There was quite an uproar recently over a statement made by Megyn Kelly, a FOX new journalist, that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. Many responded to the unfortunate statement (much more unfortunate in reference to Jesus than to Santa, if you ask me), including yours truly (here).
One of the things I have pondered when someone says something controversial and the blogosphere erupts in response, is whether we are willing to give the person making the claim the benefit of the doubt, at least in reference to sincerity and/or their ignorance on a subject. I made the comment in my response to Kelly that I was going to assume that her assertion that Jesus was white was simply a statement made out of ignorance. Not everyone was so kind, which is also understandable. Issues of race (as well as other matters) continue to be emotionally charged and passionate (which too is understandable). But does such emotion and passionate not call for greater restraint?
I sometimes wonder how badly the constructive nature of dialogue and disagreement among people are hindered when we assume the worst about others. I am the first to admit that I have not always responded civilly to people who express views I disagree with, particularly when they hit one of my hot button issues. But I wonder when I respond in such an uncivil fashion whether I am doing any good in advancing the discussion and finding at least some common ground in the midst of the disagreement. It can be difficult indeed to be civil and fair, but should we not endeavor to be both?
I also think that certain people or outlets are even more susceptible to such uncivil, snarky attacks just because of who they are. The political left is always looking for any way to beat up on FOX News while the political right is ever ready to go after MSNBC. Moreover, it does not help matters that there are partisan media watchdogs like Media Matters on the left and The Media Research Center on the right, neither of whom are really interested in fairness in the media as much as promoting their loony left agenda (the former) or their wacky right agenda (the latter) before the American people (I think I just violated my no snark, sarcasm rule. See, I told you it's difficult.) These media "watchdogs" are not so much watchdogs as they are lapdogs for the news outlets they support.
Having said all that, as a Christian I believe giving the benefit of the doubt is a good thing. In Jesus Christ, God has given me the benefit of the doubt in spite of all my sins and shortcomings and, yes, even my less than pure motives. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking issue with the claims people make publicly or put in print. When I post something on my blog, it is fair game for critique; but if someone wants to disagree with what I say, which I welcome, I would hope that they would at least not question my motives or my character without sufficient proof that I am engaging in something nefarious. Who among us has not said or written something in ignorance?
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Plain, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31). I dare say that every one of us wants to be given the benefit of the doubt in reference to our motives and our desires and our sincerity. I am not suggesting for a moment that we never act out of selfish motives or desires and are not sincere, but I would also posit that without clear evidence to the contrary, all of us give the benefit of the doubt to those with whom we disagree, because that would simply be doing unto others as we would want others to do unto us. Should Christians offer anything less?
May I respond with conviction, but in civility and without name-calling; and may someone hold me accountable when I fail to do so.