Lott is Cast
Craig von Buseck
Early in my years on the pastoral team of a local church I had
the opportunity to counsel some couples who were having difficulties in their
marriage. I learned an important lesson in interpersonal communication during
that time in my life. In the midst of marital conflict, I discovered that the
words "I'm sorry" are not enough to make up for improper, and, at times, awful
behavior. I learned that to say "I'm sorry" can sound to the offended party like,
"I'm sorry I got caught."
My lightning-fast mind finally comprehended that
what is necessary in an apology is an acceptance of responsibility, i.e., "I was
wrong, please forgive me." What follows is a period of time where proper behavior
is demonstrated before trust can be rebuilt.
Forgiveness is given, but
trust must be earned. In other words, actions speak louder than words.
the nation has embarked on a collective counseling session, embodied by Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott and the African-American community. Mr. Lott has said
he is sorry for his not-so-veiled comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday
party that America would have been better off if the Dixiecrats had won the election
in 1948. He admitted that he made a mistake in not voting for the Martin Luther
King holiday. He declared that he was wrong for supporting policies of segregation
in the past.
He has asked the Black community to forgive him for his sins.
It's good that he's repentant -- but it's not enough. After declaring,
"I was wrong, please forgive me," Senator Lott will need to submit to a period
of time where proper behavior is demonstrated before trust can be rebuilt with
That is why I believe Trent Lott is right to step down
from his position as Senate Majority Leader.
Like the majority of Americans,
I think that his penitent attitude is sufficient to show that he has truly changed,
thereby making the way clear for him to retain his Senate seat. But his trustworthiness
is now tarnished to the point that he would not be able to effectively lead the
Republican Party -- especially now that it controls the Congress and the White
Some conservatives have been surprised at the reaction of Black
leaders to Lott's apologies. Spokespeople like Kweisi Mfume and Jesse Jackson
have accused the Senator of insincerity at best, and flat-out lying at worst.
Sadly, the divide between the political philosophy of the African-American community
and the conservative movement is still very wide. This was evident in the 2000
presidential election, where despite efforts to reach out to Black voters, George
W. Bush only received 10 percent of the African-American vote. And despite the
leadership of Black conservatives like J. C. Watts, Kay Coles James, Alan Keyes,
Clarence Thomas, and others, the vast majority of people in the Black community
look with great suspicion on the conservative camp.
But why is this so?
I believe evidence for the rift can be found in some of the inhumane treatment
that many Blacks received from their fellow Americans in the dark century between
reconstruction and the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
example was highlighted a few years ago when President Clinton, on the nation's
behalf, apologized for the federal "Tuskegee experiment," in which government
doctors withheld syphilis treatment from a group of African-American men for four
decades. Three hundred and ninety-nine men were involved in the experiment in
which the doctors gave some of them medicine to treat the disease, while others
were given a placebo. The experiment was intended to study the effects of syphilis
over a period of time. In 40 years, 128 men died of the disease. Many went blind.
Some became insane.
The project was halted when a reporter blew the whistle
The reason it took so long for the general public to be alerted
was that the medical community did not see a problem with the experiment. In fact,
the research was published in more than one medical journal. The prevailing view
in the medical community was that there may be no other time in history where
this kind of research could take place and so they wanted the study to continue
to gather as much data as possible.
Some African-American leaders, such
as Louis Farrakhan, held that not only did the doctors refuse treatment in the
Tuskegee case, but they purposely injected some of the men with the disease. There
is no evidence to support this claim, yet this attitude highlights the gulf of
distrust between many Blacks and their fellow Americans.
As an associate
pastor, I had the privilege of co-officiating a funeral of an African-American
man whose family attended our church. After the conclusion of the graveside service,
the family remained and watched until the casket was lowered into the ground.
The pastor who had preached the eulogy turned to me and explained that many Black
families remain at the grave because in years-gone-by some unscrupulous undertakers
were in the habit of removing the body of a Black person and burying it in a cheap
wooden box, keeping the coffin to sell to someone else.
The great African-American
musician W.C. Handy told the story of a near-death experience he once had in the
segregated South. On one occasion, when his band was traveling by train through
Texas, one of the musicians contracted smallpox. When the local officials found
out, the band members were all detained in the Pullman car and denied medical
treatment, food, and even water. The doctor informed them that anyone who left
the train car would be immediately lynched. Later, county officers said that if
there were the appearance of only one more case of smallpox among them, they would
burn the car and carry out the lynching threat. To escape, Handy and his friends
disguised the sick man as a woman and smuggled him out of the area on foot in
the middle of the night.
Atrocities like these were carried out with little
due process of law during the height of Jim Crow. Some public lynchings were community-wide
events that included families with picnic lunches and little children playing
while the body of the Black offender dangled from the limb of an oak tree.
runs deep in the African-American community, and for good reason.
thing I learned about relationships during my years of marriage counseling is
that whether I intend to offend or not, the perception of wrongdoing is real in
the eyes of the offended. Even if this generation of conservatives has done nothing
to harm the Black community, years of offenses from the conservative camp -- and
silence concerning racial injustice -- are not quickly forgotten.
is why it was so vitally important for President Bush to condemn Senator Lott's
comments -- and, in my view, why it is equally important for Trent Lott to step
down as Senate Majority Leader.
What conservatives must do to build trust
among African-Americans is continue to reach out with acts of love and policies
of compassion. Conservatives must show genuine love, not only in words, but in
tangible deeds. Apologies from the conservative camp must convey the message that
not only are they sorry, but that they were wrong for years of abuse or indifference
to the plight of the African-American community.
What the liberal Black
leadership must do to build trust among their fellow Americans is to extend forgiveness
to people like Trent Lott who admit to their failings and ask for absolution.
It took years of hate and violence to create the racial divide we now see
in America -- it will take years of love and acts of goodwill on both sides of
the political spectrum, coupled with prayer, to change hearts and build trust.
With regard to those involved in the heinous Tuskegee experiments, no apology
or monetary settlement can wash away forty years of deception and devious medical
behavior. Unfortunately, these scars will be a part of the fabric of American
society for a very long time to come. And this is only one of numerous atrocities
leveled against the Black community through the years. In order for healing to
come between the party of Lincoln and the community that Lincoln worked to free
from slavery, conservative leaders carrying segregationist baggage must not be
allowed to hold leadership positions.
For Trent Lott this means stepping
aside to allow a new generation of conservatives the opportunity to do the right
your comments on this issue.
from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com.
von Buseck is Programming Director for CBN.com.
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