the cross or the crown: Gary Webb and the silencing of your story

"Cross or Crown" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Cross or Crown” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Although I’ve done other fork in the road cartoons in the past, like this one Left or Right?, you might recognize that this cartoon was inspired by an image by the insightful artist Ajit Johnson.

I’ve done other fork in the road images before. This image captures in a nutshell the condition of popular Christian leadership today. To me, it seems to be all about reputation and revenue, speaking and success, comfort and credentials, elitism and exclusivism. And we all seem to be patting ourselves on the back on our way there!

The cross means speaking truth. The crown means speaking acceptably.

I watched a film last night that will have a lasting impact on me, called Kill the Messenger. It’s based on the true story of the journalist Gary Webb. One of the summaries on IMDB describes the film in this way:

“Based on the True story of Journalist Gary Webb. The film takes place in the mid 1990s, when Webb uncovered the CIA’s past role in importing huge amounts of cocaine into the U.S. that was aggressively sold in ghettos across the country to raise money for the Nicaraguan Contras rebel army. Despite enormous pressure not to, Webb chose to pursue the story and went public with his evidence, publishing the series “Dark Alliance”. As a result he experienced a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA. At that point Webb found himself defending his integrity, his family, and his life.”

There are a few powerful quotes in the film that express the courage it takes to tell the truth as well as its risks and dangers. There are two of them:

“Some stories are too true to tell.”

“You get attracted by the power. Then you get addicted to the power. Then you get devoured by the power.”

Gary Webb was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Later in his life he wrote a critique of the journalism industry:

“If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me … And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job … The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress …”

Webb was found dead with two bullets to his head. It was ruled a suicide.

Here’s another article that admits some of Webb’s difficulties while defending his efforts to get to the truth and publish it. “Gary embraced speaking truth to power. He believed it was the journalist role to “piss people off.” He sounded the alarm…”

When I was watching the film, I was overwhelmed with the parallels to what’s happening in popular Christianity today. The rush seems to be towards what is popular, acceptable, palatable, agreeable, and uncontroversial. When someone tries to tell the truth, especially about our beloved systems, organizations, institutions, or leaders, the backlash is overwhelming. When people write in defense of the abused, of victims, and of survivors, the negative comeback is discouraging. The pressure to be silent is incredible.

Doesn’t the suppression of their stories at least suggest that maybe there might be some truth there that those in power don’t want published?

The film title “Kill the Messenger” suggests that not only telling your truth, but telling other peoples’ truths, will be suppressed. Even if we provide spaces for someone to share their own experience and tell their own narrative, the pressure to shut down these venues has been relentlessly insistent. You wouldn’t believe the powerful and persistent attempts to have me take down my post, Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First, the Thug or the Theology?, where people who have historically been silenced finally found a safe space to share their experiences. Why? Because it is an embarrassment to power, as well as a threat to its unbridled privileges.

By the end of the film, I decided I wanted to be as courageous as Webb was. I too want to speak truth to power.

Have you been silenced? Has your story been suppressed? Join others who are freely and openly sharing their own stories at The Lasting Supper!

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8 Responses

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    David, thank you again: embarrassingly I only had a faint memory of that cocaine – CIA business thing.
    I have a friend whose son wants to be a Navy Seal. I am slowly giving him material to read to show that soldiers are often doing the bidding of very corrupt governments — and the US government is often no exception. Americans are often naive to this. Showing that 14 year-old boy that he could often be sent on missions that are hugely morally compromised is important.

    You wrote: ” I was overwhelmed with the parallels to what’s happening in popular Christianity today. The rush seems to be towards what is popular, acceptable, palatable, agreeable, and uncontroversial. ”

    And though I agree, I think the history of Christianity shows the same from the beginning. Those Christians that have been noble and sacrificing without expectation of conversions or institution gain are exceptional. But wonderfully exceptional. And this is true in more religions and institutions.

    It is human ugliness — even more dangerous when covered with the holy cloak of religion. This is why my mantra is “treat nothing as holy” and certain ignore those who do and are trying to convince you of it. Be it their wonderful religion or their wonderful holy country.

  2. Buzz says:

    ironically, both left and right would agree there’s a danger in not speaking the truth, but in saying what is popular and acceptable. The left would say that greed and power are the problem, while the right would say it’s acceptance of other people’s “lifestyles”.

    Personally, I think you can draw the line between the two at who does harm and who doesn’t. Jesus seems to be more forgiving of the sinner who tries to help but fails occasionally, versus the Pharisee who is always “rite” but never shows mercy.

  3. ReawakeningWoman says:

    VERY brave journalist
    VERY brave blogger
    VERY brave post

  4. Teague Frawley says:

    It’s an amazing time! Part of Barak Obamas campaign promises were greater government transparency and protection for whistleblowers. However, since he has been in office there has never been less transparency and harassment and prosecution of whistleblowers is at an all time high. Its seems that those who assume to have power and authority and those to whom it is given regardless the institution will go to any means they have the means to discredit and silence those who expose the immoral and/or illegal activities of those with power and influence whether assumed or real. Which when it comes to his ecclesia Jesus clearly taught against hierarchy, position titles, and using spiritual gifts to make money his teaching on those topics was the antithesis of power and commercialization of relationship with God. IMO If Jesus were here today his interactions with supposed Christian leaders and Christian politicians would be the exaction same as his interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They would be seeking to silence him the same way too.

  5. xuemei says:

    so sad to hear the story of Gary Webb! Brought me back to China! Praise the movie being made! Truth will be known. Tell the truth to power in love.

  6. God exist says:

    Scholars are agreed that religious beliefs have always been intertwined with human life. However, their opinions differ concerning the fundamental roots of religion and the factors that have played a primary role in its establishment and development. Their judgments, in this respect, are generally based on studies of “superstitious” religions and primitive beliefs, with the result that their conclusions are, in the final analysis, defective and illogical.

    It is true that certain religions, lacking a connection with the principles of revelation, have been influenced in their appearance and growth by the social environment and similar factors. However, it is illogical to ascribe the foundation of all faiths and religious tendencies to material or economic circumstances and demands, to fear of the terrifying forces of nature, to ignorance or to considerations rejected by science.

    Without doubt, one of the factors in the emergence of anti-religious ideas and a phalanx of deniers of God, has been the false teachings, the inadequacies and the intellectual perversions of the followers of some religions. The peculiarities and separate characteristics of each religion must, therefore, be individually examined when studying the reasons that have led men to adhere to that religion.

    http://www.momin.com/Books/God+And+His+Attributes-68/The+Development+Of+Beliefs+Through+The+Ages-6758.html

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