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.
I recently got into a twitter exchange over the issue of church’s hosting of a racial reconciliation conference, panel discussion, etc. The thrust of the argument was that it puts a focus on the reconciliation according to skin and we should do as Paul says ‘to know no one after the flesh.’ I pushed back on the notion that anytime a church calls for a racial reconciliation, it is a “false gospel.” As typical with Twitter exchanges, I start getting lost in the comments. So I thought I’d sketch out some thoughts I’ve had on this issue in a more cohesive fashion. This is not so much about that exchange but rather examining the broader scope of racial reconciliation efforts in the church, my observations of them, and also to identify some concerns. This is not meant to be anything exhaustive but more like me dumping some thoughts on this topic into a single space.
First let me note that I do heartily endorse the idea that believers should anchor their identities first and foremost in Christ. I believe that our first consideration for dealing with other believers is based on our union in Christ. When you see another person with whom you are united in Christ, the first thought should not be a [______] Christian but a fellow heir, regardless of their race, ethnicity, physical characteristics, or place of origin. We should take serious Gal. 3:28;
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
But of course there are distinctions and we can appreciate them according to how God made us. Are we not male and female and are we not different in that regard? We are not nondescript blobs. We can appreciate the ways in which we bring our ethnicity, heritages and experiences to the table. We also have to recognize when those distinctions have caused and do cause dissension in the body of Christ, especially when dealing with a long-standing one like racial disparities that were not only deeply ingrained in society for hundreds of years but also in our churches. Racial reconciliation is ultimately about reconciling hearts towards one another. Continue reading
Are Christians called to transform culture? Whenever this question comes up, I’ve typically been struck by those who declare we are not. Now I get that transforming culture is loaded with complexity. What do we mean by this? The simplistic answer is influencing culture such that it is compatible with Christianity. But in a fallen world, that lofty goal is myopic at best.
Another issue is what do we mean by culture? Andy Crouch states it simply, “it is what human beings make of the world.” Of course, it’s a bit more complex than this in the ways an ethos is formed from the various components that make up a particular culture. Example, a workplace culture is one defined by the priority of values and examples of living that out. So, if we consider the nature of culture, we have to conclude that there is not just one culture but many operating in different spheres of society and overlapping with each other. Even when we consider our prevailing ethos, it is an amalgamation of various cultures forming a compatibility that infects the whole. This is one reason I dislike the question about transforming culture. Which culture do you mean?
But there’s another problem I have when the question gets dismissed with an emphatic no. I’ve been reading through Theology in Three Dimensions by John Frame. He provides a basic layout for his theory of triperspectivalism, which deals with the multi-dimensional aspect of how we come to know and accept truth. Room does not permit an exhaustive description and I don’t want to deviate from the point of the post. For the sake of brevity, he speaks of that which is normative, situational, existential and the ways in which each perspective overlaps with each other. In his chapter entitled, “Perspectives in All of Life,” he starts off by saying that we bring our relationship with Christ into every sphere we enter proclaiming “the gospel changes all of life . . .it creates new people, as new creations of God (2 Cor. 5:17). Continue reading