What happened to Eric Garner was undeserved, unnecessary, and tragic. But the reaction coming from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore only distracts from the real problem and panders to political correctness.
In an attempt to use this event to lead a prophetic discussion on race relations on behalf of white Christians, Moore diverts the discussion from the real injustice in this case. The attempt is as shameful as it is wrong.
There is no doubt that a tremendous injustice occurred with Garner, and that someone should be held accountable for it. But the immediate agenda to make this primarily about race relations is an even greater injustice. While race relations no doubt need great emendation still in this country, in this case the subject distracts from the real roots of the real problem.
I watched with pain and sympathy at the arrest and slow dying of Eric Garner. But I did not watch with disbelief. I have no illusions about current law regarding taxation, resisting arrest, use of force to effect arrest, legal justification for these actions, burdens of proof for criminal intent, and, among other things, the double standard used on behalf of police before grand juries.
In short, I had no illusion that Pantaleo would ever be prosecuted for anything. The law protects him in various ways as a person and as more especially as a police officer effecting arrest, and where the law may be questionable, there are always helps—for or against—available in the process.
That is part of the real problem here, but the origin of Eric Garner’s death lies ultimately in unbiblical tax law. It is, I will grant for the moment, arguable (though I will go through this critically at a later date) that police, as agents of the court, should be allowed the use of reasonable force in making arrests. It is even arguable that unintended and justifiable deaths could occur when arrests are resisted. But under biblical law, for what should the state be allowed to make such arrests, or any arrests for that matter?
The bottom line is that there would have been no confrontation at all were it not for the ridiculous tyranny in which we live, in which the state demands taxes on everything that breathes, and most things that don’t. Taxation is unbiblical and unjust, according to biblical law. Yes, as I have argued, it is an evil which we are called to endure when we must; but it is an evil we are ultimately called to eradicate.
As I, and others, have argued continuously, taxation is armed violence. It is mandated with the threat of violence and enforced ultimately with the barrel of a gun. Despite the somnolent consent given by the vast majority of Christians, taxation is backed by deadly force in society. Eric Garner’s death shows this in its most extreme form.
There have been myth-busting and “facts” articles coming from different angles on the facts of this case. Here’s one pro-cop and conservative, and here’s another from a a more critical side. Let it be said loud and clear that as bad a race relations and racism may still be in this or any country, both informed sides agree that Garner’s death was not about race.
Even the critical factoid article above made a point to condemn liberals for making this about race. Citing “Myth #10. It was about race.” The article responds:
This is actually one the Liberals are crying. Garner’s family have repeatedly said that their husband and father’s death was not about race. The supervising officer at the scene was a Black woman. It’s about police thinking they are above the law. It’s about government taking taxes more seriously than real crime. It’s about placing the collective above the individual in importance. Power-mad cops kill white people, too. It’s not about race.
Whether you agree with them as to what it was about, it is clear what it is not about: race.
This is why I find Russell Moore’s reaction to be so outrageous. He joins the chorus of the racemongers in making this about race. He can’t get out more than the bare statement of the facts before he leaps to make it about race:
[A] government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice. We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.
The statement is confusing in context. According to the law, Eric Garner was not choked to death for “selling cigarettes.” He was choked for resisting arrest. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, as I have argued already, that the taxation of those cigarettes is unjust. From this point of view, biblical justice was indeed violated—because the law is unjust and therefore the arrest was unjust. From a biblical perspective, you could indeed sustain the argument—by extension—that Eric Garner was choked to death for selling cigarettes.
But Moore is not making this argument. It is not clear whether Moore is arguing from biblical law, or from current law. If he’s arguing from biblical law, why does he not state his case and follow it through? If not, then why say Garner was killed over cigarettes?
Does Moore follow the logic of his statement and turn his guns of rhetoric on unjust tax laws? On unjust prosecution standards? On a thousand other official state evils? No. He turns his guns on the one thing we know this case was not about: race. He says, “It’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.” While that may be true, it is hardly relevant to Eric Garner. Why bring it up when the case offers the opportunity to address much greater underlying issues?
Moore elaborates further on the race problem in relation to Garner in a brief audio segment. I kept listening for qualification. I kept listening for him to address the real legal problems. I heard nothing. I heard a desperate attempt from a mainstream religious leader to get out in front of the politically-correct parade and pretend to lead it. I heard an attempt on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention to leverage a tragedy for its own shining culturally-relevant glory. I heard a shameful PR attempt from a powerful body that could really do much more if it had the insight, the worldview, and the desire to attack the real problem.
It is important for Christians not only to be involved in social problems, but to stand ready with biblical answers to those problems. This requires two things: 1) we must know what the real question is to begin with; and 2) we must be willing and able to state the biblical (as opposed to popular, mainstream, current law, or politically correct) answer to it.
As it is, Christians overwhelmingly stand behind those sin taxes, and most taxes, including those for public schooling, D.A.R.E. programs, and hundreds more—as well as the widespread use of force to uphold them. In short, Christians’ refusal to address real social and political issues from the standpoint of biblical law makes them complicit in Eric Garner’s death.
And when the day comes that the SBC has thoroughly purged itself of its own racist past and become outspoken leaders of race relations in this country, people will still be killed based on unjust laws that the great Christian leaders refused to address. Those poor people will be black, white, brown, yellow, red, rich, poor, man, woman, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, gay, and straight. And the ethics and religious liberty commissioners will congratulate themselves on what a fine multicultural mix we’ve achieved.