I don’t think there’s anyone better to explain to Rod Dreher where he went wrong in his recent posts about the death of George Floyd than Rod Dreher. When I wrote to him (Update #8 in that linked post), I said that it felt like parts of his blog weren’t speaking to each other.

He wrote with a righteous anger on the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery and on the way some parts of his hometown culture were tainted by a legacy of racism. But then, in his post on George Floyd, he wrote as though he hadn’t seen his own pieces and couldn’t understand why there might be a racial bias in how the police approached an uncooperative Black suspect. In the conversation that followed, he uncritically shared a commenter’s speculations that when Floyd said he’d “been hoopin’” that this was an obscure bit of slang related to smuggling drugs anally, rather than the much more intuitive meaning: playing basketball. These posts didn’t treat Floyd with the dignity he deserved, and they didn’t engage with the weight of racism in America.

In his next post on the topic, Dreher framed his blog as a space for free inquiry, mentioning that many of his correspondents felt they could not discuss the topic under their real names, since they would face professional and personal repercussions for questioning the narrative of Floyd’s death. Making that space is important to him, for as his forthcoming book, Live Not By Lies, argues, limiting the ability to ask questions is a way of propping up propaganda.

Not all questions are framed in good faith, however. Being faithful to the truth requires more than simply creating an open space for all comers. And it is possible to tell nothing but the truth and still mislead your reader.

Fragments of the truth, disconnected from the whole, build up a misleading picture of the world. Dreher’s blog chronicles all the indignities that his readers have suffered at the hands of diversity and inclusion initiatives—some of which are genuinely wrongheaded. But, in the short format of a blog, he excoriates these projects without always reminding his reader that a better version of these initiatives is needed.

The most serious danger Woke Capital poses isn’t to the people forced to adopt nonsensical cant or take implicit bias tests that have no proven relationship to real racial bias. The real danger is that these corporations and spokespeople redirect activist energy to stupid causes while letting real injustices persist.

Think of the realtors who pledge to eliminate “master bedroom” from their listings when the real problem is that realtors are still refusing to show houses to Black, Asian, and Hispanic customers. (Kudos to Newsday for carrying out a three-year investigation to substantiate what many Long Island homebuyers had suspected).

The faddish and foolish solutions proffered in lieu of real reform mirror the way that minority communities are simultaneously both over- and under-policed. Minority communities don’t get the help they deserve and are instead offered something worse than neglect. There is a double injustice, as when the wrong person is sent to jail for a crime. There is an injustice to the person falsely condemned, as well as an injustice to the whole community, who have been denied justice for the original offence.

Where should Christians be in this struggle? As the prophet Amos tells us, we must “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream,” (Amos 5:24). We aren’t called to carp on the sidelines about tactics, but to involve ourselves directly. If we have fraternal corrections to offer, they can only come after we’ve lived as a brother to our neighbor.

Dreher has pointed his readers to admirable examples of that fearless, open-handed love. When he blogged through his research for Live Not By Lies, one of his stories of Christian resistance stuck with me—so much so that I’ve kept a screenshot of the post saved on my desktop. In his post “My Night At Vaclav Benda’s,” Dreher describes his meeting with the family of Vaclav Benda, a Czech dissident and a leader of Charter 77.

Dreher had praised Benda in The Benedict Option for his discussion of “the parallel polis,” an alternative culture built up in the midst of oppression. His visit was a chance to see how that parallel polis was constructed—the groundwork for political movements built up from the personal space of a living room.

“It is also a holy place, at least to me.” Kamila [Benda, Vaclav’s wife] told me on Sunday, “Because we lived just down the street from the place where the secret police tortured people, victims would often come here as soon as they were released, just to talk.” They knew there would be comfort at the Bendas’ house.”

Dreher expanded on this passage that I loved in the final version of the book. Patrik Benda, one of the children, remembers how his mother Kamila would comfort the visitors who staggered in from interrogations.

“Whether or not they had come through without breaking or had given up information under duress, Kamila offered them a cup of tea and a glass of wine and encouragement. ‘Mom would tell them, “That’s okay, next time, you will do better,”’ says Patrik.”

Christians, especially white Christians, should live in such a way that our doors are clearly open, as the Bendas’ were, to anyone in need. That might look like literally opening a door, as Rahul Dubey did in Washington D.C. to shield protestors from police. But we also keep the door open (or slam it shut) through our public actions. When we speak with contempt or indifference about George Floyd or any other victim of racism, when we amplify the voices of people who are at best negligently ignorant and at worst actively racist, we say that our door is not open to everyone.

Christianity is scandalous to a fallen world. But that call to live as Christ crucified, foolishness to the Greeks, is very different than owning the libs or seeking out the anger of our enemies, real or perceived. It looks much more like what Dreher himself praised in Live Not By Lies, when he recounts how an atheist reacted to Fr. Dmitry Dudko, who chastised the Soviets.

Even as he spoke against grave evil, Fr. Dmitry did not, in his urgency, become what he preached against. As the atheist who heard him told a journalist, “the immorality of Soviet society, its inhumanity and corruption, its lack of a moral code or credible ideals, means that Christ’s teaching comes through to those who it reaches as a shining contrast. It stresses the value of the individual, of humanness, forgiveness, gentleness, love.”

Dreher has profiled real heroes in his studies of Christian witness under Communism. But we shouldn’t neglect their counterparts closer to home. The Black church in America has been a parallel polis since its beginnings, when Christian slaves’ weddings were conducted in secret and preachers were forbidden to teach enslaved men and women to read the Gospels.

Dreher is at his best in shining a light on faithful witness and persistence in hope. And, taught by the stories I’ve learned from him, I keep hoping that his writings on America and race will be leavened by the charity and openheartedness he rightly admires.

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Posted by Leah Libresco

Leah Libresco Sargeant is the author of Arriving at Amen and Building the Benedict Option.

  • rogerwmbennett

    I enjoyed this very much, Leah. I’ve been concerned about the tone of Rod’s blog lately, and this addresses it gently and irenically as befits your status as friends.

  • Luke

    The Benda’s were to caring for people being tortured by the secret police. That seems like a good thing to me. Rahul Dubey helped a bunch of people avoid getting arrested for violating curfew. That seems ambiguously good at best, and maybe even bad. Why is that good? Similarly, you said that George Floyd was a victim of racism, so the police involved in his arrest must have been doing something bad. But there is no evidence that any of the police in that circumstance were motivated by racism at all. Why do you say that George Floyd was a victim of racism? Why do you say that it was good for Rahul Dubey to have opened his door? These things aren’t axiomatic.

    I think this is the issue you seem to have with Rod’s blog. You both start with different presuppositions about the situations. Rod’s post about George Floyd seeks to undermine your (and previously his) presupposition that George Floyd was the victim of racism. It’s not like Rod has suddenly become uncharitable or racist. He’s just realizing that his uncritical presuppositions weren’t as solid as he thought. Is there any way that you could conceive of George Floyd’s death not being racially motivated? Is there any way you could conceive of sheltering protestors as not being good Christian charity?

  • Leon Jones

    You confidently assert Ahmaud Arbery was lynched. Presumably, you’re relying upon the video everyone has seen. But wait a minute. Have the McMichaels had a trial? Have they had an opportunity to cross-examine the state’s witnesses? Have they had an opportunity to present their side of the story? No, they haven’t. So, by saying Mr. Arbery was lynched, you are prejudging the evidence. You’re expressing solidarity with every member of every mob who has said, “We know he’s guilty. We don’t need no stinkin’ trial. Get a rope.”

    Even more than Mr. Arbery’s death, the death of George Floyd is testing this Nation’s commitment to the rule of law. What would Atticus Finch say if he could step from the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird and speak to the mob that is braying for the blood of Derek Chavin. I think it would be something like this. “You have seen a powerfully incriminating video. Watching it has made you very angry. However, before you let your anger carry you away, ask yourselves a series of questions. If you were standing in Derek Chauvin’s shoes, how would you want to be treated? Would you want the protection of the presumption of innocence? Would you want your case decided by an impartial jury? Would you want the jurors to withhold judgment until they’ve heard all of the evidence and listened to the attorneys’ closing arguments? Of course you would. If you were standing in Mr. Chauvin’s shoes, you would want the benefit of all of those procedural protections. And if you would want them for yourself (and you would), then shouldn’t you be willing to extend the same protections to Mr. Chauvin and his fellow defendants.”

  • Greg Herr

    ‘Where should Christians be in this struggle?…Christians, especially white Christians, should live in such a way that our doors are clearly open…..’

    A recent experience: The Board of Directors for a Christian nonprofit, currently and historically composed of all white directors, issued a statement of solidarity after the murder of George Floyd. It was a profound statement.

    As a director and a complement-response to the statement, I drafted a resolution and policy that within ten years the Board would be composed of its denominational demographics, which are significantly multi-racial, multi-ethnic, domestically and globally, and to reflect potential membership in the organization. (In the literature of governance, referred to as ‘constituency.’) These in our denomination are ostensibly the people the Board serves.

    I expected spirited dialogue and some resistance, as well as support, and eventual adoption of the policy. Access to decision-making power by our 𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘱𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘭𝘦 seemed an obvious step to take. Our denominational demographics are not identical to the United States but comparable.

    (When I was first exposed to this denomination and converting from Evangelical Christianity, I said to self, in the largely white suburban area where I live: ‘The whole world is here!’)

    The resolution and policy were unanimously opposed by the Board. I was surprised, perhaps not stunned. I resigned. I’m not all that woke, but racist policies and practices are perpetuated until they are concretely changed, documented, and adopted into the governance of organizations. White supremacy is remarkably intransigent and resistant, especially when that means the relinquishment of power and decision-making.

    Contrarily to my resignation, this means participating in structures and systems that express and manifest power while working to ensure justice; it also means refusing to be complicit when governance obviously keeps the door open to some and closed to others.

    The mundane role of Christians, particularly white Christians? Join organizations, vote, accept decision-making positions, propose and insist on policies to ensure access and justice; and support those organizations, financially and otherwise, that are struggling under oppressive systems. If white-controlled organizations do not take substantive steps toward access (the open door), then join and support those that do.

    • Luke

      Greg,

      Why was your proposal an obvious step to take? Did your own people not have access to decision-making power? Was the Board of Directors racist and perpetuating racist practices? You say these things like they are obviously true. How do you know this Board is keeping its doors closed to certain people? Their statement on George Floyd would seem to indicate that they weren’t.

      It seems to me that what you were advocating was a racist accounting based on nothing but skin color. That kind of approach ensures that only certain people of certain skin colors are allowed in certain positions. Why would the Board want to sign up for that? This would mean that the majority of Board members could never be multi-racial. You would be enforcing white majoritarianism until demographics changed. Why would you do that?

      It really isn’t obvious that Christians should be pursuing the course you are describing.

      • Greg Herr

        Hi Luke,

        You raise really important points and questions I’d like to answer. Not being coy here, but I wanted to make my comment a little vague to avoid identifying the particular organization. But in the main, the answers to your second and third questions are ‘Yes’ including specific statements about whiteness. There’s a lot more to say on that…

        What I would recommend is reading the literature on nonprofit governance, specifically about diversity. Both secular and religious organizations are represented. From a theological vantage, Bryan Massingale on this subject is very much worthwhile reading as well. Much of the former as well as the latter are widely available online.

        The policies instituted by various governing boards (or localized initiatives, permanent institutional committees, etc) can also be found online. Those resources and the rationale for their implementation are usually explained as well (eg, Anti-Racism Action Plan, College of the Holy Cross).

        • Luke

          That’s pretty vague Greg. I take your word for it that your organization was racist and blocking people from access to decision-making power. Although I have a suspicion that we may think of racism in different terms.

          Putting your specific organization aside, could you just make the case yourself here? Bryan Massingale and nonprofit governance literature covers a whole lot of territory. It would take me a really long time to find the input you recommend on this subject. I read the whole Holy Cross Anti-Racism Action Plan. But I didn’t see any arguments for the plan you proposed to your organization. What is the argument? Does it depend on the specific actions of your specific organization? If so, then forget about it. If not, I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

          • Greg Herr

            Luke, could you ‘connect’ (or whatever they call it) on LinkedIn and we can discuss further? I don’t use Facebook.

            I can provide a reading list for Massingale and organizations (nonprofit/religious/non & secular). It’s not that extensive. We can also discuss more of the detail of what transpired.

            To your last two questions, I understand them, but this isn’t an argument to put forth as much as the documented practices of organizations. It’s less about putting forth a compelling argument (something I’d enjoy for the mind’s sake) and more about the mechanics of what happens across time in organizations and institutions in terms of access to decision-making.

            There are aspects I’m trying to keep vague bc I appreciate the organization’s work and want it to thrive despite the difference in convictions. Thanks.

          • Greg Herr

            Luke,

            Perhaps the argument could be said like this: To be healthy and growing, companies and organizations in heterogeneous societies need heterogeneous leadership and governing bodies*. The literature bears this out. This is the idea of reflecting the constituency and for the constituency to have representation.

            The constituency of our denomination is heterogeneous. The organization (within the denomination) and its Board have historically been homogeneous. The organization’s membership has dropped substantially in the last 50 years (~98%). In order to expand within the denomination, wider ethnic communities will need to be intentionally invited to serve in leadership and bring the ministry to their communities, expressing it in idioms and cultural relevance that make the most sense to those folks.

            That intentionality is best accomplished through policy as compared to goodwill or other nonstructural efforts. The literature bears this out as well.

            (*This takes a different quality among some non-dominant racial and ethnic groups that coalesce around the preservation of their unique cultural heritage. For the dominant and historically hegemonic racial group–white, in this country–power has been preserved at the exclusion of non-dominant racial and ethnic groups.)

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