Jesus said, “Wouldn’t you, on the sabbath, untie your ox or donkey from the manger, and lead it away to drink? Then why shouldn’t this woman be set free from bondage on the sabbath day?” – Luke 13:15-16
“Whataboutism” (also known as “whataboutery”) is the attempt to dodge an accusation by charging the accuser with wrongdoing. Whataboutism deflects one negative with another.
Russia is well-practiced at whataboutism. During the Cold War, when the United States criticized Russia of human rights violations, Moscow would say, “This from a country that lynches negroes?”
Whataboutism is a logical fallacy. The legitimacy of an accusation has no bearing on whether or not the accuser is also guilty of something. Nevertheless, whataboutism is making a big comeback these days. The president is well-practiced in whataboutism. In defense of pardoning controversial Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, Trump pointed out the pardons of other shady characters by past presidents: “What about them?” Whataboutery flies both ways across the political aisle.
Even Jesus engaged in whataboutism, with one significant difference in the scripture above. He deflected a negative accusation: “A good rabbi wouldn’t heal on the sabbath!” with a positive one: “Hey, you guys untie your animals on the sabbath so they can drink. Why shouldn’t I release a sister from bondage on the sabbath?” Instead of dropping to his opponents’ level, he lifted them up to his.
Try that next time someone discredits you. When they go low, stand your ground, but instead of sinking to their level and firing back, take them in your arms and raise them up.
God, you are so good. Whatabout helping me be as good to others as Jesus has been to me?
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince available now.