Conduct Unbecoming

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Few things are more frustrating than to have our sincere apology judged as insufficient.  “Sorry isn’t good enough,” we’re told.  Then we’re told that our apology is but the first step on the long road to redemption–if there even is a road to redemption.  Often as not, we find that the road to redemption is permanently closed upon the first, minor transgression.

This exasperating scenario plays out thousands of times each day, even in the Christian world, in spite of the fact that Jesus could not have been clearer when he explained that judging apologies is a no-no:  “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”  (LK 17:4)

In the Basic Christian world–the genuine Christian world–an apology concludes the matter.  It is much more than the “ante” that must be thrown in before starting the punishment phase.  In Basic Christianity, forgiveness follows repentance, whereupon victim and offender roll merrily along, hand-in-hand, heart-to-heart, even stronger and more connected than they were before the transgression.  Everybody wins, God is glorified and it’s a beautiful thing.

This is not to say that an apology should “fix” major offenses such as violent crime or serious injury or infidelity.  But honestly, haven’t we all fallen into the enemy’s trap of holding major grudges over minor offenses?  We have, as a society, been sucked into the devil’s trap of “straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Mt. 23:24).”  We go bonkers over the slightest personal insults–the gnats–yet we ignore major social “camels” such as racial dissonance.

In the Basic Christian world such majoring in minors cannot be.  To withhold mercy and demand punishment is, to paraphrase a military term, “conduct unbecoming a Christian.”

I love the term “conduct unbecoming” because it’s such a gracious way to call attention to a shortcoming.  It does not accuse anyone of evil intent, it merely points out that certain conduct falls short of a lofty standard.

Judging apologies is conduct unbecoming a Christian, or CUAC for short.  As evidence of the damage that can be caused by the CUAC habit of judging apologies, let’s take a look at a uniquely American phenomenon I refer to as “one-and-done Whitey.”

Here’s how one-and-done Whitey works:  First, a high-profile white person makes a racially insensitive comment or engages in some racially insensitive behavior.  Next there’s a public outcry not just from blacks but also from merciless white wolves who go about in sheep’s clothing.  Finally, the offender’s career is essentially ruined and he or she is cast into social and career exile.

The list of one-and-done whites is long and always growing.  Jimmy the Greek was banished as a sports commentator after suggesting that blacks lacked sufficient “buoyancy” to be world-class swimmers.  Pro golfer Fuzzy Zoeller lost his endorsement deals and has been living in a state of semi-shame ever since 1998, when he jokingly suggested that TIger Woods should serve fried chicken as host of the Champions’ Dinner at the Masters golf tournament.  Former Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry was squeezed out of that position after he complained that his team did not have enough black athletes to compete at a high level.  Michael Richards, who played Kramer on the TV sitcom, “Seinfeld,” has been a goner ever since a racial rant at a nightclub.  Paula Deen lost her popular cooking show after admitting that she had used “the n-word” decades earlier, as a child.  Danny Ferry was fired as general manager of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks after reading aloud a racially insensitive scouting report that he hadn’t even written.

The point here is not that mercilessness toward white celebrities who make racial mistakes is wrong.  The point is that mercilessness toward human beings is wrong.  Judging apologies is conduct unbecoming a Christian, and Basic Christians–black and white–must be in 100% agreement on this.

Jesus said point-blank that judging apologies is CUAC, but why is it CUAC?  How can something that feels so good be wrong?  Judging apologies is CUAC because it is tantamount to condemnation, and condemnation is the absence of hope, and hopelessness is the ambience of hell, and contributing to a hellish ambience on earth is CUAC.  That’s why judging apologies is wrong!

God said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Hos. 6:6).”  Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means:  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Mt. 9:13).”  Still, many of us, when even slightly offended, behave more like pagans than followers of Jesus, always demanding more sacrifice and never being satisfied.  This CUAC dynamic places an unbearable burden on the racial harmony effort. 

If we are ever to win the War on RD–which we will!–we must acknowledge the futility of penance and stop demanding penance from one another.    We must be quick to accept apologies and slow to demand punishment.

Ultimately and immediately, we must swear off the CUAC habit of judging apologies.  Then, in place of that CUAC habit, we must crank up our faith and begin cultivating the Christ-like habit of accepting apologies at face value. We must leave the job of judging to God, the only one who is qualified for the job. (Ps. 9:8)

If you’re reading this in the morning, you’ll have more than one chance to choose between mercy and sacrifice before the sun sets today.  Before you leave your house, why not pray that you will not choose conduct unbecoming a Christian?  In so praying and so acting you will conquer a small chunk of territory for the War on Racial Dissonance today.  And once you’ve taken that ground you must “occupy” it with the force of mercy and gratitude.

Red Racial Nugget #9:  “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, “I repent, you must forgive them (Lk. 17:4).”

Be street smart yet harmless.  Peace.


Tommy Libre

Thomas P. Scribbins, a.k.a. Tommy Libré, is an inspirational writer and businessman living in what Mayberry calls “Hotlanta” and Harlem calls “The A.T.L.” A former engineer and roofing contractor who has worked his way down the ladder, he is married to Kathy—his “Trophy Babe” for the past 37 years—and has three grown sons. Harlem Meets Mayberry will be published around Christmas by Xulon Press. After that, Tommy will turn some of his attention to his next book—“Code Red Christianity”—and some to his lifetime dream, which is to open a substance-conquest ministry called Ugly Orphans. At Ugly Orphans, the cool softball T-shirts will be just the beginning of the fun. WooHoo!