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Lift Each Other Up and Encourage Everyone

Lift Each Other Up and Encourage Everyone

If you’re around my age, you may remember the publication of a novel on July 11, 1960, that profoundly impacted America’s 20th-century racial understanding, much like Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin did in the 19th century. The novel is To Kill a Mockingbird.

Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement, just about a hundred miles northeast of Monroeville, Alabama—Harper Lee’s hometown and the model for Maycomb—the book significantly shaped my fundamental beliefs about humanity.

In simple terms, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a young girl named Scout Finch, her brother Jem, and their father Atticus who live in a small Southern town during the Jim Crow era of the 1930s. Atticus is a respected lawyer who takes on the case of defending a Black man falsely accused of a heinous crime. It’s a story of racism, a prejudiced legal system, and internal emotional struggles.

More importantly, the novel is a study of character.

Just two years after its publication, the novel was adapted into a film with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. In the movie, Atticus is depicted as an embodiment of high and noble character, someone seemingly beyond corruption.

As he and his family face threats and insults from the White community, we can’t help but place him on a pedestal. His chivalry and character are depicted as so perfect that he almost seems like a Jesus-figure. In the end, he wins the case, proving the innocence of the falsely accused.

However, that’s far from the end of the story.

Fifty-five years later, Harper Lee wrote a sequel, Go Set a Watchman. In this sequel, Atticus Finch is portrayed quite differently from Gregory Peck’s version. In Watchman, Atticus’s value system aligns significantly with the racism of other White community members. He opposes the efforts of the NAACP to bring about justice and equality and even defends the Ku Klux Klan as more of a political organization than a violent hate group.

When I first attempted to read Watchman, it disturbed me so much that I repeatedly put the book down. Reflecting on my feelings, I realized I didn’t want my idealism of Atticus Finch tarnished. I wanted to keep him on that literary pedestal.

Deep in my memory, a sermon came to mind titled “The Five Grossest Men in the Bible.” The preacher described Biblical characters who had significant failings: Adam disobeyed God, Moses destroyed God’s written word in anger, David committed adultery and murder, Jonah refused God’s call, and Peter denied Christ after promising unwavering loyalty. The point was that even the best people have shortcomings.

Even a fictional character like Atticus Finch is no exception. We all have defects and need forgiveness. If you don’t believe that someone you idealize has fractures in their character, consider them running for public office; their opponent will undoubtedly uncover and broadcast their imperfections. Similarly, sometimes gossip within a local church can also damage a person’s life quality.

Ending this with Bible scriptures cautioning against gossip seems insufficient. Instead, our spiritual instructions go deeper. As Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, “…encourage one another and build one another up.”

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