Like many people, I was outraged at what *appeared* to be the overt disrespect and racism from the “Covington Boys” toward Vietnam vet Nathan Phillips. I described my visceral reaction in the article, “A Word on Behalf of the Idiots.” In that article, I assumed the moral culpability of the young men and then offered a reflection on the fact that I too may have behaved in that morally ignoble manner had I been in that situation.
But were the Covington Boys being confrontational? Were they exhibiting racism? Were they exemplifying all the preconceptions that many people have about Trump supporters and packs of loud Caucasian teenage boys?
The initial video that tore through social media, and the narrative that went with it, were soon shown to offer an incomplete picture at best. The Washington Post offers a good overview of the problems with that initial narrative. Over the last day, I’ve several of the defenses of the Covington Boys. Many have described them as wholly innocent actors in the entire affair.
However, there is a reason to think that too is doubtful. Consider, for example, this viral tweet from a young woman who claims to have been taunted by these boys before the encounter with Mr. Phillips.
Based on all the evidence I’ve seen to this point, it seems most likely that the boys are neither the irredeemable racist mob of their initial detractors nor the unwitting innocents envisioned by some of their supporters. Rather, the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle.
And where does that leave the rest of us? I’d offer the following simple lesson for this chapter of the saga:
The #CovingtonBoys Debacle reminds us that we all need to be more like Robert Mueller. In other words, keep your head down until you've gathered all the facts.
— Tentative Apologist (@RandalRauser) January 22, 2019
To conclude, I’m going to offer an excellent example of what I call the Mueller Principle. This is an extended excerpt from my book You’re Not as Crazy as I Think (which is only 6 bucks right now!):
It was a Sunday much like any other. I was a university student pulling in late (as usual, I must admit) to the large suburban church I attended. As I cruised slowly around the packed parking lot, looking for a space, I quickly began to grow more frustrated with the passing of each occupied stall. Then I saw it, a spot that somehow everyone else had missed. Immediately my car lurched forward like a hawk closing in on its prey. Then just as quickly I had to slam on the brakes as I realized that my ‘empty’ spot was actually occupied—at least partially. To my utter dismay and considerable anger, a shiny red Corvette was parked diagonally in this packed church parking lot, taking up two spaces. Perhaps, I might understand such behavior on a Monday afternoon at the shopping mall, but on a Sunday morning at church?
So there I sat in my idling automobile, outraged by this incredibly obnoxious and egotistical act. But even if I was forced to surrender my claim on the parking spot, I was not going to retreat until I had at least secured the moral high ground. And so after I angrily parked my car in the empty lot across the street (a good five-minute walk from the church, mind you), I penned a note of brotherly admonition that I tucked under the fancy windshield wiper of this egregious offender’s sports car. The note went something like this:
My dearest brother in Christ,
I offer you this admonition in the spirit of Christian love and grace. While I recognize that you might deem it necessary to park your fine automobile in two spots on most days, I would implore you to take up one spot on Sundays in the spirit of Christian love.
With all blessings,
Your anonymous brother in Christ
Okay, maybe my memory has softened the tone of the note somewhat. But even if it was a wee bit more confrontational, it was surely justified. After all, I was merely presenting the spirit of pure, righteous indignation, exemplified by the biblical prophets. Whoever this fellow was—whether he be a musclebound meathead or a fifty-year-old banker living his second childhood—he needed a little instruction in the school of Christ, and I was happy to provide it. And so, with my duty done (complemented by a healthy dose of moral superiority), I left the note on the windshield and entered the church to join in choruses of praise to the Lord.
At that point I quickly forgot about the whole affair … until the service the following week. After the morning music the pastor took the microphone and began to tell us about an elderly woman in the congregation who had broken her hip a few weeks before. When her car broke down, the woman borrowed her son’s Corvette to get to church. (Suddenly I began to pay very close attention.) Alas, with her bad hip the only way to get the car door open was by swinging it all the way out. But since Corvette doors are notoriously long and heavy, she was reasonably worried that a door swung fully open would hit the car parked beside her. (At this point I began slouching low in the pew while trying my best to appear casual.) And so, she came to church early and parked on the far edge of the parking lot, taking two spots so she could swing the door open after church without hitting another car. And even after all her efforts at doing the right thing she still received a self-righteous, handwritten reprimand from an anonymous congregant.
Now in my defense it must be said: Who on earth, upon seeing a Corvette taking up two spots, would ever suspect that it was being driven by a little old lady with a broken hip? But perhaps that was just the point: reality is often more complex than we first suppose. And when you realize that a Corvette taking up two spots just might be driven by an elderly woman, you are forced to rethink many other overly simplified judgments about the world.