Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Suggestions for White Evangelicals"

I don't normally read RAAN, and here's why. However, in light of all the hubbub over the election, and the way some commentators presume to speak on behalf of minorities in general, I'll make an exception:

In light of the racial and political unrest that has dominated the media in the United States over the past several months, I’d like to take a moment to share a few things I’ve learned in my experience as a white pastor in a mostly black, inner city context.
The conversations surrounding race, social justice, and police are sensitive for everyone, but I am not able to address everyone. Therefore I am directing this article specifically to white Christians for the simple reason that I am one, and it is the population I can most closely understand and relate to. I don’t intend to single out white people…

If he doesn't intend to single out white people, why does he single out white people? The entire post singles out white people.

…but I’d like to offer advice to those brothers and sisters who may find themselves angry, confused, or uncomfortable with the many conversations about race and justice that are becoming more frequent in the Church.

I don't find myself angry, confused, or uncomfortable about these "conversations". 

At this juncture in time, white Christians should seek to understand more than to be understood. If you are not black, then you literally cannot understand the black experience in America, so you must rely on your black brothers and sisters to help you understand. 

i) Notice the point blank contradiction between the first sentence and the second sentence. On the one hand, "white Christians should seek to understand more than to be understood"; on the other hand, "If you are not black, then you literally cannot understand the black experience in America."

It says something about Smith's mindset that he can't even register the back-to-back contradiction. White Christians should seek to understand what they literally can't understand". Yeah, that make sense. 

ii) Does Smith think a Westerner can't literally understand The Tale of Genji? Does Smith think Lady Murasaki can't literally understand The Odyssey or The Epic of Gilgamesh?

For a group that is so loud about abortion, gay marriage, Israel, and the military, it’s amazing how quiet Evangelicals are when it comes to acknowledging racism and social injustice.

That's because we don't buy into the overarching narrative. 

...we must still acknowledge the sins committed by the people group we identify with. 

That's a very revealing standard of comparison. Let's begin with a definition:

A "people group" is an ethnolinguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members. There are two parts to that word: ethno, and linguistic. Language is a primary and dominant identifying factor of a people group. But there are other factors that determine or are associated with ethnicity. 
Usually there is a common self-name and a sense of common identity of individuals identified with the group. A common history, customs, family and clan identities, as well as marriage rules and practices, age-grades and other obligation covenants, and inheritance patterns and rules are some of the common ethnic factors defining or distinguishing a people.

i) According to that definition, black and white Americans arguably belong to the same people group. We speak the same language (English) and we share a common history. Indeed, the history of blacks and whites in America is deeply intertwined. 

ii) Do Italian Americans and Jewish Americans (to pick two examples at random) primarily identify with a generic white people group, or the subset comprising Italians or Jews? Do Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer primarily identify as white or Jewish? Does Martin Scorsese primarily identify as white or Italian?

Likewise, you have people with a strong sense of regional identity. They identify with a particular city or state. Some people self-identify by social class. And so on and so forth. 

iii) Speaking for myself, I identify with close relatives. In terms of self-identity, a primary frame of reference would be my family, and not a generic racial people group. And I daresay that's true for a great many people. In addition, my religious identity is normative, while my racial identity is secondary. 

In the Bible, God held people accountable for corporate sins all the time, and he made sure their great-great grandchildren were aware of these past sins.

That's simplistic. That usually has reference to the covenant community. The identity is primarily between Jews and God, not Jews and fellow Jews. 

Keeping past sins in front of a people group was not intended to keep people in a place of perpetual guilt, but to keep them from committing the same evils again.

It depends on what you wish to accomplish. If your objective is "racial reconciliation," then "keeping past sins in front of a people group" is a recipe for perpetual racial resentment and mutual antagonism–which is counterproductive to the aim of reconciliation. Funny how Smith is oblivious to that obvious effect. 

People like Smith exacerbate a problem, then complain about how we need to solve this terrible problem. They fan dying embers into flame, then call the fire department. 

If you are a white Evangelical then you need to acknowledge the large-scale racial sins that occurred in the past and continue to occur in the present at the hands of our people. 

i) Notice how Smith lumps together past and present, as if the current situation bears any resemblance to "the large-scale racial sins" that occurred in the Antebellum South or Jim Crow era. 

ii) Historically, slavery is virtually a cultural universal. Does Smith think that American Indians, East Indians, black Africans, Chinese, Japanese, &c., should be fixated on the past sins of their people group? 

iii) Likewise, there are racial animosities between various ethnic groups in America. For that matter, there's racism within subsets of people groups. Why this myopic obsession with whites? 

While you may not have personally committed acts of racism, most of our white ancestors were complicit in supporting a system of racial injustice…

It's wholly artificial to insist that I'm supposed to identify with unrelated dead white people. Most of them are not my ancestors. Even among the few who happen to be my ancestors, they are total strangers to me. It's imaginary to project moral continuity. Their complicity hardly makes me complicit. That's just playacting. 

…and we all have benefited from this unjust system in one way or another.  

i) Insofar as that that's the case, Americans in general are beneficiaries of that system. 

ii) I benefit from many things people did in the past. I benefit from inventors and scientists. I benefit from the Roman Empire. 

If we cannot speak out against past and present injustices, then we are no better than our religious predecessors who remained silent during slavery and civil rights.

i) Although we should acknowledge past injustices, harping on that becoms a vacuous self-congratulatory exercise. We make ourselves feel virtuous by condemning others. 

ii) Once again, there's the strained effort to link past and present, as if the present situation is comparable to the past. Smith may believe that, but it's unconvincing to readers who don't already share his assumptions, and he's doing nothing to persuade them otherwise. 

I can choose whether or not I validate black people in their grief and outrage. 

There's paternalistic. Why does he imagine that blacks need whites to validate them? A white man who thinks black people need his validation suffers from a racial superiority complex, while a black man (or women) who feels the need for white validation suffers from a racial inferiority complex. 

But beyond that, I need to affirm that their pain is valid and is based on something real. By refusing to validate their claims, I would be charging them with delusion, or even worse, dishonesty. 

We need to begin with facts, not feelings. Some feelings have a factual basis, but it's emotional manipulation to demand that I validate a claim merely based on self-perception.

I require evidence commensurate with the scope of the claim. A while back I posted Sen. Tim Scott's 3-part speech on the Senate floor. He gave personal examples. I take that seriously–because he's a serious person, and he provided evidence. And one of the best ways to root out that kind of residual racism is having good, solid conservative minorities like Sen. Scott in positions of authority. 

But I refuse to be stampeded into a grand narrative about "systemic/structural/institutional racism," or "implicit/closeted racism". Moreover, the preoccupation with seeing racism everywhere sets people up for failure.  

Black Christians across the globe claim that this type of oppression exists, so to deny it would be to completely question their integrity.

What people group doesn't experience injustice and oppression somewhere around the world, at one time or another? 

The fact that Lecrae’s post offended so many white Christians exposed a problem in conservative Evangelicalism that is more serious than I ever imagined.

Speaking for myself, I don't take the opinion of celebrities seriously enough to be offended by what they say or do. 

Christians are not called to fight on behalf of or defend any nation.

Maybe Smith is a pacifist. It depends on the nation. Sometimes treason is the highest form of patriotism. Take people like Marlene Dietrich who sided with the Allies.

However, national defense can be a legitimate extension of self-defense. Sometimes individuals need to pool their resources to effectively deter or combat a common enemy. They can't do it alone. 


  1. "I can choose whether or not I validate black people in their grief and outrage.

    There's paternalistic. Why does he imagine that blacks need whites to validate them? A white man who thinks black people need his validation suffers from a racial superiority complex, while a black man (or women) who feels the need for white validation suffers from a racial inferiority complex. "

    Interestingly enough that was the reasoning behind Brown v. Broad of education and busing blacks to white schools. Apparently, the blacks missed something by not being around whites.
    Listen to around 8:30 on.

  2. Am I supposed to repent because my great grandfather once bullied another child in school in 1881?