Last Friday morning, there I was in our nation’s capital posting on Facebook how peaceful was the situation in Washington, D.C., in the hours just before the March to Life. It was all true. I guess I should have known that “peaceful” wouldn’t last forever.
Here’s what happened in a nutshell, as my purpose in writing today is not to revisit the events in detail, but to help us learn something from them. Partial video footage of students from a Catholic high school in Covington, Kentucky, went viral. In the video, taken in front of the Lincoln Memorial and after the March for Life, the students appeared to be harassing a Native American elder. This provoked widespread condemnation of the kids on social media. Various media figures and Twitter users called for them to be publically shamed, and punished, along with members of their families.
This quickly escalated into death threats. The high school responded with administrators promising to consider expulsion. Eventually the school had to temporarily close over safety concerns. I’ve just scratched the surface, but you get the point. As junior Nick Sandmann became the face of the controversy, America – as it is now prone to do – went nearly crazy in a frenzy for revenge. Many people concluded that these boys in red MAGA hats had simply proven that Middle America is a breeding ground for nativist bigotry.
Now that much more video footage has been made available, and more eyewitnesses have been able to offer their accounts, many contributing factors have come into view. For example we know that, early on in the incident, the “Black Hebrews” were hurling racist and gay slurs at the Covington students. I won’t go any further with the retelling of the surrounding circumstances and events, but I did want to establish something of the wacky climate that led to multiple erroneous conclusions – and to subsequent retractions of earlier reports and comments which had been issued and published by both professional media and private citizens. In other words, a lot of people concluded that they had gotten key facts wrong in their first reactions to the sidewalk standoff.
Hopefully we as Christ followers will always remember these truths.
- We judge at our own risk. It’s impossible to function without making judgments – that’s simply part of life – but we better humble ourselves and seek God for sound ones. Jesus doesn’t mince any words when, in Matthew 7:1-5, he warns of us of the dangers of our hypocritical judgments in matters where we have no business judging.
- If we want to walk in love, we will work really hard at listening before we speak (James 1:19-20). The best way to de-escalate a potential controversy is to seek to understand what’s really going on (including what’s really being felt by the other person, or what’s really being asked of us) before we swoop in with our reactions or indictments. Patience and grace go a long way when things seem to be getting out of hand.
- There’s probably more to the story. Proverbs 18:17. I won’t say much here because I don’t want to take away from the text. Just read, and reread, that one powerful verse.
- If we need to speak up, we should be careful about hiding behind our keyboard or screen. The Bible is replete with reminders that taking a concern to the wrong person is damaging to our public testimony (e.g., Matthew 18:15). Real reconciliation is most likely to happen in a one-on-one conversation, when there is a spirit of humility and a desire to come together under the banner of Christ. We must avoid overreacting, or reacting too quickly, on social media. The danger is: it really can’t be taken back.
- Don’t stereotype the people who seem to be on “the other side” of an issue. Our role in every sphere of influence is to be Christ’s light and salt (Matthew 5:13-16). We risk losing both when we attempt to marginalize anyone, or to throw anyone under the bus in a harsh – and what almost always ends up being unfair, if not even untrue – emotional reaction.
- (My wife is really concerned about this one.) We must not join in on the growing phenomenon of mob rule. The Bible sets forth the priority of settling disputes equitably (e.g., Deuteronomy 19:15 and Second Corinthians 13:1), and these principles undergird our American system of justice for all under the rule of law. WE DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE PEOPLE ARE SENTENCED AND DESTROYED VIA SOCIAL MEDIA. Don’t even be a part of it.
- Romans 12:9. Christ’s love is still more powerful than all the political power or social influence in the world. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Notice that we’re never given permission to hate anyone. We have to remember who is our enemy really – and who is not.
After having viewed only one photo of Sandmann from the D.C. incident, and because of it having made what she now calls a “snap judgment,” Hollywood star
Jamie Lee Curtis used social media to remind her followers that there are “two sides to every story.” The Hollywood icon acknowledged on Twitter: “I know better than to judge a book by its cover. I wasn’t there. I shouldn’t have commented. I’m glad there wasn’t violence. I hope these two men can meet and find common ground as can WE ALL!”
What she said.