Tag Archives: Racism

You Can’t Share God’s Love With a Bigot

A distressing and especially malicious element in public discourse these days is the widespread practice of labelling people instead of discussing the issues. Let anyone betray his or her belief that homosexual behavior is defined as sin in the Bible, and immediately that person is labelled a homophobe. If someone expresses an objection to calling the union of two homosexuals a marriage, that person is labelled a bigot. If anyone suggests that every person’s life is valuable, regardless of color, that person is labelled a racist. As soon as the label is applied, the discussion ends, because calling people names shuts down every possibility that multiple viewpoints may be considered.

This practice is extremely detrimental to the citizens who want to use the right of free speech to discuss touchy topics. There are a lot of topics that should be discussed, but too much of the conversation is stifled when one side or the other begins to apply labels instead of looking at the information and various viewpoints.

It must absolutely be said that people who proclaim themselves as progressive or freethinker are no less likely to engage in this practice than someone who claims the name of conservative or Christian fundamentalist. Name-calling abounds. And wherever you find name-calling you do not find any fruitful conversations. Instead there is often competition to see who runs out of pejorative labels first. That person must slink off the field of verbal combat in disgrace, carrying the last label thrown at him with shame-faced despair, muttering diatribes and vitriol that don’t quite carry the punch of a widely-ratified insult such as islamophobe.

Our nation is being impoverished and starved by the dearth of real political conversation. It may lead to the end of the USA as it was once known. I don’t doubt there will be a country called United States of America a hundred years hence, but it will no more resemble the country we enjoy today than today’s Italy resembles the Roman Empire.

I don’t bring up this subject to beat on people who disagree with me. They have their names for me and my viewpoints, and I recognize that they take comfort from using those names. It makes them feel good about themselves. The ugly names apply to me, and in their minds, by sticking me with the labels, they look better themselves. I am bringing up the subject, however, because some people whose honest views I share have begun to use those ugly, vicious labels themselves.

Some will say that the people who promote abortion, for example, are the real racists, because more black babies than white are aborted annually. They believe that they are making a point that should be considered thoughtfully by the people who have been calling them racists for saying that all lives matter. They are not making any point at all. The person who is zinged with one of these ugly labels does not respond to the logic that led to the use of the label. The wounded party wants to rip that barb out of his flesh and plunge a spear into the enemy before him. He does not want to discuss with his enemy the rules of engagement or the topics in the declaration of war. Name-calling does not make logical points; it prevents any logical points from being discussed.

This is why I say, “You can’t share God’s love with a bigot.” You may be ever so correct in your analysis of the issues and positions when you call your honorable opponent in the conversation a bigot, but as soon as you apply that label, the issues and positions might as well not exist. That label is a personal assault, and the injured party will absolutely respond to both the pain and the anger such an assault creates. If you are a Christian who wants to discuss when human life begins with an abortion advocate, you may be semantically correct to call him a bigot, but you will be committing a serious rhetorical blunder. After you have used that word, you will not be able to say with any credibility, “God loves you.”

What is it that we all want to accomplish when we enter into these discussions, conversations, and shouting matches? I can only speak for myself. I want people to read or hear my words and recognize that I am speaking truth without malice. I may be advocating on behalf of injured parties such as aborted babies, starving families or even the fabric of our culture, but I always want to speak with words that do not have built-in barbs. I really want the points I make to be true to the teachings of Jesus, and I want Jesus to shine through my words. I want the truth, not the insult, to prick the hearts of my opponents.

That is why you may sometimes detect that I have taken a rather convoluted route to get to the truth. I want to sidestep those moments that might lead to name-calling. I never want to weaken or avoid the truth, but I may want to apply it in small bursts rather than in a salvo. I always fear that somehow one of those ugly words will break out despite my best efforts. If it comes my way, I hope to deflect it with words of truth.

My only source of courage and strength in such difficult conversations is prayer. When I know that such a conversation is coming up, I pray about it ahead of time. If the discussion takes place online, I pray as I go, and likewise with unexpected interactions. I believe that is how Paul always had such good answers when he was challenged. I believe it is the reason he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we should “pray without ceasing.”

I am no master of the art of argumentation. (Keep in mind that argumentation is very different from squabbling.) I do think that Carl Medearis is a great model for Christians engaged in the conversations that shape the culture conflict. Medearis has spent his life speaking truth to Muslims, and he has learned a great deal that is valuable to any Christian who wants to speak words of grace, seasoned with salt, whether engaged in advocacy or just sharing the good news. I recommend his book Speaking of Jesus: The art of non-evangelism. I have only just begun reading it, and already I recognize that it is a good guide to help anyone with the problem I am discussing here.

Any Christian who chooses to speak up rather than sit on the sidelines and let the deluge of secularism wipe out religious liberty and public morality will face the challenge to avoid name-calling. It is tough. Because we are human, the battle with our cultural adversaries is predictably accompanied by a battle with our emotions. It is not easy to love someone who readily abandons the battle of ideas and begins to battle with insults, but we must bathe all such conversations in prayer. It is impossible to convince someone you love him and speak as the ambassador of a loving Christ if you have just called him a bigot.

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By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the autumn of 2016

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How is Advocacy for Life like Advocacy for White Supremacy?

In recent news, the organization Voice for Life was denied status as a university student organization at Johns Hopkins University. The organization states its principle as respect for life from conception to natural death. This principle sounds very much in keeping with the statement in the Declaration of Independence about the unalienable right to life. If people were surveyed with a question asking if they believe that the Declaration of Independence is correct that human beings have a right to life, it is hard to imagine that even one would say “no.” What could possibly motivate the Student Government Association to deny Voice for Life the right to meet and speak and post signs on the campus of the university?

Two reasons were given during a campus Town Hall the day after the SGA voted:

  1. Voice for Life is alleged to be in violation of a university policy concerning harassment and the student code of conduct when it engages in sidewalk counseling near a local abortion clinic, and
  2. Voice for Life’s website includes a link to an “offensive” website, the Center for Bio-ethical Reform, where photos of aborted babies are among the images displayed.

To date, the JHU administration has not spoken to this issue. Readers might legitimately ask if Student Government can possibly be the place where university policy regarding harassment and the code of conduct is enforced. No activities known to be part of the organization’s history fit a dictionary definition of harassment. The conduct promoted by Voice for Life that is prohibited by the Student Code of Conduct is not named. No information was provided in any of the articles available the morning of Wednesday, April 3, 2013, about the wording of this policy.

As to whether the images on the website of the Center for Bio-ethical Reform are “offensive” that judgment would necessarily be subjective absent a policy setting forth any standards. No information available in reports to date specifies what makes the images “offensive.”

The discussion surrounding this decision, including comments in emails circulated among the SGA representatives, is much more informative. Among those emails was a simple statement by a member of the SGA executive council saying, “And this is why we don’t approve groups like Voice for Life.” The statement was followed by a link to an article entitled “Racist Hate Group To Conduct Nighttime Patrols On College Campus.” It might be difficult for most readers to see the connection between advocating for life and advocating white supremacy. Yet this person appeared to see some parallel.

Almost certainly the real problem with Voice for Life is its opposition to abortion. The sidewalk counseling near an abortion clinic is only one expression of that opposition. One SGA member is quoted as saying that pro-life demonstrations make her feel “personally violated, targeted and attacked at a place where we previously felt safe and free to live our lives.” Does it make sense that a person feels her life is threatened by a demonstration in support of the right to life? Can it even be possible that someone feels more threatened by a person who advocates that every human being’s right to life be protected by the culture and the government than by a person who advocates that one person has a right to take another person’s life if that life is deemed inconvenient?

JHU has a right to police its own campus. JHU students can be as exclusive as they like within the boundaries set by the administration. However, the reputation of Johns Hopkins University is not embellished by this action of the Student Government Association. The reputation of the students who make up the Student Government Association is certainly called into question by the fact that on the same day that Voice for Life’s application was rejected, the application of Students for Justice in Palestine was approved, this despite a record of anti-Semitism and disruptions on other campuses. Is anti-Semitism not racism? Is campus disruption preferable in some way to off-campus sidewalk counseling? What are thinking readers to conclude?

A spokesman for Voice for Life has said that the organization is seeking a lawyer to help them press their case further. However, a better use of their time and money might be simply to publicize the situation. Buy ads that tell people that JHU uses its right to privacy to limit the opportunities on campus for like-minded students to associate together in support of the right to life. In times past, stage productions used the phrase “Banned in Boston” as a way to drum up an audience, and the same strategy might work well for Voice for Life.

The organization is not and cannot be suppressed or shut down by the university; it can only be denied the status of a student organization. The SGA has suggested that a new application from Voice for Life that left out the sidewalk counseling might be received and approved. In other words, if Voice for Life stops speaking for the unborn in public, then the organization might be welcome on campus. If Voice for Life wants to speak up for life, it probably should abandon its effort to be recognized as a student organization. Students can belong whether it is a student organization or not. If the price of recognition by SGA is to lose its real message and mission to advocate for the value of human life, then that would be a terrible price to pay. How could they call themselves Voice for Life if they muzzle themselves in order to fit in?

The biggest question for Christians who read about this situation is this:  how it is even possible that the views expressed by SGA members make sense to them? What has happened in the culture that results in young adults who perceive advocacy for the life of the unborn as a threat? Do these young adults even believe that human beings do have a right to life?

What about the person who alleged similarities between Voice for Life and a white supremacist group at Towson University? What possible parallels can be found between advocacy for every person’s right to life and advocacy for white people to rule over everyone else? In current political discourse, the accusation of “racism” is the most vicious slur leveled against anyone. It is frequently used in contexts where the relation to ethnic distinctions is distant or completely unverifiable. Did students learn to apply this epithet to every argument just to be sure they themselves will be exempt from the accusation in case the discussion escalates? Are students at the high school level no longer taught that argumentum ad hominem is an argument used by lazy people as a substitute for actually knowing what the discussion is about?

Young students accepted by Johns Hopkins University would be considered above average by most people. JHU is not a local community college meeting in a refurbished warehouse and taught primarily by adjunct faculty. JHU is where select students are supposedly nourished by a select faculty in order to lead others in their chosen professions or life work. If the attitudes expressed by the SGA are typical of the student body at JHU, what does that finding forebode for the leaders in our culture in five years? In ten years? What does it say about the leaders in our culture in the US right now?

What Would Jesus Do?

A friend of mine, explaining her political stance during the election of 2008, said, “I just ask myself ‘What would Jesus do?’ and then I vote for the candidate who will do that.” It sounds pretty simple.

  • Unfortunately, the simplicity of her viewpoint masks two important problems:
     political candidates are masters of the words and phrases that simultaneously mean everything and nothing, and 
  • even when a candidate says something meaningful during the campaign, it is extremely rare that the candidate turned elected official actually considers a campaign promise to be a personal commitment.

However, the ultimate problem with my friend’s approach is to discover what Jesus would do about any particular campaign issue. Christians remember that the apostle Paul admonished us to have the mind of Christ, but it isn’t all that easy to know Christ’s mind on political issues.

For one thing, the words used in political campaigns are not exactly the same words used in the Bible to record what Jesus said and did and thought about issues. Take the word tolerance for example. This lovely word has blossomed in politicalspeak over the past few years, but it is not found in the Bible, even though at first glance it almost sounds biblical. The idea of tolerance sounds very attractive when juxtaposed against ugly words like discrimination, racism and homophobia. The word tolerance is contrasted to these harsh words as it is paired with words meant to be kinder, such as inclusive

Tolerance as used in in political speeches is defined at the Merriam-Webster online dictionary site :
a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own
b : the act of allowing something

When people use the word in political conversations, tolerance is finely focused on specific behaviors. For example, someone who is tolerant of other races rejects the use of specific pejorative words to describe people of other races, takes actions to include people of other races in activities previously closed to them, and leads in aggressive remedial action including special considerations for people of other races where they have previously experienced discrimination. Tolerance creates the appearance of respectful acceptance of people previously excluded or abused on the basis of race. Tolerance makes the public image of a culture look better.

What tolerance does not do is to change people’s hearts. It does not transform hate into love, scorn into respect, disdain into appreciation. Tolerance does not build relationships.

In engineering problems, there really is no better way to improve some situations than to focus on tolerance. If part A must fit into part B, the engineer must specify a tolerance that keeps every dimension of part A inside part B. If the tolerance is not correctly specified, then the part will not fit and the machine will not work. The objective is not to make the two parts like each other. They simply must fit together and not rub or stick in such a way as to impede the operation of the machine. Inanimate parts have no emotions or attitudes. Smoothing a rough edge pretty much fixes the problem.

Not so with people. A group of people can say and do all the things an attitude of tolerance requires and still be in a state of relationship best described as a truce, or maybe even a powder keg just waiting to be exploded. The Korean War is historically recorded as having ended on July 27, 1953. Today, no official war is in progress on the Korean peninsula. However, between North Korea and South Korea, the relationship cannot be described as a state of peace except in the most euphemistic, determinedly optimistic view. Likewise, the countless “cease-fire” agreements between the Palestinian refugees and Israel during the 65 years of Israel’s existence have never for a minute established peace or any real desire for peace between the parties to the conflict. Every minute without gunfire that follows such a signing is only a minute in which all ears are tuned for the shot that signals yet another failure. The end of the Civil War in the USA was the end of slavery, too. The end of slavery was followed by a century of segregation, and more than half a century has passed since segregation was legally ended. Efforts to be more tolerant have led to semantic transitions from Negro to black to African-American, yet every political campaign reveals that something in the relationship between people of various skin colors is not quite healed by tolerant language and tolerant legislation and tolerant enforcement of the rules.

Why isn’t tolerance just what Jesus would do? My friend spoke at some length explaining her thought processes, and tolerance was part of her personal equation for determining what Jesus would do, but as you can see, tolerance is not very Christlike. Jesus did not teach, for example, “Refuse to call people ugly names. Except, apply ugly names to all the people who refuse to agree with you about the right name for the people you formerly scorned but now tolerate.” Look at the current gay marriage conflict. Jesus did not say. “Refuse to call homosexuals ugly names like *****” Except, call people who refuse to support gay marriage homophobic baboons.”

What exactly would Jesus do? When Jesus talked about the way to live together in a society, he said, “Love your enemy. Pray for those who treat you like dirt and call you names.” Jesus also said, “If somebody slaps you on one cheek, then turn the other and let him have at it again.” Jesus did not advocate tolerance. Jesus advocated love. Jesus was not about appearance; Jesus was about reality.

He demonstrated in his own life what he meant by love. Jesus touched lepers. It wasn’t enough simply to be seen in their company. He touched them. That was the ultimate uncleanliness. He touched the blind, the lame, the bleeding and the speechless. He touched the maniacs. He touched prostitutes. He invited a tax collector into his inner circle of followers. He never preached about the right words to use when speaking of someone he could not love, because he loved everyone.

Jesus gave absolutely no examples of tolerance. He did not tolerate people. He loved people. Jesus showed us what it means to love anyone and everyone. Jesus showed us what it means to build relationships with people who were formerly either enemies or at best neutral bystanders.

Jesus does not teach us to tolerate one another and put on a show of right language and behaviors. Jesus calls us to love people and care about what becomes of them. He showed us that love for other people shapes both speech and action. If we love people, we don’t need a glossary of tolerant language. Instead, if we love people, our love shapes our words and deeds. We simply give and give and give until we have nothing left to give.

Tolerance may work for those whose only objective is to be politically correct, but tolerance does not change anything. Love changes everything. Love heals wounds and builds relationships. Love builds up rather than tearing down. Jesus died to show us what love can do, and when we learn that lesson, the whole world changes. We probably cannot expect that any politician will do what Jesus would do, but if that is what we are looking for, evidence of tolerance will not meet the standard.

The things you might observe about tolerance can fairly easily be observed in most politicalspeak. The finest individuals can get caught up in the language and strategies of politics and lose their way. As Christians, if we are looking for a path that leads to the redemption of our culture and our nation, we would be well advised to actually do what Jesus did rather than to look for a political leader who promises that he or she will do what Jesus did if we vote the right way.

You Cannot Legislate Love

America is a great and good nation that has not achieved all the objectives people of good will have set for it. For example, it is easy to see the working out of God’s threat to Israelites that he would judge wrongdoing to the third and fourth generation of sinners in our country. The consequences of the very existence of slavery in the nation are still wreaking cultural and social havoc. Laws have made discrimination illegal, but hearts are not transformed by laws.  Affirmative action has advanced the careers of people of races and ethnicities that are minorities in the population and put them in jobs and positions of power. Even as all this positive change has occurred, discrimination has not disappeared. The descendants of slaves, and the descendants of black people who were never slaves mix with the descendants of slave owners and the descendants of those who never owned slaves, but the mix is not universally eradicating stereotypes and anger and bad attitudes.

What could fix this problem? Why is it that the problem is not fixed even though it has been more than fifty years since the law supposedly fixed everything. Why is it that even with a good law that requires people to show respect for each other, they still don’t do it?

The reason is that law does not transform people. A law can act to constrain people who do not want the consequences of breaking the law, but it cannot lead people to change inside and do what is right when no law enforcement power can reach them. This problem persists in people in every part of this problem.

This is what we learn from the Bible. In the Old Testament, the emphasis in Israel was God’s Law. The people sometimes took the Law seriously and sometimes they didn’t, but whether they did or didn’t, they were not transformed by it. This is the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount. Every time Jesus said, “You have heard it said …” he was pointing out the difference between legal compliance and a transformed life. In fact, the reason Jesus had to come and die for all people is that there was no other way to transform us. We could never really obey, and we could never really want to obey with our whole hearts. David, the man after God’s own heart, was often fervent and profound in his faith. The book of Psalms is a testimony to the depth of his commitment to God. Nevertheless, fervent as he was, he was not transformed by obedience and fervent worship. That kind of transformation can only happen when the Holy Spirit lives in someone’s heart.

People who suffer discrimination think they want instant change: compliance. They actually want transformation: complete makeover. The attempt to shortcut cultural change by enforcing compliance with laws that mandate behavior results in phenomena such as “politically correct speech.” This is a cultural stress on language that papers over the truth that the hearts of some men still feel fear, distrust, anger, and maybe real hatred toward certain other men. It also creates a new and equally disreputable group that assigns itself the position of language monitor. These people build themselves up by finding and even creating opportunities to slander other people over their choice of words. The attempt to enforce speech by calling those who transgress “racist” does not improve anything. After sixty years, the nation is divided more deeply over race than it ever was in the sixties.

The real problem is that the culture has not been transformed. The culture with its mix of “races” and “ethnicities” does not have any way to make people love each other, and the best that has been achieved is an uneasy non-aggression pact that nobody honors whole-heartedly. All parties to the non-conflict distrust each other and each worries that others have somehow achieved some miserable advantage over the others. It feels a lot like the uneasy truce that has never been peace between North and South Korea

Why is this happening? 

  1. The offended parties are not able to forgive those who offend. 
  2. The offending parties cannot see any good reason that one word is better than some other. 
  3. No power is being brought to bear on the culture which will transform the hearts of either the offenders or the offendees

At the bottom line, it is all about an inability to love the enemy. Those who use language deemed offensive do it, because they don’t love those they really want to put in their place with aggressive language. Those who take offense at every possible opportunity and who look for opportunities to take offense do not love the people they want to put in their place for offenses they cannot really name. There is no love lost between the two groups. Those who take offense want the moral high ground because nobody should be insulted this way. Those who continue to use the offensive language have had it up the HERE with word games and special rights for some . Every party to this poison cultural stew is full of unwillingness to love the other side – the enemy – or forgive anything.

To achieve change by the power of love, forgiveness and grace takes time. Some people never come around. There is a biblical model for that, too. Judas lived in the mix of the Twelve for the same three years as everyone else, and he was not transformed. Not because it couldn’t be done, but rather, because he chose not to be changed. If we who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit give of ourselves sacrificially in the culture in an attempt to promote love for all neighbors on both sides of the “racial” divide, fifty years from now things could be somewhat different, but if we were to predict that “racism” would be eradicated, then we would be guilty of wishful thinking instead of faith.

There used to be a little saying that people used to deflect name-calling: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” (Today’s children are not taught this saying, because today’s children are taught to take offense at every culturally unacceptable semantic construction.) Parents and teachers taught children this aphorism as a starting point toward forgiveness. By deflecting the natural human reaction to become physically aggressive over words, people could be poised for the beginnings of forgiveness and reconciliation. They could start learning to be gracious and to put the best possible interpretation on the words rather than the worst. They could start making the words ineffective by not responding to the venomous intent of the words. Some children were actually taught to pray for the people who said the hateful words, prayers that those people would be healed by God of their need to hurt others. We need some of this kind of salt and light sprinkled around in our culture right now. We need fewer people to parse every word and accent and innuendo and more people to remember that God loves all of us. We need more people to pray for those who are so hurt or so filled with demonic rage that they can’t speak with a civil tongue (bet you haven’t heard that phrase for a while). We who know the Lord Jesus need to do a better job of sharing his love with the people around us, praying to inspire loving words and forgiving hearts rather than better legal compliance with politically correct speech.

A culture cannot be changed into a welcoming place for all people without love, the love God expressed in Christ Jesus who died for us all. We who know Christ must share him with everyone we meet. Too many people are relying on law to fix what only Christ’s love can transform.

Pray for Justice for Trayvon Martin — and for George Zimmerman

Lady Justice Fountain
Lady Justice Fountain (Photo credit: etgeek (Eric))

I have an opinion about Trayvon Martin’s death. It is a tragedy. Every time a young person dies, it is tragic, because young people are supposed to live and dream and achieve new heights for themselves and others. They are supposed to have families and bequeath values to generations yet unborn. Nobody is supposed to die at age 17.

I pray for Trayvon’s parents who will never again hold their child in their arms. They will never again wonder where he is at 10PM or worry that something bad has happened. May God comfort them and heal their grief at this tragic end to a young life.

I have an opinion about George Zimmerman. His life is a tragedy right now. There is a bounty on his head. Numerous national figures have at best made fun of him, and at worst wished him dead. People are donning hoodies and trying to send hooligans to his home, if they could figure out where that is. His life is a disaster. The evidence available to me as a private citizen neither condemns nor exonerates him. An investigation is ongoing. Nobody knows the outcome yet.

I pray for George Zimmerman. May he be comforted as he goes over and over the events of that night. May he find it in himself to speak only the truth to investigaors. May he be protected from vigilantes who would like to take the place of judge, jury and executioner. May real justice prevail in this case.

I have an opinion about the investigation of Trayvon Martin’s death. May the investigators be committed to the truth. May the truth be made evident. May justice be done. May demonstrators and national egos be calmed and quieted as people gain confidence that justice will be done.

We don’t need violent outbursts. We don’t need unjustified accusations. We do not need our national leaders in government, religion and social programs to accuse the Sanford police of racism.

Use of the term ‘racism’ must be abandoned. When people use this term, they always intentionally rouse anger and hatred and violence. They know what they are doing. This case does not justify that sort of deliberate rabble-rousing. Pray for justice. Build confidence in the police. As a nation we need our police, because there really are people who would happily murder anyone just for the fun of it. Let’s don’t destroy police and the work they do for the temporary self-aggrandizement of national fame over marching and speaking as vigilantes. Pray for justice. Work for justice. Do not use the term ‘racism.’ It means nothing and incites hatred. We are not a nation of many races. We are a nation of one race – the human race. Let us pray for justice and work for justice and believe in justice.

Justice may mean that George Zimmerman remains a free man, because he did nothing wrong. Justice may mean that George Zimmerman is jailed, because he murdered a young man who was doing nothing wrong. Let us pray for justice, not for some ego-fulfilling outcome. Don’t take your ego to the streets. Take your prayers and your faith in God to the streets. Praise God for a nation where justice assumes that a man is innocent until proved to be guilty. Be thankful for this policy. You may need it to work on your behalf sometime.

Pray for justice.