Saturday, September 17, 2016

“Out, Damn Spot!”-- Injustice in America

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick, second string quarterback for the San Francisco 49’ers, has been protesting police injustice toward minorities by remaining seated for the playing of the National Anthem prior to the opening of each preseason game.   In August, Kaepernick said in an interview with NFL Media:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Of course, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affords Mr. Kaepernick the right to freedom of expression.  The Constitution affords the same right to a growing number of NFL players and high school football players who are following in step with Kaepernick’s protest.

Marcus Peters raises fist in protest.
As I have watched the news reports and commentaries, I am reminded of the long history of protests against civil authorities and unjust practices in America.  Seeing Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs raise his fist during the National Anthem, on September 11, reminded me of how I felt upon seeing the raised fists of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics as they stood on the blocks after receiving their medals.

American Olympians  vs. America, 1968
The headline-grabbing protests of recent years and my study of American history remind me that nonviolent protests have had a significant and positive role in drawing attention to injustices. The nonviolent protests led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on behalf of minority rights transformed America in a positive way.  But
Dr. King's leadership as a Baptist minister of the Gospel was based on his commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ, especially His fundamental command to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19: 19) and when necessary, to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5: 39).  Dr. King’s focus on Christian love, character, and individual responsibility was an essential ingredient in the success of the civil rights movement.  

Although nonviolent protests have seldom been without at least some violence, several recent protests have boiled over into demonstrations of hate and mob rule.  For example, movements like Black Lives Matter claim that “Black lives matter” but fail to conduct themselves in a way that both respects all human life and property and presents a vision (e.g. Dr. King’s “dream”) for a better society.   Instead, there seems to be an unawareness or ignorance of the gains we have made in civil rights and racial reconciliation in America.  Protesters stir up social unrest by bringing up past injustices while interfering with the justice system by prejudging police actions. 

It is obvious that injustices exist in America.  But it is also true that many who make headlines through protest have been poorly educated in American history.  From elementary school upward, many of our children have been taught to view America through the lens of liberal progressivism.  The educational experience for many occurs within a constant stream of “news” provided by a liberal-dominated media that uses every opportunity to emphasize inequality.  Dissatisfaction among the poor and middle classes is fueled by the message that they have been mistreated by a system that favors the rich and dishonest.  While many press for “social justice” they ignore the fact that the disintegration of the American family hinders proper development of character which causes poor educational performance.   The result is a lack of competitiveness in the job market, resulting in unemployment, poverty, and proneness to join movements that foment protest.

Family breakdown and poor education impacts future generations.  Increasing numbers of poorly educated Americans become helpless pawns in a system that emphasizes groupthink instead of individual responsibility and accountability.  Instead of emphasizing human dignity, hope, and a pathway to achievement of joy and happiness as expressed in America’s founding documents, the liberal progressive message is, “See what you’re missing-- you’ve been cheated.  Look what you could have--just vote us into power.”

Janie Cheaney, in a WORLD article this month entitled, “Free and Equal,” writes,
Equality and inequality sound like complementary opposites, but they’re driven by non-complementary impulses.  Equality is about climbing up—a political principle written into our founding documents. It’s the theme when people feel empowered, or find empowerment within their grasp. Its primary emotion is hope.

Cheaney continues:
“I’m as good as you” backs up demands for equality: It may reveal a chip on the shoulder, but could also indicate a healthy desire to improve one’s condition. The complementary statement “You’re no better than me” hints at smoldering resentment. Inequality is about tearing down

Cheaney concludes that, Few if any political figures today are calling for more equality. Instead, they rail against inequality.  In the name of social justice they not only highlight contemporary inequality, but also condemn America because of the injustices she committed against minorities and the powerless throughout our history.   Social justice purveyors condemn the failures of the past based on current norms as if no moral gains have been made in respect to the rights of minorities.  Charles Krauthammer, conservative columnist, condemns this presentism, the practice of applying contemporary moral standards to actions committed in the past, and then posthumously condemning all who were involved.  For example, Colin Kaepernick’s protest has led some to condemn both Francis Scott Key and  our National Anthem, the lyrics of which he wrote, because Key was a slaveholder.

The events surrounding slavery and the Civil War represent a dark time in American history, and perhaps removal of all vestiges of the Confederate Flag is a respectful practice.  But as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth learned, none of the attempts no matter how well meaning will purge away the “damn spot” represented in each sinful act of the past.   How then should America proceed in the midst of an era of media bias, misrepresentation of history, presentism, and collective guilt over past sins?

First, there is a great need for honest and accurate reporting by those responsible for conveying each day’s news and commentary.  And, we as watchers and listeners, and users of social media need to seek out all sides of the story.  We need to recognize the difference between news and commentary, and between objective journalists and political water boys or girls.

When we fail to get accurately reported news and perhaps are hampered by having only an elementary understanding of American history we end up like Colin Caepernick.  The 49ers quarterback and those who follow in his steps do not seem to have an accurate picture of either American history or of the current statistics on police actions toward young black men.  According to Charles Campisi, author of Blue on Blue: An Insider’s Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops, “In [New York City] a city of 8.4 million people…NYPD officers shot and killed 8 people in 2013—all males, all of whom were carrying guns or knives, 7 of whom had criminal histories….”  These statistics are not atypical of many of our cities.  Nor do they justify Kaepernick’s claim that police are oppressing black people and people of color…[while] …getting paid leave and getting away with murder.  People who wish to lead protests must have their facts straight—both from American history and from current events.

Second, we must recognize that no amount of group protest, collective condemnation of historical personalities and their unjust actions, or purging of our landscape and history books of names and symbols will atone for past sins.  There is only one way to account for past injustices.  That way requires that we recognize the Truth of the Christian Gospel (Good News) which does not deal primarily in group consensus or actions of either the past or present.  Our founding fathers understood that freedom and the pursuit of happiness can only flourish in a nation which recognizes that God is the Giver of opportunity.  Each individual is responsible for how he or she uses the opportunities God affords—i.e. exercises stewardship of the time, talents, and treasures entrusted to him or her.   The great commandments to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10: 27) are the basis for a moral code.  The injustices throughout human history and up until our present day result when individuals fall short of these standards—i.e. what God calls sin.  How then should we respond?

The social justice approach is to point out injustices and then enlist followers into the business of correcting the injustice through protests, court actions, legislation, and coercion.  But social groups and governments do not sin.  Nor are these groups of well meaning individuals able to rid our nation of the “spots” left from past history or current injustice.  It is the individual who sins.  According to the Bible, no individual can make amends or atone for his or her own sins; or the sins of others.  In Psalm 49: 8-9 we read,

No man can by any means redeem his brother Or give to God a ransom for him--
For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease trying forever--

Romans 3: 23 adds that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  Romans 6: 23 explains how God, not mankind, has made provision for each sinner who recognizes his sin,  confesses, repents, and receives God’s Gift of atonement through faith in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ:  The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Jesus Christ is the only Way to rid our souls of the “spots” of sin.  He said, …if the Son [Jesus] makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8: 36).

Suppose we allow that Colin Kaepernick means well in protesting injustices of police toward black men.  Still, it doesn’t appear that he has either his present facts or past history correct.  Nor does he appear to realize that we are all plagued by sin, the tendency to rebel against God’s plan for true freedom and justice.  Furthermore, does Kaepernick know that each individual including himself needs a new heart through Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  God’s forgiveness and empowering through His Holy Spirit can help us put away the anger, resentment, envy, and a host of other sins that plague our souls.  The Apostle Paul admonishes Christians to live by this command:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Only God can transform lives and set individuals free.  These individuals have opportunity and inspiration to love God and their neighbor and contribute toward building strong families, schools, communities, and civil government.   But if Americans continue to reject God’s justice and mercy, and refuse to own up to our individual responsibility for sin, we will continue to wander blindly about, biting and devouring one another.  On the other hand, if Americans realize that laws and their enforcers are for our good, and if punishment is justly given and received, then the guilty can be placed on a path to redemption, forgiveness, and freedom.

Although it is easy to point to the Kaepernick’s and other protesters of this world, I must first be sure that God’s justice and righteousness does its work in my own heart.  If you and I are  “born again” believers, this closing challenge is for us and for all who claim faith in Christ:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, [then we may ask] what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? -- 1 Peter_4:17

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