What Lives Matter? What Truths Matter?

What is it that feeds resentment in today’s political climate?

National Public Radio’s David Greene in a piece that ran on NPR’s Morning Edition on October 30, 2017, asked a woman named Jessica, who lives in southern Virginia, and is also a member of a group called “League of the South,” about her reasons for joining a “White Lives Matter” demonstration in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

Jessica started out by sharing, “We just want to be left alone. That’s it.”

When asked by Greene who was not leaving her alone, she started by referring to the “Confederate war.” I suppose the shelling of Fort Sumter was the Confederate way of saying, “Just leave us alone.”

Greene then asked, “And what about today?” To which Jessica explained, “Well, today you have people who, you know, I’m a Christian, you know, Christian background, so I have virtues and values. And things that they are promoting out, you know, like on commercials and stuff like that, you know, that stuff’s not right to me.”

Again, Greene asked about the things that bothered her.

Jessica said, “You know, the LBGT stuff. I don’t agree with that stuff. I mean, I don’t hate those people, but if they want to be that, that’s fine, but don’t shove it down my throat, you know? And as far as multiculturalism – you know, every commercial you see on TV, it shows that multiculturalism. Why? Why is that? What – are they trying to paint a picture?”

Greene then asked about what, in Jessica’s thinking, was the difference between not liking multiculturalism and racism, a label Jessica resented being applied to herself.

“I mean, you don’t have to – I mean, like I said, the League of the South is not out to destroy another race. They are out to preserve our race. What’s wrong with that? I’m not embarrassed to be white. I’m proud of what my ancestors made me and I’m proud of what my ancestors did because they fought for my state, my homeland. You know, they created me (laughter). I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no problem whatsoever with being proud to be white.”

The picture I get is that Jessica, for one, sees on television and elsewhere, images of people of diverse races and sexual orientations. This is obviously something new to her, and so she believes they are “shoving down her throat” a different set of “virtues and values”, than those she is comfortable with. She believes she is being harassed–so much so that she joins an organization and drives hundreds of miles to tell people to leave her alone.

One thing that is fascinating about this interview is that the name of the demonstration Jessica is attending is “White Lives Matter.” Jessica sees it as an important expression of pride in virtues, values, race, and ancestors. This name is a direct stand against the “Black Lives Matter” movement. And on the other end of the divide in this debate are people who regularly declare that the group of people they identify with have, in the past, been routinely marginalized, silenced, and left politically powerless. So, the Black Lives Matter and the LGBT communities, in effect, are saying the same thing that Jessica believes: “There is no problem whatsoever with being proud to be who we are.”

Pride in one’s own identity is a primordial motivator. People of all time and people from all over the world have such pride. They work to nurture it. They are passionate about defending it. But respect for the pride of others, for an identity that differs from our own, is a most rare thing. Jessica hits the nail on the head when she says, “That stuff’s not right to me.”

And when Jessica adds the point that she is Christian, and then, immediately qualifies that a bit by saying “you know, Christian background,” she is sharing a most salient detail. Because Christianity is not renowned for being a tolerant religion. In fact, many scholars have pointed out that the two features shared by today’s major, global faiths, tend to make adherants intolerant of things that just don’t seem right: monotheism itself and sacred scripture.

In a polytheistic, or pagan world, there are lots of gods. Understanding of those gods tends to vary according to locality. Things get fuzzy. The same god may have many different names with many different sets of characteristics, and many different ways of devotion.

But the monotheistic faiths tend to be particular. When the stories, laws, and poetry of those faiths get written down in black and white, the notions of what’s right and wrong tend to be seen in black and white as well. The priesthoods of the faiths get passionate and particular, since they see themselves as guardians of what’s right. In short, things get absolute.

For me and my house the key question is, “What absolutes are the right ones.” And I am going with two at this time–two absolutes that are absolutely vital for Christians to keep before their eyes.

The first is human fallibility–a fallibility we cannot wiggle out of, and we cannot afford to forget. There are rights and wrongs. There are truths and falsehoods. There is truthful news and fake news. But it is part and parcel of our human identity that each of us is often wrong about which is which. Not just sometimes, but often. We are limited in our perspective and in our experience. No matter how well educated and scientific we are, almost everything we think we know we have no direct proof for. We are fated to live by faith on almost everything. And to keep faith true we must test it. We are driven by passions and needs we also do not understand, and we must admit the bare fact that other people, of different worlds, have different passions and needs.

And any set of values and virtues we live by should have, at the top of the list, humility. There are truths and there is Truth, but we cannot possess either. Truths we must test and Truth itself must be bigger than we are and so must possess us.

And this fallibility and humility is indeed highlighted amply in the Christian Bible. The two cardinal Truths of the Bible are that God is God and we are not. The true God is compassionate and the creator and controller of all things. The one true human enemy of God is the person who pretends to be God.

The second important absolute that I believe we need to recover for our time is that the God of the Bible loves all people and wants to gather them into a whole with the God of love in the center. This is a Truth that is evidently too obscure in the Bible.

It is easy to see the biblical God choosing and covenanting with Abraham and his offspring. It is hard to notice that God intends this chosen family to be a blessing to all the families and nations on earth. It’s easy to root for the survival of a tiny people of Israel, as they create a religion around their pride of being covenanted to the LORD God. It is hard to think that the people they drove out of Canaan and the people they shut out of the rebuilding of the Temple after exile also loved their land and were proud of their ancestors. It is easy to notice the 144,000 of the sealed and saved of the House of Israel in the Book of Revelation, but all too easy to miss the fact that the prophet hears that number but immediately turns and sees a different truth: “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” redeemed and worshipful.

The vast Roman Empire coveted the idea of a single, universal religion that could help them unite a vast and diverse world state. But eventually things fell apart.

Again, the kings of Europe saw the potential of a tightly regulated religious establishment that could apply control over the hearts and minds of barbarian tribes. But, again, things fell apart quite violently as a result of the Reformation.

And today a quick ride around the block will demonstrate that we Americans continue to be divided by denominationalism just as we are shamefully segregated during the worship hour by race.

And we will continue to be segregated and divided and crippled, to the extent that we forget these chief absolutes: We are fallible human beings. When we strive to know the truth, we should also be striving to be possessed by the Truth. And this Truth is that we have a God whose will is to love and gather all people.


About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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