Several weeks ago I turned on my car radio to a sports talk show that had veered off the ususal athletic fare and had launched into a discussion about the appropriateness of Al Sharpton speaking at the funeral of a young girl who was shot to death during a police raid in Detroit. I had missed most of the discussion, but the first caller I heard offered the idea that Detroiters would have been better off having someone like Thomas Sowell speak at the funeral.
The program host responded to the caller in a dismissive manner, asking, “And who is Thomas Sowell?” When the caller identified Sowell as a black conservative economist, the host laughed and said, “Do you really think the average Detroit resident is going to listen to anything a conservative economist has to say? What kind of street cred do you think he has? My guess is that he doesn’t have any.” At that point the host went to the next caller.
For those readers who might not be familiar with slang, the word cred is a shortened form of credibility. The term street cred refers to the supposed knowledge and experience of someone who has lived on the tough streets, who knows how to identify with the harshness and cruelty so common in the most dangerous neighborhoods of major cities. Thus, the opinions of such a person should be taken as almost gospel, while the opinions of a person without the same experience can be ignored, ridiculed or both.
There are two major problems with this kind of thinking. First, if one must experience some activity to have a legitimate point of view, then honest debate or discussion ends. For example, can you oppose the legalization of illegal drugs if you’ve never taken illegal drugs? Can you condemn abortion if you’ve never been a pregnant woman? Can you support military action if you’ve never been in the military? Can you criticize indulgent parents if you’ve never had children of your own? Can you decry divorce if you’ve never been married? The answer to all these questions is the same: No, you can’t. You don’t have cred.
The second problem is that truth becomes irrelevant. Truth is truth, no matter the source. A Harvard professor can speak a falsehood, while a high school dropout can speak a truth. But if the only criterion for a particular audience is the so-called credibility of the speaker, then truth is usually the first victim of such a narrow mind set.
Now let’s consider the greatest “truth teller” in history, Jesus Christ. In fact, He identified himself as “the Truth.” But did He have cred? He was not a Pharisee, but He was an expert on the Mosaic Law. He was not married, but He spoke eloquently and clearly about marriage, divorce, and adultery. He was not a doctor, but He cured the sick. He was not a banker, but He knew one’s treasure was in the heart. He was not a shepherd, but He knew the ways of sheep. He was not a farmer, but He knew about sowing good seed. He was not a baker, but He could produce a lot of bread. The obvious point is that his worldly experience did not matter. And the truths He taught changed the world and continue to do so.
Anyone who is honestly seeking truth must be open to the possibility that truth can come from an unlikely source. John Kennedy once said, “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived, and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” How many lives have been damaged or destroyed because people chose to buy into the myth of street cred instead of opening their ears and their hearts to actual truth?