People scrolling through their feeds were quickly met with hashtag #StandWithKeaton and a viral video of a tear-filled boy when they logged onto social media on December 8, 2017. It was a video that would break anyone’s heart. Keaton Jones, an 11-year-old boy from Knoxville, Tennessee, had just been traumatized by bullies. His mother, Kimberly Jones, recorded the visibly distraught boy as he recounted what the bullies had done.
This is Keaton Jones, he lives in Knoxville and he has a little something to say about bullying.https://t.co/coyQxFp33V
— OutKick Bets (@OutKickBets) December 9, 2017
“It’s not okay! People that are different don’t need to be criticized about it,” Keaton exclaimed passionately to the camera. “It’s not their fault. But if you are made fun of, you just don’t let it bother you.”
The video spread far and wide on social media through the support of celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Mark Hamill. Within just a few days, a GoFundMe page that was launched by a third party quickly raised over $55,000 for the Keaton family. The video provided an opportunity for many to speak out against bullying and stand up for victims.
Then, suddenly, the tide shifted in a colossal way. The overwhelming amount of support and love for Keaton quickly turned to anger and judgment. Reports began to surface claiming that his mother, Kimberly, was a racist, a Confederate sympathizer, and someone who staged the video for quick monetary gain.
Alleged screenshots of Kimberly’s social media posts appeared to show family members posing with a Confederate flag. Captions, purportedly written by Kimberly, insulted “butt hurt Americans” who had issue with the Confederate flag. Before long, the social media world that had spoken up in support of Keaton turned and began to not only insinuate that Kimberly was a racist, but that Keaton may have deserved the bullying because he shared his mother’s viewpoints.
In a follow-up interview with CBS News, Kimberly confirmed that, while these screenshots were authentic, she denied that there was any racist intent. “The only two photos—the only two photos on my entire planet that I am anywhere near a Confederate flag. It was ironic. It was funny,” said Kimberly.
She later added, “I’ve said I spent most of my life being bullied and judged because I wasn’t racist.”
In an ironic and sad turn of events, a video of a victim of bullying attracted even more bullying from the social media world. As Kimberly told CNN in a recent interview, “People are threatening to kill my children. We went from the most amazing family in the country to the worst.”
Much can be said about whether Kimberly’s history of social media posts are in fact racist or not—either by intent or by impact. However, even in the worst-case scenario—even if both Kimberly and Keaton are racists through and through—Christians are held to a higher ethic in how they are to treat them.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6 ESV
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” Luke 6:27-28 NLT
Racism, prejudice, and cultural insensitivity are terrible acts against people. But so is bullying, of any shape and form and in any medium. While Christians are called to defend and promote the wellbeing of their neighbors from the deviant vitriol of racism, we are not free to use whatever means possible. “The end justifies the means” cannot be coopted as a Christian slogan. Racists and bullies alike are not sub-human and shouldn’t be treated as though they are.
The weapons of a Christian are not spears and swords, either physical or verbal. Instead, the Christian ethic addresses evil while promoting the good. We can still weep with Keaton while opposing the racism that may well be in his family. We can stand against bullies without trashing their humanity. We can speak up for victims of bullying even if they have done much wrong themselves. We can fight racism without treating the perpetrators as though the image of God is piecemeal in their being.
The Keaton Jones bullying video and all that has transpired is an opportunity for Christians to put the ethical rubber to the road and pave a different way. It is one thing to simply ebb and flow with the tide of social media; it is entirely different thing to remain steadfast with Christian love toward those who may even seem to not deserve it.