Gospel Lenses and the Search for Allies

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 2.11.19 PMLast week I ran afoul of the ever-present issue of political correctness when I posted a brief video of a young man flipping off a passing police car, wearing his shorts around his thighs, and then tossing the drink bottle he had just finished after flipping off the cops onto the ground, all in front of all the waiting traffic during rush hour. In other words, he wanted to be seen doing these things.

I then discussed my thought process as I pulled away from the light. I had been offended by the behavior of this young man. I was offended at his flipping off the police officers who, obviously, were unknown to him. It was an act of rebellion against instituted authority, plain and simple. I was offended by his wanting to show us his rear end, as if it was something we all needed to see and admire. I was offended by his disrespect of us all in tossing trash on the ground, openly. And I immediately thought back to my own youth and began to consider the means God had used to keep me from the same behavior.

Now, if that young man had been white, and I had then reflected on the changes since the 1970s amongst whites, no one would have cared. If he had been Asian, and I reflected on the changes in that community, a small number of folks might have cared, but I probably wouldn’t have heard about it. If he had been Hispanic, especially here in Phoenix, a few more people would have been tempted to say something, but in general, the Hispanics I know are not happy with the general degradation they see in society, so I could actually expect a fair amount of support (just as I got support from people in the black community as well). But the young man was black, and, well, that makes all the difference in the world when the first lens in your worldview is the racial lens, not the gospel lens.

In case anyone has not noticed, I am white. Scottish white. Like the Scots in the kilts charging the British at Stirling white. Put sunglasses on white. And as a result, I am not allowed to observe sinful and destructive behavior. That’s a violation of the canons and rules of sociology and racial psychology that have become sacrosanct in the culture as a whole, but, surprisingly, even amongst some who call themselves Reformed. Take a few moments to do a net search for “Critical Race Theory” and related terms. You will find a lot, and you will find an entire “Christian” field as well. And so podcasts were produced, and articles written, all to decry my transgression.

Sadly, what I actually said in a short 545 word article has been so twisted and contorted that I am left wondering if some of those criticizing me even took the time to actually read it. And I am only speaking of those who profess the faith here. What can account for this? Well, I am not addressing those who attacked me because they are always looking for an excuse—any excuse—to do so. I am not even talking about those who blithely retweeted attacks against me mainly because, it seems, they think I am associated with someone they don’t like, so, why not? No, I am here looking specifically at those who responded from a racial perspective, whether they themselves are black or white or anything else notwithstanding.

One of the main articles that appeared in social media, was retweeted and Facebooked etc., was by Ekemini Uwan, an M.Div. counseling student at Westminster in Philadelphia. She wrote an article titled “Where Are Our White Allies?” Now, of course, “allies” implies battle, conflict, warfare, and a right side and a wrong side. So the title starts with race as its first focus. Not an auspicious start.

It was posted on the Reformed African American Network website. I am not sure if there is a Reformed Scottish American Network, or Reformed Japanese American Network. I have honestly never looked.

The article headlines the following photo:

Wallace-Wells-Freddy-Gray-Deadlock-690

Now, could someone please tell me how this photo is not deeply prejudicial? That boy is what, 9? 10? He’s not a 15 year old doing the thug life thing, flipping off cops with his pants around his thighs tossing trash around in public. And the police in the background—really? Riot gear? The cops the kid and I saw were driving along in their car patrolling the streets. What kind of lens is being used here to re-focus the original? Sadly, when we get into the text, we discover that lens is a badly, badly distorted one. Let’s interact with some of the article:

On Friday afternoon, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I stumbled upon a post shared by a friend who challenged the prejudiced rhetoric of Dr. James White’s post. Whenever there is a social media post, story, or an incident involving race, as a person of color, I must do a racial cost-benefit analysis.

This is troubling. This seems to indicate a primacy of race, not a primacy of gospel. I reject primacy of race. It is not a biblical concept. I have yet to see even an attempt to provide an exegetical defense of the idea that the first thing we should all be considering is the melanin content of the skin, or the history of a particular people group, or any other such things. While the Bible recognizes rich and poor, powerful and weak, wise and unwise, its gospel imperative is based upon all men and women bearing the image of God. There is nothing about race, no differences in the moral and ethical commandments of God based upon overriding sociological theories. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

On the cost side, I measure the psychological, emotional, and sometimes, physiological toll it would take on my well-being, depending on the magnitude of the racial event.

I suppose there are such things as “racial events,” but a 545 word FB article is barely a blurb, let alone an event.

On the benefit side, I measure the possibility of a teachable moment, the chance to change false narratives, and show how the gospel bears practical implications for racism, always with the hope that much fruit would come as a result. After completing my analysis, I determined the benefit outweighed the cost.

Here is the first reference to the gospel, and the first accusation, it seems, of “racism.” We will see if either pans out.

By now, you may have heard about the social media firestorm that ensued as a result of White’s racially charged Facebook post about a fifteen-year-old black boy exhibiting typical teenage behavior.

“Racially charged.” I.e., when a white man makes note of race, that is racially charged. When a black man or woman makes note of race, that is not racially charged. And this double standard is fully accepted amongst those who defend the concept of what I might call “racial primacy,” where you actually say it is a good thing to have as your primary matrix race, even before theology. This is what I referred to in my Dividing Line response to this controversy as having as your primary lens race rather than gospel.

Next, I am simply astounded that we live in a day when that kind of behavior is called “typical teenage behavior.” That’s the whole point, isn’t it? If that is “typical,” that means the “typical” teenager is engaged in public behavior that is horrifically self-destructive, not only to himself, but to the society at large. What kind of a culture will long survive allowing that to be identified as “typical”?

According to White, the boy flipped off the police as he crossed the street and poured the contents of his bottled drink on the ground, and tossed the empty bottle into a nearby bush.

First, I provided a video, so it was not just “according to” me. Secondly, he didn’t pour out the contents, he drank it and then tossed it away. Openly, and clearly with the intention of all of us who were sitting there waiting for the light to see.

Based on those anodyne, yet unwise acts, White speciously concludes this young boy most likely never met his father, wasn’t given guidance, nor was he taught about the merits of hard work and the value of a good education. Moreover, this young man would go on to father several children out of wedlock, some of which he would abort at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Over the years I have learned the signs of traditionalism that impacts exegesis, for example, or bias that impacts the accurate representation of what someone said, or wrote. And here we are presented with a real example of bias. First, we are told that open rebellion against police is “anodyne,” or, as said earlier, just “typical” for a teenager. Of course, I beg to differ. Then we have the idea that I concluded certain things from these observations. Instead, what I did was asked what kind of factors could explain the difference between that boy at 15, and myself at 15. What had happened over the nearly four decades that I could identify that could shed light on such behavior that, in my day, would have been roundly condemned? I pointed to fatherlessness, and rejoiced that I had not experienced that, and how important a father figure is in a young man’s life, especially in learning to be respectful to authority. I did talk about the lies told to him by the leaders in his community, and I fully stand by the assertion that it is a lie to tell an entire group of people that they should view themselves as victims because of what happened to people a century and a half ago. The large number of successful people who have rejected those very lies comprises an irrefutable source of evidence in support of what I said. I said that there was a certain percentage chance that, without a father, without a solid family structure, the probabilities were high of his fathering children out of wedlock—and, of course, if 70% of black children are born in that state, as numerous studies have shown, well, someone is fathering those children! And simple common sense tells you it is far more likely that the kid with his pants already halfway down is more likely to be fathering children out of wedlock than the one with his pants still all the way on who isn’t so proud of his rear end that he thinks everyone else should get a gander at it, too. But, sadly, simple common sense is not always allowed into this particular conversation. Not anymore, anyway.

And then, yes, I made another common sense observation, all based upon facts and probabilities, that if he did father children, ol’ Planned Parenthood is standing by, ready to murder and mutilate for a relatively small fee! And how very, very silent my critics have been about that, which leaves me truly amazed. I would think there would be a great outcry, “Yes, despite how we don’t like everything else you said, man are you right about that!”

But notice how what I originally wrote has been filtered already with the conclusion already firmly in place. This is not an interaction with what I wrote, it is an interaction with what a particular racial theory demands I must have meant, the facts notwithstanding.

From two seemingly innocuous—yet juvenile acts—committed by this young boy, White prognosticated his fate and that of his community.

They were not innocuous acts, and I prognosticated nothing more than the percentages themselves indicate is the current reality—and lamented the fact that unless something changes, this is a recurring cycle that continues to feed upon itself. And, of course, it is. Solution? That gospel thing.

He castigated and dehumanized black people by reducing them to statistics, which he admitted he exaggerated perpetuating myths about intractable fatherlessness, endemic laziness, entitlement, and sexual immorality.

Now, of course, this is simply untrue, and one is left wondering where such language even comes from. Dehumanized black people? May I suggest that not only is such an accusation itself ungracious and unfounded, but isn’t the real dehumanization when you excuse the young man’s rebellion as merely being juvenile, and hence “expected”? Is it really a Christian position to say that rebellion is “normal”? Surely, in the sense that all men are sinners, rebellion is normal. But we are talking about what causes human harm versus what causes human flourishing, and is it not “dehumanizing” to say that an image bearer of God is to be excused for such behavior? Or is it just that he is a black youth? Would a white youth doing the same thing indicate something different? If I had used “white” statistics, would that have changed things?

It is simply breathtaking that a brief observation on Facebook results in someone claiming I “reduced” black people “to statistics.” As I strongly emphasized on the Dividing Line, one of the main reasons I will not bow down to this unbiblical “narrative” is that I honor the black men and women who stand against tremendous pressure to remain faithful to having the right priorities, who refuse to put their race as the first and primary lens of interpretation and thought. They are accused of being “too white” by many, but they stand firm because they are redeemed sinners before they are black. But if you then turn around and call the plague of fatherlessness amongst the black community in America today a “myth,” well, that says a great deal. If that is a myth, pray tell, what are people like Thomas Sowell talking about, anyway?

Notice the importation of immediate buzz-words and categories—“endemic laziness, entitlement” etc. The term “entitlement” never crossed my mind—when I think of that term I think of Bernie Sanders’ legions of socialist followers. But the point is that the lens is providing the context, not my observations, and—this is important—not my own life. I have been accused of racism and all sorts of things unbecoming of a minister by people who are not looking at what I said from a gospel perspective, but from a social theory perspective that is contrary to the gospel itself.

So having twisted the reality through the lens of some kind of racial theory (notice, no Bible so far), our author admits that it was her hope that “white brothers and sisters would come to our defense by using their platforms to challenge Dr. White.” Come to our defense? Can someone explain the thinking that would cause any gospel-centered black person to think they were attacked? This is the danger of racialism—instead of seeing solidarity based upon common commitment and faith, this is clearly written from the perspective of a racial identity that comes prior to the Christian identity. And this is where I must stand and say, “That is simply wrong.” I don’t care how many sociologists you have read or how many position papers you’ve presented—you won’t be able to provide a biblical justification for this order of interpretation and its application. No Jew, no Greek likewise means no white, no black, no racialism, no excusing one race based upon past events or situations. Level ground. One people, one faith.

A few of them did, and for that I am grateful; their allegiance revives those of us who are suffering from racial fatigue.

Racial fatigue? I would like to ask again—does this not indicate a very serious problem of priority? So, if someone attacked me for daring to make some common sense comments about the need of fathers and the like, this somehow “revives” this author and helps with “racial fatigue”?

Nevertheless, I am left to wonder, when will the few white allies we have become the majority. When will we, black people, get the opportunity to witness a multitude of white brothers and sisters bind themselves to us in this fight against racism, instead of exercising their privilege by observing from a safe distance or not engaging at all? Where are our white allies? Those are the intransigent questions nestled within my heart and mind as I have observed the initial event and subsequent defenses from White.

Please note that though it is somewhat buried in the rhetoric, I am accused of racism here. But racism these days has nothing to do with prejudiced thoughts or actions—racism in this mindset is refusing to switch out the gospel lens for the racial lens as the primary interpretive grid. I could not help but think about standing in the mosque in Erasmia, South Africa in 2013, preaching the gospel of grace to a truly multi-ethnic group in front of me. Whites, blacks, Indians—and you know what? Their races never entered my mind. My message was about our universal need. Check it out for yourself:

I know the charge of racism is simply false, and God knows it too. The facts are totally against the charge. But for these folks, all of that is irrelevant: racism has been redefined so that everyone who does not embrace your “lens priority” is liable to be accused, and convicted, without benefit of trial. It is presuppositional.

At this juncture, it must be said that I am thankful for our non-black minority allies who have locked arms with us, and are constantly fighting the good fight against racism inside and outside the church. Thank you! We know, that you too, are fighting racism against your people in the various ways that it manifests itself and impacts your respective communities.

Note again the narrative—racism redefined, guilt assumed. One of the most troubling things about observing this is that there is racism in many churches in our land. There is racism in “white” churches. It exists, and it is shameful. But I have a simple question to ask of those who adopt the narrative of this article: is there racism in black churches? If so, what form does it take? How could you identify it? If you cannot admit the widespread problem of black racism, is this because you have bought into the idea that you cannot be racist without having “power”? And doesn’t all of this clearly indicate the unbiblical nature of this “narrative”?

These questions are exacting and pointed at our white brothers and sisters who have the white privilege other racial minorities lack. It is a well-known fact that despite the browning of America, white people still hold many of the positions of power in this country. The same is reflected within American Evangelicalism. In order to observe this, one needn’t look any further than the lily-white speaker line-up at popular conferences, faculty website pages at evangelical seminaries, and mainline Protestant denominations.

And here we see the real overriding nature of this “narrative.” All the buzzwords made popular by the left, flowing into what should be a Bible rich context, but instead banishing those biblical categories. “White privilege.” “Power.” And goodness, how could someone use a phrase like “lily-white” without recognizing how “racially charged” and “insensitive” that could be? Ironically, I note that a very white leader of a major denomination retweeted this article, evidently as a sign of “solidarity.” I wonder when such folks will be resigning so as to make room for non-whites to hold their positions? Of course, such positions should be held by the best qualified person, the one with the proper training, temperament, and abilities. Race should, in fact, be completely irrelevant. Unless it is your primary interpretive grid.

Ah, but if you dare point out, “You know, those concepts have been used to create racial and class warfare by the left for a very long time now,” well, even that ends up being more evidence of your…racism! For a little later, under the sub-title “Racial Oppression Toll,” we read, “Regardless of how gracious, patient, calm, humble, and measured our response is, we are called Marxists, liberals, race-baiters, agitators, and divisive, just to name a few of the labels ascribed to us (there are other unseemly names that ought not escape the mouths of the saints, but often do). We endure the constant verbal abuse that comes with speaking truth to power, and we pay the toll racial oppression levies on our mind, soul, and body.” Truly I can understand how, if I made my race the lens through which I interpreted all the rest of life, how I am treated, etc., I would inevitably start to feel oppressed and fatigued. The wonderful thing is—there is no need for that! Surely not in the Christian faith. It has nothing to do with “speaking truth to power,” it has everything to do with speaking the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit and letting Him glorify the Triune God has He sees fit! Once again, could someone drop all the mantras and slogans long enough to ask the simple question, “Hey, if we are Reformed, we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, so—where is all this in Scripture?” I’m not talking about some simplistic “give me chapter and verse” challenge. But I am talking about providing serious, deeply grounded evidence that the first lens through which we are to look is racial in character. It simply does not exist.

As we look through the rest of the article we find a citation from a sociologist that leaves me shaking my head, for at one point we read, “The key thing is show me any moment in the history of our people in this nation where we did something completely black and we changed our situation.” Do forgive me, but I do not know what it means to do something “completely white.” As a Christian, what I do is either for the glory of God, or it isn’t. It is either in obedience or disobedience. But it isn’t white, black, green or blue. This is just not Christian thought.

Finally, though, we did get to some biblical texts.

What of Scripture? I recall the Prophet Jeremiah saying to the Israelites, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7).  The Israelites were exiled among people who were not like them, yet they were called to seek the benefit of the Babylonians. How about when Jesus shared the parable about helping the least of these saying, ‘”Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’’’? Apostle Paul also says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). We are called to bear one another’s burdens, and do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:2,10).

I am at a loss to follow the thread of thought here, at least from a Reformed perspective. None of these texts are being exegeted in any meaningful fashion. The Jeremiah text was in relationship to the exhortation to the people to await God’s own timing in the exile. Seventy years must be fulfilled, to settle in, and pray for God’s blessing. Jesus’ words in a parable had absolutely nothing to do with race, but with service flowing from the changed heart (descriptive not prescriptive). The Corinthian text has to do with the unity of the body, but nothing to do with race. And the Galatian texts likewise are general exhortations to unity in the church, but have no bearing whatsoever on race. In fact, some of these militate against the very system upon which this article is founded: for nowhere do we find Paul or Peter or James couching his moral and ethical commands to the Christian people in racial categories. Apostolic commandments to the rich are not racially based; the commandments to the poor are not racially based, even when there might have been a racial/ethnic element that created those divisions. That’s because in the faith, those racial issues are not to be definitional.

So having not provided any biblical foundation for this clear promotion of racialism, the concluding exhortation, which again repeats the groundless accusation of racism and puts all of this not in the context of inter-faith disagreement but “attack” and “warfare,” reads as follows:

Bearing the burdens of another is the ultimate imitation of Jesus, our supreme burden bearer who carried our burdens until He breathed his last. Brothers and sisters, surely you can lay down your privilege in order to stand with and defend us when we are attacked by fellow Christians.

When a system causes you to interpret a brief commentary on the sad moral situation we face in the United States completely out of its context, gives you the freedom to assassinate the character of a minister of the gospel totally irrespective of his multi-decade ministry, import foreign, worldly concepts as if they are unquestionable truths of Christian experience and theology, there is a deep, deep problem. When what I wrote can be so twisted, so distorted, as to become an “attack by fellow Christians,” that should cause anyone to wake up and ask, “What is going on here?” And if your first reaction to this response is racial—you are the one with the problem. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28.

Finally, much could be said about what can be done biblically to “bear the burdens” of all Christians no matter what their race. Real, actual racism still exists, and sadly, when the term is expanded as it is in this article to apply to that which is not racism at all, it blunts all serious efforts to battle real racism. White racists, and black racists, need to be called to repent of their sin and embrace Christ as Savior. When actual, open acts of racism occur, no matter what the skin color of the person committing such acts, Christians should speak clearly to the fact that Christ’s death was not for an ethnic group, but for a people from “every tribe, tongue, people and nation,” a heavenly proclamation that is utterly destructive of all forms of racism (Rev. 5:9). But it should not be a matter of bearing the burdens of artificial “communities” based upon skin color and ethnicity—not in the Christian church. No, it is time to stop allowing the world to define false communities, such as the “gay community” or the “black community” or whatever. For Christians, there is the “household of faith,” and in that household, we are all servants. Servants of the Triune God, and therefore servants of one another. Only when we apply the wisdom of Philippians 2:1-4 in a completely color blind fashion will we know peace and harmony in the body.

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