There’s a phenomenon in the black community, whenever someone sees a headline like this:
Man, 21, arrested for drug possession and assault
We immediately flinch and say “Please please please don’t be a black guy.” It’s a reaction to the fact that, nearly without exception, whenever a black man makes the news it’s because he’s a gang-banger arrested for some crime. The problem is that this event reflects such a small proportion of the black population, and yet the fallout is something we all must deal with. We are all tagged with the crime, as our culture unconsciously (in most cases) links the man’s skin colour to his propensity to commit crime. As a result, I get distrustful looks from old ladies when walking the streets at night, and am assumed to be the one in my group of friends who sells drugs.
I’d imagine that Christians are starting to get an appreciation for that phenomenon when they see headlines like this one:
Charity chief convicted of sexual assault
Given the number of Christian organizations, leaders and celebrities that have been exposed doing decidedly un-Christlike things in the past little while, you’ve got to imagine that Christians are more than a little concerned every time someone makes the news for doing something really evil.
I guess we can both say “oh shit” in unison:
The head of two Toronto-area organizations that were stripped of their charitable status after submitting “falsified” documents to federal regulators was sentenced this month for sexual assault for inappropriately touching a teenager, CBC News has learned. Daniel Mokwe was sentenced Jan. 13 to time served — two nights in jail — and given two years probation.
The victim, a minor at the time of the assault, told Det. Richard Petrie of the Toronto Police Service that she knew Mokwe was a pastor. As a result of the incident, she lost her faith in God and would never enter another church again, she said.
Yep, he’s black and Christian. His “charity organization”, Revival Time Ministries (which sounds like a children’s television program on a god-bothering channel) had its licensed revoked after Canada Revenue (the Canadian equivalent to the IRS) found a series of irregularities in their bookkeeping. Mokwe had another charity called “Save Canada’s Teenagers” – the irony should not be lost on anyone.
If I were a lesser blogger, I could score a few cheap points off of pointing out that Jesus didn’t keep Mokwe from being both financially and sexually corrupted, and that this is “proof” that Christianity is just as empty as all religions. I think the point to be made here is larger than that one though. Daniel Mokwe is undoubtedly a bad person, using the auspices of a charitable organization and his position as an authority figure to abuse both the tax code and, more devastatingly, a young girl. The problem is the source from which Mokwe derives his authority – namely, his position as a pastor. His parishoners, and likely those who donated to him, placed trust in him at least partially based on the fact that he claimed a personal relationship with YahwAlladdha. They essentially granted a portion of the trust that they placed in the deity itself in the hands of a man who told them he is tight with the almighty.
I can’t harp on this issue enough, it seems. The problem is not religion per se. The problem is that we take it seriously. If I told you I had a special insight into a voice in the sky, as revealed through interpretation of Beowulf, you’d (quite rightly) think me a lunatic in need of some therapy. However, if I tell you instead that I am granted authority by Yahweh based on the Bible, all of a sudden my cup doth overflow with credibility. Why? Why do people who claim a particular brand of magical thinking get a free pass into positions of trust? Why indeed, since they seem to have no lesser frequency of violating that trust than someone who is a non-believer?
It is there where the difference between the “don’t let him be black” and the “don’t let him be Christian” arises. Black people don’t claim to be morally superior, or to have a conduit to absolute truth based on the colour of our skin. Christians, however, do claim such superiority. Christianity has been made synonymous with honesty and righteousness over generations, despite all evidence that such association is a big steaming pile of turds. It relies on this borrowed heft of asserted uprightness in order to be made a member of the conversation. Why on Earth would we listen to a bunch of nutjobs who think that the only possible explanation for a woman giving birth without having sex with her husband is that God did it, or who think that a book written by amassing the third-hand account of people who claim to have known a particular Palestinian carpenter decades before the fact is the literal word of the almighty? When evaluating those claims at face value, they can be, and should be, dismissed as nonsense.
As long as we keep re-applying the thin varnish of respect to the rotting woodwork of religion, we will see scam artists like this perpetrate their fraud again and again.
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There is one other key difference, which is that Christians (somewhat) have a choice to continue identifying as Christians. They can definitely choose to distance themselves from the worse brands of their identity – Catholicism, Fundamentalists, Fred Phelps – even if they don’t (can’t?) give up on Jesus. Beyond absurd surgeries, there’s little choice in your race.