Make It Plain Logo
Make It Plain Cover

Malcolm Slandered

Episode Summary

“When I am dead — I say it that way because, from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form — I want you just to watch and see if I’m not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with “hate.” He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol, of “hatred” — and that will help him escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race.” 

In the second episode of Make It Plain, Phillip and Taelor tackle the subject of slander, mainly how Malcolm X was and still is slandered by those who choose to misrepresent him. Slander, as Phillip defines it, is to make a false or damaging statement about somebody. Slander is not just saying something wrong; it is not painting the whole picture to represent a false image. This false image creates a lens that distorts the person or thing you wish to slander. Slander also strips a person of their voice because what they say is altered and distorted. As he predicted, Malcolm is used as a villain for those wishing to portray a “right” way to push for civil rights for all Americans. 

Phillip and Taelor mention again in this episode that Malcolm X was a complex person who evolved over his lifetime. The problem that most have with Malcolm is reducing him to a one-dimensional version of himself; this leads to slandering Malcolm. Malcolm’s voice is stripped from him when we do not wish to engage with who Malcolm X actually was and instead rely on reductive versions of the man. Once again, Malcolm X understood that this slander would happen to him once he died. But what is interesting, as Phillip and Taelor note, is who Malcolm goes after for slandering him. While we might expect Malcolm to critique the U.S. government or perhaps the FBI, those are not the institutions Malcolm takes issue with. Instead, Malcolm goes after the media for their portrayal of him.

When discussing how media presents Malcolm, Phillip and Taelor discuss needing to parse whether they are reporting facts or shaping a story. Phillip also mentions that we need to understand one can report facts and still tell a lie. It is possible to cherry-pick facts to serve a narrative instead of giving a full accounting of the facts to tell the whole story. Taelor shares the example that if all you ever hear in the media is that Black people are poor, uneducated, and in prison, then people are not given a complete picture of Black life in America, even if it is true that some Black people are poor, uneducated, or in prison.

This kind of selective reporting happened to Malcolm X. Phillip and Taelor discuss that this kind of reporting is also why Malcolm smiled when being interviewed. Malcolm knew he would be painted as an angry Black man, so he smiled when being interviewed on television. Malcolm understood that Black defense is viewed as Black violence and that to overcome this purposeful misconception, he would need to be above reproach on television and in the news.

Phillip then discusses how the current discussion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) mirrors how we still think about Malcolm. Phillip says that for Christians to address the tool of CRT, we must first understand not just the subject that CRT aims to help us know (race), but also what Scripture says about race. To speak about anything, whether it is CRT or Malcolm X, without first attempting to understand it, is slander. 

Phillip and Taelor claim that we live in a culture of slander because people refuse to research topics or people they wish to talk about. The battle against CRT has become a way to silence those who talk about race or speak on behalf of the vulnerable. Phillip gives the example of a pastor who slandered him based on second hand information accusing Phillip of being pro-CRT even though Phillip had not endorsed CRT. This example shows how slander silences its victims because the pastor who slandered Phillip did not listen to what Phillip said, even as he raised concern to Phillip’s employer by passing on false information.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does having a full understanding of a person or subject keep us from the sin of slander?
  2. In this episode, Phillip and Taelor say that holding up a mirror feels like hate. Do you believe that is true? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think Malcolm X felt it more important to call out the press instead of the government?
  4. Has the church been complicit in slander? If so, how?

Phillip Holmes: Welcome to Make it Plain where we offer Christian reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X. I’m Philip Holmes.

Taelor Gray: I’m Taelor Gray, and we are your hosts.

Holmes: So last week we talked about perceptions of Malcolm, but this week we want to talk about the way that Malcolm was slandered. So I have a quote right here, Taelor, that I’m going to read and then we’re going to dive into today’s topic. Malcolm said this in his autobiography: “When I am dead—I say it that way because, from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form—I want you to just watch and see if I’m not right in what I say, that the white man in his press is going to identify me with hate. He’ll make use of me dead as he has made use of me alive as a convenient symbol of hatred. And that will help him escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect—to show the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race.”

Gray: Hmm. Man, listen, that brother was prophetic. I think, like, you know, when I hear quotes like that from Malcolm, it’s one of those direct confrontation kinds of quotes where he’s not speaking kind of in the ethereal or the theoretical or hypothetical like he’s coming straight for hearts and the deepest parts of what makes us human. And it makes us come to grips with what we do, you know, and ultimately the behaviors that shape our society. So when we say we want to talk about slander, Malcolm is in this, quote, interacting with a kind of reputation that he would gain because people that were able to shape narratives and in—you know, we’re talking about the media—we’re talking about a broader commentary of who he was and what his life represented. He was interacting with people who would just blatantly tell non-truth about him or say non-truths about his message. And that word “symbol”—that’s just such an interesting word for him to use. Because when someone becomes symbolic, it’s almost as if we can step away from who they are, and humanize them in the complexity of their humanity and then just interact with a symbol of whatever we’ve created or whatever kind of ideology that we want to attack. We turn that person into just a symbol that ultimately we interact with. And, man—that is to me, a culture that’s ripe for slander.

Holmes That’s good. Yeah, man, I completely agree. I think that’s super helpful, especially when you talk about how Malcolm was extremely complex, but what was presented and what has been presented to most people is sort of this one-sided or one-dimensional—

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: —version that is not at all—it’s not at all accurate. I couldn’t help but wonder when Malcolm is doing this, he doesn’t really talk about government or the FBI. He specifically talks about the white man’s media. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: I can’t help but wonder if this framing of Malcolm was strategically intentional, or if it was simply conveniently used to oversimplify things. You know, I guess both would be strategic.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: What was it about Malcolm or was it about selling newspapers?

Gray: Yeah. And I mean, that’s the question we could always ask: whether or not the media is actually interested in reporting the facts or helping to shape the perspective that we can take away with a balanced approach. You know, like, we always have to question that about media, and now we see all these years later, after Malcolm’s time, we have all of these news outlets. But if the news is the news, then, you know, why does one political party listen to one station while the other political party listens to the other? So I think he was—he at that time interacting with a version of news media that he was critiquing in general as it relates to white people and in narratives that would be presented to the white community, or just the white perspective. 

Holmes: Yeah, it’s just interesting because people often talk about the media as if what we have today is sort of new. Right? Or, you know, you just talk about all the different news stations and all the various narratives. Right?

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: But it’s very interesting that when you look at how Malcolm describes the media of his time, this distrust for the media was already there. I think that people are going to find themselves as Christians, identifying more and more with minorities. And how they respond is going to be interesting because before, when America was perceived to be generally a Christian nation—right? And it seemed as if the news reflected that, and sort of even the political beliefs of the two parties reflected that. Now, all of a sudden, Christians are feeling more and more marginalized by society. And it’s also interesting that many who accuse—the very same people who accuse black people of having sort of this victim mentality—now have embodied their own version of this victim-like mentality.

Gray: Yes. Cancel culture and the like. Yeah, man. I mean, it’s—again, like what he was interacting with back at that time had to do with, you know, the presentation of news to the white community, or for from the perspective of white people, because the news media wasn’t necessarily reporting on what black people feel, or what black people think, or centering black voices at that time. You know, it was basically media that in its best assumption of what they were trying to do, they were trying to understand the perspective of black folks. But it wasn’t necessarily centering black people to tell the stories. So his caution, I think, has to do with, you know, what he had already experienced, and what we downplay so often in this country, especially now because of the variety of news outlets we have, is how this country has been propagandized around so many different things. 

Holmes: More than we realize. 

Gray: Yeah, man. So he was in tune with that early.

Holmes: That’s why I couldn’t help but wonder. I’m like, he didn’t mention the government. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: He didn’t he didn’t mention just white people—how white people will see me. 

Gray: Yeah.

 Holmes: He specifically called out the press

Gray: Yep

Holmes: Because I’m also fascinated by how Malcolm’s perception of the media as being untrustworthy suddenly also became the message of evangelical Christians. Right? And some, depending on who you talk to, would say, with the exception of Fox News. But there are many who, you know, post-Trump, are distrusting Fox News. So there’s this strong distrust of the media within the conservative base, and they recognize, I think, what Malcolm recognized—that he who controls the narrative has the power. So now you’re seeing all of these like conservative news stations and newspapers popping up here and there because the response is: our side of the story isn’t being told.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Right? But this was the plight of African-Americans in America for centuries.

Gray: Yeah. And I mean, just again, when it comes back to propaganda or propagandizing, I think what we have to do is be honest about our country’s history in terms of how the media has even propagandized the church, you know, or—

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: You know, created narratives and perceptions about what the church is and where the church’s good is in society or why it exists for the good of society. The news media can play a part in crafting that narrative. And, you know, we have publications like Christianity Today that have had such a long run and have had longevity in that way. But I do think, Malcolm—

 Holmes: But Christians aren’t even getting their information…Like that’s kind of a side piece of content, right?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: It’s a small supplement to get some explicitly Christian things. Right? This is what I think everybody needs to realize about the media and about news that you digest: you can report the facts and still tell a lie.

Gray:  Sure. 

Holmes: Right? Because it is not just the facts that you choose to report—the nuances that, you know, the naked eye may assume are unimportant, but you as a journalist knows that if I include this, it might balance out the story, or it might make the narrative more complex. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: And I think that with King being the symbol of love, Malcolm being the symbol of hate, it made it seem as if the race issues within America were like, just done, right?

 Gray: Yeah. I mean, there’s three sets of facts, black people—and I’m not saying this was an actual headline. I’m just using this as an example. You say these things and report them, say: black people are poor. Black people are uneducated, black people are going to prison. And if you just report those things, you create a perception about black people and you’re not helping people engage with the full conversation. So for Malcolm, a lot of what was reported was Malcolm X is angry, you know, or this perception of his passion around a particular topic gave people the impression that whatever he was yelling about or whatever he was speaking strongly about was wrong. Because you’re not supposed to do that. Why are you angry? You live in America. Why are you upset? You can achieve anything you want here. And this is what I mean by the media propagandizing America—the greatest country on earth, the patriotism, the nationalism that’s associated with it. It’s only something that can be reported from one perspective throughout history. And so he represents a different perspective. History—still factual history—except he’s giving information that the national news media will not give so they can control how people perceive him, because he’s flying in the face of what they report. Therefore, they can say—slanderously so, I think is what we’re saying—that he is a purveyor of hate.

 Holmes: And then also here’s the reality, right? Martin and Malcolm were fighting two different battles. I think that we can’t allow that to escape us because Malcolm could already drink from the same water fountains as white people. He could already use the same restrooms as white people. So Malcolm’s concerns in some ways—not in all, because it doesn’t matter in the 60s if you’re black like you were still experiencing racism—but Malcolm’s concerns were not nearly as overt as what King was dealing with in the South, with the people he was advocating for. And the reason why I point that out is because if we understand that, that means that Malcolm and his cause pre-Civil Rights Act—his concerns, I think, are probably more in line with what most of us are dealing with than with King because King knew, and Malcolm knew. This is why Malcolm smiled, and this is why King was brilliant for recognizing that the nonviolence ethic of love was going to be the best way forward. It’s the same—it hit me the other day it’s the same reason why Malcolm smiled in interviews. It’s because he recognized that, listen, if we’re out in the streets defending ourselves against white violence, they’re going to say black people are rioting. Think about black Wall Street. What was it known as? What was the name that was given to it long before we knew it as black Wall Street Massacre? It was called something else before that. It was called the Tulsa Race Riots.

 Gray: Yeah. So then it put the onus on the black people who were being brutalized.

Holmes: One hundred percent.

 Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: That would have happened. King was brilliant. King knew that it didn’t matter who threw the first punch. You’ve got to think about—TV’s were limited. Segregation was in full effect—this is more so theory—I always try to put myself in the mindset of those who were living during that time. So when you think—you know—blacks in the South are uneducated—right? It’s a perception problem nationally, and you’re in this situation where the media ultimately is going to control the narrative and then the segregated society. Most people in the South had not actually had interactions with African-Americans, apart from the people who worked for them. 

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: Right? And so if they didn’t own the business, they probably didn’t cross paths as much. Right? And if they—and it was just purely by seeing them, right? Not really… So the North’s perception was that the reason why the segregation laws are in place is because the Negroes in the South are this way or that way and they’re uneducated. So now you have to have a strategy in place that does not require the person who is watching from afar to have to judge who is in the right and who is in the wrong. You have to make it explicit because black people didn’t have a voice. Our word against white people’s word didn’t mean anything.

Gray: Yep. 

Holmes: So King’s strategy was essentially, you can’t say we started a riot when you’re spraying us with hoses and you’re siccing dogs on us, and we’re not doing anything wrong.

 Gray: Yeah. Yep. And Malcolm said, if you hit me, I’ma hit you back.

 Holmes: Right.

Gray: We would at least explore the concept of self-defense, which again, points to him being slanderously reported, as a purveyor of hate.

Holmes: Yeah, because think about the Black Panthers, right?

 Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: And how they were perceived. These are simply individuals who are exercising their constitutional rights, right?  But you see a bunch of black dudes with guns.

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: It’s going to be perceived completely different than a white guy with a gun.

 Gray: Yeah. And again, that’s a perception challenge to overcome.

 Holmes: Oh, one hundred percent—which is why slander is so easy. 

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: And I guess what I’m trying to emphasize is I’ve realized this as well: Black people only have a voice when we are—within white—and I’m talking about like pure white culture, right? Because there are white people and then there’s white culture, and I got to distinguish between those two. But I think we’re all kind of affected by that piece of white culture as well, because a black voice—even sometimes among his own people—is questioned when compared to—because it’s just something that we just kind of naturally do because it’s what we’ve been taught.

Gray: Yeah. It’s what we’ve been taught. Yeah. So, yeah. And because I wanted to get back to more of how what Malcolm was addressing really points to some of what we’re struggling through now in our national conversation.

Holmes: Yes. One hundred percent, yeah.

Gray: Because I think the end of the day, as Martin and Malcolm grew together, they saw their ideologies start to converge and Martin would travel further north and find a different kind of racism—a little more covert, more identifiable through nuance and language and, you know, kind of layered legislation. And Malcolm was just flat out speaking to it, you know, calling out the white liberal media and all that different stuff. But he remained steadfast in his critique of the systems and structures that cause the condition of black people and other suffering minorities. So when you’re passionately speaking towards these systemic inequalities of the society that you’re in, and yet you’re being reported as doing something else, I think what we’re agreeing—or at least trying to communicate—is that that is slander. You know? So, I’m communicating—this is what I’m doing. But someone else is reporting that I’m actually doing something harmful. I’m trying to help here. These are what my words tell you. I’m giving you reasoning behind what I’m doing. And I’m exploring this notion that I believe is good for our society. And yet what’s reported is that I am a purveyor of hate and that I am a person who encourages violence. That’s what Malcolm was dealing with. Are there some ways—I mean, I’m asking you this because I know there are—are there some ways that that still is playing out in society? Let’s just go right there. I think the conversation around critical race theory now is very similar to the dynamic that Malcolm X was interacting with, just as a critique on society and structures, and then Christian brothers and sisters interacting with critical race theory, communicating something that they are extracting from the concept and yet being slanderously reported as purveying anti-Gospel methodology. How do you see that play out? You know, how have you personally interacted with that application of slander?

 Holmes: So I had some earlier concerns about critical race theory when I first kind of started hearing it here and there. And my thing was like, young fellow, be careful. Although there are some guys who, you know, are a lot more well-versed who would be okay with utilizing CRT as a tool or something like that or whatever. But, you know, anything that’s outside of the canon of Scripture to deal with something as complex as racism and justice—I did not feel like early on—and I still feel this way—that we needed it, but I also didn’t think that it was sinful or the greatest threat to Christianity or was something that was necessarily going to cause harm—significant harm—in the body of Christ if those who were interacting with it kept in view that all truth is God’s truth. 

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: This is one of the things that I’ve been trying to emphasize for those who are pro—using CRT and those who are all the way from suspicious to skeptical, or they hate to CRT type guys—because there’s some people who might be suspicious of it, even though they don’t think it’s the greatest threat to Christianity. And then there’s others who and I don’t even know if they really believe this, but they’re saying it—like this is the greatest threat to Christianity. Here’s the thing. You have to make sure before you are going to use a tool outside of the Scripture or critique a tool outside of the Scripture that you are well-versed in what Scripture has to say about the topic that that tool is attempting to address. So—

Gray: And you have to be well versed in the tool.

 Holmes: Yes, you have to be well versed in the tool, right? But you got to first be well versed in Scriptures. Right, because here’s what’ll happen: if you don’t have a robust, Biblical theology of justice and you approach a tool to start with favorably—right? And let’s just say you are a Christian, right? But because you’ve inherited a theology that is weak when it comes to issues of justice, and you have not studied the narratives and the dynamics of power and all these things in Scripture, or maybe your cultural lenses—maybe you’ve studied these passages, but your cultural lenses blinded you from the ability to see what was actually going on, right? And your stubbornness in your heart of heart, right? Maybe it’s just not your cultural—maybe your heart’s just hard towards it, right? Or maybe the Spirit allows you to remain—like I can see all the Christian—the Spirit is more powerful than cultural lenses. I can hear all that. So but my point is this is that if you don’t have a robust theology and then you hear something that CRT purports, that may be true—because just because CRT is not Christian and it has some things that are worrisome—that does not mean that everything that it says is wrong. 

Gray: Right. 

Holmes: Right? There still could be some truth in that, and that truth belongs to God.

Gray: That’s right. Yeah.

Holmes: So let’s say you go in and you just start critiquing something, and you’ve made up your mind that, like, this particular aspect is evil, right? Because people start talking about intersectionality….I don’t know as much about the philosophy as I know what it means to intersect—like an intersection, right? So how do these things cross over, right? There are things that I might say—because they’re going to be two different people that you’re going to be interacting with. You’re going to be interacting with those who are promoting CRT based on what they see in CRT. And you’re going to say that’s evil because it comes from CRT. Right? And then you got me over here—ain’t read more than a paragraph about CRT on purpose, right? Because it’s kind of a—everybody keeps saying….Because then they’ll actually have a reason to say that it’s influenced me. Like, there is nobody that I listen to regularly that is influenced by critical race theory.

Gray: Well maybe—

Holmes: What I’m getting is from the Bible. But let me finish this and then I want to hear what you’re about to say.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: So my thing is that I’m coming from the Scriptures. It’s kind of like the—I can’t remember. I got to find this quote. But he basically says I’ve never read a word of Calvin when I accepted what is so-called Calvinism. Right?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: I think that’s true in a lot of cases because I’m just like if what I’m saying is the CRT, that’s interesting because I’ve never read a word of CRT. Right?

Gray: Right. Right.

Holmes: Right? I can take you to the text and I can show you these dynamics in the text. So that means that you haven’t been reading the text. 

Gray:  That’s right.

Holmes: And you’re trying to critique something based on cultural lenses that you have been told are Biblical, but they’re actually secular and worldly and just as unhelpful and evil as perhaps the CRT.

Gray: And your Christianity potentially may have been propagandized to you, versus you exploring the true nature of what it means to follow Christ.

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: And I mean, man, like you said, exactly what I was getting ready to walk into saying, which is to communicate truth from God’s word and for the Spirit to illuminate to you what God is shaping in his community of faith as relates to the life of the believer and the community, we share with one another, and then also our mission in this world—if that’s ultimately what your formation is from Scripture—you’re spending your time in the word of God—and then you communicated true from Scripture, and then someone redirects and says, no, you got that truth from a man’s philosophy, or a man’s theory, or teachable concept in academia—then, you know…. In this way, we are exploring slander. You know, you’re telling me that I represent something that I don’t, you know, and at the end of the day, that’s how you’re going to report my image to your circle or to the rest of the world. And I think this gets back to what Malcolm is saying is at the end of the day, we have a culture of slander. We don’t have those people—

Holmes: Yeah, one hundred percent.

Gray: — who will go and research either the Scriptures for themselves, which we would say that’s the first thing you need to do is go study the Scriptures. Have a robust understanding of justice or how God would address social issues in actual communities. Find out what that looks like in the Scriptures first.

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: Before you enter into this conversation. But there is a dishonesty there in that folks will not take that first step. They’ll actually create an image of who you are based on a propagandized view of where you’re coming from. So we have this culture of slander. And I mean, I wanted you to speak to maybe just some specific ways that that has played out, because, you know, we start with Malcolm and ultimately wrong views that are shaped by the media that are assigned to him. What kinds of wrong things do you think are assigned to Christians who appear to be interacting with critical race theory, may or may not be, but may agree with some of the concepts.

Holmes: I don’t know if it has much to do with whether or not they’re interacting with it, or whether or not they are agreeing with some of the concepts. I think that is a lot simpler than that. I think if they are dealing with race, what I’ve come to realize is that it is a smokescreen. It’s not really about CRT being the greatest threat. It’s about silencing those who are talking about issues related to race and justice and not just racial justice. But I think eventually you will begin to see this evolve. If this is exactly what I think it is, I think that you will begin to see it evolve and it will be—no, actually, it already has been. It’s been leveraged at anybody who’s speaking to power on behalf of the vulnerable because there are those who are in power attempting to keep power because they want a certain group of people to essentially stay in their place. And so this whole conversation is about power.

Gray: How would you—could you define slander with your own words? How would you define slander?

Holmes: To make a false or damaging statement about somebody. Right? That’s essentially what slander is. And there are those who will use this intentionally or—I will say consciously or unconsciously. What ends up happening is that you first create a lens for those who consume it by which their view of the person who is being slandered is altered or distorted.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Right? That’s the first thing that you do when you slander. The second thing, which is simply a natural next step, is that if what you are saying in the work that you’re trying to pursue has become altered or distorted, you no longer have a voice. Because what I interpret you as saying versus what you’re actually doing is completely different. Here’s the funny party. The same thing actually happens to those in power who present themselves as the champions for truth. Because they can actually speak heresy and say something that’s completely contrary to Scripture, and you’ll allow it because they have established themselves as the one who should not be questioned because he or she champions truth, and you won’t be able to see the good that is being done by the person who is being slandered, because they have given you a lens and you have to consume it. Right? It’s not like slander is one of those things that the people who hear it are victims. 

Gray: Right.

Holmes: It harms them, but not as victims. It harms them because it makes them complicit. Or it tempts them to become complicit. Right? That’s where the damage is done. But the real damage—the real victims—are those whose image or whose words have been distorted. So I’ll give you an example of how I saw slander play out in my own story. I got an email from one of my superiors and he said “Hey, got this email from one of our graduates and I know this is wrong”— He knew what was going on, right? But essentially the person had said that I’m quoting Malcolm X favorably and I am promoting certain aspects of CRT. Now this person was a pastor who said these things about me. This person was someone that I actually knew and had—I wouldn’t say a close or strong relationship with, but, you know, we were in college and we were in seminary together.

Gray: And they could get ahold of you.

Holmes: Yeah. Easily.

Gray: Easily.

Holmes: Easily.

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: So I was first just kind of taken off guard, because I was like—wow—that really happened. Then it hit me. Wait, he slandered me. I have quoted Malcolm favorably, right? But I don’t see an issue with that, right? Because I’m also engaging Malcolm critically, right? But I do think that we can learn from him. So that’s how you’re framing me: quoting Malcolm favorably. I wouldn’t really have a problem with that, my question would be, “what’s your point?”

Gray: Yeah, we’re doing this podcast.

Holmes: Yeah, right. I’m like, okay so…and? Like, keep talking. Because you just saying that hasn’t said anything yet, right? So that’s one. But the other one that was like, disturbing, was the notion that I was promoting certain elements of CRT favorably. Well, all right, so if I take a charitable approach to what he was saying, I could say, “Which elements?” Because there are some elements that might be true, but I didn’t even know enough about the elements of CRT to promote. So that means, maybe he was super well-versed, but I knew essentially what was going on. He was saying that I was promoting elements of CRT and that was a concern of his. So my conclusion was, “Oh he slandered me, because either he has not listened to anything that I’ve said, or he’s misrepresenting what was said. So, it took me a while, but I had to calm down because I was extremely frustrated for multiple different reasons, but eventually, I decided to reach out to him. I set up a call with him. Wasn’t blindsiding him. I said CRT, Malcolm X. That’s the topic. Let him know. Zoom, too.

Gray: Okay.

Holmes: Because I wanted us to be able to see each other, right? I said, “Hey, help me understand how you thought I was quoting certain elements of CRT. And he says, “Haha, well actually, I didn’t actually hear you say that. Someone else told me.”

Gray: Oh gosh.

Holmes: “And I went back and listened to what you said” after he talked to my superior. “And I realized that’s not at all what you’re saying.”

Gray: And then he repented? 

Holmes: He apologized. He apologized. We ended up actually talking for, like, two hours. And I’m not sure that he quite got it, but I definitely think that he was trying to understand the gravity of what just took place. Right, because he’s a pastor. So there’s a responsibility that a pastor has, in my opinion, when it comes to things like this.

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: And I’m grateful for his apology and for him just admitting—like, just saying “I gotta be honest, I didn’t read what you said, right? I didn’t even listen to what you said. I went back and listened and I realized I was, you know….” And so, but what I told him is, “I don’t know the motives of the person who told you. Because, honestly this isn’t really over, but, like, you’re the one who said something, so I’m going to leave it here. That person manipulate you, they lied to you about me, and if they told anybody else that, this is what slander does: it takes away the voice of its victims. Because now, with me trying to—because, you know, one of the things we’re talking about trying to establish is a nuanced, careful approach—not a balance because I think—our aim is truth, right?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: I don’t even necessarily know, but I do know that sometimes things are so complicated where we don’t—we might not necessarily have the answer, but we’re trying to present both perspectives, not as if they’re equal—because sometimes they’re not.

Gray: No.

Holmes: Right? I don’t like the idea of like picking a little bit from over here and a little bit from over there, but I do tend to think that there are sometimes people who are really right and kinda wrong, and there are others who are a little right and a lot of wrong. And then sometimes both sides are just a lot of wrong and a little bit of right because sometimes, a problem again has been misdiagnosed, right? When that doctor—going back to an earlier episode—when I gave the analogy of the misdiagnosis when it comes to do you have the flu, right? Or do you have a really bad cold, or do you have HIV? The reality is that—the fact that you have a cold, that could be very true, right? Because HIV lowers your immune system. Me telling you that truth does nothing for your overall health. That particular truth is just a symptom of a bigger problem.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: But what the problem is is that we’re so content to stop and accept the “you have a cold—a really bad cold,” answer because what’s behind the HIV curtain is too scary. And this is what happens when it comes to these issues and race in America because there are times where an issue takes place and it’s not racism. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a problem there that needs to be explored.

Gray: I think what’s more concerning and troubling about the example you gave is the effect of slander. You know, like it’s not just this innocuous “we just had a misunderstanding, oh my bad mistake.” But we’re talking about an email to your superior.

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: When you send an email to someone’s superior, there’s typically an expectation that there will be a reprimand of some sort. 

Holmes: Yeah, yep—absolutely. Even if one isn’t asked for, because he didn’t ask for a reprimand. He simply wanted to know if my views were representative of the institution’s.

Gray: Yeah. Whatever could have transpired from there—thank God the person who is your superior knows you and has some respect for you and your character. You know, so, again, the effect of slander is not just “Hey, we had a disagreement.”

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: It is…now like you said earlier, I think I need to remove your voice or I need to stifle your voice or to cripple the reputation you have in some way.

Holmes: Yeah. Because here’s the thing. The reason why I think this illustration is so helpful and this story is so relevant is because it’s clear the effects of slander are played out in his actions. Right? Because he was—somebody slandered me to him, and even though he knew me, went to school with me two times, and is a pastor, right? So anybody is susceptible to slander. He reached out to my superior with a conclusion about me.

Gray: Conclusion. Without even listening.

Holmes: Based on words that he had not even heard.

Gray: Yep. And I’m just going to go on record and say that as a pastor, that’s a pastoral failure. That’s a failure. 

Holmes: That should not be taken lightly.

Gray: Yep. And that’s—you want to talk about a perceived offense against God versus an actual offense against God. You know, what the Scriptures—or how the Scriptures treat slander. You know, the kind of witness that we are supposed to proclaim to be in this world is affected by slander. And ultimately we’re talking about a man named Malcolm X who—we will eventually get to his view on the Christian church. He—there is an effect that he predicted about the witness people would have of him in light of what he did, or what he said, and their perception of it. So are we as the church complicit in our false representations of people that we perceive historically in certain ways, or even in our current interactions with our brothers and sisters? So much so that we won’t have a conversation with them, we won’t seek explanation, we won’t even open up the text to find out whether or not we’re actually in the right heart posture, and we have a sound understanding of what God is teaching through the Scriptures. We will take the presumptive step of trying to condemn or influence some sort of penalty against our brother or sister, based on conclusions that are not even true. You know, like that’s—that’s the culture of slander. And as it relates to CRT—that’s the hot-button issue of the evangelical church right now, but to your point, man, it is a smokescreen. It is a smokescreen that ultimately is hiding our need for repentance. Like deep repentance to reconcile with one another and to have some authentic representation of the Spirit’s work in us and through us to maintain community and brotherhood with each other. So it’s disappointing to hear that you had that experience, and unfortunately, that is something that has become the norm as it relates to this conversation. Right? There’s nobody who can sit here and tell me that they haven’t begun to receive some sort of information or concept from a secular source and tried to apply it to their Christianity.

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: There’s no way somebody could sit here and tell me that they—

Holmes: Well the very people who are going in hard against Christianity are literally using atheists in order to warn of the dangers regarding CRT.

Gray: It’s a really—I’m trying to be diplomatic, but it sucks. You know, this is bad. Like this is—I mean, like—

Holmes: Because one guy who agreed with them—who responded when they posted the podcast was like “this seems to be a really bad move, guys. Like, I mean, I’m with you on the dangers of CRT, but this….” He could see how, like, contradictory—and I think this person—I think there are a lot of well-meaning people, right? Who are listening to particular voices who don’t have the theological and exegetical tools to be able to do the work from Scripture to see between what their influencers and leaders and so-called pastors (I would say about many of them) are—the narrative that they’re being delivered and spoon-fed. There is a reality where there is a whole other group of people that are being led astray…

Gray: Sure.

Holmes: …by their earthly shepherds.

Gray: Well that’s the problem. If the pastors are conducting themselves in that way, then we’ve got a major problem, because this isn’t just an everyday run-of-the-mill “I’m a follower of Christ who needs discipleship in my growth”—no. This person, I think, took an appropriate step in going to a pastor, and the pastor should have responded with the right Biblical ethic, either to this person directly or to you directly. And that didn’t happen, and if the pastors are the ones creating confusion among the body, then we’re in huge trouble, man. The best way I saw this play out in just like the public eye—this is just an example that comes to mind and it has nothing to do with the church—is I remember years ago there was a clip of Senator John McCain who was campaigning to be president, and he was running against Barack Obama.

Holmes: Oh yeah, yeah. Classic, yeah.

Gray: You remember this?

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: Yeah. And there was a person in the town hall forum, who came to him publicly—and you know, this is red meat for the crowd. And she goes through all the conspiracy theories that she heard about Barack Obama, and John McCain just gently corrects her and says we’re not going to say false things about this man. He’s a part of our country. He’s a good man, and we’re just not going to do this.

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: Beautiful. If we could employ an ethic like that as the church? As witnesses of Jesus Christ, who had all kinds of slander leveled against him. And the church throughout history has had all kinds of slander leveled against it. Then I think we would have a better witness in our society. But if this kind of in-fighting is going to be our public influence, then you know, I think we gotta own some of these critiques from Malcolm. 

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: And we’re gonna get to those critiques.

Holmes: Yep. 

Gray: So.

Holmes: It’s gonna be good, man.

Gray: So yeah, man. This is—this is a good conversation. This has given us some real-time things to explore. So, I appreciate you sharing that, man. I hope that you and this brother can get to a better place.

Holmes: Yeah, man, the conversation ended well. I think we’re gonna try to link up in person. He was very intentional about trying to connect with me when I came to Jackson. I just happened to be out of town.

Gray: Okay.

Holmes: When he was coming, so I think it’s gonna be good. And I tell the story, obviously not to disparage him because you have no idea who he is, but I tell the story because I think it’s a really good example of what slander is and how it affects brothers and sisters in Christ.

Gray: Amen. Let’s be people of repentance. Confession and repentance. This is not something that God’s grace can not cover. So, prayerfully God continues to lead us on. Man, it’s been a good conversation, man. I look forward to the next one, bro.

Holmes: Likewise.

Phillip Holmes

Phillip Holmes is a marketing executive and owner of Highest Good Media. He and his family are members of Redeemer Church.

Taelor Gray

Taelor Gray currently serves as pastor at Linden Fellowship while doubling as a hip-hop artist. He and his wife have two children.