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But I am not a…

June 26, 2013

I’ve seen some things on TV these past few days that are really painful to watch.  First it was the flap over Paula Deen.  After it came out that, in the past, she had used racial slurs, media pandemonium has ensued and she and her sons have been repeatedly saying that she is not a racist.  Supporters have chimed in and detractors as well.  The issue at heart is if we believe her.  Is she sincere?  Is she just saying this to protect her career?

This morning I saw another painful discussion on a morning news show.  Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down the map from the 1965 Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to have authority over election law changes in nine, mostly southern, states.  This morning two men on the news did their best to discuss this.  One, a southern political figure, tried to make the point that things have changed, that the supervision is no longer needed.  The other, a veteran of the 60s civil rights movement, was sure that, if the oversight was lifted, old prejudices would surface again.

You could all but feel the emotions in the two men.  The southern politician was saying that he is not a racist; the activist was drawing on painful memories of racism and claiming protection is still needed.  They were both polite; both claimed they were friends.  It was easy to see their wounds however.  One felt wounded that he and others like him were assumed to be racially motivated.  The other felt the old wounds of discrimination being opened.

There are few things more painful than finding yourself needing to say “I am not a….”in defense of your beliefs, indeed in defense of who you are.  It is particularly painful when there is evidence that, in the past, perhaps you were, or gave the impression that you were, the negative being hurled at you.  Since nobody can see into the heart of another, and since looking into our own hearts is no small feat, it is essentially an impossible task.  We have no way to prove other wrong and no surety that there is not a grain of truth to what they say; that our hearts are not deceiving us.

The only sure way to deal with such a mess is to do all in our power to not get into it in the first place.  This is particularly true for Christians when we feel the need “take a stand” on social issues.  For example, you often see Christians contend on issues such as marriage equality and male/female roles.  As they make their points they are usually clear to say that they are not anti-gay or anti-women.  Yet somehow they always end up, in the ears of many listeners, sounding as if they are.

So how do you avoid giving the impression that you are something you are sure you are not?  For some the answer is to retreat; to simply say nothing; to put your beliefs on the shelf.  That probably is not such a good idea; it is all but impossible to sincerely believe something and yet keep quiet about it.  So what should we do?  Here are some suggestions.

–          Pick your spots.  I am not required, at all times and in all settings, to shout my beliefs.  This is particularly true when we are in a public setting where we cannot know the people who hear us.  (For those who feel compelled to hurl Romans 1:16 at me and say that the “I am not ashamed…” phrase requires you to do this shouting, I will address that in a soon-coming post.)

–          Accept that the burden of proof lies with you.  If you are about to say something that will cause another to wonder if you are anti-(whatever) it is not enough to simply say you are not, you need to do all in your power to demonstrate it.  The Deen family is trying to do just that now.  Remember, others have no burden to believe you; the ball is in your court.  The public square is not a court of law where people have to presume you are innocent.

–          Understand that, when you speak into an issue that focuses on a group (blacks/gays/women, etc.) that you are not a member of, you will probably be talking to people who have been wounded by others who claim to be just like you.  What you might see as over-reaction could be to them a painful poke at an old wound.

–          Be prepared for explosions.  Sometimes speaking to difficult issues produces responses that can startle us and attacks back at us that can hurt.  The Chik-Fil-A controversy comes to mind. In spite of your best efforts things can spin out of control and blaming others for this does not help solve it.

–          Here is the hardest of all.  If you are going to claim that God is on your side; that to differ with you is to differ with God, you must be prepared to graciously and lovingly take the time to prove this to the other party.  Invoking God can never, I repeat never, be the way to end the discussion.  Instead, all it can be is an opening to invite the other person into a discussion about God.

I feel for the Deen family and equally feel for those who have felt hurt by the wounds that their situation has opened.  There are never easy answers; never Scriptural platitudes, that make such situations easy.  May the grace of God cover us each of us and we speak to difficult issues.

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