Shirley Sherrod and the Abridged Testimony

There’s been a lot in the media this week about Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia USDA official who was fired due to a snippet of a speech she gave in which she admitted failing to give whole-hearted support to a farmer because he was white.

(The complete speech ishere.)

The clip didn’t mention that the incident had happened 24 years ago before Sherrod became a government employee and it omitted her subsequent epiphany about race. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution put it:

” Sherrod said the short video clip excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with him and his wife.

‘And I went on to work with many more white farmers,’ she said. ‘The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it’s about the people who have and the people who don’t. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race.’”

It struck me, as I watched this all unfold, that Sherrod was using a standard tool of the church — a testimony.

We see these in hymns:

I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.

We see them in Scriptures:

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. [from 1 Corinthians 6]

We hear them in church (some churches anyway) on Sundays.

And we see them in the newspapers and on television (every diet commercial ever created uses the “before and after” approach).

A testimony is an inspirational device but it only works if it includes the before and after imagery. By slicing and dicing Shirley Sherrod’s words, somebody irresponsible built a soundbite, but tore down a testimony. And what remained was a warped, wobbly version of the original.

That reality is why observers on the left and the right have called on the White House to reinstate her.

Updated: July 22, 2010 — 9:42 am

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  1. I miss seeing your blogs on a more regular basis. They used to come much more frequently. I am a full time lay minister with the Catholic Church, so I guess you could call me a religion junkie, but you often have very interesting and thought provoking blogs. Today’s on Sherrod was certainly no exception. In the full account of her NAACP talk, her faith is made explicit.

  2. According to an email solicitation I got today from the SPLC, the government has offered her her job back. I believe I’d take it and then sue Fox News for defamation. They made materially false factual statements about her that harmed her and held her up to public ridicule. These people are loose cannons who need to be taught that words have an impact, even if they’re lies.

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