Yesterday, my son took a knee during the National Anthem at his high school graduation. As valedictorian of his class, he did so while onstage in front of several thousand people. He knows that Black Lives Matter and chose to express solidarity with the movement. Although I admire his academic accomplishments, I’m more proud that he demonstrated the courage to express his convictions.
It’s high time that I demonstrate some conviction of my own on this platform. At the risk of saying nothing of significance, I humbly share these thoughts with whomever cares.
I define myself as a son, brother, husband, dad, student, teacher, artist and human. I am a Christian, although I chafe at what that has come to mean in our polarized world. I have been a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (and predecessor) for my entire life. I have been a professor at an ELCA university for 22 years, and am an alumnus of that same institution. I value love, inquiry, truth, reason, compassion, equality, diversity, creation and collaboration. Despite my human imperfections, I attempt (as best I can) to model those qualities with those I know and encounter. I have been blessed to know all of the friends who may read this—including hundreds of students. You have helped shape me, and for that I am grateful.
But as a white male, I have been privileged. Despite that privilege, or perhaps because of it, it is incumbent upon me to be vocal when others suffer because of hatred— whether they be the targets of racism, sexism, ageism, misogyny, abuse, or any number of other brutalities and indignities that humans perpetuate on each other.
Thus, the events of the past few years (and recent days in particular) have disturbed me to my core. Despite my stoic heritage (Midwestern, Scandinavian) and desire to remain above the fray, silence is no longer an option. Near the end of this post, I’ll share a statement of some important personal beliefs and values.
However, I also believe that social media, or any mediated communication, is an imperfect forum for dialogue. In spite of the positive ways it has brought people together, it has also served as a platform for hatred, disinformation, psychological manipulation, division and radicalization. It’s one of many reasons that I resist posting about the causes that concern me. Though I appreciate heart-warming pet videos or friendly life updates like the rest of the world, I have refused to engage in an endless loop of digital banter about those causes and policy matters that are truly important to me. Social media, which may be perfect for diversion and serving as an echo chamber for our own interests, is compromised by the lack of non-verbal cues, body language, and immediate real-time feedback that deep communication requires. If I can’t engage with someone in a personal, authentic, immediate, and intensive way, there is far too much risk for misunderstanding and the perpetuation of division. Human communication is difficult enough even when we’re in the same room. It becomes even more compromised if we rely disproportionately on text, media-bytes, emojis and like buttons—all of which can be manipulated to achieve nefarious ends. If I can’t be with you, I can’t fully understand you. If you can’t be with me, you can’t fully understand me.
But again, silence is not currently an option.
What we need right now is true dialogue that leads to action and change. That dialogue will require people of different viewpoints, faiths, creeds, races, sexual orientations, and identities to come together. With humility. With empathy. With compassion. With the goal of listening first, hearing without judgement, and speaking only if it moves us closer towards reconciliation and understanding. It will also require us to collectively seek truth, even if that truth runs counter to our biases and beliefs.
In the current incarnations, I feel that most (if not all) social media platforms are incapable or unwilling to be a responsible part of that dialogue—preferring to create amoral platforms that are compromised by design. Facebook, for example, has a long and notorious history for turning a blind eye to falsehoods and misleading content, preferring not to alienate any users or lose any potential revenue streams. Twitter is rampant with automated bots and paid trolls that sow discord and amplify agendas that seek to divide us. YouTube has empowered and democratized personalized content creation, but has also provided powerful tools to malicious extremists. Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, etc. (and platforms not yet created) all face similar problems. In these cases, corporate and governmental policy has been slow to address the ways in which unethical agents have used these platforms as weapons against humanity and civility. Though I understand some of the many complexities of this matter, including the profit motive and protections to free speech, it is maddening to witness the destruction and mistrust that has resulted. On a personal level, it has consumed precious time that would be better spent with my own family, or on pursuits that fill my spirit.
So how do I give voice to my concerns, while despising elements of the very platforms that provide me with the opportunity to write this post? How do I engage in dialogue with those who are willing, without relying upon the imperfect and often damaging tools of social media? I don’t have the answers. I do, however, know what is right for me at this moment in time. Specifically, it is right for me to speak with clarity about what I value and believe. I will continue to give voice to the human experience through my art, through my vocation, through my faith life, and through my relationships. It is also right that I minimize my use of any platform that prevents effective dialogue and reconciliation. Thus, this note will serve as a personal creed of sorts, while also serving as a “pinned” post (and perhaps a parting shot)—at least for the time being. And despite my fondness for those whom I have met and known over the years, I don’t intend to engage with you via social media about any of the following. If you wish to engage with me, I invite you into a personal and direct dialogue.
With all of this, I give voice to the following.
My faith asserts that all humans are made in the image of God, and that all creation is good. It proclaims that we are to love and serve one another. End stop. In part, because of this faith, along with a worldview that has been nurtured by parents, relatives, my wife and children, mentors, friends, and all whom I’ve encountered in life, I believe:
Black lives matter.
Police brutality is cancerous and must be eliminated.
Bad cops should be removed from office and held accountable. Good cops should support this effort.
Systemic racism and white supremacy are repugnant.
Our criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color.
The need for justice in relation to the above is paramount at this time, but by no means the only concern that requires our attention. In addition…
Anti-semitism is abhorrent.
Religious convictions are not a defense for persecution of the other.
Immigrants are humans. Humans are not illegal.
Children do not belong in cages, or separated from their families.
LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.
Misogyny, sexism, sexual abuse, and harassment ruin lives.
Gun violence is an epidemic and public health crisis.
Severe economic inequality and greed are immoral and unjust.
Poverty, hunger, and homelessness are failures of policy and moral conviction.
Climate change is real and a threat to our existence.
A culture of perpetual war has numbed and desensitized our conscience, while placing unfair burdens on the members and families of our armed services.
The biblical concept of dominion demands our care for creation, not our abuse of it.
Environmental degradation dishonors all of creation, including life for future generations.
Science and reason are not threats to my faith. They enhance it.
Fascism and authoritarianism must always be resisted and defeated.
Voter repression is anti-democratic.
There are many paths to righteousness, both religious and secular.
I appreciate and am enriched by people from faith traditions other than my own.
I appreciate and am enriched by people who reject faith.
Diversity is a gift of creation. It is also a natural result of evolution.
Healthcare is a right that should be accessible and afforded to all.
Women should have control of their own bodies and reproductive health.
Pro choice does not equate to being pro abortion.
Partisan absolutism is poisonous.
God doesn’t favor a political party.
Anti-intellectualism has damaged civic education and discourse.
Access to education should be affordable and equitable.
It’s an incomplete (yet overwhelming) list. It demands our collective engagement and will. Should you disagree, know that nothing you say on social media is likely to change my mind. Perhaps nothing I’ve said is likely to change yours. But now I’ve said it, and am open to the real dialogue/action that I believe is needed. Feel free to be in touch-- in person.
Wishing you love, peace, and justice.