[There is] a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.-Eccl. 3:7
One of the great flaws of our information age and the political blogosphere is that many people have developed the belief that everything that they think is worth saying.
Effective communicators will tell you that communication should have a purpose. That purpose can be informative, it can be entertaining, it can be advocacy. If you’re sharing information as a matter of advocacy, you should be hoping to achieve something: to stir up public outrage against X,Y, or Z, provide talking points for others when debating common issues, or answer the argument of opponents.
This brings us to the recent criticism of Nelson Mandela by some conservative and Christian leaders. These center on two points: 1) prior to his 27 year imprisonment he committed terrorist acts and during this time he aligned with many Marxists and Communists. In addition, during his term as President of South Africa, Mandela signed a horrendous pro-abortion law.
I won’t say that Mandela critics don’t have a point but as the saying goes, timing is everything. I’ve watched these volleys being fired at Mandela’s dead body for the last ten days and I keep wondering one thing: What is this supposed to accomplish?
Criticizing Mandela right now doesn’t help the pro-life cause: It’s actually somewhat ill-advised to publicly bring up Mandela’s support of abortion rights because Mandela is more popular than abortion rights or the pro-life cause and mentioning it is more likely to make people think that being pro-abortion is consistent with human rights not that Mandela’s whole legacy is totally tarnished because of it.
If people are truly concerned with South Africa’s abortion law, the last thing you want to do to repeal it is to bring up that Mandela supported it. And while we’re on the subject, why are we only concerned about South Africa’s law more than a decade after it was passed.
Criticizing Mandela right now is needlessly offensive: Mandela is a black man who ran a nation on the other side of the world. Most people who have a favorable opinion of him think of him as a man who fought apartheid and that’s all they know about him. People put him in a similar category to Gandhi, not someone they look to for a detailed political platform.
So what exactly do conservatives get out of criticism? If tomorrow, the reputation of Nelson Mandela in America were totally trashed and people had a negative view of him, how would that help conservatives achieve their long term goals? How would it save one unborn child? How would it reduce the national debt one dollar? How would it prevent one divorce? Even if critics succeeded in trashing Mandela’s reputation, it would accomplish nothing.
These criticisms can, however, be used to enforce the, “conservatives are racists meme.” And pro-lifers going after Mandela will give pro-choicers more ammo to suggest that pro-lifers don’t really care about suffering of people who are outside the womb which is why they excoriate Mandela who helped to end Apartheid which kept 90% of South Africans livings as second classic citizens.
Attacking the Recently Deceased Coarsens Culture: In the 1990s, Fred Phelps group began picketing funerals of homosexuals and others whose lives they disapproved of. Who knew that they’d start a trend?
The old tradition of respect for the dead is becoming passe, first on the left with cartoonist Ted Rall drawing a cartoon of Reagan in Hell in 2004 and now from many on the right as well thinking that the perfect time to carry on political feuds is why the opponent’s corpse is still warm.
I’ve been disappointed as I’ve seen some conservatives take flack for trying to honor this tradition. To honor what Mandela did well in life does not eliminate those things he did poorly. In the months and years ahead, it’ll be appropriate to debate what his true legacy is: both the good and the bad.
The time to debate this is not when someone has just died. It’s pure egotism to suggest that your opinion of someone cannot wait to be expressed until after a reasonable mourning period.
In the end, Nelson Mandela was a man, created in the image of God. He was loved by God in the way that God loves all men. He went to prison for 27 years and didn’t emerge embittered from the experience. He showed mercy and restraint rather than taking reprisals. Unlike other “revolutionaries,” Mandela didn’t use his election to the Presidency to make himself dictator-for-life,but served his term and stepped aside.
Again, this doesn’t eliminate the more problematic parts of Mandela’s legacy, but they’ll be time to discuss that later. And as we should always be aware that our opinion is not the ultimate one. Nelson Mandela will be held accountable by God for how he lived his life.
As shall we all.