The latest in the on-going, media-created narrative regarding the disproportionate incidents of police brutality against black Americans involves a pool party in a suburban area of McKinney, Texas — the video of which has expectedly gone viral.
Time and again, people are content and assured in how they feel about incidents of police brutality to the exclusion of facts pertaining to the case, especially those facts that are contrary to their initial — and reflexive — feelings.
When these incidents are sensationalized, people are going to use them to advance a disingenuous social narrative and political agenda. Christian leaders have a greater responsibility to be voices and examples of reason to be heard and followed, respectively. Yet when people of the cloth are engaged in negligent and questionable behavior that perpetuates social paranoia, it’s even more concerning.
And in my opinion, that’s what one Anglican theologian has done.
According to his website, Preston Yancey is a member of the Anglican Church in North America and is also, “employed by the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast as Canon Theologian.” In addition, Yancey is a priest-to-be who hopes to be ordained next year.
With these kinds of credentials, his Twitter-based response to the McKinney pool incident was a disappointment. Last Thursday, in a series of tweets Yancey offers up some problematic statements which — aside from condemning white privilege — appear to be advocating police resistance.
Here are some of Yancey’s tweets:
View his Twitter profile, here.
First of all, Yancey is encouraging or defending the idea that (black) people should resist arrest and “fight back” against police officers. How else can what he’s tweeted be interpreted?
And what form does fighting back take? Is Yancey speaking literally or metaphorically? Under what circumstances is it acceptable and justified? And who decides those circumstances, Yancey, or someone else? Why them?
Contrary to Yancey’s opinion, there are clear examples that fighting back against police officers simply doesn’t work. Fighting back against police officers as they attempt to assess or control a situation is foolish and can be deadly.
The idea that a soon-to-be priest is encouraging those in police custody or those being questioned by police to fight back — especially as it relates to teenagers at a pool party — is dangerously irresponsible both of Yancey and those who may recklessly contemplate his advice. Considering how many blacks have lost their lives doing exactly what Yancey suggests makes his unsolicited advice look even more destructive. Yancey says that the ‘gritty work of the kingdom is ideals within a context of valuing life,’ but responding to law enforcement through physical force — or to “fight back” as Yancey terms it — not only devalues lives because of the potential consequences of such outcomes, some of which we’ve already seen (Mike Brown and Eric Garner, for example), but it has absolutely nothing to do with “kingdom ideals.”
Now let’s distill some of Yancey’s tweets.
Yancey disagrees with Christian pacifism, evidenced by his tweet, “Anywho, for whatever it’s worth that you know this, I reject Christian pacifism as the most viable expression of the Gospel.” He also tweeted, “Kids get a gun put in their face trying to defend a girl pinned to the ground by a cop? Pacifism is not the answer here.”
Who argued ‘Christian pacifism’ as an ‘expression of the Gospel’ was the answer here? “Christian pacifism” in the context of being detained by police is irrelevant but has everything to do with how one conducts oneself in the presence of police officers, whether the situation is calm but especially when pressed with tension. Comporting oneself with humility and respect toward an officer in an effort to minimize a potential escalation is simply being smart, Christian or not. Yancey’s projection and misapplication of Christian pacifism in this situation is simply wrong.
In my opinion, Yancey reveals the motivation behind these series of misappropriated tweets when he posts, “Christian pacifism is a blind luxury of white privilege. Let’s not rush to tell people being murdered by the State to ‘calm down’,” and “… I am not the oppressed. More often than not the roused God has anger toward me and my participation in oppression.” He also says that, “There’s a whole reality I never have to think about, like being wrestled to the ground at a pool party for simply existing.”
There it is — white guilt. White guilt is the reason for these tweets. Just to be clear — white guilt with or without Jesus and the Gospel is still … white guilt.
Yancey admits that he is not part of the oppressed (presumably blacks) but is part of the “oppressor.” Though he doesn’t elaborate as to his specific contributions towards the oppression he laments (or God’s anger toward him for it), one can assume that his oppression is a consequence of his white skin. That his white guilt provokes him to encourage blacks to challenge the authorities knowing full well the recent and deadly outcomes of those who’ve acted on his unsolicited advice in advance, demonstrates how little black lives are valued by Yancey.
Further, there’s bit of irony that saturates Yancey’s tweets. That he can offer such imprudent advice to “fight back” from the comfort and security in which he lives (he admits it’s a reality he doesn’t have to think about), knowing full well that he, with or without Jesus, wouldn’t suffer the same consequences as those he’s actively encouraging — or the fate of those who did “fight back,” reflecting Yancey’s call that ended in a loss of life truly is white privilege — a naive, white privilege at that.
That Yancey — a man of God and a soon-to-be priest, is suggesting the kind of confrontation with police that invariably leads to physical injury at best, loss of life at worst, however sincere, is an abdication of his calling and his obligation to properly shepherd his flock in addition to everyone else within his sphere of influence.
Church leaders should be saying the exact opposite of what Yancey is saying. To those who may encounter police officers, however aggressive, answer them calmly and politely — even if they’re wrong.
If you’ve been wronged, it’s easier to fight that injustice if you’re still alive.