On Monday, CNN’s Don Lemon undermined his own argument when it comes to removing statues by engaging in what any Christian should consider outright blasphemy. In a truly bizarre moment, the CNN host suggested that the Founders were not perfect … just like Jesus Christ.
“But here’s the thing. Jesus Christ, if that’s who you believe in, Jesus Christ, admittedly was not perfect when he was here on this earth,” the CNN host falsely claimed. “So why are we deifying the Founders of this country? Many of whom owned slaves.”
This nonsensical argument reveals a great deal about Lemon’s own ignorance, not only about the impetus for protecting statues of America’s heroes but also the basic worldview of conservatives in general and Christians in particular.
If Christians believe one thing, it is that Jesus Christ is perfect. After God made humans sinless, Adam and Eve sinned, dooming humanity. God the Father sent Jesus Christ to be the perfect sacrifice to reconcile sinful humanity with a perfect God. This is Christianity 101, the most basic “Mere Christianity” on which all small-o orthodox denominations agree.
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The doctrine of Jesus’ moral perfection is painfully obvious throughout the New Testament. Here is a tiny sample of such verses:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 1 Peter 2:22
You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 1 John 3:5
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
But with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:19
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Hebrew 7:26
The sinlessness of Jesus is a core tenet of the Christian faith, and Don Lemon’s statement shows his horrendous ignorance about a religion not only central to America’s history but to the rich tradition of liberty and charity around the world. Don Lemon’s statement that Jesus “admittedly was not perfect on this earth” is not just offensive to Christians, but it constitutes blasphemy against the perfect Son of God.
Yet Don Lemon butchered a core tenet of Christianity in the process of undermining his own argument on statues. If even Jesus were morally imperfect, that is an argument for taking a fresh perspective on the historical figures honored with monuments, not an argument for striking them down.
Take George Washington — who, unlike Jesus, was not perfect — for example. Washington owned slaves and he surveyed Native American lands, opening them up to settlement. Yet he also led the rag-tag colonial army against the greatest military force in the world at that time, refused to take power through illegitimate means, and voluntarily stepped down from power after two terms as America’s first president. Yes, Washington had his faults, but his achievements are no less than monumental and very deserving of statues and monuments.
Yet rioters have targeted even Washington’s statues for vandalism and toppling. While Democrats continue to cluelessly insist that the vandals are only targeting Confederates, the mob moved on from Robert E. Lee long ago. The mob targeted Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and even Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. Vandals defaced a monument to the 54th Massachusetts regiment, a group of freed black slaves who volunteered to lay down their lives fighting for freedom against the Confederacy.
When CPAC leader Matt Schlapp warned that “statues of Jesus are next,” some activists expressed a desire to topple statues of the one person in human history who truly is perfect. Then Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King called for statues, stained glass windows, and other representations of “white Jesus” to be toppled or destroyed. When Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis spoke up for Christianity, King attributed her faith to “white supremacy.”
Don Lemon’s blasphemy is similarly offensive, but it makes even less sense than King’s attacks on “white Jesus.” While the Bible does not comment on Jesus’ skin color and modern art probably does show Jesus with a slightly more European skin color than He likely had in first-century Judea, the New Testament is painfully obvious that Jesus was perfect on this earth and is perfect after His Ascension into heaven.
But even if that were not the case, Don Lemon’s argument actually undermines the rush to topple statues, because it reminds Americans that history is more complicated than our modern gut-reactions suggest. Modern Americans may blame George Washington for owning slaves, but we also enjoy innumerable benefits from the fact that Washington held the Continental Army together and that he voluntarily stepped down from power. It is quite conceivable that Washington could have been an emperor like Napoleon Bonaparte, leading America to become a banana republic. After all, Britain attempted to retake the American colonies in the War of 1812. Washington’s monumental humility likely contributed to America’s success in that pivotal war.
If Americans owe a great debt to Washington, they arguably owe an even greater debt to Jesus Christ. Christianity gave birth to a whole new way of looking at the world, a revolutionary spirituality that gave birth to the first orphanages, the first hospitals, and, later on, the first universities. Most of the tremendous prosperity and liberty we take for granted today arguably depends not only on Washington but on the man who turned the world upside down with the Sermon on the Mount, with the teaching that he who would be master of all must first be a servant to all. Jesus not only taught this but lived it, and His example changed the Western world from the inside out.
Toppling statues involves a lawless rejection of the past, an attack on the heritage that shapes the world around us even now. Most statues celebrate imperfect people but many of them, like Washington, were nonetheless pivotal to the benefits we enjoy today. A historical figure’s imperfection is not a reason to tear down a monument, and Don Lemon’s ill-fated blasphemy helps illustrate that point.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.