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Joining a mob

Christians participate in rush to judgment after viral video; only some apologize after context revealed

Joining a mob

Phillips (right) beats his drum in the face of the Catholic high schooler. (Image from video)

Approximately 15 seconds of video from the March for Life had many Christian leaders united in a harsh condemnation of an anonymous teenage boy this weekend.

The clip showed a tight shot of a Catholic high schooler in a red “Make America Great Again” hat grinning, or, to some minds, sneering, at a Native American veteran who stood inches away playing a drum. The clip was circulated with the claim that the boy and his classmates surrounded and taunted the veteran by chanting, “Build the wall.”

Prominent pastors, theologians, and Bible teachers quickly expressed outrage. “Let’s be clear, this isn’t simple hate, it’s demonic activity,” tweeted one pastor. Another publicly wondered if college admissions offices would post their pictures with the message “Do not admit.” A theologian commented, “This is white supremacist terrorism.” Others posted videos that showed a still image of the student’s smiling face next to pictures of smiling Nazi youth and young civil rights era segregationists.

Finally, a leading Bible teacher with nearly a million social media followers tweeted, “I cannot shake the terror of adolescents already indoctrinated in enough hate and disrespect to smile that chillingly and jeer without shame or fear of God. Uncurbed, this utter glee in dehumanizing is what humanitarian horrors are made of.” She added in a later tweet, “It reeks of the vomit of hell.”

And they all would have been right—if the 15 seconds in question had accurately represented the entire incident. It didn’t. As the weekend unfolded, further videos cast a decidedly different light on events.

Longer clips proved the veteran, Nathan Phillips, was at best mistaken in his account to the media. At worst, he was lying. Contrary to his initial interviews retweeted by countless sympathetic believers, he approached the students with other adult protesters, cameras at the ready, to intentionally engage them. The students, who were waiting for their bus, quickly parted to allow the men into the middle of their group. Phillips then continued to advance on the boy until he was drumming inches from his face. Seconds later, some of Phillips' companions began shouting at the high schoolers, “You white people go back to Europe. This is not your land.”

An even longer video revealed that a radical group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites had been shouting vile (and, incidentally, heretical) profanities at the minors leading up to the faceoff. Their pep-rally school cheers—none of the videos recorded anything about wall-building—weren’t a reaction to the drumming but an attempt to drown out these insults.

Taken in totality, the videos showed a charged, chaotic environment in which nearly everyone involved should have behaved better. It goes without saying the Black Israelites shouldn’t have spewed racist insults at teenagers. Likewise, Phillips and his fellow marchers shouldn’t have walked into a group of kids seemingly with the intent of causing trouble.

As for the teens, while some appeared to be good-naturedly clapping along with the drumming, others can be heard singing what could be the tomahawk chop, though it could also be their misguided attempt to join in with Phillips’ tribal chant. If it’s the former case, that certainly is disrespectful and demands an apology, but perhaps stops short of being demonic.

And what of the boy in question—the one whose only demonstrated offense was smiling too long when Mr. Phillips stepped up to him? Should he have immediately retreated? Perhaps. But then again, that leer everyone thought they saw dissolves in another video into something that looks more like discomfort, suggesting he may have merely plastered an awkward grin on his face for lack of knowing what else to do. In support of this view, one angle shows him shushing a friend who argues back with one of the drummers.

The church need not overly concern itself with what secular media outlets got wrong or the disgusting calls for violence that resulted. But we should ask why so many blue-check believers, not to mention their hundreds of thousands of followers, were so eager to join an outrage mob against a child based on so little information. Even further, why were so many willing to extend that condemnation to the child’s parents, teachers, and school?

Given that some obliquely and some outright blamed our current political environment for bolstering the boys’ rabid hatred, most likely it all came down to those hats. It’s hard to imagine that a silent, smiling teen would have gone viral if he and his friends hadn’t been wearing MAGA gear.

We can debate the wisdom of donning a lightning rod political statement for an event like the March for Life, but it’s safe to say the boys didn’t wear it to insult Phillips, as they had no idea they’d be encountering him. The tomahawk chop existed before this administration, so it’s entirely possible they would have done that even if there’d never been a President Trump.

Yet, so many Christians find themselves eager to express a desire to do better than we have in the past in our treatment of minority believers, we rush unthinking toward opportunities to show our disgust at any accusation of racism in our ranks. We think we must not only have an opinion, we must broadcast it as quickly and stridently as possible, with the Biblical weight of Scripture often attached. This is a far greater error than so-called fake news, as we use our faith as cover for our rush to judgment.

Think of the young man whose face has now been plastered across the media, opening him to enduring attacks and penalties, and consider the travesty that Christians helped make that happen.

God’s Word warns us not to show preference to the poor over the rich because that too can be a temptation in matters of truth and justice. We likewise shouldn’t show preference to a Native American man over white teens without waiting for further facts.

Some church leaders have since deleted their condemnation while others have admirably expressed remorse and asked for forgiveness. Sadly, some of the most prominent have let the slander stand, leaving it to be drowned by whatever newer topics fill their feeds. Whether it’s the fault of cowardice, laziness, or ignorance, it’s conduct unbecoming our Lord’s service. If we have the time to condemn, we have the time to correct.

No matter how great our desire to show remorse for past and present collective sins, we can’t let our emotion run away with our discernment. Hot takes should be anathema to people charged to be slow to anger and slow to speak. The reconciliation of tomorrow won’t stand if it’s built on the lies of today.

Comments

  • CJ
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 02:12 pm

    This makes me very sad. Something like this could cause the young man trouble for many years to come. May God defend him and grow his character and faith as a result of this injustice.

  • AlanE
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 02:22 pm

    "If we have the time to condemn, we have the time to correct [our erroneous judgments]."

    Very true. Worth repeating, and worth thinking about until it settles in. Worth thinking about any time we're tempted to use social media.

  • My Two Cents
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 03:02 pm

    I have been woefully ignorant of what is going on in the news. (Good reason--death in the family. My focus on eternity has made the concerns of the world grow dim.)

    This was a part of the March for Life? Why should these teens be wearing MAGA hats at a March for Life? Was Nathan Phillips attending the March for Life? If so, what was the point of the drum? How did the focus turn from protesting the immorality of killing pre-born babies, to chanting about ...... ??? (something besides killing babies.)

  • Just Me 999
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 08:07 am

    Why do MAGA hats get people so irritated - as far as I know they have a right to express their opinion, especially by simply wearing a hat. It's a shame that we've become intolerant of each other's ability to express his own opinion peacefully.

    How is this any different than the American Indian wearing some kind of tribal regalia or the Black wearing a BLM shirt? Is it simply because this is a white male wearing a MAGA hat? Are we really that petty these days?

  • MWagoner
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 03:17 pm

    I love you Megan Basham! I’m so glad o have a sister in Christ who cares for the truth. 

  • joansredpen
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 03:39 pm

    Thank you for providing truth and thoughtfulness regarding this incident. When we see short clips of disturbing behavior, we should always ask, "What is the context?" Often what preceded and followed a video clip is eliminated to gain knee-jerk responses. 

  • Bob R
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 04:18 pm

    Quick to LISTEN, slow to speak, even slower to become angry!  “Quick” doesn't mean "hasty"; rather “ready to listen”.  We are also to be perceptive, clearheaded, and discerning in the judgments we make.

    Wise as serpents, innocent as doves, folks; NOT the other way around!

     

  • SJ
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 07:48 pm

    Excellent article! Thanks for focusing on the facts. Those who condemned this group of students and the young man in particular owe them personal and public apologies. I follow a few less groups on social media because of their participation in the persecution of these students, even if unintended. I am again thankful for World and WNG continues to be my primary source of national and global news. Keep up the good work!

  • ruralnebr
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 05:24 pm

    Almost sounded like "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"  Praying strongly for God's hedge of protection around that young man and his family.

  • Judy Farrington
    Posted: Sat, 01/26/2019 11:20 pm

    Yes. They must be really hurting. 

  • Mel1979
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 05:55 pm

    Not checking my twitter feed much (maybe that's the key to a more civil society)I didn't know much about this and frankly ignored it when I did see clickbait news about it. Waiting a little less then a day really pays off in seeing more of the truth. Shame on those Christian leaders that lead and perpetuated outrage mobs with such little info. I hope all will eventually apologize to this boy, his family and their followers for pushing fake news. But frankly, for those who don't, I hope to figure out who they are so I can dismiss whatever they say going forward. 

  • Jim Harvey
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 06:31 pm

    Could you please post a link to the other videos? I believe your reporting is accurate, but since you mention the other refuting videos I think they should be included. Thanks. 

  • Chrisi56's picture
    Chrisi56
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 07:42 pm

    It may be a matter of wanting to make up for past offenses or the reputation of Christians by unbelievers, but it's more a matter of pleasing men rather than God.  We are too eager to have the world see that we are not racist so we sacrifice patience and reasonableness and end up looking more foolish than ever.  Let God uphold our reputation like Jesus did when He was reviled and we can be more concerned with the truth and believing the best about our brothers.

  • AL
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 08:56 pm

    I don't know why the young people were wearing the MAGA gear, but if I had been able to go to the March for Life this year, I certainly would have tried to do so.  It's one small way to say thank you to the President for keeping many promises with regard to life issues.

    I appreciate your trouble to give the full picture of the incident.  Thank you very much!

  • Katie
    Posted: Mon, 01/21/2019 10:29 pm

    I think it's safe to say poor choices were made by just about everyone involved in this situation, but as far as I know that boy is the only one who has received threats of violence. How will those Christian leaders feel if that boy is harmed because of this? And even if those boys are racists and bigots as people claim (and I have no idea because I don't know them), why are they condemned while the adults shouting horrible horrible things at them are not?

  • Ed Schick
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 08:31 am

    Good reporting and accountablity to truthful facts and character.

  • LT Jacobson
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 10:14 am

    Perhaps naming those Christian leaders and major media outlets who jumped to conclusions would be helpful. Guess I'd like to know so to be better informed as who to be cautious about. 

  • Tabitha
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 10:54 pm

    It would be helpful to know them so they could be challenged to correct their errors.  This innocent young man faces dangerous consequences because of them.

  •  phillipW's picture
    phillipW
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 11:43 am

    Too many "Cultural Christians" trying to be relevant to a secularist culture, rather than trying to be relevant to Jesus Christ.

  •  Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 01:59 pm

    Where to start? I echo the comments of those who say what's wrong with a MAGA hat? Is an Obama '08 or '12 hat wrong? Or how about an I'm with Her hat? Ridiculous.

    Just image that it was a skinhead who walked up to an LBGT kid and beat a drum. Do you think the coverage would be different? Of course it would! No one but no one would be condemning the kid.

    Most of the media's dishonesty along with many a Twitter user's jump to judgment before a thoughtful investigation into the facts is both astonishing and frightening. It's cringeworthy that Christians leaders were involved in this debacle.

    Lastly, why is this worthy of national coverage? This should have been a local story, at best. Our society is obsessed with the trivial. 

  • Wretch Like Me
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 11:21 pm

    Reading the comments it grieves me that someone thought the boys were at fault just because one wore the MAGA hat and that there were poor choices made by just about everyone.  We always are so quick to blame our own and never call out those who are truly evil and unjust.  When are Christians going to stop virtue signaling.  This has been happening for some time, I really caught on to this when the Ferguson incident happened.  Some Christian Pastors were all virtue signaling before they even knew the details,; so quick to show that they were not racist, but instead they looked like man pleasing fools.  Amazing, I see alot of filth spewed from the left, but i never see them condemning their own.  Check out the recent women's march.  Why is evil so united?  I rarely see a democrat leader call out or condemn the hate and anger or ask their mobs to stop the looting, rioting, or destructive "protesting", but boy we can't wait to call out any perceived appearance of any small infraction from one of our own.  After all lthese years we think the enemy is honest and are quick to believe whatever they say about Christians or conservatives.  Sad that so many Americans and Christians have bought into the evil narrative that all whites are racist and privileged and believe all the constant media attempts to prove it true (even after so many are refuted).  And of course all Trump supporters are secretly racists and bigots.  Oy Vey.  I am Hispanic, I say this so no one thinks I am defending myself.  Praying for the Lord to open our eyes to His truth, may we gain the wisdom of God that trancends the lies of this world. 

  • Just Me 999
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 11:36 pm

    Amen

  • HJM
    Posted: Wed, 01/23/2019 10:48 am

    Thank you Wretch Like Me, well said.

  • Searwar Family's picture
    Searwar Family
    Posted: Tue, 01/29/2019 08:40 am

    Thought of this when you asked "Why is evil so united?"

    "Anytime evil becomes organized, its ferocity breathes the air of hell. There is nothing that can quench that fury. It cannot be stopped until it has accomplished its purpose. That is why hell is unending. Its nature is to burn on the inside, and no outward consolation or influence can change wickedness that is inflamed by numbers.

    When evil justifies itself by posturing as morality, God becomes the devil and the devil, God.  That exchange makes one impervious to reason."

    Ravi Zacharias
    Page 154
    Chapter 6: When God Was Silent
    From "Jesus Among Other Gods"

  • OlderMom
    Posted: Tue, 01/22/2019 11:52 pm

    One concern I have is that, even if the situation had been the way it was first reported, shouldn't everyone's response (but especially Christians) have been concern for a young man who was so misguided - sadness rather than outrage? It seems this situation really showed up the difference between compassion and just trying to make ourselves look good.

  • Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Wed, 01/23/2019 01:24 am

    Politics corrupts everything it touches, whether science or religion or education or medicine or any other subject.  Christians who become political are in danger of being corrupted themselves, as this rush to judgement reveals.  And those who view the state as provider and protector have fallen from faith.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Fri, 01/25/2019 05:08 am

    I think I may have a Twitter account, haven't checked for several months.  I noticed a tendency, on my part, to be drawn into rapid-fire, shoot from the hip exchanges with people who had an axe to grind and would rather make me angry or defensive than debate an issue.  People need time to see all the facts and make a Biblical decision about how to respond.  So sorry that some in the Christian community feel they can spew harmful retoric and then just let it be when the facts prove them wrong.  God help me to make my responses not only true but kind.  We can be firm and still be kind.  

  • John Cogan's picture
    John Cogan
    Posted: Fri, 01/25/2019 02:09 pm

    I found it ironic that the media spent the weekend accusing this 17 year old young man of public ridiculing the vet, bullying him, intimidating him and threatiening violence against him. They did this by publicly ridiculing the student, intimidating him, bullying him and threatening violence against him.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Mon, 01/28/2019 02:55 pm

    I was one who said something on social media against the kids! Shame on me! But could I even find the post if I wanted to? I don’t know where the article is now! So exactly how are we fools supposed to change our social media comments if we made a mistake and cannot find the post?  Watching the longer video did bring me to a different conclusion.