@sista_theology it's quite the double standard bc our "leaders" pasts are full of sin. Maybe another privilege.— Mathew B. Sims ن (@MathewBryanSims) August 21, 2015
#BlackLivesMatter has a transcendent referent that is unshakeable and that is the imago Dei God imputed to all men--including black people.— Ekemini Uwan (@sista_theology) August 21, 2015
In late August, no small kerfuffle ensued because Black Lives Matter activists Shaun King was accused of lying about his ethnicity and co-opting blackness for personal gain. This situation along with Ekemini Uwan’s tweets (above) started me thinking. Why doesn’t our black family receive the privilege of being sinners without it discrediting an entire group of people?
The accusations leveled against Shaun forced him to share painful family history to set the record straight. I love my mom and my gut hurt that his mother’s past indiscretions were drudged up. However, the Shaun King scandal highlights a common tactic used against black leaders and their movements—attacking the character, morality, or actions to discredit a black social concerns. For that short window when the slander might have been true, Shaun’s personal failure immediately was presumed to hurt the Black Lives Matter movement even if everything they had been fighting against was just and right (whether it is or isn’t is a topic for another day).
Who Among Us Could Stand?
On Twitter, the notable Dr. O. Alan Noble from Christ and Pop Culture shared this article, “Martin Luther King’s hate mail eerily resembles criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement” in response to presidential candidate Mike Huckabee who stated,
“When I hear people scream, ‘black lives matter,’ I think, of course they do. … But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another,” Huckabee said. “That’s the whole message that Dr. King tried to present, and I think he’d be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.”
I’m not equating Shaun King and Dr. King—not by a long shot—but this kind of response to Black Lives Matters demonstrate, first, that we know far less about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. than we might think and, second, that being a white leader provides a certain privilege—a point Huckabee doesn’t see. For example, even the highly respected Dr. King is not beyond attack. When he’s discussed in some quarters, they gleefully remind us that he cheated on his university school work and his wife. Many use his failures as a way to undercut what the Civil Rights Movement sought to achieve.
Christians, if this tactic was used against us, who among us could stand? In the name of Christ—blasphemously I note—people have started wars, killed others, raped women and children, and enslaved ethnic groups. The grand narrative of Scripture is filled with murderers (Moses, David, and Paul), liars (Abrahams), fornicators (Samson, David, and Solomon), and all manner of sinners. However, what we as white Christians are afforded that our black family isn’t is the status of simul justus et peccator—without it discrediting our entire movement, faith tradition, or race.
Josh Duggar and the Benefit of Forgiveness
By now most of you have heard about Josh Duggars’ gross immorality. He molested four young girls as a teenager and more recently was caught with an Ashley Madison account where by all accounts he had several extra-marital trysts. I’m not piling on to create more hurt for his family. My heart hurts deeply for his wife and their children. But consider the narrative after the first revelation of sin. For the most part, white religious folks were ready to forgive and forget his sin. Mike Huckabee quickly defended him. Chad Bird and Daniel Emery Price said we shouldn’t be surprised and we’re all Josh Duggar in our hearts. Matt Walsh pointed out that Christians sin big sometimes and progressives are hypocrites, not Josh Duggar (it should be noted Walsh later stated he regretted defending Josh Duggar). Josh was afforded something Shaun was not—the benefit of the doubt by white Christians. For the most part, Josh’s actions didn’t reflect poorly on white Christians as a whole. They were his sins. Receiving this kind of gracious response is part of white privilege.
Do you see the disconnect? Shaun King is accused of wrongdoing and it’s immediately viewed as a slight against blackness and against the injustices that black people experience. And as I mentioned earlier, the jabs at Martin Luther King Jr. are often thrown for the same reason. His cheating is presumed to make his resounding calls for justice and his eloquent pleas for equality less true. They are presumed stains against blackness and invalidate the justice demanded by our black family.
This same privilege can be viewed in our handling of church history luminaries as well. Martin Luther, powered keg of the Protestant Reformation, was sharp with his words (to put it mildly) and was also a racist. He said things about the Jews that would get him disciplined out of many churches today. Yet as a whole the Reformation tradition quotes him favorably in other areas and his massive and gross sins aren’t held against the denominations that grew out his theology.
Also, many in my faith tradition love the southern Presbyterians of old. However, most of these Christians condoned slavery on “biblical grounds.” However, we are more than willing to see this as a sin, but not in a way that discredits their “good” theology and status within our tradition.
You Can’t See What You Can’t See
I’ve heard it said, “You can’t see what you can’t see.” That’s one of way saying that if you haven’t experienced something you will have a hard time seeing it. Can we be humble enough to admit that? Being white, it’s been our privilege for the most part to have a positive experience with law enforcement and the government. It’s been our privilege to follow leaders who were allowed to be sinners without becoming a blot on all of us. We love a good comeback story. It’s been our privilege to be white without having to think about what that really means.
Our African American brothers and sisters are sharing their experience with us and it’s vastly different. Interpreting their experiences through our personal experiences as a white person is pride. Let’s hear and listen. Let’s understand how hundreds of years of injustice at the hands of law enforcement and the government might ruin trust, faith, and goodwill. And can you blame them? Should that be surprising?
How would you respond to a woman who has spent twenty years in an abusive marriage? Would you chide her for being hurt? Would you demand she immediately trust and have faith in the goodwill of her former husband in all their future interactions? We need to be less like Job’s friends who had their theological t’s crossed and i’s dotted, but were poor company for the hurting and more like Jesus who wept for those who were hurting and responded with gracious wisdom whether that meant silently listening, responding with just the right words, or baptizing them with compassion. Let’s allow our black family to be simul justus et peccator.
Mathew B. Sims authored A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes, We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechism for Worship (coming Oct 2015) and contributed in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the project manager for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Mathew offers freelance editing, book formatting, and cover design services. He is a member of Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.