Johnny Townsend: Let’s tithe our energy and combat racism

If we devoted one-tenth of our energy to fighting racism we would make a lot of progress.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lex Scott at a rally sponsored by the Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter, at the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 16, 2021.

Many families have a crazy Uncle Bob who ruins holiday gatherings by spouting some racist, sexist, offensive nonsense. For conservative Christians, it’s often the other way around — they have a lone family member asking the rest of us to behave more humanely.

Many years have passed since some of my family members have spoken to me. Their abandonment was painful for the longest time, but now when I briefly check their social media, I couldn’t be happier we’re no longer in contact.

One family member recently posted quotes from Mormon prophets and other Latter-day Saint leaders on the need to be Christlike. This was followed almost immediately by a meme comparing Al Bundy (a fictional character) with Oprah Winfrey. The caption showed that Al’s financial worth was $2.32 while Oprah’s was $2 billion. Bundy was “privileged” while Winfrey was “Oprahssed.”

The next post came after Derek Chauvin was convicted for killing George Floyd. “We’ve GOT to be LOUD and back the BLUE!”

Then came additional posts about the need to be Christlike.

If Mormons or other evangelical Christians put even one-tenth of the effort into combatting racism that they put into justifying extrajudicial execution, we might have a chance at noticeably reducing oppression in our faith communities and our nation.

What if instead of donating millions to defend a vigilante who killed peaceful demonstrators, we donated funds to buy down medical debt, or establish scholarships or put solar panels on church roofs?

What if instead of backing “the BLUE,” in all situations, no matter what, we stopped pulling people over for having an air freshener hanging from their rearview mirror? If officers feel mortally threatened during these trivial traffic stops, wouldn’t backing the BLUE mean not unnecessarily endangering their lives? Do we really believe our nation will fall into moral decay if we let someone drive around with a black poodle?

Manipulative fundraisers depict the demand to “defund police” as a call for anarchy and pillaging across our communities. When we choose to believe that nonsense instead of hearing the truth, that humane people simply want humane responses to societal problems, we’re using our time, our money, our energy and our lives to ensure those problems remain unsolved.

If the problem is a mental health crisis, we should want the mental health crisis to be resolved. We shouldn’t want to kill the person in crisis. We shouldn’t want the officer killing the person in crisis to be hounded and arrested and convicted. We shouldn’t want riots over the killing of an unarmed person. We shouldn’t want tens of millions of our fellow Americans to feel unwanted in their own country.

Can’t we hire mental health officers to respond to the mental health crisis instead?

With the money local governments spend defending officers or making settlements with the families of victims, we could instead lift our communities in myriad ways. It’s financially beneficial, in addition to being morally appropriate, to treat people fairly.

I listen to the convoluted reasoning conservative pundits make to justify their racism and then listen to friends and family parrot those reasons, and I think, “Couldn’t you devote one-tenth of your brain to intellectual honesty? Won’t you devote one-tenth of your energy to empathy? Can’t you devote one-tenth of your anger toward demanding justice rather than demanding that those crying for justice be crushed?”

Even those of us who do want to dismantle institutionalized racism often don’t devote much effort to doing anything constructive about it. We could up our commitment to 10% percent as well.

My Mormon friends and family post incessantly about the importance of free will and making good choices and taking responsibility for our actions.

If we could divert one-tenth of our weaponization of those concepts toward choosing to acknowledge and then address bias and discrimination, we might have a chance at making America the moral oasis we seem to think it would be if everyone simply joined our church.

It’s easier to mock and belittle and hate those who point out our failures.

But let’s rise above simplistic self-righteousness and start devoting at least one-tenth of our humanity toward helping people live better lives. That’s so much more Christlike, I think, than wishing them dead.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of several books including “Am I My Planet’s Keeper?” “This Is All Just Too Hard,” and “What Would Anne Frank Do?”