“Neither do I condemn you…” John 8:11
I was 15 when I first saw the Dixie Chicks in concert in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia on September 16, 2000. Back then I assumed it would be the first of many Dixie Chicks concerts, but it would be sixteen years before I would finally see the Chicks again, this time in New Orleans just a few nights ago.
Why the long wait? In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll give you the cliffs. During a London concert in March 2003, lead singer Natalie Maines was introducing their song “Travelin Soldier” about a girl whose boyfriend dies in Vietnam when she said, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” President Bush had just announced that the nation would go to war with Iraq. It took about two weeks for anyone to notice the comments, and then the media storm broke. Country music fans and radio stations across the country banned Dixie Chicks songs. Former fans publicly destroyed their CDs. The Dixie Chicks were called all kinds of terrible names. They received hate mail and death threats. Because radio stations refused to promote their tours, they had to cancel many shows, including one I had tickets to in Charlotte.
I remember being angry and confused about the controversy. What was the big deal? I was also concerned about the war in Iraq, in fact, I was terrified. We were already engaged in armed conflict in Afghanistan, and now we were going to start another war? There were outspoken celebrities and politicians on both sides of the debate. Boys at my school were talking about enlisting as our graduation day approached. Even though my granny was sick and frail with a cancer she wouldn’t recover from, I couldn’t stop myself from flinging my arms around her and selfishly asking her to tell me everything would be ok.
The backlash against the Chicks reminds me of the condemnation of the woman caught in adultery chronicled in the book of John. An angry crowd led by the scribes and Pharisees brings her to Jesus to test him. Whenever I read this story, I can’t help but wonder, “Where is the man caught in adultery?” I mean seriously. WHERE. IS. HE? I get so worked up when I think about the unfairness and hypocrisy of it all. This woman is clearly not the only person committing adultery, so why is she the only one being threatened?
Similarly, I get very worked up about the injustice of mostly white, conservative country music fans demonizing the Dixie Chicks for their comments about President Bush when so many from the same group have said terribly offensive and untrue things about President Obama. People have said he is a secret Muslim, a terrorist, that he’s not even American. “Show us your birth certificate!” they demand. How is it ok that the offensive things said about President Obama are ignored or even celebrated while the Dixie Chicks made one pretty benign comment about President Bush and were blacklisted from country music and touring in the U.S. for 10 years!?! To me, the underlying message is that it’s ok to say offensive things about President Obama because he’s black (“How dare a black person be in a position of power?”), and it’s ok to target the Dixie Chicks because they’re women (“How dare women be successful and outspoken about their political opinions?”).
It all makes me so mad that I want to shake the hypocrites and scream at them and make them pay for all the hurt they’ve caused. Who’s with me?! I’m sure if we get a crowd large enough, we can easily round up all the hypocrites and really…really, um…condemn them? Hmmm. Is my desire to punish the hypocrites who condemn other people making me…a hypocrite who condemns other people? Ugh (face palm).
Thankfully, I have a master teacher who shows us a better way. When the mob with the woman caught in adultery shows up, they remind Jesus that the Law of Moses requires that the woman be stoned to death. Then they wait for his response. Does Jesus get caught up in the heat of the moment and succumb to mob mentality, joining them in their condemnation and gathering up stones? Does he get angry that they are so quick to judge and begin shouting at them and calling them all idiots? While most of us would probably be baited into one of these categories, Jesus isn't.
Instead, Jesus slows things down. He bends to the ground and quietly draws in the sand. Though he is silent, he is not passive. Many interpretations I’ve heard explain that in bending down and waiting to respond, he is drawing the attention and condemnation of the crowd away from the woman and onto himself, becoming her ally. The crowd waits. When Jesus finally speaks, he says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He goes back to drawing in the sand. Deflated, one by one they drop their stones and leave. Jesus stands up and asks the woman, “Has no one condemned you?...Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” In his response, Jesus not only doesn’t condemn the woman, he also doesn’t condemn the crowd. Nevertheless, his words force them to recognize the hypocrisy in themselves.
So what about the Dixie Chicks? Have their experiences prompted them to fire back at their persecutors with equal harshness like I’m tempted to do? After seriously rocking out on all their old songs and some great covers, the crowd was pumped when the Chicks returned to the stage for an encore. They started with their Grammy-winning hit “Not Ready to Make Nice,” written in response to the 2003 fallout. "Does this mean the Chicks are still on the defensive, still waiting for healing?" I wondered. As if to answer my question, Natalie joked that they couldn't leave us with that as the last song. Wanting to bring positive vibes and unity to the universe the Chicks launched into an uplifting version of Ben Harper’s “Better Way." “I believe in a better way” they asked us to sing again and again to close out the concert. Me, too.
What about you? What people or groups are you tempted to condemn? Could there be a better way forward? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!