I want to briefly sketch out a few thoughts I had as I observe the tensions related to the schisms in the church today over addressing issues of race and justice. This actually started off as a Facebook post but as I kept typing, I thought it would be better served as a blog post. It’s not meant to be exhaustive and know that what I’m about to write can be expanded on. But I just wanted to address this common charge that I see quite often in the woke/anti-woke wars (for lack of a better term). And its this: those Christians aren’t upholding Scripture and undermining its authority. Honestly, I see it on both sides.
Well it is true that some can be ignoring Scripture and disregarding its authority, I’m referring to the vast number of Christians in relatively orthodox spaces that preach the gospel, uphold scriptural authority, and believe the church is Jesus’ bride to accomplish his purposes. Based on some extended observation, I don’t think the problem is so much that people aren’t relying on Scripture or upholding its authority. Rather, it’s how the framework of Scripture is being interpreted and applied to present day circumstances with varying understandings of sola scriptura. Everyone who professes Christ and scriptural authority are coming to vastly different conclusions. Why is that?
The more conservative/fundamentalists tends to draw harder lines between the historical context of the Bible and present day issues. They are more likely to separate its application from academic disciplines related to life. On the extreme end, the fundamentalist sees no room for any thought outside of Scripture to have relevance to the Christian faith. When led by a resistance to worldliness for the sake of Christian faithfulness, they may be prone to divorcing faith and works as James commends in his epistle.
I’ll be honest right from the start, I’m growing weary of hearing about Critical Race Theory and the debates swirling around it. I think far too much time is spent on either debunking or supporting it. In my honest opinion, it is jeopardizing our focus on Christ and kingdom matters in the manner prescribed in Scripture. From what I’ve observed, the arguments are rife with lazy and uncharitable assessments that have pit members of the family of God against each other. This also has made it harder for pastors who are striving to be faithful and navigate through issues of race and justice from a biblical perspective. I’d really not even write about it any further especially since so much ink is being spilled already.
However, there is one argument that keeps emerging that I feel compelled to address because I think it is a generalized and unfair allegation that misses the mark on why many Christians are opposing CRT. It’s simply this: those who claim that CRT has some compatibility with Christianity or at least can be used as a tool to diagnose the problem of racial stratification, tend to repudiate any claims of opposition as an endorsement of white supremacy. Why? Because the idea of CRT is to address white supremacy that has had its tentacles wrapped in the warp and woof of American society (I’ll expound on this in a minute). So it was no surprise to me when six SBC seminaries released as statement clarifying their position against CRT, that it was immediately met with charges of perpetuating white supremacy with pastors actually leaving the SBC over it.
Now in fairness, I do think that some of the opposition against CRT is based on strained and superficial arguments from those who see addressing any issues of race and justice as a deviation from the gospel. For this group, the SBC statement only adds further fuel to this opposition. I do think it makes it easier to dismiss raising any concerns related to race and justice. And we should be honest that a sub-group actually do want to maintain some sense of racial superiority and use opposition to CRT as a mask to cover it up.
But that is not the entirety of opposition. From my own perspective based on some extensive observation and interactions, I believe the lion’s share of criticism comes from Christians who strive to be faithful to Scripture and believe that addressing issues of race and justice should be sifted through its lens. These are ones who would not be quick to sweep racism under the rug and are honest about the travesty of our historical record. But they also see the how the framework of CRT produces fruit that is at odds with Christian practice according to Scripture, and in some cases can be a deviation from the gospel. God has provided the means by which we can analyze and address the underlying sins of race and injustice and CRT is seen as incompatible. I am one of those people.
You may be thinking from the title that this is going to be one of those posts that bashes white evangelicalism. After all, there has been a plethora of pieces over the past few years that have done just that. You know the ones. It’s where the author decries how white evangelicalism doesn’t really model the Christ in Scripture, isn’t accommodating to people of color, and wraps itself in a blanket of Americanism. Well I suppose if that is the description of a congregation and its worship services, then it makes sense to want to leave. Our churches are to model the other worldly kingdom with Christ enthroned and everyone subject to his authority. When we enter a worship service we need to be reminded that we are citizens of another kingdom.
However, I get the sense that the blasts against white evangelicalism have turned into generic diatribes against predominantly white denominations as if they all fit the description of American culturally entrenched gatherings that wave American flags as a symbol of faith and proclaim Republican loyalties as a mark of Christian commitment. I came across this piece in the Jude3 Project blog, The Catch-22 of Theological Decolonization. Cam Triggs cautions that spurning white evangelicalism can also lead to abandoning the faith. It’s a good exhortation but sadly, I found it echoes the same sentiment I’ve heard repeatedly concerning the rejection of white evangelicalism;
First, let me clearly say that we do in fact need to decolonize our faith. We don’t worship white Jesus or bow down at the altar of American exceptionalism. We need Gospel activists and multiethnic mediators proclaiming justice, teaching truth, and defending the faith from the cultural syncretism that so often plagues our churches. In that sense, we must be on guard against ways we have sinfully fused our articulation of Christianity with predominant cultural affinities.
Here is the problem with this exhortation, it presumes that unless a congregation is multiethnic (or at least promoting multiethnicity which I take to mean multi-racial) and speaking against justice (which I presume to mean promoting our present day justice causes from the pulpit), THAT congregation has bowed down at the altar of whiteness especially if the congregation is predominantly white and there may even be Republicans in the mix. This is the congregation I presume worships a white Jesus not that they are actually declaring Jesus is white. Never mind if the fabric of the service itself focuses on Christ with the acknowledgement that he has come for all people’s from every tribe, tongue and nation, that there is truth proclaimed from Scripture with exhortation on what it means to be sojourners in this world, there are commands to love our neighbor, and the faith defended from cultural syncretism.
As the year is wrapping up, I’d thought I’d share some reflections and personal updates because it’s been quite the year. I’ll do my best to keep it from being rambling or disjointed. Truth is, I’ve not been writing as I typically do, which is evidenced in the sporadic posts I’ve had this year. The last one was September so what does that tell you. It’s not for a lack of wanting or material, either. I’ve actually started several posts but never finished them. I do have one almost complete in which I’ve already committed over 1,200 words so hopefully that will come soon.
I think a contributing reason to the writing malaise is that its just been a hard year and one that wears on the soul. I recognized early on in the pandemic that the sense of disorientation and “fogginess” is actually kind of normal for what has been a most un-normal year. My hats off to those who seized the opportunity of slow down to fill it up in fruitful ways. I just wasn’t able and I learned that is ok, too.
If there is one thing I can say about this year, it’s been one of exposure of hearts and where our loyalties really lie. I say this primarily of the Christian whose first loyalty should be to Christ and his kingdom with loose commitments to the social and political factions of this age. But this year with all that’s happened–from COVID, more police shootings of unarmed black people, lockdowns, and a bizarre election cycle–has pulled back whatever veneer resided over socio-political orientations we tried to mask with our Christian presentation. Not to mention the tensions that have ramped up in the church over the issue of Critical Race Theory that has created more divisions. That’s why I say it’s the year that got us. It exposed us. It showed what we truly valued. We can no longer hide.
Nor should we. In fact, I’d say with everything 2020 has wrought also gives us the opportunity to take a good hard look at the priorities of our Christian commitment and the lenses through which we filter it. It’s easy to say I love Jesus when it’s also accompanied by affirmations of cultural comfort. I love Jesus and my freedom. I love Jesus and my blackness. I love Jesus and my fight for justice. I love Jesus and my president….loves that put caveats on faithfulness. But the church has always been tempted to follow the spirit of the age and we do well to ask some deep hard questions about our propensity to follow it. That’s something that ultimately comes through conviction of the Holy Spirit. We should not grieve or quench him. John’s divinely inspired words ring true here, “little children keep yourself from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:21)
The other day, I came across this question on Twitter, “What’s worse, the prosperity gospel or the patriotic gospel?” My first reaction was it was a bit of a toss up. But the more I thought about it and observed the discussion on my Facebook page, I do think the patriotic gospel needs to be spelled out a bit. I don’t know the author of the tweet so I have no idea what he meant by it but I thought I would write out a few thoughts about what I believe it is. I suspect that some will disagree but these are my convictions.
I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with patriotism, as long as it is kept in perspective. I see no prohibition in Scripture where one cannot love their country and want what is best for it. Though America has not always lived up to her ideals, we can celebrate her victories.
However, the patriotic gospel is more than just a love for country. I actually do believe it is a form of the prosperity gospel so let me lay that out. A common misconception about the prosperity gospel is that it is about money or getting rich. Actually, wealth is just an outcome of its foundation. At the heart of the prosperity gospel lies the notion that material gain symbolizes favor with God. Material gain can be wealth but also comes in different forms, such as employment success, social standing, houses, cars, and other earthly treasures. While proponents of the prosperity gospel will say they are placing their faith in Jesus, in reality, hope is placed in obtaining material gain since that represents right standing with God. It’s why you see so much emphasis on the material in prosperity teaching. Sadly, I think softer forms of prosperity teaching run rampant in mainstream American evangelism.
Now, let’s make that application to the patriotic gospel. I think the most obvious form is believing that the United States has a special status with God and therefore, supporting her prosperity means continued favor. It’s treating the US as if God has made a covenant with her. This line of thinking sees no problem with inserting patriotic symbolism into Christian expression such as Bible verses and church services. Continue reading