NIV)
The other day someone commented, in response to a blog, that it was a “vicious attack” and then thumped me with a Scripture reference that I promptly forgot to read. But they couldn’t have read much more than that particular proof-text because, otherwise, they would be doing less Bible-thumping about my lack of their religious refinement and their protest sounded remarkably similar to those offended who stopped Jesus to ask him if he realized that his words were insulting to them.
My words were not slanderous nor untrue and not written to be meanspirited either. In fact, I never even mentioned a name, because my point was not about the person, it was about the behavior and errant ideas behind the behavior. Sure, it was a rebuke to those who engage in this sort of thing, but certainly not as severe as the preaching of Jesus and definitely not as scathing as what St. Paul had to say to these sorts of religious bluebloods who were trying to influence others to live by their standards:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
(Galatians 5:1-12 NIV)
Paul was taking direct aim at the Judaizers (equivalent to the “good Mennonite” or others who hold their mastery of a particular tradition as a point of pride) for burdening others down with their rules and employed a very crude double entendre to make his point. I mean, circumcision is literally to “nip the tip” of the male genitalia, as part of the Jewish tradition, and Paul is telling them he wishes that these men would cut off the whole cucumber to prove how superior they are. Of course, he’s also saying he wishes they would leave the church, compares them to a contaminant, and is definitely not mincing his words to be polite.
Jesus would not have tickled the prissy ears of the pretentious. He was provocative. He would likely be called a racist today for using “dog” in reference to a Canaanite woman. St. Paul too, he would surely have made the religious prudes blush then and would have enraged our social police. Both men threw their rhetorical bombs at those who felt too secure in their self-righteous positions and they made no apologies for it. The truth is sometimes harsh. Waking people from the stupor of their pride can take some colorful persuasion. Yes, absolutely, we must keep our own pride in check, but passive and mealy-mouthed men are not living the example of Jesus.
In the end, the opinions of some clucking hen, taking offense on behalf of a man quite confident in himself already, means nothing to me. As the old saying goes, “Throw a rock into a pack of dogs, and the one that yips is the one that you hit.” Feel free to shatter my “glass house” of hypocrisy if you see where I do not live up to my profession. It is better that I am insulted today than be forever damned. Niceness is not a synonym for love and Jesus was not some “you do you” hippy either. And this insulted woman would know that if she would read (or was able to comprehend) the Bible. Jesus didn’t come so that we can be feckless and ineffectual, he came to upset the status quo and the religious elites were his favorite targets.
It is better that I rhetorically cut false teachings to pieces now, while those holding them can still be saved, than allow anyone to go unwarned to final their final judgment and be cut to pieces, thrown in a fire, and destroyed. The yelps of those insulted and offended are proof that the message is true enough to not be laughed off as a joke. Those using the Gospel of Jesus to sell their political-ideological Social Justice wares, trying to enslave others to their repackaged Marxist philosophy, will find no quarter here. I will whip them, and whip them good, with the truth of God’s word.
Recently a business page erupted over an earlier post that had offended some. The post, a rather mild meme suggesting that we not judge anyone on the basis of outward appearance, was removed and the owner immediately apologized. They claimed that they had not intended to post the meme, that they did not agree with the content, and this explanation was plausible given that the account doesn’t usually post anything besides menu items.
And yet this did not please the mob. These hate-filled individuals continued to assail the business even in response to the post expressing solidarity with their particular cause. There was blood in the water, the sharks circled with merciless indifference to the pleas and the appeasement strategy clearly was not going to ward off the continuing attacks. They were going to be branded as a horrible and insensitive person no matter what they said. No explanation good enough. Nothing they did prior mattered and there was no way to atone. Last I saw they were open talking about closing up shop as the verbal onslaught carried into a second day after another vain attempt to explain.
The perpetually offended can only ever see through the lens of their victimization and can’t ever be pleased. The mistake many people make, like this hapless small business owner, is that they assume they are dealing with someone like them, someone who can be reasoned with, who wants stability and peace. But I knew a few of the characters in this mob. These weren’t all good people trying to make the world a better place. No, not at all. Some, despite growing up in the same community as me and given every opportunity for success, had made a career out of conniving and seem to thrive on creating chaos for good people. They force others to tiptoe around them while themselves being totally uncaring about the suffering they cause others.
Of course, if you call these clingers to grievance out on their hypocrisy they will suddenly find religion and retreat to “only God can judge me!”
Grievance, in the case of this type of person, is a manipulation tool. It is exploitive of a cultural propensity towards compassion. Those who ply the grievance trade are not interested in solidarity or equal treatment, they are miserable people who want supremacy over others and thrive on creating conflict for their own gain. The only way to win is not to play their game.
The Victim Gambit
Years ago I had been invited to join an online discussion forum. I signed up with a sort of naive optimism, thinking it would be a place for intelligent conversation about things pertaining to theology and my religious sect. But my delusion did not last for long. The site was a lightning rod for the damaged and disgruntled, many of them ex-Mennonites or sexual abuse victims, some of them back for their revenge and others to commiserate.
Of course, I had a great amount of compassion for those who had bad experiences. There was no excuse for what they had gone through and I would gladly stand with them against the abuse they had experienced. However, their experience did not reflect my own nor the values I had been taught and I refused to be the whipping boy for things that had nothing to do with me. I’ll take the weight of the world upon my shoulders sometimes, but I’m not one to allow myself to be bullied.
It was in this encounter with grievance personified that I learned an important lesson. You cannot negotiate with those clinging to and defined by their grievance. Even goodwill gestures will eventually be reinterpreted in ways that a normal and healthy mind could hardly even imagine.
Case and point?
There was a woman on the site, maybe ten years my senior, with a slow burning hatred towards men. She had been sexually assaulted years ago and was completely devastated by the experience. But despite this pity me presentation, they struck most people as being a somewhat reasonable voice and who, along with me, had been given moderator powers. Of course it was important to me to have a positive working experience with them for this and other reasons. I did some outreach and very soon learned of her unfortunate experience many years ago and deduced that it still played an outsized role in defining her worldview.
One Sunday afternoon this chronically depressed individual was expressing their misery and woe, again, and I decided I would do something to try to cheer them up. I drove a little over an hour to where they were to chat face to face and had some vague hope that this would help our communication online as well where my voice or intent was frequently misunderstood by them. The afternoon didn’t go badly, as I recall, and she invited me to McDonald’s nearby for a snack. I had thought about paying, but was slow to the draw as I considered how that would be interpreted and decided we should both pay for our own so this would not be misconstrued.
This kind gesture would come back to haunt me. A few years later I did begin to date and things online began to deteriorate. My moderator counterpart had started to act like a jealous lover and I was too dense, at the time, to figure it out. It all culminated with a bizarre accusation from my girlfriend’s mother (also in a very abusive relationship) using the unique semantics of my moderator counterpart. I knew the source and confronted the source. But I was met with denials, they straight up lied to me about their attempt to sabotage my relationship and claimed to not know what I was talking about. However, eventually, keeping up the pressure, they did confess to the nasty gossip they spread and that could have been the end of it.
Unfortunately, that I had caught them did not improve our relationship. If anything, it made them more determined to undermine me. They had the ear of the site founder (someone who was not frequently on the forum and missed much of the ebbs and flows of things) and, over a moderation technicality, playing the victim, petitioned to have me removed. He obliged the request and I was livid. Had I kept my wits and been a bit more coniving or even just explained my side in more measured tones, I would likely have done better. Still, she had far more practice at her gambit and had been behind the scenes undermining me as well.
Now I had a grievance too. I had always taken the role of feeding controversy to help keep up traffic to the forum. It was all harmless fun for the most part, bantering back and forth. But this time I was not in a playing mood, this person had attempted (and failed) to destroy my new relationship, now they retaliated against me for exposing them (in private) by “having my head” as a moderator and so I took it up with the newly minted replacements. It was in this discussion where an accusation came out, from her, that left me completely aghast.
She accused me, on the basis of my goodwill visit to her years ago, of being a “cheap date” because, out of an abundance of caution and as not to mislead about my intentions, I did not pay for her Big Mac!!!
The insane part is that none of these new moderators called her out for this insanity and it would not have gone over well if I too directly explained why she had absolutely no appeal to me. The designated victim always gets special protection. I suppose it would be cruel to say that this bitter, self-pity consumed and misandristic woman was one of the least attractive people I’ve ever met and had absolutely zero chance of a romantic relationship with me? However, with my help, she was able to successfully poison my relationships there and had me flailing without recourse. Little did I know that even a sincere act of kindness could be weaponized against me.
Good Faith Vs Everlasting Grievance
Good faith refers to the foundational assumptions one must make about their counterpart in a negotiation. All relationships are, to a certain extent, a negotiation and we must trust the intentions of the other person or a productive relationship is impossible. If a person always interprets everything you say or do in the most negative light possible there is no way to effectively communicate. If you express sincere intentions or do something friendly, a poisoned person will see this as an attempt to manipulate and essentially bribe them.
Most go along with the victim gambit out of misguided compassion or for fear that they may become the next target of hate if they were to speak honestly against the ‘victims’ own abuses. Many believe that if they continue to give in to demands, if they keep giving special deference to those possessed by their grievance, that over time this special niceness will somehow heal this wounded individual. But the reality is that those looking the other way and excusing the abuses of the abused are not helpful. No, in fact, they are enablers of abuse, they are allowing others to be harmed.
A grievance should always be heard. We should always be willing to address the conditions that lead to abuse and give those harmed by abuse a chance to express themselves. However, there are some with a grievance who are sincerely looking for answers and others who are merely using their bad experience as political leverage and a means to gain power over others. This latter group is faithless and cannot be satisfied.
Those in the grievance industry may claim to be interested in conversation, but are truly out for blood and the conversation is only a means to gain entry, a foot in the door tactic or Trojan horse. Whether they are trying to sell you a bill of goods or lay waste to your city, there is no good faith in their effort. When you refuse to give in to every demand, if you stand up to their abuses, the faithless aggrieved person will lash out in anger, they will make nasty and absurd personal accusations, then blame you for their hatred. You are not dealing with the person, you are dealing with their demon that will never be satiated and must be exorcized.
When even good faith efforts to bridge a gap in understanding, when the perpetually offended person refuses to see that the problem (which was set in motion by something external) is actually originating with them and how they subjectivity process, they cannot be helped before they are able to acknowledge this and there is no option left besides distance. Those who continue to dwell in their grievance, even after being heard over and over again, should be ignored.
What Would Jesus Do?
Let’s talk about Jesus. But not the milquetoast happy hippie Jesus that many superimpose over him. Let’s talk about the real Jesus who made no apologies, who spoke critically about those who harbored resentment in their hearts and are consumed by blinding hate. There is a time to test the spirits and put some distance between ourselves and those who who absolutely refuse to hear truth:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Matthew 10:14 NIV
This idea that love means infinite niceness and refusal to walk away from anyone is wrong. It is because so many coddled those with a grievance, allow them to continue in their self-deception, that these people learn to use pity and guilt as a means to get what they want. As long as there is incentive to use their grievance in this way they will never reach the end of themselves and get the help they truly need.
Again, not everyone is worth our time trying to understand:
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Matthew 7:6 NIV
Incidentally, that is preceded by this:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5 NIV
Those who are blinded by grievance are always righteous in their own mind. They are so focused on the sins against them (real or otherwise) that they cannot see that they are the same or worse than those whom they accuse. As justified, without introspection, they are free to heap condemnation on others. They, more often than not, project their own cancerous attitudes onto the imperfect actions of others and can twist even the best-intended goodwill gesture into a terrible transgression. If you open the door for them they will see it as a form of abuse.
It takes wisdom to discern between the person lashing out who can be helped with just a bit of love and those who will only use your concern for their well-being as a means to try to enslave you to their putrid grievance demon. Those who mercilessly assail a small business owner for an errant social media post even after the owner apologized and completely disavowed the message, are beyond what normal compassion can help. Don’t allow them to win, do not play their game, their aim is only to destroy you and are only using your mercy as a means to draw you in close enough to plunge their crooked grievance knife.
Leaving those absent of faith, especially those who claim to be Christian yet are unrepentant about their toxic and hateful attitudes, is sometimes the most loving thing we can do. It can be the only way that finally do reflect on their own true spiritual darkness and reach for the light and love of salvation. Or, at the very least, the distance we keep between us and them prevents us from being poisoned by them. Love never means enabling sin.
Good faith begins with living out, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and all people acknowledging their culpability in the mess as a starting point. Those clinging to an oppression narrative, enveloped in grievance culture, cannot truthfully pray that prayer and should not be considered part of the community of faith until they do. Good faith means understanding “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and forgiving our enemies.
My own family situation was unique. As many good Mennonites do, my aunts and uncles, like my grandmother, adopted and there was no child left behind. Of course what this meant is there was some additional shades of color at family reunions and it had always seemed like this wonderful idyllic thing. And it certainly did help in the regard that it gave some children the privilege of a stable home and also likely helped us other cousins to humanize those of different color from our own.
But with this also came a negative side. Believe it or not, good little Mennonite children can also be vicious racists, being of a different skin color did indeed make that a focal point of conflict and I wonder how many seeds were planted then that fed insecurities that we all deal with and yet would be felt especially acutely by those adopted? My own feelings of not belonging did not have that one focal point, that specific thing that could be identified as a source, and yet I was still the “black sheep” regardless.
Still, I had the opportunity to talk to another self-identified “black sheep” of his family, my cousin Isaac, who like me, had a foot in two different cultures. He would spend most of the year with his white family in rural Pennsylvania, his parents my first cousins, and would also spend time with his black family in the inner-city of Philadelphia during the summer. Of course this gives him a very unique perspective on racial issues and definitely a voice worth listening to. So, when we started to argue about recent events, both of us talking past each other, he called and this is the result.
My Voice Doesn’t Matter
Taking a step back, Isaac and I are a different generation. I’ve been struggling, over the past few years, with feelings of betrayal for having embraced the ideal of racial equality and all that nonsense (which isn’t actually nonsense) about judging each other by the content of character rather than the color of their skin. Racism always seemed silly to me. What did it really matter what skin a person wore so long as they treated me decently, right? And that’s just how I would assume that most rational and sane people think. Unfortunately things are more complicated than that and that is what is creating conflict across this great nation.
My grievance started years ago, with something that I witnessed over and over again and maybe is best captured in a story from my school years when a mother, black, got on to the bus and screamed in the face of our bus driver, calling him “racist” and “redneck,” nasty things. Why? Well, he had had the audacity to apply the same standard, established for the safety of her children as much as all of us, but apparently the only thing she could see was that this white man (now beet red) was somehow mistreating her perfect darling angels for trying to impose a little order. The rest of us sat in stunned silence, the poor farmer working for a pittance was not a sophisticated man nor equipped for this kind of conflict nor were the rest of us.
That was one of many similar incidents where us polite people had to simply keep our mouths shut as some other folks got a free pass for their misbehavior. Polite culture means we avoided causing a scene, that we look the other way when the impolite people fight and basically do whatever it takes to avoid conflict. Conflict over the slightest perceived insult was the realm of bullies and other insecure people. We did not wish to be browbeat and berated ourselves. Our own grievances with this mistreatment would be mocked and belittled anyways, so we kept our heads low and did whatever it took to accommodate those less polite.
A few years, during the Obama presidency, many took issue with the massive expansion of government called by the misnomer Affordable Care Act. Of course, as a consistent fiscal conservative and one keenly aware of the costs, along with unintended consequences, of expanded government power, I was opposed. Many Americans did peacefully protest and yet, almost immediately, they were branded as racist by the media. I was appalled. But at least a black friend, a progressive, with a good education, would treat my own concerns as valid, right? It ended up being one of the most disappointing conversation of my life. A man, who already intimidated me for his advantages, dismissed my points with personal insults.
It was in that conversation and several others, after Obama’s call for dialogue about race, that I found out my own voice and experience didn’t matter in this ‘conversation’ about race. If I did not accept everything on their terms then I wasn’t understanding or lacked in empathy, which is absurd and definitely not terms that I would ever agree with in any other discussion. Nevertheless, it was what was, my skin color automatically disqualified my opinion, my attempts at consistently applied principles didn’t apply to their grievance, and I’ve always left feeling unheard. That’s the experience for many who don’t go 100% along with the protest narrative. Our voice didn’t matter.
A Time When Silence Is No Longer An Option
Over the past few years I’ve become a professional (yet hopefully harmless) agitator. After years of being a polite person or at least trying, wanting to go along with the Mennonite program, and finally it had just become too much. I had been told I was respected, affirmed in many ways, followed the rules, mostly, or to the best of my abilities and felt the other side of this social contract wasn’t holding up their own end of the commitment. My grievance had become too much to bear any longer and thus began my blogging here. It eventually boiled over and led me to leave my Mennonite tribal identity behind or at least to the extent that is possible.
But this emancipation was not complete. There was one topic, given past experience and potential loss of friends, that I avoided as much as possible. The politics of race, meaning the discussion of things related to measuring out justice and governance, is a third rail for those who wish to think outside of the established and acceptable narrative. As oppressed as some claim to be, the oppressed sure do dominate conversation, they have governors breaking their own shutdown orders to march, celebrities speaking out in solidarity and big corporations affirming their message without any word about the accompanying violence. If only I could be so oppressed.
It was with cities burning, small owners being beaten for defending their livelihoods, with my polite friends seeing “animals” and a growing number people dying in the violence, that I decided to take off my own filter and say enough is enough!
Everyone up to President Trump himself had acknowledged the injustice of George Floyd’s death. We had an opportunity for solidarity against police brutality, the officer was charged, and yet, after what seemed like a full validation of the concern, the protests only picked up steam. I might be a polite person, who avoids conflict when possible, but I don’t want to be beaten to death on account of my skin color more than anyone else and certainly was not going to wait untill the violence had reach my own doorstep to speak out. No, nobody asked me to mediate or broker a conversation. I knew that those on the ‘other side’ would likely tune me out, maybe even unfriend or unfollow me, and started my own form of protest.
The racially divisive narrative was a lie. Police brutality is a problem. The death of George Floyd is, by all appearances, an injustice. I have no problem with those who, on their own time and dime, without violating the rights of others, wish to protest. I know well the reality of racism, both historically and in the current year. And yet to frame everything of what happened in Minnesota in terms of race simply ignores reality and this sort of assumption about what happened will lead to anything but justice. If we were allowed to have an intelligent discussion on matters of race, if I had a partner in that discussion willing to see another perspective, I could explain.
Anyhow, it was in the midst of speaking out that someone with connection to me since childhood decided to speak back. That being my cousin Isaac. And it went predictably, online, as one would expect, I was “missing the point” and this first round came to a stalemate, with us moral posturing and might have ended there had Isaac not reached out with a phone call. It didn’t feel, at the end of an hour or so, that we agreed on too much. We had our times of animation, talking over each other, and emotion. But the reality is that we accomplished far more in our willingness to engage and so I did want to summarize a little of what I saw as significant, what I heard, where we agreed and where as diverged.
1) Not About George Floyd
The one thing that Issac and I seemed to agree on is that that this was not about only the death of George Floyd. In his view, this is about racial unjustice and draws upon his own experience of finding out what it means to be black as a teenager. He spoke of the fear that black (presumably men in particular) have in their encounters with police, the profiling he suspects when entering into white communities and some of the racist language he has encountered.
The circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death, that being his violent criminal record, his being on drugs and passing forged currency were inconsequential in his opinion. And I agree that this doesn’t make any difference as far as the guilt or innocent of Derek Chauven and the other officers. But where I diverge from Isaac is where he claims this death makes him equally vulnerable, as a black man, whereas I believe that criminal behavior and repeat negative encounters with law enforcement are going to dramatically increase the chances of dying at the hands of police.
So we agreed that it is not about George Floyd. But I see the only reason that we are talking about this case, as a nation, is because of Floyd is black and not because of the injustice.
2) Black Lives Is Not About Black Lives, But All Lives?
Isaac took issue with me saying that this was all about black tribal identity and racial solidarity, but was actually about police brutality and justice for all people. But, while saying this, he also defended the “Black Lives Matter” description and claimed it was a movement to respect all lives.
However, if this were truly the case, I postulated, why do we only have protests, riots and looting when it is a black man involved?
Why didn’t millions of Black Lives Matter protestors take to the streets and demand instantaneous prosecution of the black officer, Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed Justine Damond, an unarmed 40-year-old white woman in July of 2017?
Timpa cried out thirty times, as officers pinned his shoulders, knees and neck down, and joked over his body as he slipped away in 2017? Why no outrage over the officers only being charged with misdemeanors and then having those charges dropped?
His killer was acquitted, even briefly reinstated as a police officer just so he could receive a pension and nothing burned. Nobody said much of anything.
I know what my own answers to that series of questions is. My answer is that these deaths did not fit a racially divisive narrative. If this were truly about making all lives matter and police brutality, then these three cases would be an excellent opportunity to bring many people into the fold. No, that doesn’t mean that Isaac is insincere, not at all, but I do think the “Black Lives Matter” moniker is alienating and, frankly, insulting to those of us who have spent our lives treating everyone of all colors and creeds as if their lives mattered.
So, my point is if this truly is about police reforms, not racial tribalism or divisive political posturing, why not find descriptive language that matches that intention? Why not “All Male Lives Matter,” since most who are killed by police happen to be men, mostly white men, not women? Or maybe “Police Brutality Must Stop,” a title that would describe the actual mission if it is about change and reform of police violence? The point is that words also matter and I would much sooner jump on board a movement that didn’t falsely present the issue.
Isaac would likely disagree with everything I just said, that’s his right.
3) Isaac Wants Change, I Do Too
The real crux of the matter comes down to a difference of perspective. Isaac (who has friends who are in law enforcement) sees a “broken criminal justice system” and wants a change. I agree that there needs to be improvement, but also that there’s an elephant in the room not often talked about and that being that we aren’t actually being honest in our discussion about race or getting to those things that lead to more violent encounters with police. And that’s not blame-shifting, we can both hold police officers accountable and also get to some of those root issues shaping black outcomes as well, but there first needs to be some acknowledgement of that difference.
As things currently stand, polite people are forbidden to talk about things like black on black crime, we are not supposed to notice when public officials, journalists and activists downplay the ongoing murder and mayhem in the name of justice. We are not supposed to believe our own eyes when we see people, many of them black, with armfuls of stolen merchandise. Sure this may be a small minority, but let’s not pretend that this is only a few “white supremacist” infiltrators. It is time to stop this racism of lower expectations and have zero tolerance for using one injustice to excuse another. Again, that would restore some credibility and help accomplish the stated goals of the protests.
And we need to talk about this double standard. The polite people are fed up with being treated like second-class citizens and silenced based on their skin color. They are tired of being villainized or ridiculed for their peaceful protests of other forms of government oppression, equated to terrorists, when actual terrorism is being ignored and criminals lionized. We need to talk about this because even polite people won’t respect those who do respect them. If the goal is to eventually achieve equality (which is my own hope) then the pandering and patronizing must end. To achieve the change we need to be the change and to be the change we need to treat others as we wish to be treated.
Ironically, I believe some of the reason why many white people tune out is because they don’t feel heard themselves. Many, like me, feel unappreciated in a system that expects them to be polite people and then celebrates when their minority counterparts act out. It’s almost as if the minstrel shows have etched in this expectation that the black folk are supposed to sing, dance and keep us entertained, riot occasionally, that black people are unable to control themselves or their emotions and thus can be exempted if they are more aggressive, etc. But this is utter nonsense, there are many sober and serious black people, many emotional and expressive white people.
I do agree with Isaac, we should not hold police to a different standard than anyone else, they must be held accountable for their actions like anybody else, and I support the push for reforms. Where we seem to diverge the most is our perception of what’s important to consider. He would prefer a more narrow focus, on the problem of police brutality, where I am more interested in doing more to address the cultural issues that lead to negative outcomes and would improve the image of black men in particular.
4) I Want Appreciation, And As An Individual
It is not fair that Isaac, as intelligent and well-rounded as an individual that he is, gets lumped in with the crimes of any other black man or is even the defined in any way by his skin color. Likewise, I don’t want to be judged or held personally accountable for sins I’ve never committed as some are trying to do. It is absolutely absurd to me that some white people are out literally kissing the boots of black men. Please stop this insanity! Let’s just all learn to appreciate each others as equally individuals, okay? Fight prejudice in all forms.
I would also rather we start from a position of appreciation for the criminal justice system that we do have. It is far from perfect and yet I know first hand what happens where it doesn’t exist. The killers of uncle Roland, in the Philippines, despite many leads, have not been brought to justice and that’s simply because there’s not the law enforcement resources to bring to bear. It is extremely easy to criticize any system and yet we should also study what is working and why as well. The key to fixing or improving any system is having an intimate knowledge of how it works or why it was designed in a particular way.
I think that’s where Isaac and I differ the most, and also why we must talk, he wants change while I’m geared for caution and constraint. He protests for justice, now, immediately and on his own terms, while I ruminate about foundational principles and think about past incidents of mob rule. Neither of us are right or wrong in our approach. I understand his orientation towards action. He probably gets more done while I brood and ponder philosophies. We make perfect sparing partners. He knows enough about me to keep me honest and I know enough about him to do the same.
I appreciate that Isaac, while passionate, did not attempt to pigeonhole and treated me with respect, like an equal. As Scripture says, “iron sharpens iron” and I felt quite evenly matched. It was definitely a conflict, yet I never felt threatened, as I have in other similar attempts at honest dialogue and efforts to bring the racial divide. We ended up expressing our love for each other, something that I don’t think we’ve even done before given there is a whole multitude of cousins on my dad’s side, and the whole experience was cathartic for someone like me who cares deeply and often feels helpless to change anything given the complexity of everything.
It also inspired me to write this and help get our combined perspectives (albeit obviously biased towards my own perspective) out there for your consideration. But the more important take away is that we not ignore uncomfortable topics, that we not shout each other down rather than hear, that we engage in there types of true conversations, with two sides given, and find our common ground. I feel strongly that God brought Isaac and I together for a reason and the reason is to be that bridge between people. But Isaac deserves most of the credit, he didn’t fire shots and run, he was willing to engage in a meaningful dialogue.
I recall my tears shed after the Nickel Mines school massacre, an incident where a man decided to take his disgruntlement out on some Amish girls, shooting them in the head one by one, before taking his own life. They were targeted, no doubt, for their innocence and vulnerability, what normal person would not be deeply troubled by such horrendous thing?
My emotion was wholly appropriate, especially for someone living in Lancaster County at the time, and yet was quite a bit different from my response to other very similar incidents. For example, when a deranged individual slaughtered dozens at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I did not shed a tear. I can’t tell you exactly why that is, it was very similar to the public school that I had attended and a child is a child, but somehow I was simply more removed from the tragedy and had to contemplate why I would value the Amish girls higher than those other children.
Of course, the key to understanding this is my identity: 1) I was born and raised Mennonite, 2) the Amish are the slightly more peculiar religious cousins of Mennonites and, 3) as someone with an Amish surname, they are actual (albeit distant) cousins in my case. Sure, I had never met those girls nor did I know their particular families, but I could certainly identify with their culture. I could see something of my own childhood, of my family and of my religious identity in them, I mourned my own loss of innocence as much as their suffering a terrible evil.
Sandy Hook, by contrast, while tragic and as terrible, involved people who were less connected to me and thus my reaction was more muted. It just was not as personal to me and therefore I did not feel the same depth of pain. Had I known a child in the school my reaction would have been quite a bit different and perhaps a bit more like the day the child of a close friend died—that is simply the reality of our limited human perspective: One death, if it is made personal to us, will overrule the millions worldwide who have died in similar circumstances.
“A single death is a tragedy; A million deaths is a statistic.”
For Better Or Worse, Nobody Loves Everyone
Many Americans, back in the days when bumper stickers were more common, had “God bless America” message stuck to the backs of their automobile. It was one of those ways a person could show their care for all of their American neighbors and regardless of party affiliation, religious identity, country of origin or gender. Nearly all reading that message (given that it was displayed on American soil and not shared worldwide) shared that same identity and thus should have felt equally blessed by the message.
However, there is that small, but hyper-competitive segment of the population, who (like Topper in the Dilbert cartoon above) simply can’t appreciate what other people appreciate and are determined to outdo their neighbors with their superior virtue. It is that spirit that seems to be behind the bumper stickers in retort to the “God bless America” variety, and proclaiming with great piety: “God bless the whole world, no exceptions!”
Of course, that “no exceptions” part at the end is necessary in case their less sophisticated neighbors, who only expressed love for those actually present and able to read the message, wouldn’t catch the drift.
It has made me wonder, does that same person never tell their spouse or significant other that they love them specifically?
Wife: “I love you, Barry!”
Husband: “I love all women, including you!”
Nothing smug or sanctimonious about that, nope, nothing at all demeaning of the other person either, it is simply a man with a far bigger love than that which can be exclusively reserved for one particular woman and is therefore extended to all women in the world.
Anyhow, I question if someone who claims to love everyone actually loves anyone.
Yes, certainly, the “God so loved the world” of John 3:16 doesn’t exclude anyone. We are also told that following after Jesus means that our loyalties to our family are secondary (Luke 14:26) to our calling to bring God’s love to the world. Still, we are also told that a man who doesn’t provide for his own family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8) and also see love expressed for particular groups and individuals. So God loving the world doesn’t mean that our own love is not especially for some. In fact, while we are instructed to do good to all people, there is also special emphasis given:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10 NIV)
Love starts locally. Loving our neighbors means caring about those who cross our paths, preferring those right in front of us over some theoretical duty to all of humanity that is never made manifest in real life. In the story of the good Samaritan, remember, it was those who were too important or thinking of responsibilities down the road, who didn’t attend to the suffering soul beside the path of their greater ambitions. In other words, it is the simpleton, with heart, who stops to help you jump start your car and not the self-important pretentious snob, with a global vision and yet can’t see what is right in front of them.
Bottom line: It is good to love those who are close to us and even to prefer investing in those who, like us, are members of the household of faith. If a person cannot especially love their neighbors across the street, whom they have met, then how could they possibly love those whom they have never met around the world?
For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20 NIV)
Of Igorot and Mennonite Tribes…
When uncle Roland, a man I had met during my stay in the Philippines, disappeared and was later found murdered in an empty lot, the call for justice went out across social media. It spread like wildfire amongst a certain part of the Filipino population and that being the members of his Igorot tribe. The amazing part is that this collective effort very quickly located the stolen van and only potential lead for this vicious crime. The people who located the van? They were Igorots too, they happened to be on holiday in the “low lands” and spotted the abandoned vehicle.
Mennonites, like Igorots, also take notice when one of their own is missing or harmed. There have been several cases over the past few years that have exploded across the Mennonite online community and made a few individuals into household names. I mean who, in the Menno-sphere, can forget that young married couple, Marco and Mary Ann Kauffman, his life cut tragically short by home invader? Or the disappearance, and later reappearance, of Rodney Sweigart? When a Mennonite is in trouble it is natural that others of their religious tribe, even those who have moved on, respond with extra care and concern.
I was reminded of this once again when I could not resist sharing the story of a young woman, Sasha Krause, who vanished from a Mennonite outpost in Farmington, New Mexico.
Dozens of similar posts about missing persons have crossed my newsfeed, there is likely very little that my sharing (as someone on the other end of the country) will do to help, and yet there is this sort of tribal solidarity that compels me to take an interest, to be somehow involved and share. This young woman could as easily be my sister, my cousin, or any of the number of young Mennonite women whom I know and care about.
Tribal identities, like family identities, are a good thing in that they provide individuals with the protection of a group. The world we live in can be a very rough place and not a place that is very easily navigated alone. We, in the developed world, have a wide range of social programs that attempt to fill individual needs, but the best efforts that government put forward rarely come close to what can be offered by a community of those who share a religious, cultural or tribal identity in common. We have finite resources and prefer to distribute them amongst those who share our common biological heritage or cause.
The Two-edged Sword of Tribally Allocated Care…
Both Jesus and St Paul showed a heightened concern for those who shared their religio-cultural background. They certainly did not hold back in terms of criticism. In fact, their commentary on their Jewish people could be very easily misconstrued into anti-Semitism and very soon was quickly used that way once the Scripture became a subject of individual interpretation in the wake of the Protestant movement in Europe.
Likewise, when a concern goes viral on social media, especially when it involves a particular religious minority group, the feedback can quickly turn very negative. Prejudice can rear its ugly head, those with an ax to grind see an opportunity to promote their own grievances. There are always those who had an unfortunate encounter with that particular tribal group and it was the only bad thing that ever happened to them. So, in the minds of these offended folks, that tribe has become the root of all evil and representative of everything bad in the world. Those full of toxic bitterness will, in the guise of empathy and concern, sow their seeds of destruction.
Very rarely does publicly broadcast dirty laundry do much good when it comes from a tribal outsider without a real or personal connection to those involved. When you leave a tribe you pretty much lose any credibility within the tribe, you have made yourself an outsider by rejecting the group identity and therefore your opinion does not need to be taken seriously by the in-group anymore. To those in that in-group you will be viewed with suspicion, as an external threat to their group cohesion, and summarily dismissed. I’m not saying that is how it should be, that’s just how it is, people do not like judgments coming in from the outside and react defensively in most cases.
Tribal identities very often come with tribal obligations. Those who are showered with concern from within the tribe, even those who did not ask for it, in many cases are expected to give something back in return. Tribes have a sort of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” arrangement that can go terribly wrong when the devotion to an individual from the tribe does not match the commitment that is reciprocated or vice versa. Feeling betrayed by your own is some of the deepest pain a person can feel. Indeed the world is a very lonely place for those who have been neglected or abandoned by those whom they expected would love them.
But, worse than that, tribes, while easily able to spot sin in all other tribes, too often shelter their own abusers or never see their own shortcomings as a group. Some tribes will, too often, send into exile those who dare to confront or challenge their status quo of the group. This is one thing Mennonites and motorcycle gangs have in common, albeit in different forms, the criminals enforce a “snitches get stitches” code” and too often Christian denominations misallocate forgiveness (for only those who have learned how to exploit their system) rather than follow the order of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:13: “Expel the wicked person from among you!”
There is also something more insidious when tribes become too insular or only concerned with protecting their own and that being their lack of care for those that are outside of their identity group. This misallocation of care is up last on my list, but it is certainly not the least as far as things that should concern a Christian.
Tribal Misallocation of Care…
I understand why people prefer their own families and tribes. It is something we are biologically hardwired to do. Religions are forced to hijack familial language, like “brother” and “sister,” in reference to fellow members in hopes of capturing that level of relationship within their ranks.
Tribalism has long frustrated me as a force of division and strife. What side of the OJ Simpson case someone came out on, for example, had much to do with a person’s race. The evidence available was the same, yet 67% of black Americans (polled in 1995) thought Simpson was innocent while a vast majority of whites saw him as guilty, that gap has since narrowed. But what that shows is how our perspectives are skewed by our tribal identities and the potential for terrible injustice this presents. The same is true of other identity divisions, such as gender or political affiliation, we tend to see only what is good for our tribe.
Over the past few years wished that I could somehow harness some of the tribal love that is on display in the various GoFundMe campaigns involving one identity group or another. An American, with the right group connections, can easily raise thousands or even hundreds of thousands and despite having insurance, government programs, etc. Meanwhile, a far greater need overseas will often only get a mediocre response because the people don’t look like us, we don’t know them, or simply cannot identify with their struggles being too far removed. That and, given the number of scams out there, we can’t trust outsiders.
Still, we should consider those less fortunate, those less fortunate than the unfortunate members of our own tribes, and love them too. That is the greater implications of Christian love, that our love will erase some of those disparities in care. If we truly believe Galatians 3:28, that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,” and that we (as a church) “are all one in Christ Jesus,” then will we ever be satisfied with misappropriation of care based in those listed identities? Can a person be a feminist, a nationalist or an activist for lessor identity groups and a Christian?
When a Mennonite goes missing or is harmed it is easy to understand why other Mennonites take special notice. The idea of having equal love for all of humanity, even those whom you never met, is silliness. That said, when our tribal identities mean indifference or lack of equal empathy for other people whom we encounter who are outside of our group, then we are also putting our Christian identity second. It means we have made an idol of ourselves, our own identity, and should consider the words of Jesus:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. (Luke 6:32-34 NIV)
Love starts locally, it means loving our own tribes. We must learn to love our own, those close to us are sometimes the most difficult to love or hardest to hold accountable. We should love our Trump-supporting neighbors as much as we love the Congolese refugee, the Democrat party loyalist as much as we do the unborn. Christian love has a global reach, it must reach across partisan lines, and should always make us wish to expand the borders of our tribe.
I believe Jesus would weep as much for Muslim children killed by a drone strike as I did for those Amish girls. God loves the missing or exploited Filipino worker overseas, who is only known by their family, as much as the Mennonite online community hopes for the safe return of Sasha Krause. We have our favorites, but God does not.
Christian love, in purest form, turns a world full of misfits and outsiders into one family where everyone belongs and nobody is left behind.
A few years ago, while at an annual conservative Mennonite revivalist effort, specifically the youth tent meetings at Terry Hill, I was involved in a conversation with a parent who spoke of their great admiration of the missionary zeal of the younger generation. To this person, the desire to travel to exotic places, purportedly to “share the Gospel,” was proof of sincere faith and fulfillment of the great commission. But, having decided that questioning this paradigm would likely be misunderstood, I did not express my reservations then.
Since then I have written two blogs, most recently one (“Missionaries From Hell?“) as part of a series on Matthew 23 and another before that (“Missionary or Imposter?“) exploring the true meaning of a quote of a famed fundamentalist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, about Christian missionary work. In both I point out the many different motives, besides a sincere desire to reach vulnerable people, why someone would leave the comforts (and boredom) of rural American life to be with a group of ambitious (and unmarried) young people. My basic point being that missionary zeal does not necessarily mean prayer cards and world travel.
However, in those prior efforts, while listing the many possibilities of corrupt motivations and relating my own experiences, not once did it occur to me to add sexual predation to the list. At the time it would have seemed a bit over the top. My simply challenging the assumption that all things done in the name of Jesus are legit service “for the kingdom” may have been enough for some to tune me out. I mean, isn’t it great that some are trying to do something, even if that effort is misguided, largely ineffective and born of suspect motives?
Yes, maybe the execution was flawed, but isn’t the road to heaven paved with good intentions?
(Or maybe I’m remembering that expression wrong…?)
Anyhow, to suggest that some are there some there in these impoverished countries as a means to prey on the vulnerable would have been unconscionable until it became otherwise. When the bombshell report of Jeriah Mast’s confessions to sexually predatory behavior, both while a missionary in Haiti and also swept under the rug at home, rocked the conservative Mennonite world it immediately reminded me of the two blogs I wrote about the potential for ulterior motives.
It makes perfect sense now and should’ve years before in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. If Jerry Sandusky, the founder of an organization supposedly to help disadvantaged boys, the “Second Mile,” could use his access to the university and reputation as a former coach as a means to hide in plain sight, why not a Mennonite missionary?
Except, for some reason, it was unimaginable.
My concerns expressed missed and not because they were too critical either. No, if anything, I was too gentle and generous. All cultures have their sacred cows, it is risky business trying to confront them head-on, and maybe that is what caused me to unconsciously tread lightly as not to offend. But charities and church ministries are opportunity zones for wolves in sheep’s clothing. The reality is this: The same things that draw those with pure motives to the mission also attracts those looking to exploit vulnerable people.
We can fairly easily detect a fraud when it is not one of our own. Like the Manhattan ‘pastor’ who wrote in USA Today about her late-term abortion, had a salary of $250,000 (“plus more than $150,000 in fringe benefits”) and recently lost her job over a harassment complaint involving sex toys. Most people know to be wary of men like televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who live like celebrities and fleece their flocks for Gulfstream jets. But the truth is that these aren’t the wolves relevant to conservative Mennonite (or Orthodox Christian) sheep and we do definitely have wolves amongst us.
We were warned…
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:28-29 NIV)
Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth is that we all have this potential to be the imposter or to be one who looks and acts the part of a Christian, yet is only really in it for themselves. Living the part of a religious or cultural ideal often gives you access to funding, better jobs, travel, and other opportunities. Sure, not everyone who goes abroad is a sexual predator. It is likely that this kind of abuse is the rare exception of those who travel. However, sexual predation is not the only form of exploitation.
It could be argued that populating an Instagram page with cute pictures of foreign children is more for the benefit of the one posting them. In well-funded funded Western-style missions there is also plenty of power and cultural imperialism that comes along for the ride in our missionary efforts. In other words, there are many ways that a person can be a missionary from hell.
Trudy Metzger has been a warrior shedding light on sexual abuse within the Anabaptist context and has once again reported on something that has been concealed from many of us. Her latest blog about a confessed pedophile, associated with Christian Aid Ministries, and the consequences of his actions being visited upon a hapless Haitian pastor, really did hit a raw nerve with me.
The CAM organization has enjoyed a reputation of having relatively low overhead and for promoting conservative Mennonite values both here in the United States and abroad. I have some friends and family associated with the organization, good people, who I’m guessing are as outraged by this situation in Haiti as I am. It is sad, their work should not be discredited on the account of a few corrupt individuals and yet there must be a robust response on the part of current CAM leadership or these good people will have some tough decisions to make.
Full disclosure: I’ve long been a critic of short-term missions, which seem to be exploitative by nature even if well-intentioned. My own experience, on a trip to Haiti, was enough to convince me of that, when a few dozen youths can travel to an impoverished country for a week or two, at great expense to those who donated to our fundraising efforts and accomplish so little of real value. Meanwhile, we could have employed the Haitian man, like the one who begged me for work while we painted the church, for months and gotten much more accomplished.
That is my general complaint with what passes as missionary service. It too often involves a bunch of young people, out for a religious culturally sanctioned adventure, and bears very little resemblance to anything we find in Scripture. For one, Jesus sends his disciples (adults) without funding, they went on faith and only the shirts on their backs. By contrast, what passes for missionary service today is too often a bunch of privileged youths, living in compounds and being catered to, doing a couple dogooder projects while spouse shopping the other volunteers.
That said, CAM seemed to be making a far more substantial effort. Yes, well-funded by the many deep pockets in the conservative Anabaptist sphere, but with many very committed and completely blameless individuals. Still, if their organization is being used as shelter by sexual predators, then this needs to be fully exposed. Like I’ve said in a social media post, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Those who support the work of CAM really do need to hear everything—the good, bad and the ugly—because there are certainly many other ways to serve the cause of Christ with their resources they might otherwise donate to CAM.
It is my hope that CAM comes completely clean as far as all allegations regarding their staff or the families of their staff members. I’m not saying that the innocent who are falsely accused should have their names drug in the mud either, that is an abuse in and of itself, but certainly, those who have confessed to sexual abuse and other crimes while associated with CAM. Of course, this sort of thing is embarrassing, it is always easy to hide behind the idea that the greater good will somehow be served by silence, yet what is done is done and it must be handled openly rather than concealed:
“Stories surface stating there were more crimes in other countries, by other CAM staff members. Not all informants feel comfortable sharing names of alleged offenders, but some names and details by various informants begin to fill the gaps left by others. An orphanage. Three offenders.”
1. How many cases like this have there been before?
2. What, if anything, was done to address this immoral and criminal behavior?
3. What steps will be taken to protect against this sort of sexual abuse from reoccurring in the future?