Denison Forum – What the response to Roseanne Barr tweet says about us

Roseanne Barr continues to make news this morning. After her racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett led ABC to cancel Barr’s show, the reaction has been predictable.

From one side: a Washington Post columnist likened Roseanne to the Trump presidency and hoped that the latter ends in the same way as the former. (The same paper is also carrying a column claiming that “Trump’s not a liar. He’s a madman.”) Like many, Trevor Noah blamed Barr’s tweet on the president. Numerous celebrities celebrated the cancellation of her show.

From the other side: Barr’s supporters noted that Bill Maher compared President Trump to an orangutan and Joy Behar likened Vice President Pence’s faith to “mental illness,” but both kept their shows. One person tweeted, “I’m a black man and I stand with @therealroseanne! Yes, she made a horrible joke and she apologized. I see comedians, actors, etc make the same jokes and get applauded for it. This is outrageous.”

My point this morning is not to rehash the controversy ignited by Barr’s tweet. Rather, it is to think with you about what the reaction to her statement says about our culture and our faith.

The “great pillars of all government”

This is perhaps the most famous sentence in American history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights we celebrate and seek to advance as Americans. But notice the first half of the sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .”

Thomas Jefferson did not cite external or objective authority for his declaration. He did not point to law, history, scholarship, or Scripture. His authority was “self-evident” truth.

His strategy was understandable since the Founders sought to create a secular democracy rather than the church-state empire they witnessed in England. As a result, the word God appears nowhere in the Constitution.

But the Founders were also clear that the government they created depended upon a consensual morality founded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

George Washington told the nation: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. . . . Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

John Adams agreed: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Patrick Henry identified the “great pillars of all government” as “virtue, morality, and religion” and added, “This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”

“Your truth” may not be “my truth”

Because our society has largely jettisoned the Judeo-Christian moral base upon which it was founded, we must now try to balance “self-evident” rights. For instance, should Valerie Jarrett’s right to racial equality supersede Roseanne Barr’s right to liberty of speech, or should the reverse be true?

When the Supreme Court discovered a right to abortion in the Constitution, their decision privileged the mother’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” at the expense of her child’s rights to the same. When the Court discovered a right to same-gender marriage, their decision privileged sexual freedom over religious freedom.

When the courts do not settle such controversies, the court of public opinion weighs in.

As one example, our culture has decided that statements of racial prejudice are wrong, a belief I strongly share. But we are less vocal about racial prejudice in the court system and the economy.

For instance, blacks receive longer sentences than whites for the same crimes; prosecutors are almost twice as likely to file mandatory minimum sentences against blacks than whites accused of the same offenses. According to one study, white job applicants receive 36 percent more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans and 24 percent more callbacks than Latinos.

The arbitrary way we address racism is just one symptom of a culture without an objective moral center. As a result, we will continue to arbitrate ethical decisions based on what is “self-evident” to us.

We should not be surprised that some were outraged at Roseanne Barr’s tweet while others defended her right to free speech. “Your truth” may not be “my truth.”

Three “self-evident” conclusions

Let’s close with three conclusions that should be “self-evident” to all Christians.

Racism is always wrong. The Declaration of Independence stated what is true of all people: we are “created equal.” As Peter noted, “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Neither should we.

Sin always affects more than the sinner. Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet cost hundreds of people on her show their jobs, for which she later apologized.

My wife told our sons as they were growing up, “You belong to everyone who loves you.” When our oldest son went through cancer several years ago, our entire family suffered. Think of sin as a cancer you choose to contract.

Stated differently, sin is a rock thrown into a lake—the ripples touch every shore.

Christians are the Bibles of our culture. One reason our society has largely abandoned biblical morality is that so many are biblically illiterate. It is now our responsibility to live by biblical truth and to persuade others to do the same.

John Maxwell: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Will you be a leader today?

 

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