Archive for June 2018

The Table, Civility, and Privilege

June 26, 2018

This week, our culture has engaged folks around the idea of civility and how we talk to one another.

This all started when people who work within the Trump Administration started being confronted in public spaces. Most notably, Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders were all either heckled by patrons in a restaurant or asked to leave. After these actions, Congresswoman Maxine Waters called for normal people to continue confronting Trump officials when they see them in public.

After this, moderates and conservatives alike called all of these actions and statements reprehensible and an end to civility. There were even times when moderates said times during the Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests were more civil. Which, of course, is absolutely untrue. If you think they were, feel free to ask Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, Allison B. Krause, William Knox Schroeder, or Sandra Lee Scheuer what they think of the civility. In case you missed the point of that sentence, John Lewis is the only one alive in that list. He has scars to show you regarding the civility of the era, though.

I have two main points to make here:

First, the right is trying to redefine and claim, “civility,” for their own. Despite President Trump calling for protestors to incite violence and the rest of the right ignoring it, they believe these actions of protestors and Waters are dangerous. This recent use of the word, “civility,” is an attempt to dominate a narrative they do not own. It is an attempt to silence and erase legitimate protests and demands. It is another straw-man argument put forward by those who are seeking to dominate the oppressed. The right does not own the term and should not be allowed to dominate the language around it now.

Secondly, in the Bible, Christ gives us direction in how to engage in arguments and confront one another. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus tells us to talk to others first, then to bring in witnesses and then the church council(s). If all of those fail, Christ tells the audience to, “… treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector,” (v17, CEB). If the steps do not work, we are given permission to end the relationship. After all, if the other will not listen, how can a healthy relationship be obtained? Christ goes on to say, “I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven,” (v. 18, CEB). In other words, Christ tells us to engage in all the steps earnestly and faithfully before giving up and exiling the other from a relationship.

We are charged to engage. We are charged to try. What we need to realize is oppressed people have been trying all of the steps for decades, centuries, and millennia. In almost every instance, people of color, LGBTQ+ persons, and all other marginalized communities have invited others to the table over and over again. And every time, it is the oppressors who ignore all the steps and leave the table. After going through the steps over and over again, sometimes, these marginalized communities have permission to leave the table themselves. They also have permission to not invite the oppressor to the table, after thousands and millions of attempts have failed in the past. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

However, Maxine Waters was not calling for disengagement. And the protestors in the restaurants were not disengaging Miller or Nielsen. As a matter of fact, they were engaging, albeit loudly. As far as the Red Hen goes, the owner of the restaurant asked the staff, composed of LGBTQ+ persons, immigrants, and black persons, whether or not they wanted Sarah Huckabee Sanders there. The staff responded they did not feel safe with her there. In other words, they did not feel they could engage her any more, after so many failed attempts. It was painfully clear our president’s Press Secretary has no intention of listening to the oppressed anymore.

Yes, we are called to engage people at the table. Yes, we are called, as Christians, to focus on loving our neighbors, in both easy and difficult times. We are called to be kingdom seekers and engagers. It is our call and duty.

At the same time, we must recognize our privilege. We (white and/or privileged persons) cannot blame someone, who is oppressed or on the side of the oppressed, when they choose to disengage. It is their right, after so many attempts at communication, to disengage in order to keep themselves safe and healthy. We need to keep that in mind when reacting to how the oppressed persons in our society react to their oppressors. We have no right to silence them or call them, “uncivil.”