What About Whataboutism?

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

John 21:20-23 English Standard Version

We have a problem in this country. Ok, we have many problems, but one in particular that I want to focus on today is the problem of “whataboutism.” If you are unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the practice of dismissing criticism of something by pointing out the flaws in one’s opponents.

Often it will go like this: “Trump did something shady with Ukraine.” “But what about Clinton’s emails?!” Or maybe, “ISIS is a terrorist group.” “But what about the Crusades?!” Let me be absolutely clear, whataboutism is a bi-partisan problem. All sides do it. It does not matter the issue, the people or political parties involved. Everyone plays the what about game, and everyone needs to stop.

In addiction circles like Celebrate Recovery, we would say that this is a form of denial. By deflecting blame elsewhere, I can continue my willful ignorance. Now I do not have to listen to the person speaking, but I can dismiss them and everyone like them. No more uncomfortable criticism. No more hard truths. I don’t have to learn, and so I do not have to change.

Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to this logic disease. I have seen a number of people who claim to follow Christ dismiss concerns about systemic racism and problems in America with whataboutism. Because some of the people crying for justice are “Marxists” or “progressives” or atheists, all calls for justice are dismissed. Because some protesting police brutality resort to violence, we can ignore all pleads for reform.

Life is a lot more complicated than the “us vs. them,” “team red vs. team blue” dichotomy. As a Christian, I believe that the whole world is tainted by sin. I am not going to find perfection in a political party or a political movement. In fact, I expect to find failure, corruption, and evil wherever I see human beings. The world is not divided into good people and bad people, but between bad people and Jesus. He is the only one in whom perfection is found.

The world is not divided into good people and bad people, but between bad people and Jesus.

Thus, as Christians, we hope to point people to Jesus. Thus, we rise above the “us vs. them” arguments of the world. Where the Republicans or Conservatives are wrong, we call them out. Where the Democrats or Progressives are wrong, we call them out. And where the Church is wrong, we call it out too. Most of all, when we are wrong, we listen to, lament with, and learn from in order to repent and do better. What we do not do is play what about in order to sit comfortably in our willful ignorance of our wrongdoing or that of any political tribe.

Published by Dr. Sam Draper

Sam has been with Greencastle Christian Church in Greencastle, Indiana since 2017. He is married to Jessie and they have one son, Joey. Sam completed his Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Formation in 2019. Sam’s favorite hobbies include biking, reading, playing board games, and eating Chipotle burritos.

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