Living in isolation and insulation allows us to develop these prejudices based on post-truth rhetoric. Author, lecturer, and former educator Nathan Rutstein describes it like this: “Prejudice (is) an emotional commitment to ignorance.” And it’s an atmosphere of isolation that lends itself so handily to prejudice and the many untruths about people – such as anti-Muslim sentiment – that are born out of fear rather than fact. When people are ignorant of the truth, they will accept any lie, and lies left unchecked can become dangerous when acted on.
I have experienced this reality personally, including in one particular encounter that is indelibly imprinted in my memory. I had been invited to speak at an evangelical women’s conference in Kansas City, Missouri, and decided to bring my daughter, Mia, with me. She was in junior high school at the time, and I wanted her to have an opportunity to experience my ministry when I travel. My administrative assistant, Betzy, also came with me to handle logistics, and we decided that Mia could help her manage the book table. During my sermon from the book of Esther, in a part where I spoke about unlikely leaders, I mentioned that Barack Obama was a student at Occidental College when I worked there as an assistant chaplain. My intent was simply to illustrate that I never would have guessed this young freshman student would one day become the president of the United States.
The sermon went very well, and the audience applauded approvingly at the end. I was in the “glory cloud” as I left the stage! While I was walking through the auditorium on my way to my book table, I noticed a middle-aged white woman running to catch up with me. I assumed she wanted to thank me for my message. But when she caught up to me in the foyer, she came right up to my face and yelled, “Why did you say that?! Why did you say Barack Obama?!” I was dazed and didn’t know how to respond. I tried to explain that he was a student for one year at Oxy, thinking that maybe she didn’t understand. But in a fit of rage, she shouted, “Why didn’t you say Sarah Palin?!” Dumbfounded, I replied, “She didn’t go to that school!” I was caught off guard and had no idea what she was talking about. She didn’t have a gun, but her words were loaded.
The exchange took place in front of a lobby filled with people standing at different ministry booths. Not one person did a thing to help me. No one asked this woman to please stop or control herself. Eventually, my fourteen-year-old daughter came from behind my book table to help me. As the woman continued to yell, she accused me of mentioning Barack Obama’s name as a political ploy to condone abortion policies. My daughter said, “My momma didn’t even say that!” I quickly put her behind my back, trying to protect her from this woman. Finally, Betzy came into the lobby and saw what was happening. She stood between me and the woman and said as authoritatively as I’ve ever heard he speak, “That’s enough! We’re done!” Then the woman began to walk away, still yelling and accusing Barack Obama and me of being baby killers. As she left, she ended her tirade by saying, “I forgive you.”
I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that experience. It was frightening. Afterward, I talked to the president of the organization about the incident. She apologized profusely and made a public statement from the stage saying how inappropriate it was. Later, I learned that the woman who angrily confronted me was a board member of that ministry.
From “Becoming Brave: Finding The Courage To Pursue Racial Justice Now” by Brenda Salter McNeil – Brazos Press