Realistically, What Do We Expect?

Reform is in the air.

Reconsideration of police forces. Renaming of buildings, colleges, airports, and more. Revising of policies and procedures. Re-education of the recalcitrant.

Some of this reaction is commendable and long overdue. Some of it, to be sure, is excessive. Statues are being pulled down that likely ought to stay up. Names are being erased that probably ought to stay. And promises are being made that surely must not be taken seriously.

In particular, promises that we will eradicate deep social ills—racism, sexism, income disparity, inequality of opportunity—are being made by people who ought to know better . . . which would be anyone old enough to vote.

Christians are informed by our Bibles that sin is rooted in the human heart, not just in our social structures. Rooting it out takes such fundamentally deep work that the Scripture likens it to being born again, to dying and rising from the grave. No amount of well-intended policy change will suffice to usher in a sin-free zone.

Still, there is much we can do, and should do, to make a bad situation better.

Christians will want to share the good news of God’s great offer of spiritual rebirth, and we should press on with that basic calling of the Church. But that’s not all that can and should be done.

Made realistic by the Bible’s realism about the pervasiveness and persistence of evil in our hearts, lives, and work, we will expect wickedness to keep showing up. So we will plan for it—much better than we currently do.

What do I mean by that?

Two suggestions in particular.

First, let’s stop constructing systems that cannot help but fail. And one such system is any regime that proclaims “zero tolerance.” This extreme policy is the kind of reaction typical of leadership that has been publicly embarrassed about X and is now rushing to assure its constituencies that, by golly, we’re serious about X!

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From “Guilt,” “Racism,” “Privilege,” and “Fragility” to Justice, Responsibility, Realism, and Hope

The internet is telling me that as a white person I should feel guilty for all the bad things that have happened to BIPOC people in North America not only as far back as 1619 but all the way back to 1492.

I have been told that, no matter what convictions, stereotypes, and values I might hold about various ethnicities, and no matter what my own individual record may be of treating nonwhites in my public and personal lives, I am (a) racist.  How so? By dint of being white in a culture that not only historically, but still systemically, has treated BIPOC folk far worse than white people.

Dozens of times I have been informed of my white privilege. I may not feel I am privileged and may not be able to point to any actual instance of racial privilege in my life. But I am privileged all the same because I don’t have to endure what is routinely experienced by my BIPOC neighbours.

And if I deny that I should feel guilty, or am racist, or enjoy privilege, it is then asserted that I am reacting out of a pathetic and immoral sense of fragility. I can’t bear the truth and I am defensively refusing it.

A column cannot possibly deal with these huge issues as they deserve. So let’s call this a report card along the way, with a lesson plan for what good steps I might take in future.

First, I reject “white guilt.” While some cultures hold descendants responsible for the sins of their ancestors, the Bible’s vision of justice is that “they shall no longer say: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But all shall die for their own sins” (Jeremiah 31:29-30; see also Ezekiel 18:1-4). Likewise, in the New Testament it is individuals, not families or other groups, who are and will be confronted by God’s judgment (Revelation 20-21).

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Should the Statues Come Down?

It’s easy to mock all the statue-removers as crazy mobs accomplishing nothing on behalf of the real victims of racism, past and present. It’s not as if for every statue that comes down, an underprivileged person gets a college scholarship or a good first job.

It’s easy, that is, if you’re like me: white, and male, and Christian, and middle-class, and straight, and cisgender….

To be fair, someone like me can also be sincerely sympathetic with casualties of a horrifying incident of police brutality, or of an ugly episode of racist invective, or of a landlord or banker or employer redlining minorities.

Still, what about respecting our history? What about wrecking works of art? What’s with the statues?

Well, it’s worth slowing down and asking, What is indeed with them?

What comes along with each statue is this: a public statement of values.

You get a statue of yourself put up because this community (this institution, this town, this state, this country) thinks you’re pretty special—and in a pretty special way: you personify the ideals of those who put up the statue. You’re such an excellent example of those values, in fact, that we want people to look at you for a long time and recall those values you (and eventually your statue) stand for.

When you walk by the statue of Michael Jordan in Chicago, you’re supposed to think about, and be inspired by, athletic excellence, determination, commitment, leadership, and achievement. That’s what it stands for.

Michael Jordan, as even the adulatory Netflix series “The Last Dance” makes clear, is hardly a paragon of other virtues. He’s evidently a raging narcissist—capable of literal raging in a practice or a game—and someone apparently incapable of forgiveness of even small slights. But we all appreciate that statues in front of sports arenas don’t stand for moral virtues. (Babe Ruth, anyone?) They stand for athletic virtues.

So what about statues of Robert E. Lee?

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