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.