Political Correctness is tyranny with manners.

Charleton Heston

By Ladson F. Mills III

If stupidity was a capital offense the world would be much smaller. There was a time when those made by the young, were regarded as opportunities for teaching and growth. But no more with the rise of Political VOL logoCorrectness.

Just ask South Carolina State Representative Wendell Gilliard. He revealed two things in a newspaper interview several years ago. First, he carefully picks and chooses his battles and secondly he ultimately is looking to advance his political career. It appears that he has found his battle even if the lives of eight young students are ruined in the process.

My alma mater The Citadel finds itself in a furor over a recent video involving cadets wearing outfits which were interpreted as representing Ku Klux Klan robes. The cadets state they were in skit singing Christmas Carols and the all white costumes were supposed to represent the ghost of Christmas past. They insist no racial disrespect was intended.

For the moment I am reserving judgment. It is quite possible given the recent rampant acts of immaturity exhibited by college students elsewhere in the county these eight students are telling the truth. Their behavior may have been insensitive, but that is hardly criminal. Immaturity while regrettable does not equate to an act of hatred. This may be one of the few recent college incidents where students seem to have the credibility.

Entering into the fray Representative Wendell Gilliard stated, This action by the cadets warrants nothing short of an expulsion for those who are found to be involved in this intolerable act of hate. He further suggests that their behavior adds insult to injury to the community in light of the murders at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston earlier this year.

If Representative Gilliard’s logic is followed the offending students should not only be expelled but branded with a giant R for racist.

Gilliard may have erred when he carefully picked this battle. The powerful Christian witness exhibited by the families toward the man who murdered their loved ones was the defining act which served to unite a community. The true insult to injury has been his misguided attempt to hijack their beautiful Christian witness.

Nothing, however, sinks to the depth of the National Action Network’s local leader Elder James Johnson’s attempt to capitalize on the Emmanuel Church tragedy. In a news conference calling for the resignation of The Citadel’s President he attempted to link the student’s video to an intentional disrespect of the victims. It was a sad and pathetic example of a self serving agenda driven predatory opportunism attempting to profit from the well intentioned concern and genuine pain of others.

Organizations such as the National Action Network thrive on conflict and media attention but never on resolution. If the families of the Emanuel Nine were of genuine concern their memory would be honored by emulating their forgiveness. The community, nation and the world could benefit in turning the unfortunate video incident into something transformational.

There was a time when colleges and universities were places of learning. Why not turn this into a learning experience instead of just another opportunity for ego enhancing showmanship and power enhancement.

If The Citadel’s President General John Rosa was not such a man of integrity he might borrow from Dartmouth College’s recent response to the Black lives Matter Movement. Following an attack that was both verbal and physical on white female students in the school’s library those committing the offensive acts received an apology from the Dartmouth administration for the not nice media coverage they received.

Suspend the Citadel students if the evidence warrants, but assign them a major research project as a requirement to be readmitted. They could required to interview those who have been victims of the KKK. They might find significant lessons in the life of Charleston native and former Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Harvey Gantt. Gantt the first African-American student to enter Clemson University has a fascinating story.

They could interview the family of Charleston Heights native John Henry Gardner who died in Vietnam in 1969 just two weeks after his 20th birthday. Petty Officer Gardner was a Navy Hospital Corpsman serving with the Marines. He grew up in segregation, served his nation in war, and made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. His story is worth remembering as one who served his country even when his country failed to act in a manner worthy of his sacrifice.

There is a powerful witness from The Citadel’s own Class of 1973 Dr. Larry Ferguson, DDS. Larry I and spent the majority of our time at the school engaged in spirited and lively debate. We often irritated one another, but we never abandoned our relationship.

I learned much from him during our time together, and a great lesson from a story he later shared in an interview. One warm day when he five years old his mother took him shopping at what was known in our youth as The Dime Store. Seeing a water fountain he decided to have drink too young to realize his mistake. The water fountain he chose was labeled Whites Only.

The manager began to chastise his faux pas until his mother quietly intervened, He’s only a child. He can’t read.

Her simple words drive me not just to tears but to my knees. The dignity of his mother’s love defending the innocence of her child has done more to make racism abhorrent to me than all the hate mongering, self serving rhetoric of those who choose their battles carefully in order to gain power.

Christians today are under attack from the culture as well as from the ineptness of our own leadership. ISIS Sharia Law judges recently began ordering the execution of children born with Down Syndrome, and young girls are kidnapped to use as sex slaves. The silence from our leaders on matters such as this has been deafening.

Yet once more in the midst of a confused and terrified world God has provided a lesson of hope by His presence witnessed in the dignity of a mother’s love protecting the innocence of her child.

So to my old classmate’s mother, Thanks and God Bless you, Mrs. Ferguson.

That’s how you honor the Emanuel Nine.

Ladson F. Mills III is a retired priest with over thirty years pastoral experience. He lives with his wife in South Carolina. He currently serves as Scholar in Residence at Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island. He is a regular contributor to www.Virtueonline.org

This column is reprinted with permission of www.Virtueonline.org. It appeared on Dec. 16, 2015.