Dr. Ben Carson, internationally renown neurosurgeon and author of Gifted Hands, garnered political attention for his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 7th, 2013 in Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: Getty Images).
If you told me that renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson would make comments that sounded more like they came from the mind of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, I would’ve told you to get your head examined.
Sure enough, Carson did the unbelievable and now people are wondering where his head is.
Recently on Fox News, Carson, the former chief neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, had an apparent brain freeze when asked about the gay marriage issue that is before the U.S. Supreme Court. He said, “My thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality–it doesn’t matter what they are–they don’t get to change the definition.”
It’s clear that most of us, who are Christians as Carson is, believe that marriage is a godly covenant between a man and a woman. But for such a brilliant man to defend that position by comparing same-sex relationships to pedophilia (NAMBLA stands for the North American Man/Boy Love Association) and bestiality was shocking, troubling and disappointing. I expect attention-craving media types like Rep. Bachmann, Gov. Sarah Palin, or Herman Cain to spew such nutty logic because they’re political entertainers, not serious thinkers. But if any national figure could clearly articulate a rational biblical position regarding gay marriage, I expected that Carson could. I expected Carson would adeptly state what the bible affirms, while accounting for the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state. He would address the right of consenting adult citizens to pursue life, liberty and happiness as they deem fit, agree that the government is responsible to protect all of its citizens regardless of their faith, yet remain firm concerning Christian morality. I expected Carson, whose gifted hands have literally been ordained by God to heal, to eloquently and gracefully deliver a position that begins first and foremost with the love of Jesus Christ – especially during the season we honor His death and resurrection. Instead, Carson on the following day added to the pile of logical fallacies during an interview on MSNBC rambling something about apples, oranges, bananas and peaches as he tried to explain his head-scratching comment.
Carson’s life and prestigious career (his bestselling book turned movie “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” chronicles his amazing rise from poverty to prestige) has been inspiring. He recently announced his retirement from Johns Hopkins, which has fueled speculation that he may seek a career in politics of the media. Carson has been labeled the latest “flava of the month” among Conservative Republicans after he criticized the Affordable Care Act to President Obama’s face during the National Prayer Breakfast. Though Carson said he’s an independent voter, the conservative Fox News devoted an hour-long show to him. But knowing brain surgery doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be on the news media’s operation.
Much of Carson’s goodwill is in jeopardy now. Carson has since tried to extract his foot from his mouth by apologizing for his comment, but he may have lost too much oxygen. Johns Hopkins medical students have petitioned to have Carson removed as their 2013 commencement speaker. University officials remain supportive of Carson. Still, it’s a shame what the situation has come to because Carson certainly knows better.
Academicians and or those who are thoroughly trained in the sciences know well how to construct reasoned arguments with sound evidence. Shooting red herrings or other logical fallacies from the hip, or in this case the butt, is unacceptable. Carson is yet another example of an otherwise intelligent person who when a TV camera is on, suddenly loses his righteous mind. Sadly, a potentially promising second career for a brilliant man of God may already be off its rocker.
Editor’s Note: On April 5th, Dr. Ben Carson sent out the following statement concerning his remarks about gay marriage.
“Dear Colleagues, Friends and Associates:
As you know, I have been in the national news quite a bit recently and my 36 year association with Johns Hopkins has unfortunately dragged our institution into the spotlight as well. I am sorry for any embarrassment this has caused. But what really saddens me is that my poorly chosen words caused pain for some members of our community and for that I offer a most sincere and heartfelt apology. Hurting others is diametrically opposed to who I am and what I believe. There are many lessons to be learned when venturing into the political world and this is one I will not forget. Although I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman, there are much less offensive ways to make that point. I hope all will look at a lifetime of service over some poorly chosen words.”
Benjamin S. Carson Sr., MD
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…. Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20
It is well known that blacks live sicker and die younger than any other racial group. Look no farther than the church with the pastor battling hypertension and diabetes or the congregation with several obese members sitting in the pews. It would seem that the black church in America would be the leading ally supporting the nation’s first black president in the debate over access to affordable healthcare. It would seem that the black church would lead the way toward healthier eating and living.
Could it be that black church culture is leading us astray?
I thought about this during a recent conference in Baltimore on black global health. The International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora, hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, brought together healthcare professionals and researchers, from across the Western Hemisphere to discuss common health problems among the descendants of African slaves. Black Arts Movement icon Sonia Sanchez set the tone as the keynote speaker July 4, inspiring the crowd with a special poem for the occasion. The award-winning author participated throughout the weeklong conference.
Listening to a sister from Brazil and a brother from Peru discuss high rates of obesity, diabetes, infant deaths and the spread of HIV/AIDS among blacks in their countries sounded like the health crisis of black New York, Chicago, or the Mississippi Delta. Modern racism and the legacy of slavery haunt all of us. Participants also shared solutions and pledged to work together. In fact, according to Dr. Thomas LaVeist, a book and curriculum addressing these health themes are being created for the public and for high school and college educators. Thomas, who happens to be my brother, directs the Hopkins center and is the mastermind behind the conference, which is scheduled to take place every two years.
Solutions are basically what government and institutions can do to end racism and ensure all people have access to quality affordable healthcare and what blacks can do themselves to care for their “temples of the Holy Spirit.”
The black church should be more outspoken in support of increased access to quality affordable care. Our cousins from Canada and Central and South America, who for the most part receive varying degrees well-executed and poorly-executed universal healthcare, are puzzled as to why we richer Americans are debating what the rest of the industrialized world has long settled — that healthcare access is a God-given human right, not a privilege to be determined by profit-seeking private insurance companies.
After the conference, Thomas told me that the Catholic Church (obviously many Catholics are also black) has been the most vocal Christians on healthcare, mainly around the debate on whether Catholic organizations should be mandated to support abortions for employees (some evangelical Protestant organizations have recently joined that fight, too). Thomas suggested the traditional black church denominations could find their unified voice by calling for all Americans to be insured (Obama’s Affordable Care Act would still leave 20 million people uninsured). However, regardless of what the government does, black churches should lead by example with healthier eating and living, he said.
BAD FOR THE SOUL? Black churches are routinely feeding their people unhealthy soul food staples such as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Is that biblical?
“Black church culture is out of alignment with some biblical teachings, particularly when it comes to how we eat,” my brother said. “Church culture has got us drinking Kool-Aid, eating white bread, fried chicken, large servings of macaroni and cheese and collard greens drenched with salty hog maws (foods that are high in sugar, salt, calories, and carbohydrates that trigger health problems). We’re eating this in the church basement at dinner and at church conventions! Meanwhile, the Bible teaches against gluttony.”
Don’t judge or condemn those who are obese, but encourage and show everyone how to eat healthy, Thomas added. He cited Pastor Michael Minor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in the Mississippi Delta as pushing the healthy eating message that all black churches should adopt. The Delta is one of America’s poorest areas and leads the nation in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates. In 2011, Pastor Minor, known as “the Southern pastor who banned fried chicken in his church,” banished all unhealthy foods and insisted soul food meals be prepared in healthier ways; many of his members are losing weight and improving their overall health. Other churches across the country such as, First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, are on similar missions.
Ask yourself, when it comes to health, what is the black church best known for?
What might the state of black health in America (and the African diaspora) be if your answer was healthy eating and living?