In a Culture of Systemic Bigotry Part 2: What now?

What do we do about it? How do we cope in this new culture where xenophobia and homophobia appear to have taken over the government? How do we combat the evils of hatred? How do we live out Paul’s words “there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female” when the president seeks to ban refuges, undermine our freedoms of speech and press, insults and/or threatens anyone who opposes him, mocks the disabled, and brags about committing sexual assault?

On his Ask Science Mike podcast, Mike McHargue has attempted to answer these questions. Women, African Americans, and members of the LGBT community turned to him for advice of how to handle friends, coworkers, and family members who voted for Trump. They wanted to know how to change opinions of those they love about feminism, gay-rights, education, climate change, and immigration. Many of these people feel as if they’ve been alienated and find themselves facing hatred and discrimination at work, around town, and (for some of them) at home.

As a straight, white, Christian male, I have asked myself some of their questions. Struggling to find my own answers, I have been fascinated by Mike’s reasoned approach and his appeals for kindness and understanding from both ends of the political spectrum. At a live event, one individual asked Mike about the passage in the Bible where Jesus instructs us to turn the other cheek. She wanted to know how we should do that in a culture of systemic racism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination – especially on social media. Mike’s answer at once humbled and inspired me. He said,

“If the intent is abuse, if the intent is oppression, I’m a much bigger fan of the block button. I’m a much bigger fan of restraining orders. I just know for sure I’m not Jesus. Because I’m tired of seeing people’s cheeks get struck in the first place. I can’t, even to answer a question, create the emotional distance. How hard is to not hit someone with a baton at a traffic stop? How hard is it to no shoot unarmed men looking after mental health patients? How hard is it to respect a woman’s body autonomy? I saw someone make a hat that said, ‘Grab her by the brain.’ Why do you have to grab her in the first place? The only thing I got in me right now is Paul and some words of Jesus too. I’m more in the weep with those who weep phase. And mourn with those who mourn. Lately, sometimes I feel a lot more resonance with ‘I come not to bring peace but a sword. I’ve come to turn brother against brother.’ Because I can’t stomach more of this. I can’t.”

“I’m going to be an agent of love and peace. But my whole life I believed a lie. And that lie was anger has no place in love. I grew up in a culture that told me you cannot ever get angry, it’s a sin. That belief creates a beautiful nice society full of oppression, where if you stand up for your rights and you make a stink and you say, ‘goddammit, will you get your boot off my neck,’ you’re sinning because you’re making a fuss. But is it loving to call for order when people are dying? Is it loving to ask people to be civil when 20% of our country is afraid to walk down the street with a police officer? I turn my other cheek to reveal the brutality of the system. I can no longer idly stand by and watch a woman, or a gay man, or a black woman be assaulted by an individual or an individual who represents a system than I can stand by and watch the same happen to my own daughter. We have got to build a justice system where violence is held accountable and it must include violence perpetuated by a police officer. This must include sexual assault. It cannot be OK or normalized where locker room talk to invade another person’s body autonomy.”

“Now how do we live that out? I don’t know, I’m listening. If you had asked me that three years ago, I’d have given some speech about the brilliance of non-violent resistance and the way it revealed brutality. That sure is easy for me to say as a man who knows all I have to do to get through the security checkpoint is smile and politely nod. The illusion has been ripped from my eyes that anyone else feels the same.”

“By the way, the word on the other crosses next to Jesus translated bandit in the bible and we say he hung next to thieves. Some religious scholars believe that a much better and more accurate translation of that word would be zealot. Because the cross was only used for acts of treason against the state and the King of the Jews was hung next to zealots who wanted to see what? Jerusalem free from Roman occupation. Jesus represents a movement that stands in opposition to state violence perpetuated against marginalized people. We cannot ever say we are agents of the gospel if we’re going to spend our whole lives living as agents of Rome. We could talk about what the work is but we’ve waited too long to get started. If I have to renounce my Roman citizenship to get it done, so be it. Paul tried to have dual citizenship but was ultimately jailed and executed. The state does not like that kind of resistance. But I can no longer read the gospel and believe that my culture is a metaphor for Israel when it’s a metaphor for Rome.”

“I don’t know what to tell women and people of color other than I am with you until the end of my life. But I, as a Roman citizen, will turn the other cheek because I can.”

In a little more than 700 words, Mike explained it better than I ever could. I can’t expect my gay friends or my Latino and African American friends to turn the other cheek. I can’t expect my girlfriend or my children to turn the other cheek. But I can. The irony is that I don’t have to. I am not the target of the hatred and discrimination ingrained in our culture. If I can turn my cheek on their behalf, if I can turn my cheek to demonstrate the injustices of our society, then I will gladly sacrifice myself in their place. After all, that is what Jesus called the greatest love, that one lays down his life for his friends.


  1. I find myself thinking a lot about a sermon that my pastor gave several years back about turning the other cheek. He explained that it was a cultural reference that doesn't mean stand there and just take the abuse that is being heaped upon you. He talked about how, in the culture at the time, one would not touch an "inferior" with the palm. They would use the back of the hand instead.

    So let's say that an oppressor strikes with his right hand, which would be culturally expected. To strike the right cheek, he would use the back of his hand to signify that he is striking someone (perceived to be) inferior. If the oppressed responds by turning his other cheek, then he is really issuing a challenge. The oppressor has 3 choices. Ignore the challenge, appearing weak to onlookers. Respond by hitting with the back of the left hand, which would be culturally repugnant because the left hand was considered unclean. Respond by slapping the left cheek with the palm of the right hand, acknowledging the oppressed as his equal.

    Jesus didn't tell us to just sit there and accept oppression. He instructed the oppressed to stand up for themselves without giving into violence.

    1. Science Mike has talked about that quite a bit too. That whole passage is fascinating when you dig a bit deeper into it's original meaning.