Today was a long day.
I watched as one of our students learned the very hard way that actions have consequences. Big consequences. In this case, they will have to find another school. The details are not my to tell, for both personal and professional reasons, other than to say they did serious enough damage to others with their words that it could be called a hate crime. I know, those are incendiary words, and may seem extreme as a label for what might have started out as a middle school prank. But the words were no joke and we, as a faculty, felt it mattered that we take what they did seriously and let the one who was attacked know they were not alone. It is a risky move for a small private school, and one that could have economic repercussions, and it was the right thing to do.
My Documentary Studies class and I finished watching Ghosts of Rwanda, a Frontline documentary produced ten years after the genocide ended in that country. 800,000 Tutsi people were killed by the Hutus, Rwanda’s larger ethnic group, in 100 days. That’s right: 100 days. (You can follow the timeline here.) The rest of the world let it happen. American and European planes came to get their citizens out. The UN pulled most all of their troops out after eight Belgian soldiers were killed. In the aftermath of all that had gone wrong in Somalia, President Clinton explained we would only intervene where we had a specific “national interest.” As with most of Africa, Rwanda didn’t qualify. For all our Holocaust memorials inscribed with “Never Again,” we sat back and watched it happen. I watched footage of State Department officials debating the definition of the word genocide so they could not be painted into a corner to have to act. When it was over, Western diplomats and government officials made their penitent journeys to the sites where so many had been brutally murdered, offered their empty regrets, and gathered around tables at the UN to talk about what they should have done. I have to say, if I were a citizen of most any African nation, I wouldn’t count on anyone showing up when it happens again. Diplomacy is about expediency rather that truth, when it gets right down to it.
As the evening draws to a close, I find myself back at the prayer of confession, and the line about forgiving us for the things we have left undone. Part of me reads those words and wants to take off on a bit of a rant to ask how we as Christians can sit silently while there are still people held without being charged at Guantanamo, while our immigration policy allows for people to be held in prisons without any civil rights or due process, while our government debates the definition of torture much as they did the definition of genocide to cover their actions, while we continue to cut programs to help the poor and hungry in our country while we continue to feed our military appetites. It’s a worthy rant and we need to be speaking up, yet it is not the word for tonight.
Both the middle schooler and the movie remind me, as a straight white Christian American male, that I’m at the top of The Privileged List. I’m the one Western civilization was cut to fit. I’m the one Western Christianity has catered to. And I am called by God to level things out. God loves me and the rest of the straight white guys, but God doesn’t love us more than anyone else. And God calls me and the rest of the straight white guys to incarnate that indiscriminate love in a way that costs us, a way that loosens our grip on power, a way that doesn’t feed on self-interest, a way that goes out to compel everyone to come to the table for the feast.
It’s too raw to say much more.
thank you for this, Milton.