There's No Debate: Good People Aren't Good Enough
Last week I felt called to put my heart on digital paper in what became a post called “Racism won’t die in 2020”, and thanks to the encouragement and support of trusted friends and loved ones - I found the courage to publish it and be overwhelmed by the resounding response from thousands of people who took the time to read it and take it to heart. Those that know me know I’m also a man of faith, and it’s been put on my heart to step forward in faith again and share my thoughts with those willing and open to read… seeking to understand.
It is because I am a man of faith, that I have included both scripture and history of Christianity in this piece. I fully acknowledge that my faith has shaped the way that I process what is happening in the world. And, while written from this viewpoint, I want to clearly and emphatically say I truly believe there’s real meat in this message for all who simply self-identify as good people. For good people reading this who are not Christians, I hope you can continue on and enjoy what I believe to be words of wisdom that also happen to be based in the Bible.
For far too long, good people just haven’t been good enough. While this is arguably already a “trending idea” in the public sphere, please indulge me just for a bit and walk down some of my own thought trails with me on the subject.
Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, and for the rights of those who are left without help. Open your mouth. Be right and fair in what you decide. Stand up for the rights of those who are suffering and in need. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Years ago a man shared with me something I thought was phenomenally interesting about Christians in the earliest days of Christ’s movement. As he put it - original Christians were… savages. Not just good people… not just kind to others… not just thoughts and prayers… Christians were selfless savages for Christ, and therefore savage champions for justice and truth. These women and men ran straight into seemingly sure death by means of lion den, fiery furnace, and crucifixion for their beliefs. These aren’t just Bible tales. These are historically accurate events. Thousands of Christians died for their cause, and in the 300 years post-Christ’s crucifixion Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. “Mission work” wasn’t just a fun name people made up for philanthropically themed mini-vacations… these people went out to die for a message they believed in.
Christian or not, as good people - who are we kidding when we quietly shrug and convince ourselves that just being a good person and not actively moving against evil is enough? To my fellow Christians out there yelling “All Lives Matter”... yes… they do. Sure... you can get extra credit for answering a question not on the test if you really want… but what do you think Proverbs 31 is saying about what we’re called to do when we’re in a better position to influence change than those being crushed by the knees of their oppressors?
I’m an American, and proudly so. Christian, Muslim, Atheist or otherwise, many of you reading this can likely say the same. While I firmly stand behind and believe one of the most powerful tenants on which this nation is built on is religious freedom - I am a Christian. And, seemingly fortunate for me, for the entire history of this nation we’ve been predominantly Christian as well. Christian or not, though, I think all Americans can unanimously agree that we’re proud of our American values… which basically say we’re predominantly good people (please correct me if I’m wrong on that one).
That being said… let’s talk brass tacks…
How is it that people have been marginalized, oppressed, and made to brutally suffer at the hands of others, en masse, in a nation where we’re predominantly… good? I’m not talking about one bully here or there, or a bad apple once in a blue moon.
I’m talking about… slavery. Rapes. Murders. Beatings. Lynchings. Hundreds of years. Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people.
Ironically enough, roughly 200 years and a month ago (really), founding father and 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, said it best in one of his letters to John Holmes on the topic of the emancipation of slaves…
“We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.
Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”
Don’t miss this.
“Justice... is in one scale, and self-preservation... is in the other.”
Growing up in Indiana, my school and community was predominantly white. As I mentioned in my last post, I have the honor and pleasure of calling many white people friends and loved ones… brothers and sisters. It used to come up all the time, whenever there was some new topical injustice against black people, how not all white people owned slaves. Not all white people were / are racist. “My ancestors never had a plantation or anything…” But as we hear the shouts of the anti-racist movement today, I want to call out here that… the fact alone that your ancestors didn’t own slaves, or weren’t actively racist, never. actually. helped. black. people.
Here’s the deal.
The reason all these terrible things happen against minorities is that most Christians, most Americans, most good people have historically tipped their scales to self-preservation, over justice.
Today, all we can speak to and be responsible for is… well, us. And, what I think is fascinating to play with, is that self-preservation as an American is honestly kind of a ridiculous idea. Nearly all Americans fall in the top 10% of the world from a wealth perspective. On a global perspective, nearly 30% of the world’s wealth is held by Americans. When polled, most Americans thought the average annual earnings outside the U.S. were about $20,000… but in reality it’s more like $2,100. No worries, we’re just off by one zero.
So… when do you start asking yourself, just as one person in all this, “When do I hold myself to a standard of actively supporting, promoting, and voting for justice over self-preservation?”
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled…
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy…
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God…
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God…
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:6-10)
Good people, defaulting to apathy, passiveness, self-preservation… isn’t good enough.
In closing - I’d like to briefly address what I know is a key discussion in today’s argument about justice.
I want to stand firmly here and declare that we should be forever grateful for the women and men who’ve made it their life’s work to uphold the law and serve and protect us lawfully and fairly. I want to continue by acknowledging that it is true that a few bad cops don’t make all cops bad, in the same way a few black criminals don’t make all black people criminals. I want to make a clear distinction here, though, for those of us that think this is actually a fair comparison.
No one hires us to be black.
No one fills out an application to get to be black.
No one goes through government approved training to be black.
No one sets standards, upholds them, and holds us accountable in order to continue to be black.
You can’t fire someone from being black.
Police on the other hand must apply, go through training that is deemed sufficient by those responsible for maintaining justice, must be held to a standard of excellence to continue to wear the badge, and when they’re behavior is unacceptable - should be given consequences just like (if not more than) any other person.
You can’t compare “a few bad cops” to “a few bad black people.”
And, just like good yet passive people aren’t good enough, good yet passive police officers - who can’t be counted on to hold their brothers and sisters in uniform accountable - aren’t good enough.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind... (Romans 12:2)
We don’t need good people, we need champions for justice.
We don’t need good people, we need protectors of the oppressed.
We don’t need good police officers, we need accountability among our police.
Whether you’re white or black… police or bystander… history tells us there is no debate here. If you want to play a role in the end of systemic racism in America, just being a good person, isn’t good enough.
Stand for justice.
Speak for justice.
Vote for justice.
Maybe let self-preservation sit this one out…
In case you missed it… check out my previous post - “Racism won’t die in 2020”