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February 3, 2019
Ralph Northam, left, and the racist photo from his medical school yearbook that was
"Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, Defies Calls to Resign Over Racist Photo," via the New York Times
  • Friday: Northam (a Democrat) said he was in a photo of two people dressed blackface and KKK robes.
  • Saturday: he reversed the admission.
  • Sunday afternoon: Northam continues to defy myriad calls to resign. 
“How much better to get wisdom than gold!
   To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. 
The highway of the upright avoids evil;
   those who guard their way preserve their lives. 
Pride goes before destruction,
   and a haughty spirit before a fall. 
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
   than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

-- Proverbs 4:16-19
On Friday, the 1984 medical school yearbook page for Ralph Northam went viral. The page includes three pictures of Northam as well as a picture of two individuals: one wearing blackface and one wearing Ku Klux Klan robes. The two individuals in costume are not identified. Northam initially acknowledged that he was in the photograph of the costumed individuals on Friday, saying he wanted to “take credit for recognizing that this was a horrific photo that was on my page with my name on it.” 

Northam has now walked back that apology and acknowledgment, saying he is not in the photograph, while instead confessing that he has worn blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume, also in 1984. Throughout all of this, he has refused to resign his position as Governor of Virginia.

Democrats from across the country have called for his resignation. Early on, I noticed that many on social media have pointed out that, should Northam resign due to the scandal that erupted on the first day of Black History Month, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become governor, and would be the only African-American governor in the country.

“Democrats in the Trump era have adopted a sort of zero-tolerance approach in their ranks toward misconduct involving race and gender," the New York Times states. "With Republicans eager to level accusations of hypocrisy, Democratic leaders in Washington have sought to aggressively police the sort of misdeeds they have linked to Mr. Trump.” 

Some Republicans are quick to call for Northam’s resignation while refusing to call out such misconduct and sinful behavior in all levels of their own party. Professor Tom Nichols writes in the Washington Post: “While Democrats, and decent people everywhere, have a right to demand that Northam step down, Republicans who continue to support a party dominated by Trump can’t be taken seriously on this point." 

This kind of cognitive dissonance continues to baffle me, although I’m not sure why at this point. People of faith, regardless of political party, must be willing to call to account those who refuse to both apologize for and repent of sinful bigotry, like racism, sexism, and homophobia. Northam has apologized, but says, “I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier, for me to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”

Reconciliation does not require holding elected office. Reconciliation requires humility, wisdom, and understanding. However, evil and pride go before destruction, and Northam seems wedded to the sin of pride. Even if he manages to remain Governor of Virginia for now, this weekend has led to the destruction of his political career. 

How much better it would be, for all people, to seek after God’s wisdom with a humble heart, rather than cling to a proud spirit and its eventual fall!
Sign this petition calling on Northan to resign.  

And remember: this is why every election matters. Make sure you’re registered, and vote for every office in every election to make sure elected officials with questionable backgrounds don’t win.
At a seminar at my church today, a colleague reminded us of these words from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he says: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

Lord, help us to raise our voices for the cause of justice against not only with whom we disagree and dislike, but also against those of our own tradition and group when necessary. Help us remain faithful in seeking your wisdom and understanding with a humble spirit. In Christ’s name we pray, this day and every day. Amen. 
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