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Friday, August 9, 2013

Will The Real Status Quo Please Stand Up

While listening to Christian conservatives John Piper, Tim Keller, and Anthony Bradley talk about racism, I saw a faint glimmer that one of my two pet peeves against the American Conservative Christian Church might finally be addressed. This pet peeve is that the American Conservative Christian Church does not challenge the status quo and the systemic evil that exists in society. Here, we will focus on the talk given by Keller in the event pictured with this paragraph. To access his talk directly, move the time bar to 25:52 in the video to jump to where he talks about how racism is a systemic problem and thus carries a corporate responsibility. There are some helpful comments made by Anthony Bradley in both his following lecture and in the video containing the Q&A session that he moderates.

Keller's first task was to define corporate responsibility. In talking about corporate responsibility, Keller wants to dispel of the notion that sin is solely due to individual choices. The family and or community bear some responsibility as well. But rather than just say that corporate responsibility flows in a oneway direction, he shows how it flows in a two-way direction, both from the community to the individual and from the individual to the community. Both have a hand in and need to respond to the sins of the other.

In citing Joshua 7, Keller tells how Achan and his family were stoned to death for the sin of Achan. This, according to Keller, seems foreign to the mind of many White Americans, to Whites from the West, because of our emphasis on individualism. But he adds that this is understandable to the rest of the world because they know that a person's sins are not just the result of individual choices, but of how the family interacted with him in what they taught and what they prohibited. So Achan, along with all of his family, were held responsible for his sin and were punished.

In citing Daniel 9, Keller tells how corporate responsibility flows the others way when Daniel laments over the sins of his ancestors. Here, Keller says Daniel does this because he is part of the culture that, in the past, moved his ancestors to sin against God. Keller goes on to show how Romans 5 shows that faith in Christ is a corporate deal rather than an individual one. By this he means that just as our punishment comes because of Adam, so our reward comes because of Christ.

Keller goes on to give two illustrations on why certain sins, like racism, must be handled on the corporate and individual levels. In mentioning the Holocaust, he shows how all of German society was responsible for the mass murder of the Jews and others and how each part of society cooperated with the mass murders and thus carried a different level of responsibility. This goes for the Nazi commander who carried out orders to slaughter innocent people to the German citizen who saw his or her duty to be that of just working for a living and paying their taxes. This German citizen had probably heard something about what was going on but shirked their responsibility for finding out and responding. 

Keller also relayed a story from Robert Linthicum who described a young convert of his who later turned to prostitution. When he asked why she became a prostitute, she told how the police came and threatened to beat up her father and her brother if she did not work as a prostitute. It was at this point that Linthicum realized that individual salvation was not enough to help this woman, the system had to be addressed.

What was so good in Keller's presentation? It was Keller's emphasis on our responsibility to challenge unjust systems. Maybe I am not as exposed to Reformed and other conservative sources as I should be but I found Keller's call for us to challenge the system to be refreshing; it was both new and correct. And though Keller's grounds for why we should challenge the system were based mostly on Biblical argument, he did mention the need for Whites to identify with minorities at the end, Anthony Bradley, in his presentation, added that our working for right systems should be based on love for the victims. 

We need both arguments, those grounded in Biblically based logic and those grounded in love. Arguments based on logic alone takes the personal involvement out of the picture. Arguments based on logic alone can make addressing the system something we do for ourselves and an accomplishment to be proud of. Arguments based on logic alone do not move us to listen to those whom we are trying to help and thus our intentions will more easily go astray. 

So we need to add love to arguments based on Biblical logic. Love helps us to be more outwardly directed. Love helps us to work with those we want to help rather than being paternalistic. 

What Keller's presentation, along with Bradley's followup, lacked was that we should challenge the system not just for the sake of the victim, but for the sake of the victimizer too. After all, it is the victimizer who will be judged by God. In other words, we are to challenge the system for the sake of those who are suffering unjustly and for the sake of those who are oppressing the vulnerable. Both need love though that love might be demonstrated in different ways. That we should show love to win over the victimizers was a passion for Martin Luther King and it should be our passion as well.

In addition to what was lacking, Keller makes significant error at the end. As he is exhorting the audience to challenge the system, he warns them about the self-righteousness and arrogance of many who are currently challenging racism. He could have said that self-rightousness and arrogance are temptations that can become stronger when one challenges any part of the system. But by saying what he said, he almost gives his Christian audience a reason for singing to those who are already in the fight, "Anything you can do we can do better." And once we sing that, we become prideful and self-righteous. Keller's warning about those who are self-rightoues doesn't invite us to come along those who have been laboring for the rights of others; it warns us to reinvent the wheel and work apart from them simply because they don't have the humility that comes from being saved by grace. So obviously, humility does not always come once one is saved by grace.

In addition to this talk, I would strongly suggest to those who struggle to understand what White Privilege is, to go to the 16:56 mark of the followup Q&A session to hear Anthony Bradley give a concrete example. I have heard the term but have never really understood it until he described one of his experiences as a teacher. This video accompanies this paragraph.

Finally, we need to mention what needs to be discussed in the future by Piper, Keller, Bradley, and others. Keller alluded to this briefly when he talked about other systems that need to be challenged. We need Christian leaders to talk about the multiple isms that shape the systems that make up the status quo. For our status quo does not exist by racism alone. We can divide these isms into two groups. The one group are the isms used by those who shape and run our society while the other group are the isms that are followed by those who must comply with the status quo to survive. 

There are at least 4 isms used by those who mold our society. They are racism, economic classism, elitism, and militarism. Why these isms belong to those who control the status quo is because these are the isms that those in charge follow to marginalize and displace others. These isms keep the weak dependent on those who wish to hold the whip to tame the rest. What we should note here is that while racism, economic classism, and elitism diminish the voices and power of those inside our country, militarism does the same to those outside of our borders. And we should also note how economic classism received a partial challenge by Occupy Wall Street's Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City.

If racism is to be challenged because of how it unjustly and harshly suppresses people because of their ethnicity, then we should regard and approach economic classism, elitism, and militarism with the same energy because these isms are harsh and conquer many people too. These isms create the systems that make the status quo so good for a relative few and so miserable for a growing number of people. I don't know where Keller stands on these other issues but I do think that Bradley unintentionally supports economic classism with some of his writings and lectures. For in these writings and lectures, I have yet, and this might be my fault, to read or hear him challenge those running the system to repent of their greed and oppression and to change the economic system. I hope that I am wrong here.

The isms of those who receive the whip in the status quo include: consumerism, tribalism, and authoritarianism. These isms lead the rest in society to do their job at being complicit with injustice.  Consumerism numbs us from feeling the pain of others. Tribalism diverts our attention from morals and justice to parochial concerns and moves us to embrace a moral relativity. And authoritarianism has us following orders without asking questions and causes us to accept what is said based more on the credentials of the source rather than the logic of the content.

Certainly, the above list of isms is not exhaustive. But they are pervasively followed by all in society, by the haves and the have nots. And these isms contribute to why our oppressive systems are not adequately challenged and thus why the status quo remains.

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