The Internet Thought-Police and Public Shamers: The True Violators of the “Do Not Judge” Command in Matthew 7

Recently, a video surfaced of guys from the OU chapter of the fraternity SAE chanting a racist song.  The lyrics contain liberal use of the N-word as well as claims that the fraternity would never allow a black person to join.  It was met with well-deserved condemnation across the board.  Most people from all political spectrums and all colors denounced the behavior and expressed surprise that such a blatantly racist chant could still be used in our day and age. OU swiftly cut ties with the fraternity while the national board for SAE shut the chapter down.

I have no problem with Oklahoma disassociating with the fraternity; there is no legal right to be in a frat, even at a public school, and what they did was truly stupid.  I also have no problem with people expressing disagreement and criticism.  However, as predictable in this time of social media overreaction, people went farther and farther.  Their outrage lasted days.  Some took this opportunity to declare that systematic racism is EVERYWHERE, as if it is a logical to make such sweeping conclusions based on a video from an apparent dating event (I wonder if this reaction would be the same if it weren’t rich white kids who got caught and instead an Asian or Hispanic fraternity?).  Others wished to relentlessly shame and humiliate these boys.  Oklahoma has now expelled two of those students, though I’m willing to bet that they had withdrawn or would withdraw anyway on their own given the public beating they’re taking.  Oklahoma’s president called these students a “disgrace,” while many others have no problem thinking of them as human garbage.

Meanwhile, runningback Joe Mixon, who punched a girl’s face and broke bones, is a “super, super kid” who just made a mistake and has every opportunity to earn his way back on the team.  President Boren himself said he believed in second chances.  Just not for frat boys with a stupid chant, I guess.

Anyway, I’m not going to speak primarily on the legal dubiousness of expelling the students from a public school (though they sure as heck aren’t fighting it, given that that would earn them even more public shame), nor am I going to talk too much about the inconsistent reaction by the OU president on the Mixon case, as important as those topics are too.  I’m going to address this issue of public shaming and thought-policing that is becoming more and more prevalent in our culture.  Instead of truly seeking justice, people online and in the media seek satisfaction for their anger and self-righteous scorn.  While doing so, they can often illegitimately and negatively affect people’s livelihoods as well as their mental well-being because they are not the least bit concerned about helping people learn but only about stomping them into a mudhole for their own glee.  In other words, the so-called champions of tolerance and “no judgment” are actually the worst offenders of bad judgmentalism.

Matthew 7:1 and Self-Righteous Condemnation

Because I have already addressed Matthew 7:1 and the issue of Christian judgment before, I’ll be brief here.  Essentially, I argued that Jesus is not saying that we can never judge in any way whatsoever (clearly, as he’s saying something is wrong to do, which is a “judgment”).  Instead, he is saying that we should not judge in a self-righteous, hypocritical manner.  If we people judge based on our own supposed righteousness and all of their moral flaws, then that same measure will be used on us… and we would fail too, for nobody is truly righteous on their own.  This does not mean we can’t criticize people or point out that how they live is contrary to God’s standard; the Bible as a whole is clear that we should do that.

What is ironic about the first part of Matthew 7:1 is that while it is well-known, most people don’t have any clue where it is in the Bible nor have any inkling about its context.  This is why even non-Christians will belt out, “Do not judge!” when Christians critique another’s behavior.  Thus, for example, when Christians denounce overly sexualized themes in TV shows, music videos, and movies, others (even other Christians) will get upset and tell them that they shouldn’t be judging because that’s all mean and stuff.  Jesus would never do that!  The horror!  Then these same people, when they hear something they don’t like, turn around and blow a fuse and demand “justice” in the form of lost jobs, humiliation, and isolation.  Eh?

The amusing thing is when you tell them to calm down by saying things like, “Hey, everyone makes mistakes” or “Everyone has said things that they later regret,” they will confidently state that they have never entertained such bad thoughts before or said something stupid, ever!  This is assuming that what they’re mad about is actually wrong in the first place; a lot of Internet rage-fests are over things that are not wrong at all but only involve people having their own personal beliefs, such as what happened to Brendan Eich at Mozilla Firefox.

One example of this behavior is a writer named Sam Biddle who gleefully destroyed a woman named Justine Sacco for an ill-advised joke on Twitter.  He admitted that he found the opportunity to go after her “delicious” because she was a PR director, and that he’d do it again.  When she tried to move away and rebuild her life, and caught wind of her activities and continued to derogatorily talk about it.  Sound like a man concerned about justice?  At the least, he eventually apologized to her publicly, after finally meeting with her and after, you know, suffering his own bout with Internet shaming for his own joke that went badly.  Whoops.  Isn’t quite as fun when it’s directed at you, huh?

Judgment Without Mercy is Dangerous Business

Don’t get me wrong; I do not think that words, even over the Internet or in private videos, should be free from consequences, and I have personally seen many times how the perceived anonymity of the Internet can lead many adults to say incredibly immature and awful things.  I myself have had to learn the hard way over the years to be more thoughtful and careful about what I say online, and I’m still not perfect at it.  However, the amount of vitriol over jokes or expressions of personal opinion, even they are truly stupid, betrays a pitiful amount of thin-skinnedness in our culture as well as a pervasiveness of self-righteousness judgment without a hint of mercy.  There are comments made that truly are threatening, such as those men who made terrible comments about Curt Schilling’s 17-year old daughter.  Those are comments directed at a particular individual (and a minor at that) with disgusting detail and intentionally posted on her father’s Twitter.  Then there are dumb chants by this OU frat that, yes, are offensive and wrong, but physically threatened nobody in particular.  Should they be criticized?  Of course.  Have people shown an ounce of concern about how these young men will develop?  Not many; instead, people want to destroy them and applauded that they got expelled even though I would argue that that violates their 1st Amendment rights because OU is a public institution.  One reason why some people opposed public beatings back in the day was because they were so humiliating and devaluing to the person; rather than simply communicating shame for a crime, it could reduce the person to a shell.  This is pretty much what many people want to do to these young men, and they didn’t even commit a crime.

Many people are clearly not concerned about reconciliation and education.  They want public lynching and to make others afraid.  Very afraid.  We can destroy your life.  We can take your job away from you.  We can put a spotlight on every mistake you’ve made and unravel you (but please don’t do it to us!).  We can define you as a “racist” or something along those lines for your entire life due to one bad joke or even simply a different opinion.  This is nothing short of Internet mobs who try to police the thoughts of others and shame them when they do not align with what they want.  That many of these people call themselves “tolerant progressives” is utterly laughable.

Racism stinks.  I’ve personally been a target for racism and by OU fans at that.  I’ve had middle-aged OU men make racist remarks to me, and one OU fan told me to do his math homework and fix his Nintendo for him (I just want to say that I’ve met some nice OU fans too, so this is not universal).  You know what I did?  I poked fun at their football team and then just walked away (the white guys I was with were more offended than I was).  They didn’t physically threaten me; they just showed stupidity, and since I was not threatened, I just ignored them.  These boys didn’t threaten anyone either or commit a crime.  They’re guilty of being idiots, and let’s not pretend that only white people can say stupidly racist things.  Criticize and discipline them, and then ignore them if they aren’t willing to change, but this appetite to demolish them is bizarre and hypocritical.

For folks who want to obliterate these boys, who sent death threats to the UCLA girl, who joyfully watched Justine Sacco’s life temporarily go down in flames, etc., I really do hope that you are as great and pristine as you assume you are.  Because if you are not, Matthew 7:1 says that the same measure you use will be used on you, and James 2:13 states that judgment without mercy will be shown to those who have not been merciful.  If you’re that confident, I guess we’ll see how your argument goes as you stand before a holy God who was merciful enough to your sin to send his Son to die for you.

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