The other day in Sunday School, some members of my class and I were involved in a pretty intense debate. We were discussing how to approach people who engage in sinful lifestyles. There was one camp mostly advocating the ‘grace’ principle; the notion that we should focus less on being judgmental and more on forgiveness. There was another camp more focused on the no-nonsense approach: not skirting around the issue, calling sin what it is, and backing it up with the Word. Needlessly to say, the exchange was quite contentious.
Leave it to your brave and intrepid hero to swoop in and save the day. ;-)
In the midst of the debate, I recalled the famous story in the Bible where Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery. While the Law called for her stoning – and, believe me, there was a crowd ready to exact that punishment – Jesus interceded. He stunned – and eventually humbled – the bloodthirsty mob, displaying the kind of grace only the best kind of person could show in that situation. But the story didn’t end there. After running the mob away, he also admonished the adultress to “Go, and sin no more.” Grace and judgment. You could say Jesus hit her with a “one, two” combo. Before Jesus gave her the option (or, “mandate”, if you prefer) to stop sinning and turn her life around, He had to first earn her attention and her trust. Being the perfect one that He was, He could have easily joined the chorus of folks calling for her head. By all rights, He would’ve been more than qualified to throw the first stone. But instead, He came at her with a spirit of love, concern, and good intention. He strategically got close enough to her to make a real difference in her life.
When this same scenario plays out for most of us, essentially two challenges emerge: 1) the person providing insight to others has to be close enough to those people to actually make an impact, and 2) the folks receiving the insight have to be willing to accept it and apply it to their lives. I’ve already spoken about personal responsibility ad nauseum, so I won’t focus on that part. Instead, I’ll turn my attention to the first half of the aforementioned model: the folks providing the insight. After all, before you can get a person to focus their effort on self-improvement (be it long term or short term), your first assignment is to get close enough to that person to let them know you actually care about them.
Examining that spiritual concept and applying it to – Heaven help me – the political environment, I think this is why conservatives consistently fall on their face with black folks. That’s the precise reason why I had a “SMH” moment the minute I heard ESPN
screaming talking head Stephen A. Smith suggest that black people should start supporting Republicans. If he sincerely believes the principles of Republicanism are for him, you won’t ever hear me knock his hustle. But when it comes to addressing Black folks as a whole and their political allegiances, his rationale hits a brick wall. It’s great to be right (or “right wing”. Whatever.), but if Republicans are truly interested in bringing more black folks to their side, their approach must improve, even if their specific actions don’t. If you think about it, the key advantage Democrats have in securing black support is not that they actually do anything for Black folks. Their advantage is that black folks think Democrats at least care. I mean, how often have you heard the talking point of how Democrat-controlled cities (including my hometown of Flint) are in the dumps? And it’s true. There’s no denying that fact. But that phenomenon also proves that garnering support is not actually about improving the conditions of a collection of people. No sir. It’s about the perception that you care. I think most conservatives – even the ones with good intentions – tend to overlook that very important concept, to their party’s detriment. Consequently black people have almost collectively painted the entire Republican party with the same broad stroke, which creates a voting nightmare with that bloc. Even if large segments of the black community agree with key aspects of the Republican platform (gay marriage immediately comes to mind. But other socially conservative issues are also in that number), that support generally falls short at the polls.
If I was a Republican strategist (I’m available for hire, GOP), I’d push HARD for a more stylized message addressed to the black community. The have to shape their message to suggest inclusion, acceptance, and a genuine appreciation of the plight of black folk. But if you opt instead to spend your time vilifying them, ignoring their concerns, pointing fingers of blame, suppressing their vote, and viciously disrespecting a guy who has become their symbol of hope, it stands to reason that black folk will hate your guts.
Some people will argue that “if you’re right, be boldly right” and try to back that up with sound policy as they believe it (much like the “sin is sin” crowd). They’ll argue that you shouldn’t have to pacify your views or water things down just to accommodate people’s feelings. And that may be true. But realistically, if a person doesn’t trust you and they feel demeaned and attacked by you, they’re likely going to tune out anything you have to say, regardless to how sensible you may think it is. Common sense, people. Common sense. Some Republicans can live with that, especially if their constituents aren’t made up of black voters. But for the rest of the party interested in securing more black support, there is still TONS of work left to be done. It starts with putting your arms around black people instead of pushing them away. Embrace the person first. Then work on their self-improvement.
The “one-two” combo, Jesus style.