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Friday, March 21, 2014

Following In The Footsteps Of The Ghosts Of Racists Past

We Americans think of racism as belonging to the past. But such a statement identifies the race of the person making the statement, that is me. It identifies my race because it shows on which side of the discrimination tracks I live. I live on the untouched side. Those who live on the other side might wish that racism was gone but they can't. They can't because if they have lifted themselves up by their economic bootstraps to join the establishment, too many of their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and fellow members of their own race live in a brutally harsh, racist world. But note the association just made.

See, it is difficult to escape the position of one's race. And I think that is one of the points made by the author identified as jasdye in the blogpost, White Christian Indifference In The Age Of Black Lynchings. When I read that title, I thought of the days of the first Jim Crow. The author, however, was talking about today and the murders of people like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Renisha McBride. Yes, there is a reference to the past and the murders of James Chaney, Emmett Till, and Marie Scott, but the blogpost is about today's crimes and the complicit silence of White Christians. And this would also include myself and my blog. For though this blog has mentioned today's racism and Trayvon Martin, I could have written about racism more often. And thus I am among the guilty identified and described in jasdye's blogpost for being silent about the racist murders of today's Blacks.

Jasdye writes about how, just as in the past, White Liberal Christians have been silent about the murder of Blacks.  Jasdye attributes this silence to White Liberal Christians being too positive and optimistic about human nature, especially their own. In addition, there is their externalization of evil to their ideological opponents. They regard racism as existing in the outlier personalities of people like Paula Deen. Such distances them from the problem with racism and quells any desire to address it. It also simplifies the solution to that of providing information. Such will surely solve the problem with racism if people are good.

We should note that Martin Luther King Jr. rejected Liberal Christianity because of its naiveté with regard to human nature. Though he saw Neo-Orthodoxy as being too negative, he saw Liberal Christianity as being too positive. So we might expect that the White Liberal Christian view of racism does not take into account the experiences of those who live on the other side of racism, that is those who have suffered terribly even to the point of death. Rather, according to jasdye, White Liberal Christianity's beliefs about racism only tell us and on which side of the discrimination tracks they live.

As to how accurate jasdye's analysis of White Liberal Christianity is, I cannot say. I do not have enough exposure to that branch of Christianity to either agree or disagree with jasdye's assessment.

However, jasdye then talks about Evangelical Christianity's problems in dealing with racism. And jasdye might be correct in saying that Evangelical Christians deal with racism a bit more that White Liberal Christians, but the former group's reaction is still not enough. 

We could add to what jasdye wrote by saying if Evangelical Christians do deal with systemic and societal sin, that sin will be racism. Homophobia and classism are ignored. Instead of talking about homophobia, Evangelical Christians, almost without exception, talk about the oncoming suppression of their own religious liberties. And instead of talking about classism, there is support for the status quo by calling on everybody else to change except for those who maintain classism and the status quo for their own benefit. Such reactions remind one of the Left's criticism of the Church when they accuse the Church of being just another institution of indoctrination to maintain the status quo for the benefit of those with wealth and power. 

Certainly, there are theological overreactions to the silence and complicity of White Christians about racism. These responses are overreactions not because of the intensity, but because these responses compromise the Gospel in order to advance a righteous cause. One of the biggest overreactions is to reduce the message from the Bible to that of earthly liberation. This causes many to read their concerns into the Scriptures rather than objectively read out of the Bible. But we could say that theological conservatives filter out those Scriptures that deal with earthly liberation. In addition, theological conservatives are partially to blame for the overreactions by liberal Christians.

How? Theological conservatives tend to model their lives after the literal actions and expressed concerns of those in the New Testament. Since political liberation and social sins were not given much ink while personal sins were, theological conservatives overextend the Regulative Principle to everyday life by not dealing with systemic, societal sins. Instead, theological conservatives tend to think that the only solution to such sins is to become a spiritual spartan and that is what they teach others.

However, such an approach ignores both one of the major reasons why we are taught, by the New Testament, to behave in certain ways in society and that we live in a different historical context than those who lived in the days of the apostles. Our historical context is that because of past Christian dominance over Western Civilization, many systemic and cultural sins and oppressions have been linked to and associated with Christianity so that if we don't speak up, our silence will only maintain those ties. And since one of the reasons why the New Testament teaches us to behave in certain ways in society is to refrain from damaging the reputation and credibility of God's Word, to follow the literal examples of the first Christians as they dealt with oppression is all too often to fail to reach the same result many of the first Christians did in maintaining the reputation and credibility of the Scriptures . In short, because of historical changes, to employ the same tactics used by the early Christians means that we will cause a different end effect than what they sought and accomplished.

Of course, that way of thinking is a cold, impersonal approach to resisting oppression and helping its victims. It doesn't push us to resist systemic sins out of empathy and compassion for the victims. But it can be used as a starting point for those overly concrete-thinking Christians who are afraid to do anything different from what was literally practiced or prescribed in the New Testament or the rest of the Scriptures.

Certainly the very end of the article being reviewed here falls into the category of being an overreaction by compromising the Gospel. It equates Jordan Davis's blood that was shed with Christ's blood by making an association with communion. Whether intentional or not, it is very wrong. But those of us Christians who have been silent about and thus complicit in practicing racism are partially to blame because we have not used the Gospel to challenge the sins of racism. And because of our silence, those who are trying to do what is righteous have received no help from us and were thus pushed to this overreaction.

We need to listen to voices like jasdye's as this person and others speak about the sins of both racism and complicity with evil. We need to listen in order to help those who are in need. We need to listen in order repent of our own complicity and perhaps our own racism. And we need to listen so that we have a greater incentive to challenge the practitioners of racism to repent. Then once we have become involved in challenging racism, perhaps we can get on a roll and challenge the other oppressive isms that so dominate our world and so threaten and hurt our neighbors.


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