I Don’t Understand the Evangelical Response to Ferguson
Dr. Randy White
Ferguson, MO has erupted in barbaric violence that should cause all law-abiding citizens to demand the restoration of the rule-of-law, but the Evangelical world is preaching kum-ba-ya sermons about race-relations.
I’ve gotta say, I just don’t get it.
Am I a racist because I’m a white Christian male? Am I a racist because I believe that the people who burn down buildings after they’ve looted the businesses within them should be arrested on the spot and placed before a jury trial to receive a fair and just penalty for their crime? Am I a racist because I think a Grand Jury indictment is necessary before judging a man guilty (whether that man is white, black, or purple)? I don’t think I’m a racist at all. I think I’m a responsible citizen with a Biblical worldview. But when I see what the ever-more-left-leaning Evangelicals (like my fellow Southern Baptists) are preaching about the Ferguson fiasco, I am made to feel like I’m a racist.
I’ll just use one example, though the example I use is just one voice of a fast-growing choir of politically correct pastors, ethicists, and theologians. I’ll use this one example because it is low fruit (I’m not interested in writing a book), and because it is from my own faith family of Southern Baptists. My example is Matthew Hall’s November 25 post, “What’s the Big Deal with Race?” Hall is a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. His article is posted on “Cannon and Culture,” a project of the ERLC. The ERLC seems to be full-court press, all using the same talking points. You can read Russell Moore’s “Ferguson and the Path to Peace,” and Eric Mason’s “The Gospel, Race, and our Experiences” for more of the same. Each article basically says, “we don’t understand how blacks feel, so we should be slow in our judgment” and “the Kingdom brings us all together in one big, happy family, so let’s act like Kingdom people in a big, happy family.” Ed Stetzer, also a Southern Baptist, also joined the chorus, singing in harmony with the talking points.
Hall begins answering his question about what the big deal with race is all about by telling us that, “all Christians should be mindful of the gospel’s demands for racial reconciliation and justice.” This kind of talk has become common in post-modern church-world. If we make it one of the “gospel’s demands” then we can’t really question it. But I will. Is racial reconciliation a demand of the gospel? Seems to me that racial reconciliation is a good thing and is a social issue, not a doctrinal or theological issue, and certainly not a “gospel demand.” If there is something Biblical that expresses racial reconciliation as a gospel demand, I’ve missed it.
Throughout his blog, Hall refers to “racial injustice.” He never defines it. I’m sure he could, but I suspect he won’t. To be so clear would invite too much criticism. I wonder what the Hall / ERLC version of racial justice would look like in Ferguson?
Hall says that, “As sons and daughters of Adam, we are spring-loaded to see ourselves as distinct and superior from other individuals, but also from groupings or communities of persons.” As one who likes to question the assumptions, I wonder if this is even true. Does the Bible doctrine of man portray us as spring-loaded toward personal superiority? For every Biblical example you give, I’m pretty certain I could find a Biblical example of one who was spring-loaded toward inferiority. Outside of Scripture, I don’t think my personal experiences (49 years worth) find any support for this spring-loaded superiority claim.
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Hall worked hard to explain that this undefined racial injustice is a sin problem. Of all the “abundant Biblical evidence,” Hall chose an obscure reference in Numbers 12:1 to Moses’ Cushite wife. Hall, joining John Piper, makes the punishment on Miriam and Aaron a result of their racial prejudice against Moses’ dark-skinned wife. This is eisegesis of the ultimate degree. God punished Miriam and Aaron for speaking against God’s appointed leader. It really doesn’t matter what caused them to speak against him. Whether it was racial prejudice or a long-held animosity for Moses’ privilege as a youth, or maybe even simply their own petty jealousy, God’s punishment was related to their crime, not their motivation. Even more to the point, I am most doubtful that the reference to the Cushite wife was racially motivated. Piper is quoted as commenting that God said, “Oh, you think your skin color makes you superior? You think white is better? I’ll make you so white your skin will literally rot.” I’m not sure why Piper thinks Aaron and Miriam were models of aryan beauty in the first place. In my own year-long study of the book of Numbers, racial tension never hit the radar in the study of Numbers 12, nor did I ever dream of Aaron and Miriam thinking white skin color is better.
Continuing to develop the “racial injustice is sin” theme, Hall tells us that we (White Christian men?) cannot see this injustice because the “fundamentally unjust system” has been “perpetuated for generation after generation.” Those who are “not victimized by it” can’t see it as Biblically sinful. Hall says that,
“We see it around us in an industrialized penal system that is overwhelmingly populated by young black men. And we see it in the recurring headlines of unarmed black teenage boys shot by police officers. Sure, we can trumpet the virtue of personal responsibility and try to sleep better at night, our uneasy consciences salved by the distance of ‘out of sight and out of mind.’ But look more closely and you’ll see that sin is never confined merely to the orbit of individual choice or personal responsibility.”
This statement is fraught with difficulty. If sin is “never confined to the orbit of individual choice or personal responsibility,” is society to blame? Do the thugs looting businesses and burning police cars have a personal choice and responsibility for their actions? Are we wrong to say that the individuals of Ferguson riots have made a “personal choice” and have a “responsibility for their actions?” To blame society for a crime committed by an individual is soundly insane. Further, is the penal system that is “overwhelmingly populated by young black men,” unjust by virtue of the lack of racial balance in the prisons? What if there are more young black men in prison because more black men commit crimes? Do we need an affirmative action mechanism in our justice system in order to bring racial balance? It seems we live in a society (and have a religious denomination) in which one cannot speak this truth without receiving the “racist” label.
Hall’s second reason of “Why Race Matters” is that the (undefined) racial injustice, “denies the truth of our universal kinship.” I’m not sure how one could deny this truth and still hold a Biblical worldview, personally. A racist may be creationist in their understanding of the world, and still have a disdain for fellow humanity. Speaking of our common DNA, Hall states that, “any system that elevates one branch of the family tree while denigrating or demeaning another on the basis of race or ethnicity contradicts this ancient reality.” I would have to wonder if God Himself gets a pass, since even a cursory reading of Scripture would prove that He began elevating one branch of the family tree in Genesis 12 (arguably in Genesis 9), and only strengthened the elevation of that branch through the pages of Scripture. Was the Old Testament God somehow racist?
The third reason is that this (undefined) racial injustice, “is contrary to the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In this section, Hall refers to “Civil Rights Hero John Perkins.” Anytime someone gets “hero” status, I check things out. Perhaps with more investigation I would find something of hero status, but I must confess I didn’t find it readily available in my short search. Perkins is a civil rights leader and community organizer, and appears to carry much of the same liberal church-as-kingdom theology as the rest of the community organizers. His three Rs of Christian Community Development are (1) Relocation: become one of them, (2) Reconciliation: model reconciliation in the church, and (3) Redistribution…surprise surprise. Perkins says, “Justice is achieved by working with God to share His resources with the disenfranchised of the earth.” This is the same threadbare theology of black liberation that we’ve seen for decades, as far as I can tell. If I was looking for a Civil Rights Hero I would be more likely to investigate one like Dr. Ben Carson. Hall notes that hero Perkins taught that “vertical reconciliation” required his Son’s sacrificial death and resurrection, thus, “we should also expect that our horizontal reconciliation with one another will require a similar measure of intentionality.” I question the expectation. Perhaps we should recognize that God’s gift brought vertical reconciliation, it can also bring horizontal reconciliation. Hall (or Perkins) makes it sound like God did the vertical but He’s unavailable for the horizontal. What the black men of the Ferguson riots need is a vertical reconciliation. Only then will they move away from the victimization of black liberation theology.
Hall’s fourth point is to feel guilty because some Southern Baptist founders were racist, even slave-owners. I wonder if he is as haunted over the racial bigotry of Calvin and Luther as over Southern Baptist slave-owners?
Hall concludes by calling us to take “a host of good and necessary steps needed for racial justice and reconciliation.” He implies that there are “matters of policy and law” that need to be changed in order to, “uphold justice and equity.” I have to wonder what policy and law he thinks are either wrongly worded or wrongly applied in Ferguson. To my knowledge, the only laws that promote racial partiality today are related to affirmative action.
In summary, Matthew Hall clearly thinks there is a problem, though he never really tells us what it is, other than, “racial injustice.” He did not give an example. I get the feeling the article was designed to elicit feelings of guilt on the part of Whites for the sins of Blacks.
And that’s a feeling I typically get when evangelicals talk about race.
Dr. White is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Katy and ministers online at www.RandyWhiteMinistries.org