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FIRST PERSON: When tough issues are avoided, God’s blessings may be missed

ATLANTA (BP)–It wasn’t an easy topic. An unsuspecting student, sharing a heated journal entry on how to correct the world’s problems, hammered away at affirmative action. Evidently he touched a nerve in my overcrowded classroom of 11th-graders.

“But my father took one test about 10 times, earning a perfect score,” one red-faced student insisted. “It just wasn’t right that he was passed over for someone else because of their color.”

The African American students seated in a cluster in the rear of the room of mostly white students made no effort to join in the discussion. Their expressions told me to get over the discussion and just move on. One strongly opinionated teenaged girl gestured to a smiling young woman who hadn’t joined the others in the back, and said, “I like her.” Taken aback by the remark, I failed to see the relevance of the offhand comment, except to delay the rising mercury in the room.

Another student nodded when I reminded them the discussion was about affirmative action and not race. “Ah, but Ms. Hannigan, racism always ends up in a discussion about affirmative action.”

I think they thought my ship was sunk before I even began. Minds made up, some didn’t appear to want to hear facts or reasons, or hear about the history of the movement, however one perceives it. Instead, those who took part in the discussion were doggedly expressing their views in no-nonsense language. They had already determined what they believed, in spite of admitting to a lack of knowledge of the specifics of the topic.

But my ship wouldn’t sink that day. Despite a nagging feeling that we were operating on our tired, worn feelings during the last period of a long school day, I plodded onward. My final intent was to show it would not be fair to categorize everyone who is against affirmative action as racist, just as it would not be fair to say everyone flying confederate flags on their lawns are racist either. I was trying to make a point about fallacious argumentation, thinking ahead to our unit on persuasive writing.

Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

By the time class was nearly over, the student who started the discussion by reading his “innocent” journal remark was shaking his head and pointing his finger at me saying, “I told you so. I told you it wasn’t going to be good.”

“But that’s okay,” I reassured him and the rest of the class. “This was a good discussion. I learned a lot and I hope you at least learned to remember to look at all sides of an issue and get information, even when you think your mind is made up. Even if you don’t end up changing your mind, you’ll be better off for having made the effort.”

Some things in this life are tough. Sometimes we wade in innocently, not realizing we have entered a danger zone. Other times we knowingly make great sacrifices in order to preserve the kingdom of God, to put his work before our personal comforts.

Speaking about tough issues in the classroom is not always an easy task. Likewise, bringing up conflicts in the body of Christ may not be the most pleasant of scenarios. But like a schoolroom, the church can and should be a place where instruction, correction and illumination can happen.

When we shy against tackling the big or controversial issues in order to avoid discomfort, we may rob ourselves and others of God’s blessings. In the classroom, this condition might impede learning and inhibit true critical thinking. In the church, it may lead to disobedience and ultimately a “lukewarm” environment in which believers become lulled into complacency, while sinners perish.

Fear of getting singed by the fire is no excuse for failing to engage in meaningful deliberation. Both in an out of church and in the classroom of life, go ahead and jump. You never know when the truth you tackle will turn into a blessing.
Hannigan is a national correspondent for Baptist Press who teaches high school English and journalism in the Atlanta area.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan