Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

Talking about—and praying for—Jussie Smollett

Culture | Finding a Biblical anchor in a stormy sea of outrage
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 2/22/19, 04:57 pm

First liberals said the racist, anti-gay attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett, which turned out to be a hoax, proved that hatred and cruelty fuels supporters of President Donald Trump. When police revealed that Smollett, who is African-American and openly homosexual, planned the attack himself to get publicity, conservatives hit back, accusing liberals of groupthink and hysteria in their rush to believe the worst about Trump supporters. Now African-Americans who have suffered genuine race-based persecution once again fear their voices will be silenced by the sound and fury of public outrage.

Smollett’s story ignited a firestorm after Jan. 29, the day he claimed two men attacked him late at night on the streets of Chicago. He said they shouted racist and anti-gay slurs at him, hit him in the face, and doused him with an unknown substance. Smollett also said the men wrapped a rope around his neck, a symbol of race-based lynching, and told him he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to the Trump campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

At a news conference Thursday, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett planned the spectacle because he was unhappy with his salary on Empire, a show on Fox about an African-American family in the music industry, and wanted to promote his career. Police accused him of hiring two of his Empire colleagues who are brothers and Smollett’s workout buddies to carry out the carefully scripted encounter, giving them $100 to buy rope, ski masks, gloves, bleach, and the red “Make America Great Again” hats that would make them look like Trump supporters. The brothers punched him a little, but the scratches and bruises that Smollett had on his face after the incident were “most likely self-inflicted,” Johnson said.

Smollett turned himself in to authorities Thursday on felony charges of filing a false police report, and he was released after posting bail. Smollett has not made any public statements since then, but his lawyers said he maintains his innocence.

Perhaps because it was intentionally designed by a showbiz regular to gain attention, the Smollett story has dominated news and social media for several weeks now, making it a topic of conversation that everyone—including Christians—is likely to encounter either online or in person. Some African-Americans are going into those conversations with fears that because of Smollett’s lies, people will be less likely to accept true stories of racial prejudice.

“There are African-American people who are worried this is going to make it harder for anybody to be believed,” said Vincent Bacote, an associate professor of theology and director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College. “It’s going to make it harder to have conversations about just improving race relations.”

Bacote, who is African-American, had advice for Christians on approaching the subject from a Biblical point-of-view.

“I think the volatility of race and the fact that the temperature can go up really quickly … it makes it hard for people to really know what to do,” he told me, urging believers not to shy away from potentially tense conversations, but to approach them with “patient attentiveness.”

“We’re supposed to be this family united by blood of Christ,” Bacote said. “Why would we say, you know what, I just can’t really stay [engaged in the conversation] amidst these tense moments.”

Eight days before the fake attack, Smollett received a threatening letter at the Chicago studio where Empire is filmed. Chicago police said he sent it to himself, but the FBI, which is helping to investigate the letter, told TMZ it hasn’t made a definite conclusion on its origin. At about the same time, Bacote gave the keynote address at the Dubuque, Iowa, Community Schools’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. His address was publicized ahead of time, and before the event, he received an anonymous letter in the mail with a clip about his upcoming speech from the local newspaper. The letter was postmarked from Milwaukee and included information purporting to prove that African-Americans have lower IQs than white people and are inferior in a number of other ways.

After receiving the letter, Bacote showed it to his undergraduate theology classes.

“I wanted them to know these things actually happen,” he said, telling his students that he prayed for the person who sent the letter. Along the same lines, he urged Christians to pray for Jussie Smollett.

“That’s part of what makes Christians countercultural,” Bacote said. “A Christian should think about this person as a human being created in the image of God, worthy of dignity and respect, irrespective of what things they may do that may make us frustrated or angry.”

Associated Press/Photo by Christophe Ena (file) Associated Press/Photo by Christophe Ena (file) Karl Lagerfeld in Paris in November 2018

Prominent fashion designer dies

Karl Lagerfeld, one of the most prolific fashion designers of the 20th and 21st century, died on Tuesday in Paris at age 85.

Celebrities, models, politicians, and fellow designers paid tribute this week to the German-born couturier who revived Chanel and Fendi as creative director for decades before eventually starting his own line. Lagerfeld was known for combining business acumen and artistic flare, earning him an iconic status in the fashion world despite his blunt tongue and mysterious personal life. Often called “Kaiser Karl” by peers and fashion media, Lagerfeld never retired and maintained a distinctive look––dark glasses, powdered ponytail, starched collars, and fingerless gloves––as part of the self-acknowledged “caricature” he referred to as his “mask.”

Lagerfeld was less guarded about his opinions regarding women, beauty, and race. He publicly criticized numerous women’s appearance or weight and was critical of Muslims, the #MeToo movement, and Germany opening its borders to Syrian refugees, and not all were inclined to speak kindly of him. “A ruthless, fat-phobic misogynist shouldn’t be posted all over the internet as a saint gone-to-soon,” British actress Jameela Jamil tweeted this week.

Lagerfeld never married and had no children. His Birman cat, Choupette, who famously has two maids, diamond necklaces, and more than 51,000 Twitter followers, is reportedly listed in his will.

Throughout his career, Lagerfeld appeared unconcerned about his legacy or his mortality, stating in 1977, “Death is nothing. I mean, death is the price of life. … It’s not that important.” —Mary Jackson

Getty Images/Photo by PALACE LEE/Barcroft Media Getty Images/Photo by PALACE LEE/Barcroft Media Justin Bieber (right) and Hailey Baldwin in London in September

Justin Bieber on abstinence

In an interview with Vogue released last week, pop star Justin Bieber described how his changing views on God, sex, and marriage led to a yearlong commitment to abstinence before his marriage to model and TV presenter Hailey Baldwin.

Bieber, 24, told the magazine he “had a legitimate problem with sex.” He pursued a period of celibacy as he began trying to understand God’s intention for intimacy.

“He doesn’t ask us not to have sex for him because he wants rules and stuff,” Bieber said. “He’s like, I’m trying to protect you from hurt and pain. I think sex can cause a lot of hurt and pain. Sometimes people have sex because they don’t feel good enough. Because they lack self-worth. Women do that, and guys do that.”

He said he believes God “blessed me with Hailey as a result.”

Bieber and Baldwin, 22, tied the knot last September at a New York City courthouse. In Vogue, Baldwin said of marriage, “It’s a choice. … [It’s] about wanting to fight for something, commit to build with someone.” —M.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Matt Slocum Associated Press/Photo by Matt Slocum Bill Cosby at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., in April 2018

Supreme Court declines Cosby defamation case

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to revive a lawsuit against disgraced comedian Bill Cosby, alleging he raped a woman in 1971 and then defamed her when she came forward about it decades later.

Cosby, 81, is currently serving prison time on charges of sexual assault. On Tuesday, he thanked the high court via Twitter for rejecting an appeal by actress Kathrine McKee, who said Cosby damaged her reputation when his lawyer leaked a letter attacking her. Two lower courts previously ruled against McKee, dismissing the case.

Cosby has maintained his innocence in the case and praised the ruling, tweeting that it gave him “renewed hope that the fair and impartial courts in this country will go on to deliver justice.”

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the court’s decision, but also called for it to reconsider the high standard a public figure needs to meet to win a defamation case. —M.J.

Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images Peter Tork performing in New York in June 2016

The Monkees’ ‘lovable dummy’ dies

Peter Tork, who rose to fame as a member of the 1960s made-for-television rock ’n’ roll band the Monkees, died Thursday at age 77. His son Iman Iannoli said his father, born Peter Halsten Thorkelson, died at the family home in Connecticut after a 10-year battle with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands.

The Monkees, which was created to cash in on Beatlemania, was often mocked by the media as the “Prefab Four,” mainly because of the group’s perceived lack of musicianship. But Tork was more of a musician than an actor and could play multiple instruments, including guitar, keyboards, and banjo. Tork, who assumed the role of the “lovable dummy” on the show, struggled after leaving the group in 1968, but the band, thanks to TV reruns, album reissues, and a reunion tour, regained some of its popularity in the 1980s with newer and younger fans. In the 1990s, Tork formed the band Shoe Suede Blues and continued to record and tour.

In addition to Tork, the Monkees were Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones, who died in 2012. —Mickey McLean

Marvel to leave Netflix

Netflix announced Monday it is canceling its remaining two Marvel television series, The Punisher and Jessica Jones, signaling the end of a partnership with Disney launched in 2013.

The Netflix-Marvel split comes as Disney, which owns Marvel, plans to launch its own rival streaming service, Disney+, later this year. Other media giants, like WarnerMedia and NBCU, are following suit as they look to challenge Netflix’s dominance.

Superhero fans suspected the split last year when Netflix canceled Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Daredevil within weeks of each other. The third season of Jessica Jones will still air on Netflix this year. —M.J.

NFL owner charged in prostitution bust

Robert Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, faces misdemeanor charges of soliciting a prostitute after being caught in the act at a Florida shopping center massage parlor, police said Friday. The 77-year-old Kraft denied any wrongdoing.

Jupiter, Fla., police said they will notify Kraft’s attorneys when an arrest warrant is issued. The charge comes amid a six-month investigation into sex trafficking from Palm Beach to Orlando, in which hundreds of arrest warrants have been filed in recent days. Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn that Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was implicated. “We are as equally stunned as everyone else,” Kerr said. —L.L.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Fri, 02/22/2019 05:36 pm

    Race relations are indeed a complex space for discussion in which Smollett appears to have added little good.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 02/22/2019 06:11 pm

    Kudos to Bacote for using this as a teachable moment.

    Posted: Sat, 02/23/2019 07:22 pm

    Chicago Police vs the FBI. Who is to be believed at this point regarding Jussie?

    I have lost total confidence in the FBI. And who knows about the Chicago Police. That's a scarey twosome.

    I feel sorry for Jussie.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Sun, 02/24/2019 08:54 am

    When I worked in jail ministry some years ago we would, quite often, have "converts" who got jailhouse religion.  Often they had great theatrical presentations of how sincere they were.  We had one old judge who when confronted with such folks and on hearing they were now believers would say, "Good, after you've served your sentence you can go to church".  The law may be merciful but is limited in the amount of mercy it can show.

    If laws were broken punishment must be handed out.  That's what makes the law fair and unbiased.  God, Who knows our intentions as well as our actions can be merciful and His people should be too but the law should be the same for all people.  Even if they are people liberals say can never do wrong.   

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Mon, 02/25/2019 07:33 pm

    “Now African-Americans who have suffered genuine race-based persecution once again fear their voices will be silenced by the sound and fury of public outrage.”

    The real truth is Jussie Smollett saw he could use identity politics for his own benefit just like Al Sharpton and all the others. This is why the narrative is pushed that there is so much “race-based persecution” so the money will continue to flow by affirmative action, hiring of minorities, reparations, and the many other programs made to benefit minorities. The Democrats know that they must create racial tensions so their base will be galvanized so they can win elections! 

    Christians need to be wise about what is going on and make genuine efforts to reduce racial tensions but not be manipulated by those who use identity politics. An honest evaluation of race relations in America is that things have improved significantly over the last 50 years. Today, blacks have as many opportunities as anyone else and many are succeeding in all areas of society! There may be a few people around who are truly racist but that number has significantly decreased today where the racists are a very small minority. As such, the narrative that racism is rampant in America should be called out for the lie that it is!

  • RC
    Posted: Mon, 02/25/2019 02:17 pm

    Smollett was obviously not considering the larger picture of race relations.  He was/is looking for individual economic gain.  It is important that his lie was discovered and hopefully he will pay some price for his folly and wake up to the damage he has done. 

    When we start with considering people as individuals, made in the image of God, before we pay attention to skin color, etc. we are way better off. I like to think, hey I am talking to the individual standing in front of me, not a particular race, nationality, gender, etc.  There may be stereo typical things that apply, but never start there.