Phillip M. Holmes: Redeeming the Legacy of Malcolm X
Phillip Holmes: I'm Phillip Holmes and I choose Truth Over Tribe.
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Patrick Miller : Do you? I am a white man who went to a mostly white high school who had exclusively white history teachers until I was in college. So maybe it's no surprise that my history of the black experience in America was whitewashed. The period between the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves and the Civil Rights Act 100 years later was something that we glided over when I was in high school. The story went, something like this, in the South things were bad. There was racism and segregation, but thankfully due to the leadership of people like Martin Luther King and his nonviolent movement, that changed. Now in my experience, Martin Luther King was always juxtaposed with a different figure, Malcolm X. He was presented as a proviolence figure who was willing to take up arms to claim his civil rights. What I've had to discover in the year since then is that this picture of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X is a little bit too simple. In fact, Malcolm X was not proviolence at all. He was pro self defense and he had a radically different context than Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King was in the South, Malcolm X was in the North. And so as I've had to read and learn, I've discovered that Malcolm X has a lot of tremendous thought that can shape our thinking about culture and society as Christians. On today's episode, we're going to have Phillip M. Holmes. He is the CCO for Reformed Theological Seminary, and he is the co- host of the podcast Make It Plain. That podcast explores the thinking and writing of Malcolm X and explores it from a Christian perspective. I've learned a ton from Phillip and I'm excited for you to learn from him too today. Phillip, it's great having you on the show today.
Phillip Holmes: Man, I'm glad to be here.
Patrick Miller : So I know you're a Ted Lasso fan, I'm a Ted Lasso fan. By the time this comes out, everybody listening should have already watched season one and season two. But here's my question for you, which Ted Lasso character are you?
Phillip Holmes: I think that I'm Roy Kent, honestly. And I think Roy Kent is an Enneagram eight. He has all of the characteristics of an Enneagram eight. He's a challenger, he's a defender, he's a protector. But Enneagram eights get a really hard time when they're separated from an actual person. So everybody thinks that Enneagram eights are just jerks and I'm like," Guys, I'm telling you this is your Enneagram eight." But here's the thing, people love watching Roy Kent because they can see a more holistic side of him. They can see him challenging. They can see him protecting, they can see him caring, but oftentimes in real life you only get certain pieces of those types of personalities and then bits and pieces out of context, they come off as jerks. So oftentimes this is what you see. But I think Roy Kent is an Enneagram eight. I actually had a colleague of mine who I've been telling for the longest. I'm like," Bro, you're an eight." And he was like," No." His wife thinks he's a one. I'm like," You're an eight." And as soon as Ted Lasso comes out and we realize we both watched it, he was like," Oh dude, I'm a Roy Kent." I was like," Roy Kent's an eight, bro. He's an eight."
Patrick Miller : You caught him. So are you an eight?
Phillip Holmes: I am.
Patrick Miller : My wife and I are funny. My wife does not love eight. So I guess it's good we don't have her on the call. I love eights. I've always been drawn to eights. I'm not an eight myself, but it's everything you said. First of all, I love having a great debate with people. I love the back and forth conversation, but every eight I know is like you just said, highly protective. I love that about Roy Kent, he is prickly, he's aggressive and yet there's that great scene in season two after Jamie Tartt's dad just rips him a new one and Roy Kent is the first one to walk up and give the guy hug. If you're not crying during that, see I'm about start crying right now, if you're not crying during that scene, you don't have a soul.
Phillip Holmes: I think after that I saw that and I was like, now people are starting to see the emotional range of eights. Because everybody thinks that we don't feel. And again, if you're watching Roy Kent from a distance or you just seeing bits and pieces, you're like," That guy's heartless, he doesn't really feel." But then you see him with his niece. A great point that you'll actually see is, and I think the teacher resembles this, his niece's teacher, she walks into the classroom, I think this is in... this is not the last episode, she has the popsicles and she's just really happy. And she's like," Would you like a lollypop?" Or something like that. And he's like," No." He just keeps walking and it was rude. But towards the end of that conversation and that scene, as he's talking to the teacher, because the teacher is the same way. She is not super bubbly and giggly and all of that, but the niece likes her. And most of the kids don't like her because they say that she's mean but she's actually a really good teacher. She's really good at what she does. And at the end she tells that teacher," Grow up." Because the teacher is like," Ooh." Doing that thing. And she was like," Grow up." So I think that's just a part of it. We're not bubbly people. We don't walk around smiling all the time and giggling and all that. And people just take eights the wrong way. So that's my apologetic.
Patrick Miller : Hey, like I said, I love eights. And I am really excited today to talk about Malcolm X. I want to start with myself, which is a weird way to do things, but I'm white. I grew up in mostly white schools with basically exclusively white teachers of history. And so as an adult who enjoys reading and enjoys history, I've really had to account for the fact that my education from the Civil War up to the civil rights era was completely bereft of information. I wasn't taught about barbarisms of slavery before that, but also the barbarisms of racism after the Civil War, the failure of the reconstruction and the terrible plight of black people, not just in the Jim Crow South, but across the country. And so when I first heard about Malcolm X, this is how he was presented to me. Malcolm is a proviolent figure who should be juxtaposed with Dr. King, who was a non- violent figure and took a non- violent approach. And so I know there's a ton to unpack there, but I think maybe the best place to start, because most people don't actually know Malcolm's story, is to talk about Malcolm's story. Who was he? How did he evolve from Malcolm little into Malcolm X?
Phillip Holmes: So to get the full picture of his story, I would highly recommend people check out the autobiography of Malcolm X. And it's actually an Audible version that's out that's read by a Lawrence Fishburne, which is amazing.
Patrick Miller : I listened to that. It is amazing.
Phillip Holmes: He does such a good job, man. So Malcolm's life is complex. His dad was a preacher. His mom was half white and he even suspects that, I don't think he suspects, I think they know that his grandmother at least was raped by a white man. And he grew up poor. He lost his dad and there are suspicions rather around the way that his dad actually died because circumstances were a bit suspicious because his dad was an activist. And as he was growing up in this sort of Christian household, eventually his dad was either killed or murdered or died in the accident, we don't necessarily know even within the family. The accounts vary from sibling to sibling, but long story short, what he eventually happens is he's left without a father. And his mom is raising all of these children by herself. And that really took a toll on her. Malcolm's account of it is that essentially his mom had a lot of pride. She didn't want to take handouts. She had dietary restrictions that she wanted to stick to so therefore she just wasn't accepting food from the pantry. And essentially just the people, the social workers, thought that she was crazy because this was free food that she was offering and she wasn't taking it. And she was a hard worker, but she would get a job and then they would find out that she had black children and then she would get fired. So Malcolm saw all of this stuff. So Malcolm eventually ended up bouncing from home to home after his mom ended up in an institution for mental health issues. And Malcolm even thinks that the circumstances of these white social workers and everything that she was dealing with is actually what drove her crazy.
Patrick Miller : It's one of the harrowing parts for me of reading his autobiography is how he highlights the pathologies that racism can really create. And he's looking at his mom and he's saying, this is a strong woman who didn't want to take any handouts and was trying to provide for her family. But because of the way she was treated both by institutions, whether it was the institution of child and family care, it drove her quite literally insane. And he saw that as a consequence of those systems. And for me reading it, it's a tragedy. It breaks your heart when you hear her story.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, absolutely. So he grew up living with white families. Everybody thought that Malcolm was a brilliant kid. And he did well in school, but there was one particular teacher that just took light out of Malcolm. Malcolm said that he wanted to be a lawyer and was very capable of becoming one. And this teacher basically said that Negros should pursue something some type of trade like a janitor or carpenter or something like that. That's a noble profession. I think carpenter was one of the examples that he threw out and all these other white kids would say," Hey, I wanted to be this. And I want to be..." And they weren't nearly as intelligent as Malcolm, but they would be encouraged to pursue those things. But Malcolm was discouraged because of the color of his skin. And that really changed the trajectory of his thinking. That made a huge impression, a negative impression on him growing up. His dad did have another family in the South and he had sister named Ella. And Ella essentially came and took Malcolm. Malcolm moved to Boston to live with Ella. And even in there, that's behind Ella, Malcolm did such a good job of probably painting more holistic pictures of the people in his life as he wrote this book. So he protected Ella. Ella, he talked about her being a strong black woman, but then there's other accounts that said that Ella was in some ways a negative influence on Malcolm. And I would imagine that again, when you're doing an autobiography, I just recognize that it's from this person's perspective, but also outsiders oftentimes have an incomplete picture as well. And it's probably a balance. It was probably a balanced view of a black woman trying to survive in a society where essentially black women were at the bottom of the social chain. And she perhaps probably did cut some corners and did some things that probably weren't necessarily looked at as good influences, but she was doing what she needed to do to survive. But it seemed to mean that there was some good values that she tried to instill in Malcolm and that she was actually trying to look out for him because the relationship remained for a long time, even after he was in the Nation of Islam. So it wasn't an instance where Malcolm viewed this woman with disrespect in retrospect. There was always respect and appreciation for what his sister Ella tried to do for him. So long story short, he eventually goes to prison and he was hustling in the streets prior to this and that eventually caught up with him. And one thing I like to point out about Malcolm prior to his Nation of Islam was that Malcolm was different because Malcolm probably had more interaction and engagement with white people than most black people did growing up. And so when you talk about Malcolm and you try to compare him to Martin, Malcolm didn't just know about white people, he knew white people. So he dated a white woman who was married for most of his time prior to going to prison. She was actually involved in one of the reasons why he ended up in prison because of some type of robbery that they tried to commit together. And of course, when they go to court, she says those black guys made us do it. They get probation and Malcolm and his black friends get sentenced. But this was a situation where I think there's a reality where Malcolm understood white culture more intimately than most blacks, especially in the South would have because of segregation and the interactions are so limited. And I think that's very key to Malcolm's approach and King's approach, especially early on.
Patrick Miller : So obviously in prison, he converts to the Nation of Islam and that starts the second act or maybe third or fourth act of his life. Do you want to share how that shaped his thinking? I have to say it might surprise people that you, as a Christian leader at a major reform seminary are working to rehabilitate his reputation and thoughts.
Phillip Holmes: So Malcolm's a human. Malcolm's a black man that again, before I was really exposed to him, he had been slandered, he had been misrepresented. And so I'm reading his autobiography and I'm like, "This is not the man that I was told about growing up at all. This man is a lot more complex than how he's been represented." So as a Christian, I see a human who contributed and who was very prophetic and very much ahead of his time. I often like to point out that King and Malcolm were dealing with very different situations during the civil rights movement. And the stuff that Malcolm was trying to address was probably more applicable to what we're seeing today in America. Because again, the Civil Rights Act didn't do nearly as much for Malcolm as it did for King.
Patrick Miller : Well, how were their context different? I think this is lost on especially a lot of white Americans who are presented the black experience as a monolith in the'60s. And so we think," oh well, what could be the difference between Malcolm X and MLK?"
Phillip Holmes: And that's a good question. So remember all the things that King was fighting for, desegregation and the right to vote, Malcolm already was experiencing those things. Malcolm could drink from the same water fountain as a white person. And this wasn't a law across the North that just made it. Now you would have probably some bars or some restaurants that black people didn't necessarily go to, but it wasn't by law.
Patrick Miller : It wasn't institutionalized segregation.
Phillip Holmes: Exactly. It wasn't an institutionalized segregation. People could vote in the North. So what you essentially see is an individual who is looking towards the future. And he's basically saying that desegregation isn't going to solve the problem. And I think King knew that, King was just basically trying to make one issue at a time. Like," Let's take care of this and then let's move on to those things." But Malcolm is like,"There's stuff that we're dealing with now and the stuff that you're fighting for isn't going to change any of that." So they were fighting very different battles and oftentimes, as you just pointed out, the issues got conflated and these men, they have a common enemy in the sense, but at the same time, they're not fighting the same battle at all but their personalities, their agendas oftentimes got conflated.
Patrick Miller : One of the points you make in your podcast that I found incredibly interesting is that it's not just that we have symbolized Malcolm X and turned him into an image of hatred and violence, which I want to talk about in just a second, we've also kind of created a symbolic version of Dr. King and his nonviolence. And in your podcast, you talk about how towards the end of Dr. King's life, 11 months before his assassination, but three years after the Civil Rights Act, he has this interview on NBC where he's beginning to wrestle with I think a lot of the same forms of racism that Malcolm X was wrestling with. So I think it'd be great for us and our listeners to listen to a clip from MLK during this interview. And I think it'll help us see that even he was wrestling with these exact same questions.
Speaker 10: Is there something about nonviolent that made it, and I used that in the past tense, that made it more useful among Southern Negros than the ghetto Negros of the North?
Martin Luther King: I wouldn't say there's anything that makes it more useful to Southern Negros. I think it is true that we've had more nonviolent movements in this South because the problem for many years was more crystallized and in a sense, more visible in the South. We didn't have many civil rights activities on a massive scale in the North until three or four years ago. So I would say that we just haven't had a chance to experiment on a broad scale with nonviolence in the Northern ghetto. I have the feeling that nonviolence is as applicable and workable in the Northern ghetto as it is in the South. Now there's a larger job there. The frustrations at points are deeper. The bitterness is deeper. And I think that's because in the South we can see pockets of progress here and there. We've really made some strides that are very visible and every Southern Negro knows that he can do things today that he couldn't do four or five years ago, wherein in the North, the Negro sees only retrogress and he doesn't find it as easy to get his vision centered on his target, the target of opposition as he does in the South. Consequently, this as made for despair and at many points, cynicism, a feeling that you can't win. And it simply means that we've got to develop in the North a massive job of organization and mobilizing forces and resources to deal with the problem in the urban ghettos of the North, just as we've done it in the South.
Patrick Miller : So Phillip, what do you think King has trying to communicate here?
Phillip Holmes: He's communicating exactly what I was alluding to earlier. And he's now actually in the same situation, in the sense, as the people in the North, except again, they can see visible changes in the South. But now all of a sudden in the North, the people are a lot more frustrated. And I think one of the things that he said that was really helpful that I think still rings true the day is that the target isn't as clear.
Patrick Miller : Why does that ring true today?
Phillip Holmes: Well, because the issues are now a lot more complex. You don't have institutionalized segregation anymore. So now people oftentimes say," Well, racism doesn't exist or racism isn't a big deal." Racism is not the only thing that matters. No, but it still exists. And it's still significant. And its effects are still rippling through society. And we're dealing with these issues and we don't necessarily know what to call it. And oftentimes, if you have a target that's always moving and is not necessarily clear, then you start calling everything racism. So I think that this is one of the new challenges that King pointed out 11 months before his death in that interview that still exists. And now we're trying to find words to articulate what it is that we're dealing with. And there's a certain level of dismissiveness that exists if it's not explicit. So unless somebody calls somebody the N word, all of a sudden now, well, that's not racism, that could be anything. And it's assumed to be everything but racism. So issues now are a lot more complex, but I still definitely think that we have to figure out how to articulate these things carefully and how to navigate this. This is a challenge that we're still dealing with.
Patrick Miller : You're making me think of what Malcolm said about wolves and foxes. He has this great... He says," Look, when you're in a cave with a Wolf, you know the wolf wants to eat you. The problem is when you're in a cave with a fox, he's sly and you don't know what he's going to do, and you don't know what the next move is going to be. And it seemed as though, even in what Dr. King said in that interview, that you understood you were dealing with a Wolf in the South, but that didn't make the fox any less threatening in the North. And a point you've made in your podcast is that our situation today is far closer to what Malcolm experienced than what Dr. King experienced, which means again, that he's a great well to draw on for wisdom on how to face the evils of racism today. I'm really curious, do you think that Dr. King, had he not been assassinated, do you think he would've tempered his nonviolent approach? Or do you think he would've stuck with it in the long term?
Phillip Holmes: No, I think he would've stuck with it, but I do think that he and Malcolm towards the end of their lives were moving closer towards one another. Malcolm wasn't going to drop this pro self defense because it wasn't a proviolence, it was pro self defense. We're only violent with people who are violent with us. And we're nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us. On the other hand, I think King really believed in the power of this nonviolent approach. And I think at some point he would have figured out how to deploy it for good. I think that King was, in my opinion, was wise in understanding that if they had tried even a pro self defense approach in the South, they would've been murdered and America would've said that they deserved it. They had to essentially broadcast themselves being beaten in order to get any type of sympathy, because America's looking at that and it was like," There's no reason whatsoever why they should be treating those people like that."
Patrick Miller : It seems in retrospect that we can understand why showing the barbarism of racism and segregation in the South was a effective political strategy but I've also heard people argue that that would've never worked in the North precisely because the barbarism was covert. No one was going to come out with fire hoses and no one was going to come into your churches and blow up bombs. That form of violent overt racism was just less common in the North.
Phillip Holmes: 100%.
Patrick Miller : But you think he would've figured out a way?
Phillip Holmes: Well, I don't necessarily think that the nonviolent approach would've been the lynchpin because it is not right. Do you want to go with nonviolent or do you want to go with pro self defense? I don't think either of those are really factors in what you're dealing with in the North. Now, when it comes to the police on the other hand were oftentimes very, very aggressive. So you did have some instances, but again, it was covert. You weren't really going to see this broadcasted all over TV. It wasn't going to be systematic. They weren't going to be bold about it. In the South, they was just like," Turn on the cameras so you can see this boy get a whooping." Because they thought they were invincible. They didn't think that things were ever going to change or at least it seemed that way. In the North again, I think that they were a lot more convert in the way that they handled these matters. But you had stuff, people getting beat to death by police officers in the west and California, but this never happened publicized on TV during the March or something like that. These things were always done in the darkness where the polices will essentially have to be put against the victim's word. And of course, that's very similar to what we see today. But even with body cams, I was watching something the other day, body cams, are they really changing things? I think it was Dave Chappelle where you have the body cam and you have this guy kneeling on this black man's neck, and he's looking into the cameras unfazed by it. And then now all of a sudden you have police officers trying to play copyrighted music so that that doesn't end up on YouTube. So there's very interesting tactics, but again, people are trying to be a lot more covert, nothing like what we saw in the South in the'60s.
Patrick Miller : Well, and that's even a good correction to what I said. I gave examples, but you're drawing at the point. It's not that there wasn't violence in brutality in the North, it's that the violence in brutality was not done in front of cameras. It wasn't done in the most obvious way. So these are interesting points. I want to talk for a second. You've said several times that that Malcolm was not proviolence, which is 100% absolutely what I was taught growing. But you said that he's pro self defense. And so I've got another clip here of Malcolm X talking about this point. I'd love for us to watch it together and then talk about what was Malcolm's actual perspective on violence and the use of violence.
Malcom X: And what you and I have to let the man know is we are peaceful people. We are loving people. We love everybody who loves us, but we don't love anybody who doesn't love us. We're nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us. But we are not nonviolent with anyone who is violent with us.
Patrick Miller : So Phil, the thing that strikes me about these comments is that I would be hard pressed to find a white Christian conservative who disagrees with a word that he just said. And I say that in part because again, he's presented as being proviolence, but this is not how we would describe proviolence. So I'm curious, why is it that it's especially maybe white conservative Christians who see Malcolm X as a symbol of hatred and violence who are actually in a lot of agreement? How does that happen? You have these two opposites that are actually really in the same camp.
Phillip Holmes: There's multiple reasons for that. I think some people are simply ignorant. They don't know what they don't know. They don't know what they haven't been taught. That's why I think it's so dangerous the way that sort of the CRT narrative is being pushed because it's being pushed so that people remain ignorant about what has actually happened historically. And they remain ignorant about people like Malcolm X. And I think eventually your chickens are going to come home to roost, a phrase that Malcolm deployed once. I think that a lot of these conservative Christians are going to eventually grow up and they're going to realize that they've been lied to most of their life and it's going to backfire. But the reality is there's the other aspect of it is that to see that coming from a black person, I think that when you think about the Black Panther movement and the way that they were viewed, that's another group that has oftentimes been villainized because of their willingness to take up arms. Dave Chappelle has this joke and he's like, there's this buildup that he does, he's like," It's getting really serious right here." And he was like," And that's why it is important that this year, and this is 2020, that this year, every able body African American goes out and registers for a gun." Everybody thinks he's about to say registers a vote. But he recognizes that America is comfortable with guns in the hands of it's white citizens. But there is a suspicion, there is a fear of those guns being in the hands of African American citizens. And I think that when you have a guy talking about the defending himself, there's this dehumanization, this lack of dignity, this dignity theft, if you will, that's been done to African Americans and it's subtle. And it's so subtle that many white conservative Christians don't even realize that it's there until it's explicitly pointed out. And depending on how hard their hearts are, they will still deny it even when it's clear. This is a man again, who was not proviolent, he was pro self defense. You have been taught your entire life to be afraid of him. You have been taught your entire life that he wanted to kill white people. You've been taught your entire life that he believed that all white people were devil when in fact Malcolm recanted of that view before he passed away. But the narrative remains the same and it's a convenient narrative that makes Malcolm the villain and King, not even a real king, but a sanitized King, the hero.
Patrick Miller : So where did we get this image of Malcolm X as a violent provocateur who, like you just said, wants to murder white people, which again, I'm 100% with you. If you read Malcolm X, if you listen to his speeches, you cannot possibly as a thinking person come to that conclusion. It's not what he said. But where does that image come from?
Phillip Holmes: The media.
Patrick Miller : Let's just put a period there and move on.
Phillip Holmes: That's what Malcolm would've said. The white man's media. Malcolm knew the way that he was going to be portrayed after his death. He predicted his death and he predicted the way that people were going to portray him. And he wrote an entire account that set the record straight. And it has been on the best seller list multiple times since it was published and so many people still don't know who the man really was and what he was really about.
Patrick Miller : Can I read the quote that you're talking about? So again, this is from his autobiography which was released posthumously after his assassination. I just have to say, when I read this, it gave me chills because it's prophetic. He knew what was going to happen. This is what he said. He said," When I'm dead, I say it this way because from the things I know, I don't expect to be living long enough to read this book in it's finished form." Which again, is prophetic. It was true, tragically so. And he goes on, he says," 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." Now I just pause, as a white man, that was my education. So it wasn't just true in his own day. That was true for me as someone who was in history classes in the late" 90s and early 2000s. He says," They're 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 to 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." So he's making the point here that he was turned into a symbol by the media. How does that happen? How does that happen that he's turned into a symbol by the white news media?
Phillip Holmes: Simply by taking his words out of context, by crafting a convenient narrative that essentially again, makes him the villain and makes Dr. King the hero of the civil rights movement." We don't like this guy, don't do what this guy does. Do what this guy does." And even in that same NBC interview, Dr. King talks about how his I Have a Dream speech during that time was a bit naive. He mentions that and...
Patrick Miller : He says it became a nightmare.
Phillip Holmes: The dream became a nightmare. And so people like stories, people like good guys, and people like bad guys. And recently it's interesting in our culture today, you're seeing more and more of the anti hero where... I just finished watching Cruella de Vil where it basically crafts a character that's a bit more complex than just the villain that we grew up seeing. You see this even in the way the Avengers have crafted Thanos. He thinks that he's doing something that's good. I think that type of villain is more realistic simply because most people think that what they're doing is good. Most bad people out there think that what they're doing is ultimately good for everybody. And so when you look at Malcolm, I think this is what the press did though. They gave a guy who was just bad, and then you got a guy like King who's good. But as soon as King started doing things that the press didn't necessarily like, they turned on him as well. And this was during the Vietnam War when he was speaking out against it, as well as the poor people's campaign that he was putting together as well.
Patrick Miller : But striking to me, just like when we were talking about the use of violence, Malcolm's comments on the media and he talked a great deal about it in his speeches as well, they sound, if you take the race aspect out of it, eerily like the things you're hearing conservative Christians say about the mainstream media today, that they feel as though they've been turned into a symbol or that they're heroes like Donald Trump maybe have been turned into a symbol of something that he is not. So it's interesting listening to Malcolm X because it's reminding me that there's a broader principle at play here, which is that slander is dehumanizing. That slander takes away people's human dignity, it turns them into something, a narrative, a symbol which they are not. But I'm just curious, how do you see this happening today, the media turning people or movements into symbols?
Phillip Holmes: How do I see the media turning people into symbols?
Patrick Miller : People or movements into symbols. You brought up for example the CRT debate, that seems like something that has become symbolically charged. And so I'm just curious, do you think this is driven by the media creating a narrative?
Phillip Holmes: Yeah. I think media is definitely complicit, but today I think that it's a little bit more complex because no longer are there gatekeepers for public information. Now you have Google, now you have social media. In a sense, we are the media. We're doing a podcast. In the 1960s, you have to have a radio show and some really expensive equipment in order to be able to do podcast. Two guys like you and I unfunded couldn't just go out and spend a few hundred bucks and put out content. So I think that it's a bit more complex, but the reality is is that I think the people are buying into narratives. They're buying into the tribalism that is rampant today and the slander and the gossip only fuel that and are oftentimes catalyst for these misrepresentations or these caricatures that we end up accepting as true. And then we perpetuate that with again, slander and gossip. And oftentimes people are doing it and they don't even realize that they're doing it because they're just taking this person. This person is in my tribe so they're a trustworthy source. It's also more comfortable to just believe what they say. The other day I was thinking about the independence of our people. We look at ourselves as people who pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and we make society happen and we're very individualists and we're very independent. And it's a very dangerous thing to encourage independent thinking in a society where you haven't taught people how to think, because you began seeing people who are essentially confident fools. They've come to these conclusions. And it's so interesting now that the narrative of the weak person in society, and even Christians perpetuate this narrative, is I'm not a sheep. Which is just fascinating because the Bible calls Christian sheep for one. But there's this idea that they're not being led, they're thinking for themselves when the reality is that they're actually being led. They're just being led by the people want to be led by. And so there's this self deception that takes place. And I think in America, we can definitely continue to talk about the media, but some type of responsibility has to be taken by the people and by families because you have to teach children and you have to encourage adults, churches as well, how to think critically. How to look at a situation and examine all of the facts, do your own research before coming to a conclusion that you publicly spread. Oftentimes what happens is, they watch a YouTube video here and then they accept it because it's a comfortable truth, and then they retweeted promoted as if it's true. And then at that point, once you tied your name to it, oftentimes what happens is it's a lot harder to come back and say," Hey, I was wrong." Because of the lack of humility that also exists in our society. So I think the reason why we're seeing these things perpetuated, the slander, and the misrepresentation, and then tribalism, the public has to be held accountable as well for what we're seeing.
Patrick Miller : Well, you made a great point at the top of this, which is we're all Walter Cronkite. Now we all have access to media. We all have platforms that we can speak from, whether they're larger or they're small. And so now of sudden we're able to get information from all over the place. And it's not just from the accredited sources, which even as Malcolm X highlighted, themselves made of those white news media that tore down his image. But I think you are also making a fascinating point about how narratives they allow us to bypass thinking. They just give us a neat way of saying," Hey, this is how the truth works. This is what my group of people believe so must be the truth." I'll make it worse, if someone would just watch a YouTube video and then come to a thought, I'm going to say," Okay, that's great." The other day we wrote a blog and it was shared something like 400 times on Facebook and it elicited around 200 comments. But because we can see the analytics, we know that only 72 people actually looked at the blog. So all they saw was a headline. And so all of the hateful comments, all of the anger or the people who said," This is awesome. You should do this." I know for a fact that the vast majority didn't even look at it, they just saw a headline and pressed share. And I think that's how we're thinking now. We're thinking in headlines and we think we know what someone's going to say because I already have the narrative. I don't need any help understanding it. I just have to agree with you. Critical thinking is at an all time I'm low.
Phillip Holmes: Because think about why those individuals did that so quickly. It's because they're prejudice. They already had a preconceived notion or an opinion about what it was that you were saying or what they even thought you were saying. And they responded to it because they thought that the headline told them everything that they needed to know. And again, oftentimes this is the way that racial prejudice works. The skin color tells me all that I need to know. I don't need to ask any questions. I can judge based off of what I see. And it's fascinating because I got to come full circle real quick and go Ted Lasso, that Ted Lasso is in the bar and he's playing darts with Rebecca's ex- husband and he goes on this narrative about the importance of being curious and not judgemental. And I think today in our society, people aren't curious, they're just quick to judge. They don't ask questions. And I think that's very, very important to ask questions, to understand rather than to be so quick, to come to a conclusion about what it is you believe. Because you can engage something, you can watch the YouTube video and say, "Hey, this is interesting. I'm processing this. Would you guys like to process this with me?" But to share it and say, "This is on point or this is true." When you haven't done any research or haven't really thought about it or haven't sat with it, that's exactly what James is talking about when he is saying being quick to listen and slow to speak. You're doing the opposite of what James is encouraging us to do.
Patrick Miller : We'll be back to our episode really quick. Look, if you're enjoying the content in here, you want to sign up for our newsletter. We like to write little articles every week that are based on our podcast, but they really take one idea that we don't spend a lot of time talking about and expand them. Not to a super long article, but to an article you could read in 10 minutes and get a good little nugget out of that's going to help you think about what's happening in our world in a more Jesus centered way. So make sure to go to choosetruthovertribe. com and subscribe to our newsletter. Have you as a podcaster and someone who's very much so in the communication marketing space, have you experienced slander or people turning you in a sense into a symbol?
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, 100%. I've had people call my employer.
Patrick Miller : Oh, that's fun.
Phillip Holmes: Called my employer and they said that I was quoting Malcolm favorably, which was correct actually. But they also said I was promoting aspects of CRT, which is not true at all. I was one of the ones who was very suspicious and cautious when it came to CRT because I saw people mentioning it and talking about it. I could tell it was a new flavor of the day. And I think that the only way that we're going to address these things and deal with these things effectively is by dealing with them biblically. And if there's truth in CRT that the Bible affirms, that's great. But I think that the Bible teaches us plenty of what we need to understand and know about the way systems and powers work. So I think one time I was explaining a theology of power to my wife and my wife was like, "Hey babe, that's like components of CRT." I was like, "But that's also like the Bible. That's how the Bible talks about power." So for people to tell us that we absolutely need CRT, I think that it could be helpful perhaps to some, but I think that again, because of the noetic effects of sin, we always want to make sure that we're going back to the word of God to check our thinking. And to clear our vision for what it is that we really need to change society. And it's not as simple as," Uh yeah. We just need the gospel." The gospel has implications and we need to talk about those implications and we need to talk about the morality and the way God has dealt with things over the course of redemptive history in order to really understand how to deal with the social ills in our society.
Patrick Miller : CRT has become such a lightning rod and on one level I try to avoid it because what I find is that they only have one question for me, are you for it or are you against it? I'm like," I think there's a third option on the table here." And by the way, it's the same third option I take with a lot of wisdom that comes from outside of the Bible. You take it with discernment, whether it's sociology or psychology, you're going to know that because of God's common grace, the truth is to be found everywhere, but we need to both speak truth where there's falsehood in these world views that come from outside of the Bible, but also embrace where it overlaps with the Bible. But it seems like again, we're in this mode of, we just want symbols, are you for it or are you against it? Do you like it or do you not like it? So I'm curious, how did you handle the situation with the guy who called your boss?
Phillip Holmes: My boss already knew that that wasn't the case. We had had so many conversations about the complexities of this issue and where we stood. And he understood exactly where I said I actually did end up reaching out to the guy because it was someone I went to the seminary with, also someone that I was in college with. So I was rather surprised that he didn't come to me first. And we had a conversation about two hours long and he asked for my forgiveness and he apologized rather. And I started out with questions. I was like," So what did I say that made you think that I believe this?" And he was like," Yeah, I actually went back and listened to what you said and it wasn't what you said." He misrepresented. But before he figured that out, he had already reached out to my employer even though in retrospect, he realized that how I was being presented to him wasn't accurate. Again, that's the way that slander works though, because I think that's the way that you take your brother out. You remove the power of his voice or just any authority or any ability to speak, the way that you silence him is true slander. You say something about an individual that's not true and people are quick to accept it because again, we read headlines. We don't read articles and we essentially buy the narrative and cancel that person. And Christian's being upset about the cancel culture is hilarious because we've been canceling people before it was even a thing.
Patrick Miller : That's so true. It's so true. You make me think of a seminary professor of mine who said that slander is always an active theft, because the minute you slander someone, you steal their reputation. But unlike normal theft where you can pay people back, reputation is almost impossible to pay back. Once it's taken away, once it's torn down, it's always, always hard to rebuild, but that seems to be the name of the game. And again, you're just making me think more about some of the things that Malcolm X said. Because when he talked about the media, he made the point, he'd say," Look, if you're hearing stories about me, you need to come look into it." He described woman coming to one of his speeches and goes," She was looking for horns." In other words, she was looking for a devil and he says," That's not what she found. She found people who were loving, who were kind, who only talked about violence in terms of self protection, if at all and she was just saying, look, you have to get to know people. You need to look into it yourself. You can't just take people at their word." And I think that that's a broad biblical principle that if we believe people are made in the image of God, we ought to live out in our own lives, give people the benefit of the doubt, assume the best, ask them the questions, make sure that we properly understood them. One last question for you before we hop off, still in this exact same media line, I recently read in a study out of MIT, it was an MIT tech review, that showed that at 19 out of the 20 top Christian Facebook pages, so 19 out of the 20 top pages were all run by foreign troll farms. So they weren't run by people who were authentically Christian, they were run by people who are trying to say lots of Christian things and then add in a little bit of misinformation here and there to sow social unrest and mistrust and all of that. And so I want to conclude on this same note, but just ask you, why do you think Christians in particular seem to be amongst the most susceptible to media influence and slander? We'd expect it to be the opposite given what the Bible says about these things, but what is it about today that has made Christians again in particular susceptible to these things?
Phillip Holmes: One of the things that I've noticed, and I don't know if this answers your question and feel free to ask me a followup, but one of the things that I've noticed that I think is so important is that Christians do not read or know their Bibles. I mentioned earlier, I was just having a conversation with a professor for another podcast. And we were talking about general and special revelation and apologetics. And he talked about the noetic effects of sin. And so what that doctrine essentially talks, we're very familiar with how sin affects our heart, but we don't really talk nearly as much about how it affects our mind. So general revelation, the law of God is written on our hearts. It's like we know that there is a God but special revelation reveals who He is. General revelation, we know that God should be worshiped, special revelation reveals that there is one God, and this is how you worship Him. And so we can see this clearly with nonbeliever, but I think the noetic effects of sin are still present as believers until we receive our new bodies, until we're resurrected, we're still going to experience the effects of sin. And the way that we are sanctified is by washing ourselves in the word. So what the word of God does, it corrects our vision. So instead of being discipled by Fox News, CNN or Newsmax, which is apparently the new conservative one on the block. Sure, you can listen to those things, but you're always have to go back to the word to correct your vision because those things are going to tell you some things that are simply not true. And if you're relying on those things or if you're viewing those things as if they're absolute authorities on how you as a Christian should engage public thought or think about your neighbor or treat your neighbor right, you're always going to be susceptible to those things if you're not constantly washing yourself in the water of the word. And I think that because so many Christians don't read their Bibles, don't study their Bibles, oftentimes it makes us so susceptible to these outside influences. And what it essentially does, it makes us no different than the world. We are just as susceptible as those who are outside of the Christian community, the Christian faith. And as you pointed out, we shouldn't be but the reason why we are is because we don't know our Bibles, we don't read our Bibles, we don't study our Bibles. And in the kingdom of God, we see that things are a lot more complex. I just preached on this passage on Sunday in Matthew 20, when Jesus gives this comparison, He was like," The rulers of the Gentiles lord their authority over their subjects." And he simply says," Let it not be so among us." So he's simply saying there's things that happen outside of the church so we don't do that because he knows that we're susceptible to saying," Hey, they're powerful, they're effective, they're taking over civilizations. So if we want Christianity to grow, we need to take the same tactics and try to deploy them for the Christian faith." Which is what you see a lot in conservative politics right now, which you're seeing right now is a grasp for powers. So I think that if we think that the kingdom of God is going to be taken by power and by force and by our power, by human power, by human force, we're going to find ourselves compromised in the long run.
Patrick Miller : I know that I've experienced that and seen that personally. I think about people who come to me and I've had this happen on both sides who say something like," Well, how could you say anything that contradicts the Republican platform because we all know that the Democratic platform is a bone to God and everything that is in the Republican platform is..." And I'm sitting here thinking like how in the world have you got into the point where a platform, which honestly I don't even know if you've read the platform, but a platform has now become equal to God's word, is the exact same thing as God's word. And you're bringing up a great point, which is we can read those platforms. We can consider them, we can be curious about them, but we have to look at them through the lens of scripture and evaluate them by the lens of scripture, which I think any thinking person will quickly come to discover that, no, there are no human systems which can even get close to what the kingdom of God is, or replace the kingdom of God in any fashion. So I know today I'm challenged by you and what you're saying to make sure that I'm thinking biblically and that I'm allowing my ethics and politics and all of that to go through the Bible, but also more broadly to beware of making people into symbols or movements into symbols, to consider them carefully, to have intellectual integrity. So I could keep going on for a long, long time about Malcolm X with you, but I really appreciate having you on the show today, Phillip, it's been a fun conversation.
Phillip Holmes: Likewise, Patrick, thanks for having me.
Patrick Miller : How can people find you online right now?
Phillip Holmes: Sure. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter. My handle is Phillip M. Holmes. That's Phillip two Ls, M as in Michael, Holmes, H- O- L- M- E-S. And I'm pretty active on those two platforms.
Patrick Miller : You're a great Twitter follow. I like following you on there. Would you do us a favor and would you just pray for our audience? Maybe pray for the American church as it's trying to wrestle through these questions and problems of race.
Phillip Holmes: Absolutely. Father, thank you for this platform Truth Over Tribe. Thank you for this podcast. Thank you for the audience that you have given them, everyone who is listening right now who is wrestling with these things that are absolutely complex, oftentimes that difficult to navigate. And Father, we recognize that ultimately we need your wisdom. We need your guidance. And as we stumble and as we fell along the way Father, we need your grace and your mercy. Father, I pray more than anything for humility, for the body of Christ that as we navigate these things, we would do so cautiously. And that that humility would not make us feel as if we can't find answers, but that that humility would drive us to the word of God for answers. And that we would be able to say," Listen, I don't know, but I believe in the power of God's word, I believe in the truth of God's word. I believe in the authority of God's word above all else. And I am going to carefully and diligently search the scriptures to think through how to love God, and how to love my neighbor well, and how to be a good citizen, and how to live a life that is pleasing to God, and how to leverage whatever resources, whatever influence, whatever power that I have to love and to help and to protect those who are weak and who are marginalized and who are downcast, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of socioeconomic status. And that I am going to be faithful to Jesus. I'm going to be faithful to His word, and I'm going to live a life that ultimately glorifies God and that I'm going to repent." Father that's that's the posture that I pray that Christians will have. That we would not be bound by tribalism that is rampant even in our communities, in our Christian communities, Father, but that we would sacrifice social status because oftentimes when you push against tribalism, that's what has to happen is that we would be willing to sacrifice social status, that we would be willing to sacrifice perks and benefits and that we would stand on your truth and that we would stand on your word and we would be obedient to what it is that you would call us with you. And Father, I pray that we would preach the gospel. I pray that we would share the gospel faithfully, and I pray that we would live out its implications in every aspect of our lives. That we would raise to children who are careful and critical thinkers with tender and loving hearts, who are passionate about the things of God and who hate the things of Satan. Help us in Jesus name, amen.
Patrick Miller : Amen. Thanks so much for being with us again today.
Phillip Holmes: Thanks Patrick. Thanks for having of me, man.
Keith Simon: Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Patrick Miller : And make sure it's at least five stars.
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Today's episode of Truth Over Tribe features Phillip M. Holmes, CCO for Reformed Theological Seminary and co-host of the Make It Plain podcast. Hear Holmes take a Christian approach to exploring (and redeeming) the legacy of Malcolm X. In this episode, we discuss the history of this human rights activist and answer the question: Was Malcolm X really pro-violence after all? Phillip and Patrick also touch on the differences between Malcolm X and MLK and how the media can mold people and movements into symbols. Tune in now!
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