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Tithing Our Income for God, Tithing Our Empathy for Justice

All families have a crazy Uncle Bob who ruins holiday gatherings by spouting some racist, sexist, offensive nonsense. As conservative Christians, it’s often the other way around—we have a lone family member asking the rest of us to behave more humanely.

Many years have passed since some of my family members have spoken to me. Their abandonment was painful for the longest time, but now when I briefly check their public postings on social media, I couldn’t be happier we’re no longer in contact.

One recently posted quotes from Mormon prophets and other Latter-day Saint leaders on the need to be Christlike. This was followed almost immediately by a meme comparing Al Bundy (a fictional character) with Oprah Winfrey. Al’s financial worth was $2.32 while Oprah’s was $2 billion. The meme complained that in the eyes of racial justice advocates, Bundy was supposedly “privileged” while Winfrey was “Oprahssed.”

Let’s rise above simplistic self-righteousness and start devoting at least one-tenth of our humanity toward helping people live better lives.

The next post came after Derek Chauvin was convicted for killing George Floyd. “We’ve GOT to be LOUD and back the BLUE!”

Then came additional posts about the need to be Christlike.

Mormons don’t have an Apocrypha but they do have the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Even there, however, there’s no Luke 24:12 stating, “Thou shalt allow police officers to kill without accountability, yea, with great impunity.”

If Mormons or other evangelical Christians put even one-tenth of the effort into combatting racism and other forms of injustice that they put into justifying extrajudicial execution, we might have a chance at noticeably reducing oppression in our faith communities, and our nation.

What if instead of donating millions to defend a vigilante who killed peaceful demonstrators, we donated funds to buy down medical debt, or establish scholarships, or put solar panels on church roofs?

What if instead of backing “the BLUE”—in all situations, no matter what—we stopped pulling people over for having an air freshener hanging from their rearview mirror? If officers feel mortally threatened during these trivial traffic stops, wouldn’t backing the blue mean not unnecessarily endangering their lives? Do we really believe our nation will fall into moral decay if we let someone drive around with a black poodle?

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Manipulative fundraisers depict the demand to “defund police” as a call for anarchy and pillaging across our communities. When we choose to believe such nonsense instead of hearing the truth, that humane people simply want humane responses to societal problems, we’re using our time, our money, our energy—our very lives—to ensure those problems remain unsolved.

If the problem is a mental health crisis, we should want the mental health crisis to be resolved, shouldn’t we? We shouldn’t want to kill the person in crisis. We shouldn’t want the officer killing the person in crisis to be hounded and arrested and convicted. We shouldn’t want riots over the killing of an unarmed person. We shouldn’t want tens of millions of our fellow Americans to feel unwanted in their own country.

Can’t we simply hire mental health officers to respond to the mental health crisis instead?

With the money local governments spend defending officers or making settlements with the families of victims, we could instead lift our communities in myriad ways. It’s financially sound, in addition to being morally appropriate, to treat people fairly.

When I listen to the convoluted reasoning conservative pundits make to justify their racism and then listen to friends and family parrot those reasons, I think, “Couldn’t we devote even one-tenth of our energy to empathy? Why not devote one-tenth of our intellectual honesty to learning rather than dismissal? Can’t we devote one-tenth of our anger toward demanding justice rather than demanding that those crying for justice be crushed?”

Even those of us who do want to dismantle institutionalized racism often don’t devote much effort to doing anything constructive about it. We could up our commitment to ten percent as well.

My Mormon friends and family post incessantly about the importance of free will and making good choices and taking responsibility for our actions.

If we could divert one-tenth of our weaponization of those concepts toward choosing to acknowledge and then address bias and discrimination, we might have a chance at making America the moral oasis we seem to think it would be if everyone simply joined our church.

Of course, it’s easier to mock and belittle and hate those who point out our failures. It doesn’t even bear consideration, apparently, how a white man, even a fictional one, with only $2.32 to his name managed to own a two-story home in the suburbs of Chicago.

Johnny Townsend

So let’s rise above simplistic self-righteousness and start devoting at least one-tenth of our humanity toward helping people live better lives. That’s so much more Christlike, the Spirit tells me, than wishing them dead.

Johnny Townsend