Dr. Whitaker Statement on Rioting, Big Lies, and Hope
On rare occasion, I feel it is appropriate to comment to our campus family on current events, for three reasons. This is such an occasion as we are seeing lots of things on social media and in the “news” about what happened in our Capitol last week.
- Unfortunately, modern forms of media don’t offer consistently reliable information. While social media can be (and is) used for good purposes, it is unfortunately responsible for the spread of misinformation and propaganda, and seems to erode the human ability to reason and think through issues. Social media is a sea of information, emotional writings, marketing, and promotional material which one must carefully research to determine what is fact, fiction, or mind-bending propaganda. Moreover, today’s corporate media outlets, as a whole, seem to offer far too many opinion pieces and sound bites designed to influence our thinking, and not nearly enough disclosure of unbiased facts on which we may form opinions for ourselves.
- Second, even though I rarely teach in the classroom these days, I am at my core an educator. I want to encourage and mentor students to think critically about issues based on hard analysis of established facts as opposed to hearsay, to be humble enough to admit if and when we later discover that we reached a flawed conclusion or wronged another person, be committed to the unending pursuit of truth, and dedicated to the ideals of civility.
- Third, in a time of unrest, people find it helpful to know how those who govern and administer the University think or feel about divisive issues. This is an opportunity to be clear.
Thus, I offer the following thoughts for reflection and consideration.
Throughout the course of modern history, few moments have been as politically charged and divisive as the current national climate.
The Riotous Attack on the U. S. Congress
Like so many of you, I was appalled at the wanton display of destruction and violence by those individuals who attacked the seat of our government last Wednesday. Whether one supports or does not support President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, the actions of those who attacked their fellow citizens and our institutions of government were unconscionable.
We enjoy seemingly unparalleled freedom in America to effect change and hold our representatives in government accountable. So many of our citizens on the two polar extremes of ideological politics have forgotten that our unparalleled freedoms do not exempt us from judgment and accountability ourselves.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing in 1919, observed that we are not free to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. Likewise, under our Federal Constitution, no one has the right to storm into our seat of government with violence as a means of redress.
Whether in Washington or anywhere, rioting and violence and destruction and taking property hostage go far beyond peaceful demonstration . . . all the way to barbarism. These behaviors are not lawful and have long been rejected with outrage by peaceful, law-abiding citizens.
Are we to become a nation of anarchy? I pray not, but we are headed in that direction if citizens and public officials don’t reject this kind of disregard for the rule of law.
Two Huge Lies that take us Backward, not Forward
Recently, someone said approximately this:
Two huge lies are being forced on American society by those who wish to tear our nation apart.
The first is that if you disagree with someone, you must fear or hate them.
The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they do or believe.
Both are nonsense! We can be civil and compassionate without compromising our convictions.
I agree. These two big lies are driving people to act irrationally and violently (sometimes against their own family members) in ways we’ve rarely seen in our nation. They highjack our cherished civility and public order to sow seeds of division and accomplish their goals no matter the means or the repercussions. These two lies don’t help our society seek solutions to human challenges. They only fracture and divide. We must fight against this kind of national manipulation by those who promote this kind of thinking.
While politicians are responsible for their words and their actions and should be held accountable for them at the ballot box and through other legitimate means, the offices they hold and the roles they play must be respected in a free republic no matter the political ideology of the person who occupies the office at the time. This is the American way, a long-held cherished ideal. The men and women we elect to carry out the will of the people through public policy and political discourse are fundamentally critical to democracy. They need our critique, but the offices they hold also deserve our respect.
Unfortunately, too many elected officials and government bureaucrats have forgotten to exercise civility themselves. They are all too often at one another’s throats in disrespectful and vicious ways. In doing so, they provide the wrong example for people of all ages and all nations. This was not the predominant polity of American government 20 years ago. It’s a recent development - one that’s happened largely in the lifetime of our freshmen students.
This will not change as long as we think that anyone, regardless of their politics, is justified in being uncivil.
And yet, government and politics are not where we find our real hope.
It All Matters, but Nothing So Much as Christ
AU is a Christian academic community/family. While not all of our individual family members are Christians, it will not be a surprise that I remind you that I believe our ultimate hope is in Christ!
Not in political ideology or elected officials! It is in Jesus Christ - He who holds tomorrow, who is our savior, who is our king.
If, like me, you believe that, then we are called to “borrow” his eyes and follow his example by loving one another, regardless of our differences. We are called to subordinate our temporal passions to the hope of eternal unity in Christ.
In the hours before his crucifixion, Jesus had one last lesson for his disciples and, by extension, for us.
A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-25)
To be fair, policy and politics matter. The issues raised in this and other elections are important. They have serious repercussions for good and ill. You are to be commended for your passion and applauded for exercising your rights as United States citizens, no matter the candidate for whom you voted.
Jesus’s last words before allowing himself to be led to death was a prayer for us as believers. Imagine that: Jesus, standing in the face of excruciating torment, aware of the impending betrayal of his friends, and defying the power of Rome, took time to pray for you and me. That’s altogether astonishingly and amazingly mind-altering!
This “high priestly prayer” is our example and guide, now and forever. There are no better words to share in conclusion to this important message to you, my cherished Anderson University family:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one. (John 17:20-22)