Jussie Smollett and the Point We’re Missing

Conservatives are ping-ponging back and forth between relief over the Mueller report and outrage over the Smollett affair.

Yesterday Chicago’s Cook County first assistant state attorney announced he was dropping all 16 of the felony charges Smollett was facing. Since those charges included felony disorderly conduct, Jussie must be one happy
man indeed.

To many of us, though, it seems the fairness bullet was dodged in yet another sorry example of celebrity status trumping justice.

Quick summary: Smollett, an actor formerly featured on the tv show “Empire”, claimed  in January that he’d been assaulted by two masked men denigrating him physically and verbally on a Chicago street in the late hours, while reminding him that, as an African-American gay male, he was in “MAGA Country.”

That’s a serious claim, evoking the evils of racism and prejudice against homosexuals. Chicago law enforcement resources were marshalled, then those same resources exposed gaping holes in Jussie’s story, resulting in his arrest and charges being filed against him. Now they’ve been dropped for reasons not fully known as of this writing.

Whatever those reasons may be, if we’re saying he didn’t lie, we must also be saying his two assailants are at large and need to be hunted down.

But it looks like that’s not on the menu. In fact, it looks like we’re being asked to collectively forget the whole thing and move on. The fact Smollett’s phone records show calls to two friends before and after the alleged attack, and the fact those two friends have since confessed to the police that the actor hired both of them to stage the attack, and the fact the Chicago Police and the city’s mayor denounce the entire incident as a hoax, all seem not to have figured into the decision to dismiss the charges.

Keeping the Main Thing Main

For obvious reason, people are mad. But there’s a point we’re missing here, one we need to revisit and consider:

Conservative people and thinking were initially blamed for Smollett’s assault, and blaming conservatives (especially conservative Christians) for inspiring hate crimes is becoming business as usual.

Smollette’s the recent case in point, claiming his attackers referenced President Trump (“this is MAGA country!”) as an influence and, by clear implication, indicting conservatives who voted for the President.

You don’t have to be a Trump supporter to see the wrongness of this, a wrong repeated time and again in the wake of hate crimes, real or alleged. Scratch the surface of a racist, homophobic, or sexist atrocity, and you’ll find someone of influence crying, “Darn those conservatives! They’ve done it again.”

Consider what Washington Post Global Opinion Editor Karen Attiah tweeted when Smollett’s alleged attack was publicized (and still widely believed)
in January:

“Trump’s ascendance and the resulting climate of hate has meant that lives have been increasingly at stake since 2015.” 

Or read what Buzzfeed writer Kevin Fallon said about those
MAGA Deplorables:

 “Anyone who thinks supporting You Know Who isn’t tantamount to providing artillery for weaponized bigotry needs to take a hard look in
the mirror.” 

It Seems We’ve Stood and Talked Like This Before

But this scapegoating preexists Trump by decades. Back in 1998, when the young and openly gay Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered in Laramie, Katie Couric of The Today Show suggested on air that his murder was provoked by Bible believing Christians (and Christian organizations) who caused people to either try to convince homosexuals to change, or, if that fails, to harm them. Never mind that Shepherd’s assailants didn’t identify as Christian, or as being influenced by Christian doctrine. A gay man was killed; Christians must somehow have been to blame.

Twelve years later, when a number of gay teens inexplicably committed suicide within weeks of each other, comedienne Kathy Griffin announced on The Larry King show that “so-called religious leaders, and pundits who have made careers out of saying that being gay is wrong or immoral … they all have blood on their hands.” 

During the same show actress Wanda Sykes agreed with Griffin, declaring, “In the church they teach that homosexuality is wrong. They pretty much give permission to disrespect and cause harm to the gay and
lesbian community.” 

Surveys showed the tactic was working. The Salt Lake City Tribune, for example,  found that two-thirds of its respondents believed that “religious teaching against homosexuality inspired mistreatment of gays.” Likewise, when Leelah Alcorn, a teenaged transgender, committed suicide in 2015, the story headlines included “Conservative Christian Parents Trigger Suicide of Transgender Teen”, “Transsexual Teen Commits Suicide, Blames Fundamentalist Christian Parents”  or “CNN Links Transgender Suicide to Religion of Teen’s Parents”. And blogger  Matthew Gatheringwater, writing for Religion and Ethics News Weekly, summarized the blame-Christian-teaching mentality nicely when he wrote:

“If you attend a church that preaches that homosexuality is a sin or a disorder, you are promoting hatred and giving permission to violence. If you think you can hate the so-called sin, but love the sinner, you are kidding yourself.”

Where’s the Real Beef?

Yet if religious teaching against homosexuality inspires people to harm homosexuals, it stands to reason that religious teaching against any sin would inspire people to harm those who commit the sin.

Why, then, don’t your average churchgoing Christians attend Sunday worship, go out for lunch afterwards, then spend the rest of the afternoon assaulting whoever commits whichever sin their pastor preached against that day?

Because, obviously, the gap between teaching something is sin and inspiring someone to hurt whoever commits the sin is immeasurable. (And, by the way, unverified.)

But that’s not stopping people from accepting the myth of the Christian Conservative bully. Granted, some believers have, do, and will continue to say hateful things about gays and lesbians. Yet even the most casual review of the facts will show them to be a minority speck in the Christian population, a population largely contorting itself while trying to stand for truth about sexuality while speaking lovingly and respectfully to and about homosexuals and transgenders.

This dynamic showed itself in Rome when early Christians refused to participate in the aspects of their surrounding culture that clashed with their beliefs. Suspicions were raised about the Christians who “didn’t” – they didn’t participate in pagan worship; they didn’t pledge allegiance to Rome above all – making them objects of widespread contempt
and misconception.

When Nero blamed them for a fire which engulfed several Roman districts, the public fell for it pretty easily. After all, those people who “didn’t” were odd, backwards, even prejudiced. It was easy to believe the worst
about them.

In the America of 2019, it also seems easy to believe the worst about political and religious conservatives who “don’t.” We don’t affirm same-sex unions they way we would affirm opposite sex marriages. We don’t call a male by a female name because we don’t believe one’s sex can be changed. We don’t believe moral standards constitute hate; we don’t believe disagreement equals intolerance.

We’re the people who “don’t” and therefore we’re branded odd, backwards, even prejudiced. As always, that makes it easy for many to believe the worst about us.

That is my primary takeaway concern in the aftermath of the Jussie Smollett story. I fully believe hate crimes happen, against women, racial minorities, lesbians, gays, and transgenders. They must be reported and prosecuted to the full extent of law, and public outrage over all of them should be vehement.

But public sentiment linking Conservative to Criminal is growing dangerously, and its end result is, to say the least, ominous.

What to do? Live, vote, and pray responsibly, for starters, always trusting God to do what we cannot do; always entrusted by Him to do what we can.

Meanwhile, let’s keep our eyes open. We may not be able to prevent the growing anti-conservative animosity infecting this One Nation Under God. But it sure wouldn’t be smart to ignore it.


Linda Cebrian | Mar 28, 2019

IMHO, the reason charges against Mr. Smollett were dropped is that homosexuals can never be perpetrators, only victims.

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