Saturday, July 4, 2020

Racism in America 4: The Moral Right

In this post, I will discuss the upheaval in America in response to the continuing occurrences of police brutality against black people. What I am going to say may not necessarily sit well with either side of the argument. But it needs to be said. I pray you will listen with an open mind, and that instead of becoming naturally defensive, you will allow this to be an opportunity for introspection and learning.

Within one day of the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, most all of America was ready to tear down the walls of racism which have refused to be broken for centuries.

Within one week of Floyd's death, people actually started tearing down literal walls, as well as doors and windows. They looted. They burned businesses. They began attacking police officers. One person said, "You had the whole of America on your side, but when the riots started, you lost us."

This is a problem. It is a problem on both sides of the issue. On one side, the fact the looting started. On the other side, the fact that they lost us.

Because, you see, we cannot correct a wrong by committing another wrong. It just creates a further place of wrong which doesn't solve anything.

And because, you see, we cannot let positive change die because of the acts of some people. We also need to look at the reason those people are responding that way.

I will begin with the second issue. As I live on the conservative side of the fence, I hear more about how bad the looters are and how stupid these riots have become than anyone really talking about the original problem. This is a natural outcome of bad behavior, that people focus more on the bad behavior than the cause. Unlike some people, I still listen to some of the media from the liberal side of the fence as well, and try to keep an open mind, so that maybe I can behold the true scope of the problem.

One of the really smart people on Facebook (who like usual I cannot remember and I apologize) pointed out what you do when a child acts out. Many people, when a child is throwing a tantrum, seek to stop the child from screaming and/or punish them for their inappropriate behavior. I agree that we should not reward bad behavior from children, and that we should teach them that there are consequences for such actions.

On the other hand, I have spent several years as a counselor at a camp for abused and neglected children in the foster care system, as well as eleven years as a leader in children's and youth ministries at my church. One of the things we are taught early on is that these "tantrums" are rarely the problem but are a response to another situation. When a baby is tired, he may cry. If the baby is hungry, he may cry. If a baby wants to be held by Mommy, he may also cry. You can throw the baby a rattle to appease him for the moment, but that doesn't satisfy his needs of sleep, food or comfort. It is only when his needs are met that he will be truly satisfied.

Children who have been abused or neglected can act in a similar fashion. We spent a week with these kids, and we would see the full range of actions, the good and the bad. The bad behavior looked very different at different times and between different kids. Sometimes the child would run away, sometimes they would fight, sometimes they would refuse to listen to their counselor. There were even more extreme cases of "bad behavior," and in all of these cases, we wanted to help the kids learn that this was inappropriate and would not be tolerated.

But we also wanted to help see the true cause of this behavior. We understood that these kids came to camp from all different places and all different experiences, including many negative influences and abusive situations. The behaviors we would see were almost always negative reactions to these other problems. They were never "bad kids;" they were kids behaving badly because of something bad happening to them, or because they were in a situation they didn't understand. In many cases, the children behaved this way because it was the only way they knew how to react.

As counselors and teachers, it was our opportunity to help the kids understand that they were safe, loved and cared for first. We needed to build that trust with them. We needed them to see that even in these moments of inappropriate reactions to these problems, we weren't going to send them away or write them off as "bad kids" or "worthless." Then, we could help them open up about what was causing these behaviors, and teach them how to deal with that problem themselves or learn how to find the help they needed. To change the behavior, we needed to fix the problems causing the behavior. And that all started by building trust.

In the case of the rioters, many have demonstrated "bad behavior." Some of those people are rioting and looting because of personal issues way outside of the scope of this fight against racism and police brutality.

But many of these rioters are reacting to the true problem, in some ways the only way they can. Think about this for a second: If you have been treated poorly by the police system for hundreds of years, can you take your anger out directly on the police system? No! You would get shot or pepper sprayed very quickly. Instead, these people are taking their anger out on the next thing they can find, for example, the nearby Target. It might just happen to be there, or it might symbolize the system which has been hurting them for so long.

Do you agree with this? You don't have to. It is not about agreeing with them; it is about trying to understand the true cause of why they are doing what they are doing. We can keep punishing bad behavior and think we have done enough, but it will keep coming. Instead, we can seek to intentionally work to fix the problem which is actually the root behind this behavior. Not only will we lessen the chances that the behavior will continue, but we will also build that much-needed trust that has been lacking in our society for as long as the problems have lasted.

Now, to the other side of the problem. We need to help understand these root causes of this behavior. But we can never view the behavior as anything but bad.

Although the evils of racism and police brutality exist in our society, and must be defeated at all costs, the moral code we use as a lens to view these societal problems can't change when we view the rioters' bad behavior. Right is right and wrong is wrong.

Most people have a moral code. They use it to determine what is good and bad. To each person, it is designed based on experience and the teaching of those who have been primary sources of influence. In the case of the kids at camp, we help the kids learn what is "good" and "bad" behavior to help them develop that moral code or modify it if it has been compromised.

The thing about moral codes is that to each person, it is the truth. We may be able to budge on some things, but in general, we hold our moral code to be the final say on all things.

For us Christians, our moral code is mainly determined by what the Bible says. Most Christians, like myself, view the Bible as the inspired Word of God, without error and not to be argued with. We may be able to change our stances on things that are not directly mentioned in the Bible or are things we can't confidently say what God's view of it is based on what is written. (We still seek to know God's will in all things.) But what is written in the Bible is the set standard and cannot be changed.

People of other religions usually hold the same confidence in their moral code. Other people who don't have a set doctrine still tend to have a clear understanding of their own view of right and wrong. We may differ on certain things, and we should be able to appreciate that everyone's view is slightly different. Still, in these situations, to each of us, our standard is right and the other standards are wrong. And we should be okay with that.

I believe God has put a basic morality in all people, however. We all seem to understand that murder is wrong. It is bad for the victim, it is bad for the murderer, and it is bad for society in general. But it goes beyond a societal benefit analysis. Murder, to put it simply, is wrong. Anyone who tolerates it is wrong.

Most people view stealing and damaging personal property as wrong, too. It directly causes harm to someone else, usually someone who is an innocent party in the problem. So when we see rioters burning down businesses which people have worked their lives to build, that's hard to swallow. It's not something most of us can consider an "appropriate reaction" to a societal wrong.

Many of the people who are decrying the riots hold to the Christian worldview, and therefore take the Bible as being the ultimate determiner of right and wrong. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul says, "In your anger, do not sin." A lot of people don't understand that anger is in itself not a sin; it is actually a feeling. Whether the cause of the feeling is justified is beside the point; when a person is angry, they are experiencing a legitimate feeling which is in itself neither right nor wrong.

But as with any feeling, it is what action that follows which determines whether it becomes a sin. If my friend ate my candy bar, I may feel anger against him. If I bite my tongue, give myself time to cool off, forgive him, and let it go, I have not sinned. If I sock him in the face, I have obviously sinned.

We can take the time with open minds to understand the causes of this anger that the rioters may be feeling. If you are scared every time you see a cop that you might be shot for no reason, and no one is doing anything about it, wouldn't you feel angry? I would say for the most part, the anger these people are facing is more than justified.

But it is your actions that speak the loudest. There were many protests during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. Which protest was probably most influential? The March on Washington, D.C. Why? It is because they walked in solidarity, loudly proclaiming their message, which was a message of unity and the desire for change. Dr. King stood up at the end and gave his "I Have A Dream" speech, which is considered one of the most important speeches in American history. It was rooted in the true moral right, and the actions of the 250,000 protesters backed up that message. Racism and segregation should be destroyed because it is the right thing to do. And how can anyone accept the message if the actions that come with it aren't right themselves?

And we should never condone evil behavior, no matter how justified the cause. Those of us who hold to the truths of right and wrong should decry racism and denounce the riots in the same breath, because both are wrong. There are many, many protesters peacefully gathering whose message is being sadly diluted by the indecent and stupid actions of a small minority. And this is very, very unfortunate.

Yet, if we are going to stand up against the wrongs contained in this rioting, we must make sure we are also standing against all other things God calls wrong. It cannot be based on our convenience or whether our political party speaks for or against it or not at all. If we believe our moral code to be right, we need to hold to it firmly and be the best example of what "good" looks like so that the world can see the light of that goodness. It will both make the world a better place and point the world to the truth of a God who sets both the standards of justice and love, the only One who has the power to meet all our needs and protect those who have been wronged. He is that true Light of goodness, and if we want to see the change we seek, we better reflect His light in everything we do.

So we decry and denounce the riots.

We decry and denounce the racism.

We decry and denounce the police brutality.

And we pray that the Light of Truth will shine brightly from our lives. That is only way we can truly see lasting peace in this land.

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