Friday, June 5, 2020


Earlier this week I said I wasn't ready to "add my voice to the rage saturation" going on in social media.  Since then I've been listening a lot, I've been thinking a a lot, and I would like now to try and add something reasoned to our shared conversation.
On a Sunday morning 3 or 4 years ago I was sitting in a Southern Baptist Church listening to a sermon.  As a person who engages in the serious study and practice of rhetoric, sermons are something I listen to very, very closely - they are weekly case studies for me in practical linguistics.  The preacher was talking about homosexuality, and of the proper posture of 'the church/christians' towards it.  He said: "Because we [meaning 'us in the room, people who think and believe like us', who in this particular case were white conservative evangelical people] , because we have a biblical understanding of the world - what the Bible says is right is right, what the Bible says is wrong is wrong - because we have a binary view on certain things, we are set up to be the targets of claims [from the Left] of being intolerant. *They call us bigots* because of our biblical worldview."

From my pew about 40 feet away I could feel his righteous rage at rhetorically being called a bigot because of his worldview and beliefs, which are an integral part of who he is, of his identity.

This week there was a scandal in my state of Nebraska regarding our Governor - who is a white conservative catholic man - and comments he made during a discussion with black clergy in Omaha, a discussion which was in response to the killing of an unarmed black man by a known white racist, a killing in which the City Attorney initially declined to file charges.  During a heated back and forth exchange the Governor at one point addressed the black clergy as "you people" which lead to the clergy walking out of the meeting in disgust.  I'll link to the audio below but I want to analyze what was said because I feel it's vital for understanding some of the complex dynamics at play.

What the Governor was trying to do was to find a shared value amongst the discussion participants when he asked "What do we all want?  I want safety.  I assume you want safety.  Do you want safety?" This of course is in the context of the rioting and looting happening in the city.

A member of the clergy firmly pushed back on that and responded "Yes, we want safety, but we are not talking about the same thing.  When we say 'safety' what we are talking about is that it is safe for us to exist, to not be perpetually terrorized by those who are supposed to be our protectors.  When you say 'safety' you're talking about the ability to keep your lawns neatly manicured."

This is what prompted the Governor's exasperated "Where were you people when ..." the governor was trying to get some piece of legislation that he felt responsive to the clergy's concerns, passed into law through the state legislature.

The Governor was deeply offended by the suggestion, the mere idea, that he might be casually racist in failing to understand the lived reality for people of color in this country when it comes to the very basic ideal of what "safety" IS for them.  Which might then imply that his particular worldview, one in which he believes that it is right and proper to be "color blind to race", could in fact be directly responsible for part of the suffering of others.
It is my view that these two examples are part of a very complex problem facing our society right now.

How do we respond to behavior that is actively damaging to people in marginalized communities, when that behavior goes to the core of how the person doing the behavior, defines their identity?

I see two possible paths forward:

1) The loving, empathetic way.  To reach out to people where they are, and through questioning and gentle persuasion, attempt to move that person away from ignorance and closer towards love.

2) The Navy Boot Camp Way.  To stand at attention, and with outstretched arm, point directly at the person and declare: "You are wrong shipmate. Fix yourself."

I would offer the observation that path #1 seems to be the default for many of the decent, secular people I know.  And perhaps also people like the Governor and the preacher, conservative religious people.  Path #2 seems to be the default for some activists in Civil Rights/Human Rights advocacy space, such as the much bemoaned SJW's.

I don't know what the correct path is.  Although I do realize that there is a third way, a way whose implications terrify me.

3) To treat people who hold worldviews incompatible with a free and liberal society, as un-teachable.  To collectively turn our backs on them, and instead spend our time rallying up those allies in society, who do understand how to live a loving life toward others in a world that is incredibly diverse, to actions that increase the overall level of justice in our society.

I don't want to believe that I live in a world where it's possible for people that want to be decent, that try to be decent, that fully believe they *are* being not only decent but good - to have chosen a worldview that functionally cuts them off from fully participating in our society.
I'm going to keep working in this problem space because I think it's imperative if we are to create a more just society together.  I'm going to keep listening and I'm going to keep thinking.  And if anyone who reads this would like to talk to me, I stand ready to engage with you.  Hit me up.

Omaha Community Meeting Audio | 6/1/2020 | Omaha, NE.
[The controversial part with the Governor begins at timestamp 1:01:00, and the clergy walked out about 4 mins later]