Last Monday, we commemorated Martin Luther King Jr for all the work he had done for civil rights. Was MLK perfect? No! Nevertheless, he did important work that moves us towards a better society where humans are judged by the character rather than skin color. As an Asian-American, I can say amen to that.
Then comes mega church pastor Perry Noble’s untimely use of the N-word on last Christmas Eve, followed by Andy Gill’s excellent response. Noble in his apology told people not to fight over his remarks. Not to fight? Those are fighting words! Who exactly does he think he is to feel that he has the privilege to tell us what to do? I can imagine the black folks telling him and his people off, and his fans defending him to their death.
Rather than simply dismiss the hurt as “fighting” and telling others to stop it in the name of the Christian mission, Noble ought to admit to his role in dividing the church via a racially divisive and hurtful word. He should further tell his fans to step back from defending him! This sort of behavior reminds me of what so many big-name pastors do when they get it wrong. They post a Facebook or Twitter apology that sounds like a “I’m sorry that I offended you” and allow for their fans to get on the attack and creating further damage. I’ve seen this happen to my Asian-American brothers and sisters. Now, it’s going to happen to my black brothers and sisters. I’m not a race baiter. I’m just stating facts. Such apologies should accompany by further qualifications such as “please don’t get online and defend my behavior, my people. I’m just a flawed human being in need of God’s forgiveness.” If he is really faithful to his contrition, he should start deleting the hurtful comments from his defensive fans. Up to this point, they’re running wild, writing on every critic’s blog and youtube video.
The response of his apologists like many apologists for these celebrity pastors are pitifully predictable. Many will put it down to Noble being careless with his words. “Careless” is relative. If he slipped in a few cuss words like Hauerwas or Brueggemann, that would be careless because those cuss words can slip into our daily frustrations and excitement, but not the N-word. No! I don’t allow my children to use such a word in our conversation EVER. It is simply not even on our radar screen along with many other racially charged words. Why? It is because words have history. Everyone who uses the N-word knows that history of white racists beating up, hanging, burning and killing blacks. Unless we’ve been living under a rock for our entire life and skipped history classes in school, we can’t possibly not know that history. Words don’t just have meanings. They can also have violent force and lingering effects. If you don’t believe me, just read my blog this week about how Rick Warren’s words a year and a half ago describes Hong Kong today, and those words aren’t pretty.
Noble claims that he’s not racist. I really want to believe him. I mean, why would ANY Christian want to believe that a pastor is racist? Not me! But he is. Armed with such historical information about black history, the word is obviously part of his vocabulary in his private conversations. Otherwise, why would it slip out into his sermon? At such a stage, I would ask why a privileged white use such an unfortunate word in his normal vocabulary database? Why would such a thing happen? This is not about political correctness. It’s about self awareness. Is he even aware that the private usage of that word indicates that he IS racist? I don’t care what sphere, private or public, in which he uses that word. That isn’t really the problem. The problem is, deep down in his heart, he IS racist. He doesn’t about reconciliation between races. If he does, he wouldn’t so easily use his privileged position to dismiss his critics are those peeing into the wind just to get a few cheap laughs (yes, he used that urinary analogy in his apology video). That doesn’t smack of reconciliation. Biblical reconciliation seeks to understand the offense from the perspective of the offended party. Noble has no such understanding.
Let me translate and summarize what his apology sounds like to me.
“You all just need to relax. I wasn’t even kidding when my hearers think that I’ve said the N-word. Come on, I wouldn’t do such a thing. Sorry, people. That word was ‘at most’ in my mouth, but never in my heart. I’m all about reconciliation.”
Does that sound like someone who’s all about reconciliation? The only thing I’m glad for is that he didn’t add a “just kidding” in there somewhere.