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Friday, December 5, 2014

What Responses To Ferguson Can Reveal

Quite often, how people really feel about the status quo can be seen in how they react to a crisis. For those who are content with the status quo, the problems that stem from any crisis are always someone else's fault, for it cannot be the fault of the current systems that maintain the status quo. There are some who are discontent with the status quo but who act and think as if it were a natural disaster or a fixed cost rather than being a social problem--we should note that a social problem, by definition, must be problem about which we can do something. People from either group will then respond to the crisis by stressing individual responsibility. Of course, there are other responses made by those who are not happy with the status quo.  These people will either exclusively blame the systems for people's problems or they will see the status quo as a contributor to the struggles people have.

It is with all of that in mind that this blog will review some blogposts about Ferguson and racism posted in the Gospel Coalition website. These blogposts appeared in the Gospel Coalition website. The guest articles were written by Benjamin Watson (click here for his article) and Voddie Baucham (click there for his article) as they gave their responses to what occurred in Ferguson.  

Both men downplay external systemic factors only in different ways. Baucham acknowledges systemic problems plaguing the Black community but these problems are, according to him, within the community itself. Baucham especially wants to avoid giving any credibility to a Marxian 'White privilege' explanation for what has happened to the Black community. 'fatherlessness' and 'immorality' are root causes for what plagues Blacks. In addition, he does not see racism against Blacks allegedly practiced by police as being a problem. Rather, citing the disparity between the number of Blacks killed by Blacks vs the number of Blacks killed by the police, he believes that the Blacks have far more to fear from fellow Blacks than from the police. He gives personal experiences, though, of what Blacks do suffer from. And yet, he attributes all of this to personal sin and gives no credit to unjust, external systems.

Watson also emphasizes individual responsibility over problems caused by external systems, but he does so in a different way. First, Watson is deeply troubled by generations of injustice as well as some of the response such as rioting and looting. He's worried about an us vs them attitude and the prejudice it can produce, he's frustrated over the lack of change and yet thinks things are better now than before.  And he is confused over why it is so hard to do what the police say. Here, we might want to remind Watson of the history of the struggle for Civil Rights.

But most telling is where he finds his hope. His hope is in the Gospel because the root problem is due to sin--that is individual sin. Though, unlike Baucham, he doesn't write off the systemic racism, he still sees the solution solely in terms of changing individuals through preaching the Gospel. And in so thinking, he joins Baucham in affirming the status quo. Only here, the status quo isn't state of being that Blacks have in our society, it is in the current systems that maintain everyone's state of being. 

So what we have is a, though not the only, typical Conservative Christian response. That response says that we only need to work on individuals by preaching the Gospel and thus we leave the systems on which the status quo rests alone. This is why preaching the Gospel is seen as the only solution. Of course, Christians who believe this have their counterparts, especially on the Left, who believe that all we need to do is to change the systems, there is more than one system, that maintain the status quo and we can eliminate injustice. What both sides have in common is that they think in all-or-nothing terms which leads to making exclusive-or choices between converting individuals and changing the systems. And thus, trying both approaches is impossible because they are seen as being antithetical.

Now this exclusive-or approach isn't taken by all Christians nor of all who post on the Gospel Coalition. Trevin Wax challenged Baucham's dismissal of White Privilege as a cause for racial problems (click here) as he should. For one of Baucham's key mistakes is that he fails to look behind the curtain of Black fatherlessness and immorality. He doesn't consider whether political, economic, and other systems contribute to Black fatherlessness and immorality. And here, shouldn't we challenge Baucham for suggesting that Blacks have a greater problem with immorality than Whites? 

Justin Taylor just wrote a blogpost quoting Martin Luther King on the need to change legislation in order to curb racism (click here). And though he and Wax are presenting different approaches than Baucham and Watson, we would be making the same exclusive-or thinking mistake as Baucham and Watson made have if we replaced what Baucham and Watson wrote with just the corrections which Wax and Taylor suggested. That is because there is no need to think in exclusive-or terms here. Yes, we need to preach the Gospel and convert individuals. Here, we should note that there are other messages besides the Gospel which promote racial equality. And yes, we also need to change the systems that maintain the status quo. And there is no reason not to do both unless one is seeking control for one's own group. That is when Christians say that the only solution to a significant social problem is to have everybody believe the Gospel, they are in effect saying that Christianity should rule society for it to have any hope. Such people have an inadequate knowledge of our history. The same goes for those who believe that if society would only employ the systems they are advocating, our problems would be solved. 

We should note one final problem in our attempts to solve our society's problem with continued systemic racism. That problem is that though there were political advances made in terms of gaining equal rights for minorities, wealth disparity either remains unchanged or it grew. And anyone who knows anything about politics will tell you that power follows wealth and thus the failure to change the wealth disparity problem might be, or is in reality, a significant contributing factor to our society's failure to overcome racism. 

Though the Conservative Christian Church will sometimes address racism and try to work to change the political system to advance equality, it has utterly failed to address an economic system that is based on the love of money and contributes to our ongoing problem with racism. As I remember Noam Chomsky stating in a DVD I have that while King went after racism, he was applauded; but he was denounced when he worked for economic justice and opposed the Vietnam War and militarism. So at best, the Conservative Christian Church has followed what gained King applause and has avoided to do what caused him criticism. 

Thus, our current economic system, which plays just as big a role in maintaining racism as any unjust political system could, has been treated either as a sacred cow or a fixed cost. And so there is no prophetic word challenging our economic system coming from the Conservative Christian Church. Thus, we can only conclude that it is content with that part of our society. And this is what we see in all of the writers cited here.




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