Friday, September 1, 2017

My Conversation with a Racist-sounding Friend

A week ago, a Facebook friend sent me a message. He asked me to forward a political message to all of my friends. I try to be apolitical and so I did not appreciate his request. Rather passive aggressively, I responded by sharing a segment of my sermon from the previous Sunday. The portion was about theodicy, or the problem of evil. The gist was (a) evil exists because of human freedom. (b) We have the freedom to choose how we act. (c) Do we choose to use our freedom to stand against hatred, racism, bigotry, etc.?

I italicize friend because the meaning of the word seems to have evolved. Years ago, he and I spent time together. We socialized. We shared a hobby and enjoyed our time together. In my memory, we did not discuss politics. Through the magic of social media, we have reconnected. Now, our contact is limited to occasional messages.

Our conversation immediately turned to the events in Charlottesville on August 11-12. I asked him if he condemned the white supremacists. He would not. After going back and forth, here is part of the conversation:


In response to my question about condemning white supremacists, he brought up the 2016 US Presidential election, Congressional Black Caucus, reparations, and the basis of wisdom. To me, it seems so simple. When one side has white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK, we can say that side is wrong. This judgment does not exonerate counter-protesters who behaved illegally.

Saying the white supremacists are wrong does not make someone a Democrat or Republican. It does not mean one is liberal or conservative, Christian or non-Christian, or anything else. One side maintains an ideology that is antithetical to the Christian faith. Saying they are wrong does not mean antifa or violent counter-protesters are right.

It seems like it should be so easy.

Yet, my friend could not say the white supremacists were wrong. It was like we were playing some game and I did not know the rules. If he admitted they were wrong, it seemed that he thought he would lose. Lose what? I do not know.

I became frustrated. How can we not condemn the white supremacists? He brought up statues. Others argue for Southern heritage, remembering Robert E. Lee as a good person who is worthy of remembering. An article about Lee in The Atlantic begins, “The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.” Questions about Lee are a separate topic from condemning white supremacy.

Why is it so difficult to condemn white supremacy?

Fear, frustration, dissatisfaction with life… Myriad factors form our worldview. Each experience contributes to who we are. My upbringing, social experience, work life, and education all contribute to my condemnation of white supremacy. 

What about my friend? I know some parts of his story. Yet, I still have trouble understanding how he cannot say white supremacy is wrong. Elsewhere, I promote dialogue. I got what I wanted and it was not easy. Neither of us changed our positions. But, we might have changed our minds a little bit. Now, I have had a conversation with someone who would not condemn white supremacists. Is he a racist? No one knows the human heart but God (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Dialogue is difficult work but worth the effort. 


13 comments:

  1. I'm sorry, I can't agree with you. I stand against racism and bigotry, but if I white supremacist says two plus two is four, I'm not gonna disagree with him just because he'd a white supremacist. That does not mean I support his racist ideologies, but at Charlottesville, the white supremacists aquired a permit to protest and ANTIFA did not, yet the police started taking down the white supremacist group instead of the ANTIFA protest. This was before any violence insured. ANTIFA, the police, and the mayor were all in the wrong. The white supremacists were not. Violence insured from both the white supremacists and ANTIFA. At this point, both the white supremacists and ANTIFA were wrong. A white supremacist ran over some ANTIFA protesters. Only the driver can be held responsible for that crime, not the entirety of the White supremacists. As for the white supremacist who did not participate in violence, they are guilty of nothing except bigotry, but our great nation gives them the right to be bigots.

    I'm off the opinion that a permit should not be needed for a protest, so it's hard for me to blame the ANTIFA who didn't aquire a permit, except that it was their own liberal representatives who made it so that you need a permit. They can't vote for a representative who makes permits necessary then say they don't need one, they voted for it. Almost every one present was at fault. As much as I hate bigotry, the only people I cannot put any blame on are the white supremacists who didn't participate in the violence. They got permit, never broke the law and didn't harm anyone. It doesn't matter what they were protesting, they have a right to it. ANTIFA incited the violence and protested without a permit and the city illegally started taking down the legal protest. As for the white supremacists who partook in the violence, I think they showed up to the protest looking for violence. They can't claim self-defense because they were looking for it.

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    1. Sorry for the typos, I'm typing on my phone

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    2. Dear William,
      Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.

      I did not say the white supremacists did not have a permit. I did not say Antifa is good nor did I endorse their behavior. I asked my friend if he would condemn white supremacists. He would not.

      Condemning their belief does not mean taking away their right to express it.

      Peace,
      Matt

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  2. I don't understand your NEED to MAKE anyone condemn anyone. You need to post the whole conversation with your "friend" if you want people give you their opinion not just selected parts. I read both parts...I don't recall your friend ever saying either side was Right or Wrong but after reading it all I find it disturbing that you feel the need to MAKE someone say that they condemn anything. What would "his" condemning them do for you?

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    1. Dear whocareswhoIam,
      Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.
      Peace,
      Matt

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Seems to me Matt wasn't asking anyone to condemn anyone. He was asking his friend to condemn an ideology that espouses hate, racism, violence. There's a difference. Why would he ask that? Because, it's an ideology that any decent person should repudiate. Ideas matter, the maxim in law is that "silence implies consent". To stay silent in the face of that kind of evil ideology is in itself evil. To try and dilute that ideology by pointing to the tactics of groups like Antifa is a kind of subtle way of letting white supremacists off the hook. We can simultaneously condemn the actions of both, but, not to ignore a group whose ideology has been the cause of suffering for the span of our history. If you make an excuse for white supremacy it would seem that you are in some way seeking to support it.

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    4. So in turn you are letting Antifa off the hook and therefore support them, correct?

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    5. Tyler,
      Thank you for reading my blog. John Ericson wrote, "We can simultaneously condemn the actions of both, but, not to ignore a group whose ideology has been the cause of suffering for the span of our history." It doesn't seem like anyone is letting "antifa" off the hook.
      Peace,
      Matt

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  3. Good morning!
    So this will be easy since we both condemn white supremacy.
    I read your blog and want to make sure I understand your position. You said, "I asked him if he condemned the white supremacists. He would not." Then you later stated, "One side maintains an ideology that is antithetical to the Christian faith."
    One side?
    So I guess my question to you seems so obvious and easy:
    Do you condemn the other side, (therefore both)and consider both antithetical ?

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    1. Hi Tyler,
      The entire position of white supremacists is antithetical to the Christian faith. The other side (for lack of a better description) lacks the same level of clarity in their ideology. I can easily condemn violent acts of counter-protesters. Violence, hatred, and exclusion are antithetical to the Christian faith.
      Peace,
      Matt

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  4. So your response leads me to having the same problem as you: Just as you say your friend could not say the white supremacists were wrong, how can we (you) not condemn Antifa? I asked you if you condemn the other side, (obviously Antifa) and you will not. It should be easy, it's a yes or no question.

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  5. You may find this interesting:
    http://archives.livedtheology.org/node/1059

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