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That Terrible Banana Peel

  /   Saturday, September 23, 2017   /   Comments(0)

Sometimes it’s hard for me to take allegations of racism in this country seriously. It’s not that I deny that racism exists. Even if I did, the latest events in Charlottesville should have been enough to convince me that it does exist. I don’t deny the evil of racism either. I know it’s sinful. Let me share an incident that has happened in the news to illustrate the problem I have.

In August 2017, a retreat for leaders of fraternities and sororities at Ole Miss (which happens to be where I went to school) was cut cut short due to one supposedly racist incident.. A breakfast had been served that included a fruit cart with bananas. I guess one of the students took his banana to go. He looking for a trash can to throw away his banana peel and couldn’t find one. So, he put the banana peel in a nearby tree. One of the members of a historically African-American sorority saw the banana peel and, having remembered a recent incident involving bananas that really was a racist incident, became disturbed by it.

A meeting was called later that day, and the student who put the peel there explained himself and apologized for it. However, that wasn’t good enough for the offended. They claimed that they didn’t feel safe, and the end result was that a big production was made out of it. The retreat was cut short. My favorite line was that the student who discarded the banana peel needed to consider the “effects of their actions versus their intent” because of the “fear and anger” that was incited. Never mind that it seems pretty unlikely that such an effect could have been anticipated by the student who did this.

I once read a meme that someone posted on Facebook that said something like “If I tell you that you’ve hurt me, you don’t have the right to tell me you didn’t.” There are really two extremes that we need to avoid in cases like these. One is usually not socially acceptable by any decent person. The other seems to be the direction in which our society is headed, and I can only think that it will lead to worse relations between different groups of people as we will fail to walk on eggshells to avoid being accused of “bias.”

The first extreme is only acceptable to genuine abusers. These are the people who do objectively offensive things and blame the other person for taking offense. The incident I have described would have been an entirely different issue had there been a racial slur written on the banana peel or had it been hung from the tree on a noose. It is beyond question that white supremacist groups are wrong. It’s not just about black and white races either. It’s just as wrong to walk up to a Latino or Asian person and tell them that they need to go back to their own country. It would be wrong for someone to meet a Catholic priest and immediately tell him he’s a pedophile. I can’t imagine a decent person saying that a person offended by any of these things is being too sensitive.

The other extreme actually concerns me more because it’s becoming a kind of norm. This extreme basically says that one who is offended by the words or actions of another doesn’t have any responsibility at all for how he interprets those words or actions, and to suggest that he does is “blaming the victim.” This mentality goes beyond the fact that someone was offended by something that was said or done. The person who committed said “offense” is guilty of an enormous evil. Maybe it’s completely unforgivable, or maybe the “victim” makes a major drama about being offended but never seems to be able to describe anything in particular that he wants done about it. Someone has been “triggered,” and now the entire world must be horrified by it.

So, we end up with a group of people being super upset because someone discarded their banana peel in a nearby tree. Great offense is taken because the table centerpieces at a dinner were cotton stalks. If we were deliberately looking for something to be offended by, it would be hard to tell if anything would be any different.

Maybe I had my chance to make some major drama. I am married to an Asian woman, and on two occasions at an amusement park an employee questioned me when I tried to board a ride with my wife and her immediate family. After all, they just assumed that, just because I don’t look like her family, I must not belong with them. What terrible racist people! Really, what could the operators have done? They didn’t have any way of knowing whether I belonged with them or was jumping the line. Still, I could have made it into a racial drama and gotten them in big trouble for nothing more than trying to do their jobs as best they could. Instead, I just laughed about it, and I still think it’s funny.

All of this is not to say that misconceptions and unintentional slights shouldn’t be corrected. St. Ignatius of Loyola is a good guide in this matter. He would tell us to always be ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement. If we can’t, ask the other how he understands it. If the understanding is not good, first correct with kindness before using more forceful means of correction. In other words, correction needs to be done with an assumption of good will rather than making something into a drama by too easily condemning someone as “racist” or “sexist” or “stereotyping.” Only after someone responds in a way that rules out good will can we assume that there is none.

We also need to recognize that we can’t expect everyone to understand everything about any given race, culture, or religion. I’m Catholic, and the number of misconceptions about the Church is huge. Although I love to talk about it and help bring people to understanding, I have to accept that not everyone will understand. It’s not necessarily a form of bigotry or hatred, but instead it can just be a form of ignorance that someone just doesn’t see the need to correct. Often, when people don’t know something, then don’t know that they don’t know it. I can’t imagine the student putting the banana peel in the tree thinking he had better Google that for racist incidents just to be sure. How would that have ever come to mind?

We’d see a much better improvement in any kind of relations if we thought more critically about the things at which we take offense and took some responsibility for our reactions. Some things are objectively offensive, and true hate groups do exist. There’s no question that we need to fight against them. Other things are misconceptions that need to be corrected with charity. Some things are just misconceptions and misunderstandings, and treating them as racist, sexist, or any other kind of bigotry will merely stir up anger which serves no one. If we are continually taking offense, we leave each other walking on eggshells for fear of unintentionally triggering someone and being dragged before a bias incident response team (Yes, they exist on college campuses with who knows what kind of power!). It will become so restrictive that many will give up trying to improve relations.

Category: Catholic, Response, Social Commentary


My Thoughts on the Nashville Statement

  /   Monday, September 04, 2017   /   Comments(0)

By now, many people have heard about the Nashville Statement written by a group of evangelicals known as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The statement is really a well-written and compassionate statement of constant Christian teaching on sexuality. However, there are plenty in the media, including social media, who just won’t have it.

I have read a number of comments and derogatory tweets stating that the statement is “anti-LGBT bigotry.” Some of the objections weren’t particular logical, like the ones stating that it’s 2017. What does the number of the current year have to do with whether the statement is right or wrong? Others criticized the statement simply because it came out during the time of Hurricane Harvey. Yeah, I’m sure the members of this group knew when there was going to be a hurricane and planned to release the statement then. Seriously, I’m doing my regular job in Nashville, so why can’t they? Even the mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry, posted a critical statement on her Twitter account. However, if you know anything about her, that’s not a surprise. She’s a known supporter of Planned Parenthood, and she’s also known for having officiated at the first same sex wedding in Nashville.

However, the statement is hardly a hate-filled denunciation. It states that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sex belongs only in marriage. It states that men and women are different from each other and that those differences are good. They are part of God’s creation, and both sexes are equal in dignity. It recognized the sinfulness of homosexual acts and of trying to act as though one had a different gender from one’s biological sex. However, also recognized is that those who find themselves with some ambiguity in regard to their sex or attracted to members of the same sex are still people loved by God who can live a fruitful life by obedience to Christ rather than identifying oneself with these inclinations and seeking to act on them. Finally, the statement clearly says in the end that no one is beyond the mercy of Christ. There’s nothing in here that hasn’t been proclaimed by the Church for 2000 years, even though some people in our present age wish to deny this.

As a Catholic, I could affirm everything in the Nashville statement. Still, it’s not perfect. There is one minor point that I would like to see worded another way. There is another statement that I would like to see strengthened and a third on which the Nashville statement is silent but shouldn’t be.

Article 2 of the statement says that God’s plan is “chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.” I think I know what they meant, but I don’t like the wording. Chastity is a life long virtue for people in all states of life, not just for unmarried people. It simply means the subjection of one’s sexual desires to right reason. It does not only mean abstinence, though it does for anyone not married. I’ve noticed some Protestant works saying someone intends to remain “sexually pure until marriage,” but they don’t mean that they plan to commit adultery once married. There’s nothing impure about the marital act between a husband and a wife when engaged in properly. Total abstinence ends once one is married, but the practice of chastity does not. It not only encompasses fidelity, but also respect for the physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of one’s spouse.

While Article 1 of the statement does mention that God intends marriage to be a lifelong union, I would have liked a stronger statement against divorce. Specifically, I’d like it to say that “WE DENY that a valid, consummated marriage may be dissolved by anything other than the death of one of the spouses.” However, I do know that many evangelicals do believe in a kind of biblical divorce. Truthfully, there are reasons why one must separate from one’s spouse and even obtain a civil divorce for protection. However, the person is still married to that spouse in the eyes of God and may not seek another during the spouse’s lifetime.

So, what’s the biggest thing missing from the Nashville Statement? It lacks any mention of the necessity of each sexual act being open to life and the sinfulness of and harm caused by contraception. Evangelicals often don’t understand this, but the acceptance of contraception is at least partly responsible for opening the floodgates of the problems in our society today. Allowing deliberate separation of sex from the transmission of life made it possible for people to attempt to redefine its meaning into whatever strikes someone’s fancy. Children became an optional add on to one’s “relationship” and perhaps were even considered a nuisance. It made it much easier for men and women to use each other as objects for one’s own pleasure whether than to give themselves to each other in love. I pray that one day the evangelicals will come to this understanding. When Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae in 1968, he was prophetic in stating what would happen were there widespread acceptance of contraception. He was right!

Still, calling the Nashville Statement some kind of bigotry is just plain nonsense. There’s nothing new in it. It is simply a proclamation of one part of the Gospel that is badly needed in today’s climate of family breakdown.

Category: Catholic, Morality, Response


           



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