As a colleague of Leah Schade’s (we are both Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastors), I am not surprised that her column on the Covington Catholic High School controversy took us all the way back to 1493: What better way to deflect from the recent events and the outrage culture that produced them?
While it is essential to talk about racism in our society, children and youth are not legitimate targets of public outrage.
On her personal blog, Schade wrote about the teenager at the center of the maelstrom, saying that his “smug, taunting smile on his white face was so calm, so practiced, it looked as if he had been perfecting this look for years.” Hardly an appropriate characterization of a high school student by a person in positions of power (pastor, professor and pundit). It is even more alarming given comments by others, including religious scholar Reza Aslan who tweeted “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”
Unfortunately, these sentiments were widely echoed by progressive Christian leaders, including colleagues here in central Kentucky. Clergy, who are called to be voices of justice, compassion, restraint and understanding, took to social media to rashly and harshly judge students based on a short video clip without necessary context.
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Rather than being voices of calm, clergy gave moral cover to a mob that doxxed, harassed, and threatened the Covington diocese and school to the extent that both had to close on Tuesday because of safety concerns. And yet still, there is no shortage of arguments that the real problem was who the high school youth are (white/male) rather than what the progressive social media onslaught did.
Perhaps Schade and others in positions of power within the church should be encouraging reflection on how we can better respond to the next social media outrage. And we should begin by asking ourselves why so many of us were so ready to believe the worst about teenagers we did not even know.
The Rev. Dana Lockhart serves as priest in charge, St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Versailles.