File this one under “just when we thought that things couldn’t get any stranger…” Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP and a professor in the Africana Education Department at Eastern Washington University, recently resigned from her NAACP leadership position amid allegations that she has been misrepresenting her race, claiming to be black when in fact she is white.
The apparently true allegations surfaced after Dolezal’s parents were reportedly approached by a reporter from the Coeur d’Alene Press who was investigating a string of hate crimes that Dolezal had supposedly been the victim of. That reporter discovered that both of Rachel Dolezal’s parents are white. Dolezal’s white parents, identified as Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal, reported that Rachel has no black ancestry whatsoever, only a trace of Native American, which I suppose is where the stories that Dolezal has reportedly told about being born in a tepee and growing up hunting for food with a bow and arrow (stories which, by the way, are also suspect) could have come from.
Two days ago, Rachel Dolezal sat down for an interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer where she took the opportunity to double down on the false racial narrative she has been living, saying that from age five she was “drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon” and stating that she “identifies as black.”
For me, the most interesting part of the interview came when Matt Lauer asked Rachel Dolezal how long she had been “deceiving people.” Lauer probably thought he was just practicing some hard-hitting journalism, showing that he wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions. But since the accusation of deceit necessitates the existence of truth, what Lauer was really doing was making an important statement concerning his perception of truth.
By introducing the possibility that Dolezal’s racial masquerade was deceitful, Lauer was implying that truth exists – namely the truth that Rachel Dolezal is white and not black – and that truth in fact negates Dolezal’s “identification” as black.
Now, hold that thought and rewind to late April when the same Matt Lauer interviewed Kim Kardashian and discussed Bruce Jenner’s transformation from man to woman (by woman I mean surgically-altered hormonally-enhanced man in woman’s clothes).
In that interview, Lauer was apparently willing to operate under the assumption that Jenner’s “identification” as a woman negates the truth that genetically he is, in fact, a man. So, my question for Matt Lauer and for everyone else applauding Bruce Jenner’s “courage” but crucifying Rachel Dolezal for her deceit would simply be this: Why is it permissible for Bruce Jenner to create “truth” about his gender that negates objective reality, but not for Rachel Dolezal to create “truth” about her race that does the same? How can we champion truth with one breath and ignore it with the next, seemingly depending only on personal preference and the winds of public opinion to decide which approach we will take?
Those questions lead to some deeper questions concerning the nature and existence of truth itself. Does truth even exist? If so, is that truth objective or subjective? Do we get to define truth or not? And where can we find the answers that we so desperately need?
One day about 2,000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet/healer/sage/miracle man stood before Pontius Pilate, the ruler/prefect/puppet of Rome with life and death hanging in the balance. In response to Pilate’s questioning, Jesus made a remarkable statement. He claimed to have come into the world for the purpose of “testifying to the truth,” and He said that everyone who was “of the truth” could hear His voice. What an opportunity for Pilate! Someone who claimed to have the answers to those deep questions concerning truth was standing right before him.
And what did Pilate do? He dismissed Jesus’ truth claims without further investigation and turned Him over to be put to death. How tragic – truth incarnate was standing before Pilate, speaking with Pilate, but Pilate couldn’t or wouldn’t accept that truth. That same tragedy from 2,000 years ago is being replayed all around us, every day.
The God of the universe has revealed Himself to us through creation and through the moral law that He has written on our hearts. He is crying out to us from every mountaintop and every sunset, and He is whispering to us through every prick of our consciences at injustice, dishonesty, and abuse. Truth is in our faces, it is all around us, and yet we still wander around in the dark, asking the same question that Pilate did – “what is truth?” We think our rejection of objective truth is a sign of our progressive enlightenment, that our “question-everything-truth-is-subjective” approach to life proves our intelligence. The truth is, all we are proving is how foolish and rebellious we are, and we are ignoring the one source of real Truth at our own peril. The truth really is out there. Will we see it before it is too late?
Kevin Sartin is pastor of First Baptist Church on Main St. in Nashville. Rev. Sartin holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has spent the last decade pastoring churches in Louisiana and Arkansas.