Bearing false witness reached a fever pitch immediately following the jury acquittal of George Zimmerman.
One side charged that the “New South” was nothing more than the “Old South,” as if nothing had changed in the last 50 years. The Florida court verdict was dismissed as “Old South justice,” perhaps a reference to a time without court proceedings.
“Color will get you killed,” claimed one commentator. A congressman suggested that the verdict apparently justified “the stalking and killing of innocent black boys.”
The other side blamed President Obama for not having eliminated “race tensions,” for failing to usher in a “post-racial” America, as if he bore all responsibility for social wrong in the land and was a shaman of social justice.
His administration was charged with having politicized the criminal justice system. Civil rights advocates were accused of “race baiting.” African-American leaders were condemned of being unconcerned about “black-on-black” crime.
An abundance of anger flowed. NFL stars tweeted hate and then apologized. Some peaceful protests turned violent as if breaking windows in Los Angeles would bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. A liberal white minister suggested that white people needed to listen to black people, as if only one racial group required learning from the other.
Bearing false witness might be profitable for TV ratings and leveraging organizational media coverage.
But bearing false witness against Trayvon, George, white southerners, Obama, and African-American leaders does nothing to enhance the conversation about race in America that everybody claims they want.
In fact, inflammatory rhetoric only makes a reasonable conversation on race next to impossible.
No doubt, cable TV talk shows deserve some credit for provoking incendiary talk.
And no doubt, the pervasive ideology that sees one’s own group as morally righteous and the other as morally flawed makes it much easier to bear false witness, to blame the other while seeing one’s self as blameless.
Self-righteous moral purity runs counter to the biblical narrative that all human beings are sinful. Human beings are sinful regardless of their skin pigmentation.
Emmanuel McCall captured this truth about human nature in our documentary on Baptists and racism when he said that beneath the skin we’re all the same.
“God has made us one. We may look differently. Culture makes us respond differently. But as a mortician friend of mine says, ‘When you cut beneath the skin, it’s all the same,'” said McCall in “Beneath the Skin.”
Now the interim pastor of the historic Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta and a former Baptist Center for Ethics board member, McCall has worked longer, harder and with more patience than most everyone else.
He enrolled at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the late 1950s as the only African-American student and was on campus when Martin Luther King Jr. was invited to preach in chapel in 1961.
He has steadfastly worked in the vineyard of the Baptist South decade after decade. Given his tenure, he surely knows what he is talking about when he speaks to human nature.
Would we all recognize our own personal and social contribution to the racial divide, perhaps then we could have a real conversation about race.
EthicsDaily.com has posted a cornucopia of columns dealing with race, maybe with too little effect for the common good.
Yet I believe that “Beneath the Skin” is a historically insightful, biblically faithful and practical resource that can help congregations peel back this issue in constructive ways.
If we are going to have a conversation in congregations, then no better teaching tool exists.
Let’s tone down the rhetoric and turn on the DVD players in churches.
“Beneath the Skin” will not turn off the false witness on cable TV. It will equip Christians with a better way to see and to witness in a culture that relishes a false witness that drives so much racial animosity.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.