Pariah to penitent: Ralph Northam and the reimagining of virtue in our woke new world

U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear
U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear

February 2019: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is exposed for wearing blackface in a decades-old college party photo. He lies by saying it’s not him. Lawmakers, media members and others blackguard him and demand his resignation. He refuses.

Fast-forward ten and a half months. The governor has yet to admit that he lied about the photo. Instead, he’s been busy offering newly enlightened confessions like this:

“I’ve had to confront some painful truths,” he confessed at an event in Hampton, VA, commemorating the arrival of the first African slaves in North America. “Among those truths was my own incomplete understanding involving race and equity.”

The governor is woke.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, he doesn’t know anything. He never did know anything. But now he knows he doesn’t know anything. And like Scrooge, he seems determined to make amends—not for greed and selfishness—but for a wasted life of white-privileged ignorance.

White lightning

The governor has not been idle. He’s spoken at racially significant sites, sought counsel from black leaders, and announced initiatives to advance racial justice. He hired a state director of diversity, equity and inclusion. And he established a commission to root out “racist” language from Virginia’s Jim Crow-era laws.

He also ordered expanded access to state contracts for women- and minority-owned firms and created a commission to recommend reforms for how black history is taught in Virginia’s public schools.

And he recently proposed an array of programs for minority communities. These include free community college for low- and moderate-income students, expanded prekindergarten for at-risk and disadvantaged children, and more funds to reduce “maternal mortality” among women of color.

These measures are meant to be compassionate and kind. My purpose is not to denigrate them, but to illuminate the differences between genuine repentance and honesty and artificial equity and wokeness.

That said, the governor still hasn’t fessed up about his big lie. Why would he? In our woke world, lying about being in blackface in a college photo is not a sin worthy of repentance. In truth (subjectively speaking), it’s not a sin at all.

The sin is wearing blackface—no matter the era, time or place. And for this sin, there’s only one path to forgiveness. It begins with an awakening.

In a culture where right and wrong are absolutely subjective and subject to the greater good, waking to one’s white privilege—and all that entails—is what matters most. Just ask The Washington Post.

Wrong is right and woke is dope

WashPo political columnist Karen Tumulty tweeted this today:

Back when a racist photo first surfaced in his medical school yearbook, most Va lawmakers, our editorial page (and yours truly) said ⁦@GovernorVA⁩ should resign. We were wrong.

They were wrong all right, but not for the reasons given by WashPo’s editorial board in the piece she attached to her tweet.

They were wrong to demand that a once-acceptable party garb warrants resignation, and they were wrong for not holding the governor to account for lying about the photo. And now they’re wrong to call his words and actions “atonement.” Atonement requires confession and repentance, not legislation.

The governor was wrong for lying. He could’ve shown real leadership from the outset of his “scandal” by being honest and saying something like, “I thought it was okay back then. We all did. I now wish I hadn’t done it, but I’m not resigning over it. I’m sorry.

Ironically, the governor showed strength of a sort by refusing to resign—but for the wrong reasons. He could’ve demonstrated genuine moral strength by resisting the cancel culture practiced by The Washington Post and others.

Cancel-crazy woke warriors

In case you don’t know, “canceling” is a form of public shaming and a way to hold someone accountable for their subjectively wrong actions—in the governor’s case—wearing blackface decades ago at a college party.

The WashPo journalist is repenting of her and her paper’s call for the governor’s resignation not because he’s repented of a real sin, but because he’s showing the required signs of racial repentance by pursuing woke race-related measures.

Conversely, if the governor had been honest and resisted calls for his resignation—and the pressure to pursue forgiveness through a racial awakening and racial justice measures in his state, he’d still be a pariah.

Instead of hailing him as a penitent and newly converted social justice warrior, WashPo and their canceling cohorts would still be trying to run him out of office.

Reimagining virtue

It’s tempting to chalk all this up to hypocrisy. And there are plenty of people on Twitter doing just that. But I think it goes much deeper. I think journalists at The Washington Post and other true believers hold to this dogma:

Wearing blackface is always wrong and is one the deadliest of sins. But lying about it—as long as you’re working to achieve racial equity as a member of the preferred party—is permissible. It’s your works of atonement that count.

After all, social justice warriors can’t be troubled with honesty when fairness is the highest virtue in our brave new woke world.

Christianity Today is dead wrong about Christians and Trump

As a Christian, I profoundly disagree with Christianity Today’s call for me to support President Trump’s removal from office for this reason—it’s based on flawed premises.

Flawed premise #1: Unambiguous facts

“But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents.” ~ Christianity Today

No, the facts are not unambiguous—many Christians do not agree that the president attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents.

This premise requires us to believe that Trump feared a political opponent so much that he tried to get a foreign leader to discredit him. As an aside, do even casual political observers believe Trump has ever feared Joe Biden?

Christianity Today’s central premise is simply not supported by the context of the infamous phone call.

A fair-minded reading of the transcript reveals Ukraine’s Zelensky gushing over Trump’s attempts to drain the American “swamp.” Clearly, he’s either enamored with Trump or wants him to think he is. The context shows that Zelensky appears to greatly respect Trump. He even credits his win on his promise to drain his Ukrainian swamp. Sound familiar?

I and many other Christians believe Trump made his request in the context of both administrations rooting out corruption in their respective swamps—and with residual anger over the FBI spying of his candidacy, charges of an illegitimate presidency, and the baseless Russia collusion investigation.

Clearly, the phone call is far from “perfect,” but the context of Trump’s request for Zelensky to investigate the Bidens’ Burisma entanglement is perfectly reasonable given the company’s shady nature and the firing of the prosecutor who was investigating it—at Joe Biden’s demand.

Flawed premise #2: Immorality demands removal

Donald Trump is not a moral man. And neither am I. I’m a sinner saved by grace. Our Constitution, written by immoral men, does not call for the removal of presidents based solely on immorality. It calls for removal based on illegality.

In this case and to this point, it has not been proven that this president committed an illegal act that rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

If it were, the House Judiciary Committee would have presented genuine articles of impeachment and voted to impeach Trump in a bipartisan manner. They have not and did not. And now the majority leader is hesitating to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. Why? Because they know they’re weak, partisan and will not prove the case for removal.

Flawed premise #3: Clinton’s impeachment = Trump’s

Christianity Today mistakenly compares Trumps’ phone call, and their acceptance of the partisan analysis of it, to the immorality—and illegality—of Bill Clinton’s commitment of perjury and obstruction of justice—high crimes that were accepted as self-evident by republicans and democrats.

Again, if there was a legitimate comparison to be made, the House Judiciary Committee would have produced comparable articles of impeachment. In Clinton’s case there was perjury and obstruction of justice—both charges are legally- and constitutionally-recognized high crimes and misdemeanors.

Trump was (almost) impeached for abusing power and obstructing Congress. If abuse of power is a legally- and constitutionally-recognized high crime and misdemeanor, every single president should be impeached.

Obstruction of Congress is not a valid charge because every president can and does turn to the courts regarding the release of documents and witnesses pertaining to executive privilege. Not only is this article of impeachment nonsensical, it would wither under the slightest scrutiny in a courtroom or Senate impeachment trial.

Flawed premise #4: Serve God or Trump

Christianity Today exhorts its Christian readers to “remember whom you serve” and erects a false dichotomy based on the flawed premise that we as Christians either sacrifice our Christian witness by continuing to support Trump or we protect it by supporting his removal from office.

Clearly, Christians are called to serve God, not presidents. This premise is irrelevant because it’s based on a non-argument. We support presidents; we don’t serve them. We serve God, and we do so by supporting our leaders—until we can’t.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. ~ Romans 13:1-7

Flawed premise #5: Supporting Trump harms Christian witness

Christianity Today encourages Christians who support their president to “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.”

Notice how the call for careful consideration is framed with bias and a rejection of any other view other than this: Trump is a moral midget whose continuing sins as president can no longer be tolerated.

Never mind that his presidency has produced greater pro-life and freedom of religion protections. CT refers to these as “political expediencies” and uses the abortion issue in light of our calling as Christians to be witnesses for Jesus Christ in a corrupt world:

“Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”

Yes and no.

This rigged question is another straw man. Who thinks a president’s character doesn’t matter? How is the self-evident evil of abortion affected by whether a Christian supports the president or condemns him?

To be bent and broken is to be human.

Bent and broken? We’re all bent and broken. The question is not whether this president’s character is bent and broken; it’s whether or not it has propelled him to commit high crimes and misdemeanors. So far, the answer is a resounding no.

Based on the legal and constitutional weakness of the articles of impeachment, I cannot support an unconstitutional removal from office of President Trump. And I believe Christianity Today’s call for me to do so as a Christian is intellectually lazy and unbiblical.

Does preserving my Christian witness require me to accept one side’s understanding of a phone call over the other’s? I think respecting the presumption of innocence and the rule of law are necessary to sharing truth in a world of deception and division.

Donald Trump is our president and authority. Until his actions warrant legitimate impeachment and removal from office, as a Christian, I’ll submit to his God-given authority and resist wrong-headed calls to do otherwise.

George Washington: Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean you matter.

Note to readers: I screwed up. I failed to get an adequate grip on the context of Elizabeth Warren’s words before basing my post on a shaky premise. I produced a piece of “fake news” and I hate that term ;-).

However, no need to delete a well-written post. In fact, after thinking about it, this an excellent example of how to write a somewhat accurate fake news piece. I say somewhat accurate because Warren did take a jab at men in her speech—and failed to throw a shout-out to George Washington.

Guys, Elizabeth Warren doesn’t need you or your vote. Why? Because you’re men.

“We’re not here today because of famous arches or famous men. In fact, we’re not here because of men at all.”

“I wanted to give this speech right here and not because of the arch behind me or the president that this square is named for — nope.”

The arch in (George) Washington Square Park is adorned with Fame, Valor, Wisdom and Justice, and the words, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”

The power of these words seems lost on Warren and most of our 2020 presidential candidates. They’re neither wise nor honest, and judging by the disdain of some for “thoughts and prayers,” they consider the hand of God impotent when compared to the actions of men … er … people.

Dear Elizabeth, did you not learn logic at Harvard Law school? Do you really think you’d be running for any office in a nation that wouldn’t exist if not for men like Washington? If you choose to ignore him and the reality of history, why bother to ugly up his arch with your campaign signage?

Here’s the truth, Liz: The office of president you deeply covet would not exist without men like Washington or men who fought and died in the Revolutionary War and in the World Wars. And you wouldn’t enjoy the right to alienate half of the voter pool you hope will deliver you into the house once inhabited by the man you choose to ignore.

Why give speeches in backdrops of famous irrelevant men who helped secure your right to give speeches at all?

Do you really want to go down the path of gender-based voter alienation? If so, you’ll be joining the last candidate hoping to break the glass ceiling on lonely and bitter walks in the woods.