Dissenting Opinions on “A Teachable Moment” Part I: “Not My Lesson to Teach” by Shanelle Little

Dissenting Opinions on “A Teachable Moment” Part I: “Not My Lesson to Teach” by Shanelle Little March 19, 2015

To say that I have been surprised by the response to last week’s blog is an understatement. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that it would spark the conversation and controversy that it did. While a number of readers from across the United States and around the world (still amazing) voiced their appreciation for my views–I did hear the voices of those who believed I totally missed the point (some of those letters were like getting my teaching evaluations early–ouch!).

Since I believe we all benefit from rigorous civil discourse, I invited two of my readers to voice their dissent on the View from Dixon Hall this week. Their blogs will appear today and tomorrow–unedited and straight no chaser. I will read, think, and respond next week. 

First up…from Montana is Shanelle Little. Her bio appears at the end of the blog. 

I’m not really much of a blogger. I’ve tried a million times but I tend to favor the back and forth conversations of a medium like twitter than blogging where you have to consolidate your thoughts into a paragraph and let the commenters take over. So when I tweeted Maria Dixon last week, I really didn’t expect to be offered a response space on her blog. So here it comes: This week in the USA: a group of men sang they’d rather Torture and Murder fellow African Americans students (actually the African American race) than let them attempt to join their college social club. I mean, isn’t that what this boils down to. They would rather torture and murder than let them join a SOCIAL CLUB. When Maria wrote her blog, this is what stuck out to me: “No one enjoys being called the N-word.” It is an awful word, and one that should NOT be used by civilized people. No one enjoys being called a name. But. This is NOT the reason those young men were expelled. And it is not the reason I am livid at the way these youth behaved. They were expelled for making other students feel like their safe space was violated, they were joyfully singing (to ”If You’re Happy And You Know It”, no less) about taking a human being and pulling them up by a rope until they slowly suffocate. It is a horrific way to die. If we shouldn’t be outraged over it, when should we be outraged.? I can assure you, I’ve said many things some racist, some accidentally bigoted, but I’ve never ever sang songs about burning people alive, drowning them, torture and the like. Thousands of University of Oklahoma students protested both the frat and the celebrated pockets of hatred at OU and this is the biggest area Maria and I differ: You can’t expect the Dean of Students to treat violent, racist, unrepentant students the way a pastor would treat repentant congregants. Those two are not equal assumptions or even equal jobs. The expectations of behavior for how a Dean of Students or President of a Public Institution should treat students who break policy is not the same as the expectations of behavior for how a pastor responds to a congregant. The Dean has a responsibility to protect ALL of those under his care and that includes making school a safe space for black students. The University of Oklahoma should prioritize the needs of victims vs the needs of the oppressors and shouldn’t be expected (as a secular University) to provide life transformation. There is no biblical evidence for forcing secular non-Christians do the work of Christ followers. We, as Christians, should probably stop expecting that. How can we expect organizations that do not hold that ONLY Jesus changes hearts/minds if we are anticipating that secular orgs will do the life transformation for us? What is at the center of such “transformation” how would it sustains itself. Christianity is radical because it is a complete reliance on Jesus, you can’t earn or work your way into salvation or life change. If Maria were speaking to the pastors of these “poor boys”, then I would agree, yes, their pastors need to accept them with open arms and try to help them understand how their behavior has been forgiven by God. IF….and it’s a big IF… they were repentant in the first place—the apology and blames and victimization that came with their apology didn’t lead me to believe they are repentant at all. Participating in oppression doesn’t make someone a victim. It makes someone an oppressor. I agree racism is a heart issue but why is the expectation that the victims have somehow fix their oppressors. The suggestion that this poor cook who has lost his job has to sit there and explain how their “song” hurts him is particularly galling. If he chose to chat with these young men, that’s his choice. But the suggestion President Boren to force black men/women/students to take on the role of teaching these boys that racism is bad… should we really assume that these young men made it through their entire childhood/young adulthood, and no one taught them that singing love songs about torture isn’t ok? Is that really their problem? That they don’t know they shouldn’t be racists? I understand these men are facing some deep consequences for their actions, probably ones they never conceived when they started clapping and singing along and even now I believe that grace is given freely to them by Jesus. But grace is cheap if it is used as a get out of jail free card to buffer you from consequences and to let you go merrily on your way— God promises forgiveness and grace. He promises that the blood of Jesus covers even the worst of us protecting us from spiritual death and allowing us to share in the inheritance of heaven but he never promises to make sure you don’t face the real-life consequences of your actions as soon as you say “I’m sorry.” The process of transformation that we celebrate in theology is not an absence from consequences. In fact, the Bible is pretty clear that we should not shy away from suffering, and should instead use that suffering to produce in ourselves the fruit of the gospel. It is an error to assume that love means leniency. Protecting these young men from suffering is not going to produce the fruit of the gospel in them. All it will serve to do is to reinforce what they have been taught their whole life: sure, it’s not politically correct to be a racist, but when it comes down to it, there are no consequences to racism, so why not just keep singing our songs. We in the church must not abandon these men but OU has no obligation to ignore the safety of other students. These men lost the option of studying at OU, happily there are over 2000 other Colleges and Universities in the US where they can take stock of how they treated others and make the life transformation Maria (and we all) would like for them.

Bio: Shanelle Little loves motherhood and reading and discussing books and live-tweeting TV. She’s also a big advocate of wine. She works full-time and lives in Montana. To live-tweet TV or chat with her, go to @shanellelittle.

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