moral inequivalence

Moral equivalency. Two words, these days, seemingly every day, uttered in the public square. In my view, to cite a moral equivalence between two competing, perhaps conflicting points of view, is to assert that one side is no better or worse, greater or lesser, higher or lower than the other in the ethical terms of societally accepted and honored principles of being and behavior.

Since last weekend’s unrest in Charlottesville involving injurious and fatal clashes between Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and other groups of white supremacists and counter-demonstrators, President Donald Trump has reacted variously.

His first response, as we have come to expect, a tweet: We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets (sic) come together as one!

Later, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Even later, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

Still later, Mr. Trump, in response to a reporter’s statement about Senator John McCain’s assertion that the alt-right fomented the violence in Charlottesville, said, in part: “…what about the alt-left that came charging…the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?…Do they have any problem? I think they do…I think there is blame on both sides…You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.” And, in reference to the alt-right, he said, also in part: “…not all of those people were neo-Nazis…Not all of those people were white supremacists…”

Mr. President, we Americans treasure our First Amendment free speech. You have the right to hold and harbor, espouse and express your point, indeed, points of view. I, too, and, in this case, I have only one. There is not and cannot be any moral equivalence between the attitudes and actions of those who advocate anti-Semitism, bigotry, and racism and those who promote human equality. Ever. Period. Full stop.

Dear Sarah

Sarah Cobb is one of the brightest, most earnest, impassioned, and forthright people I, for the past nearly 20 years, have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend. Sarah is Jewish. She is more than a friend and Jewish or a friend who is Jewish. Sarah, from time to time, serves as…is my external righteous conscience, especially about Christianity’s attitude toward Judaism; in my view, at times, in some lands, and in some sectors of Christendom, rising to the heights or, more accurately, sinking to the depths of antipathy and, historically, largely, I think, characterized by the lethargy of indifference (save, of course, among those Christian evangelists who discern that their primary vocation is to convert all Jews to Christianity).

Over the past few days, Sarah’s various reflections on the so-called “Unite the Right” rally and ensuing violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, have centered on her searing observation that a particularly putrid element of the platform of white supremacy is blatantly anti-Semitic (who, watching and listening to the news accounts, could have missed the out-in-the-open bearing of the swastika-festooned Nazi flag and the ferociously, transparently intentioned chant of the neo-Nazi demonstrators: “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!”?) and her eloquent remonstrations about Christians who, at best, have been slow and, at most, have been silent in their, our, my repudiations of the virulent and vile hatred that is anti-Semitism.

Dear Sarah,

I thank you, once again, for reminding me, summoning me to this aspect of my sacred duty as a Christian, as a follower of the Jesus of unconditional love and justice, to denounce any and all anti-Semitic prejudicial hatred and hostility against my Jewish sisters and brothers and in any and all of its forms, cultural and economic, racial and religious.

As one who wills to do, to be unconditional love and justice, yes, I pray that those who harbor anti-Semitic beliefs repent and renounce them. Yet, whether they do or do not, I will not be silent or slow to speak again in opposition to anti-Semitism.

One final word, Sarah, for now…

I do not excuse, but rather explain my silence or slowness to speak. What happened in Charlottesville terrified me. And, in my fear, I, as an African American, perhaps barely consciously, narrowed my vision, focused my passion primarily, solely on the issue, the reality of white-over-black supremacy. Anxiety, I feel, always stirs the fires of individual (and often selfish) self-interest. Hence, I thank you again, Sarah, for you, in your reminder, your summons to me, illumine and compel me to see anew something I already know. Enlightened, indeed, truest human self-interest embraces the sanctity and the safety of all people.

With deepest love and highest respect,

Paul

having done everything they were supposed to do…

On July 18, 2016, in North Miami, Florida, a 23-year old man with autism eloped from a residential assisted living facility. Police were summoned by reports of an armed suspect threatening suicide. Upon arrival, the officers espied a man sitting in the middle of the street and another man lying on his back, his hands empty and raised in the air in view. That man, Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist and an African American, called out, “All he” (referring to his client) “has is a truck. A toy truck.” At some point, one of the officers “accidently”, it has been alleged, shot Mr. Kinsey, who, by his posture and proclamation to the police, did everything he was supposed to do. Moments later, asking the officer, “Why did you shoot me?”, Kinsey received the reply, “I don’t know.”

On August 12, 2016, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Stanley Vernon Majors shot and killed his next door neighbor, Khalid Jabara, a Christian of Lebanese descent. This after years of Majors’ harassing, terrorizing the Jabara family, calling them, “dirty Arabs” and “filthy Lebanese,” hurling racial epithets at gardeners who tended the Jabara family lawn (read: the “N-word” at African American workers), and, in 2015, driving his automobile, running down Jabara’s mother, Haifa, out for a jog, for which he was to be tried in March 2017. In 2013, the Jabaras filed a protection order forbidding Majors from having any contact with the family, which he repeatedly violated. This past May, against the wishes of the district attorney, Majors was released from custody with no conditions on his bond. Now, Khalid Jabara, having done everything he was supposed to do, is dead.

Two incidents among sickeningly, for me, too many that, for me, illustrate a couple of sadly, strikingly salient realities. One, aggrieved minority parties and persons doing all that they are supposed to do, all that they have been instructed to do in relation to legal authorities is no guarantee that the worst of their fears will not be realized. Two, bigotry, immune to the instruction of reason, insensate to the calling of compassion, thus, invincibly ignorant, obeys no boundaries.