Book Review: Wallis “Racism: America’s Original Sin”
America’s Original Sin (Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America)
Jim Wallis, Brazos Press, division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, 2016
Here’s one I find about just a few months after publication, rather than missing it for a year or more, as has been happening recently.
It’s a powerful title, aiming to answer the point I have noted ever since I first took notice of conservative Christian politics and preaching over three decades ago; that they focus on a lot of “sin”, but racism was always excluded (except to oppose liberal programs aimed at ameliorating the problem, as much as possible). And not that it’s just any other sin, but in fact our “original” sin, starting from the much heralded age many Christians believe was especially “Christian” or “godly”, and the “par” that all the sin of today is judged by.
It begins (The Preface) on the gruesome Charleston killings, which occurred right as he had just finished writing the book, which then became the perfect illustration of the problem being addressed.
He discusses how the title, “America’s original sin” was a term coined in a 1987 Sojourner’s magazine article. The language “helped me understand that the historical racism against America’s indigenous people and enslaved Africans was indeed a sin, and one upon which this country was founded. This helps to explain a lot, because if we are able to recognize that the sin still lingers, we can better understand issues before us today and deal with them more deeply, honestly and even spiritually—which is essential if we are to make progress toward real solutions.”
He wrote the book because “I believe truth-telling about America’s original sin of racism must not be left to people of color alone. Crossing the bridge to a new America will be a multiracial task and vocation”. When talking with black friends about the book, even their reaction to the statement “If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children” were “Are you really going to say that”, “Oh my, what are white Christians going to say about that?”, “that’s going to stir things up”, and that he would need us to “have your back on this one”.
Chapter 1, gives his story about being a teenage in Detroit in the 60’s, and visiting the home of a black janitor on the job, and how they told their children that if they were lost and see a policeman, to duck and hide.
Gives a bit of history, like with ML King and the black church.
Next goes into “The Talk”. (That black parents have to give their children, about the danger of being confronted by the police. This is basically what the white NYC Mayor DeBlasio angered the police department by feeling the need to do with his own black (biracial) son. On one hand, they complain our “problem” is parents not teaching our kids anything, but when we show that we do, it apparently stirs up guilt, and they yet again claim to have some “race card” being played on them.”Damned if we do, damned if we don’t”. I think I’ve said, for me, this “talk” was not so much about the police directly, but rather some old white lady falsely accusing me of a crime).
He suggests the best way to change that old talk is to start a new talk, between white and black parents.
He discusses “Racism as a Faith Issue”, with 1 Cor. 12’s discussion of “parts of the Body”.
Next, in “The American Pilgrimage”, points out how colonialism and slavery became America’s greatest economic resource. “Therefore,our original racial diversity was a product of appalling human oppression based on greed” [emph. added]; a point that should never be forgotten, especially when tracing this to modern economic beliefs; i.e. why racially coded “dog whistling” and defense of capitalism always go hand in hand.
Chapter 2 deals with the “parables” of Ferguson and Baltimore. “It really said it all when the defense put up as a witness a white woman who had been robbed by a black man as an ‘explanation’ for why Zimmerman picked out Martin to follow and stalk”. You would think this would right away rule the person out as an “objective, unbiased” juror!
He also points out, from a report
Instead of focusing on protecting the public, the Ferguson Police Department’s mission was revenue generation—extracting money from the black residents of the town, using methods that were often legally questionable, sometimes outright unlawful, and certainly morally reprehensible. The report painstakingly reveals unconstitutional and consistently abusive policing aimed at balancing the city budget on the backs of its poorest citizens. The Ferguson police went beyond even racial profiling to direct racist targeting and exploitation for a profit, with city and police leadership apparently more concerned about “fill[ing] the revenue pipeline” than protecting public safety. The use of traffic stops, citations, court appearances, fines, and even arrests that overwhelmingly affected black residents revealed a profound contempt for black people, with repeated racial slurs and verbal abuse also reported by residents. Disgusting racist “jokes” even aimed at the president and first lady, circulated in the e-mails of police supervisors and court officials. One joked about a black mother getting a crime prevention award for having an abortion.
He concludes “when you get beyond the specific circumstances of the Brown shooting and look at the larger context of law enforcement in Ferguson, it’s impossible to disagree with Holder’s statement that ‘some of the protesters were right'”. This is the point missed by the “fact” crowd.
“The Ferguson parable also teaches us that racially biased criminal justice systems and practices don’t need ‘perfect victims’ to be wrong. Even if criminal suspects are guilty of crimes or are running away from the scene of a crime, this doesn’t excuse police officers for using lethal force when other methods might be used to deescalate conflict and still protect public safety. Even when force must be used, it does not always need to be deadly force, and seldom should be”.
(He mentions being in Ferguson when the Staten Island jury announced it would not bring criminal charges in the Eric Garner case, and cites Irving Kristol that the greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but with the far higher number who believe intellectually in racial equality but are oblivious to injustice around them and unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks.
Next, chapter 3 “The Original Sin and Its Legacy”
White responses to the book he mentions are that standard “I/my family/ancestors never owned slaves”, or simply (the most common) “I am not a racist”, and asking what do “they” (black and brown people) want. Blacks would then give their experiences. “In my experience the motivation of black friends and colleagues isn’t to make white people feel guilty, to beat us up over our racial history, or to just complain about it. What I hear is deep concern for their children and for their future, and the reasonable expectation that white people not defend themselves from the past but join efforts to build a better multiracial future.” [emphasis added].
So he says “we” (he and white brothers and sisters) should look deeply into their inner selves, “which is a practice people of faith and moral conscience are rightly expected to do”. And to go deeper than individually overt forms to covert forms, especially in institutions and culture. This then gets into “white privilege”. “To benefit from oppression is to be responsible for changing it”. Issues of radicalized policing and the unjust criminal justice system as addressed by his black friends “matches their experience—experiences white people don’t have”. Yet,”When people of color speak the truth about the realities of race in our culture and politics, they are often accused of ‘playing the race card’. White racists accuse other white people of doing the same”.
“Many older, white conservative voters are acutely aware of being in a country that is becoming less white with each passing year. For some, a black president has become the symbol of the demographic changes they fear”. This leads to the gerrymandering of congressional districts along racial lines to protect majorities, and shutting down the government they believe to be too generous to minorities through Obamacare and food stamps.
He then mentions what he calls “the true meaning of sin and repentance”.
Now here’s what we’re waiting for, but doesn’t start on this right away, aside from a brief reference to the universality of sin in Romans 3. Sojourners actually hosted a premiere for the faith community of the film 12 Years a Slave, which he then discusses reaction to.
“Historically Systemic Racism”, discussing the reality beginning with the Native Americans, and continuing even with Asian Americans. A book published by Zondervan played upon a Kung Fu theme and was criticized as insensitive and had to be repackaged, and the company appointed a new editor in chief. “This was a genuine act of repentance on Zondervan’s part and a great example of how truly listening to people with different cultural and racial backgrounds can lead to changes in perspectives and actions”.
Regarding blacks, he goes into the economic “underclass”, and mentions how inequality is both caused by and can be measured by factors beyond mere dollars and cents, such as home-ownership, unemployment and education, and the criminal justice system. (He then mentions the LA Clippers owner incident).
Prejudice may indeed be a universal human sin that all races can exhibit, but racism is more than an inevitable consequence of human nature or social accident. Rather, racism is a system of oppression for social and economic purposes. As many analysts have suggested, racism is prejudice plus power.
In the United States, the original purpose of racism was to justify slavery and its enormous economic benefit. This particular form of racism, inherited from the English to justify their own slave trade, was especially venal, for it defined the slave not merely as an unfortunate victim of bad circumstances, war, or social dislocation, but rather as less human, as a thing, an animal, a piece of “chattel” property yo be bought, sold, used and abused.
(This is a point that needs to be reminded to those who insist “Africans enslaved and sold each other to the West”).
“The professed high ideals of AngloWestern society could be allowed to exist side by side with the profitable institution of slavery only if the humanity of the slave was denied and disregarded”. That’s what it was all about. (And in today’s criminal justice system, many still feel like “three-fifths of a person”, as he points out).
What follows is more examples of systemic injustice, especially economic.
Then, he addresses “The First Black President”, which of course leads people to ask “what racism?” and feel American has finally reached the amazing milestone of the end of racism. Yet “the far-right wing in America never supported racial equality”, voting against the Civil Rights and Voting acts, “and most have never repented of it”, with the loudest voices of right-wing talk radio and cable television appealing to the core, with subtle and not-so subtle racial appeals (i.e. “dog whistling”).
We see so many racial subtexts in the intensity of the attacks on Obama—not in the disagreements per se but in the viciousness of the rhetoric. Racism shows itself in disrespect, and many African American citizens feel that the first black president has been widely disrespected. They see it in the disrespect shown a black president by white members of Congress, many from the South. They see it in the “birthers” movement, who try to stir up doubts about Obama’s citizenship. Questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace and parentage, calling him a Muslim and naming him as a “foreigner” and not a “real American” are all ways to define this president as “the other” and not one of “us”. The hatred goes far beyond his policies and extends to his very person as the wrong kind of American. Obama shows them that they are losing national elections, and they fear that means losing “their” country. [emphasis added]
This is the subtle dynamic that the people are not even aware of in themselves. The aim, to make him “other“; “not us“ (recall “He’s not MY president!“; the focus on “MY”), but since “racism” has been publicly condemned, they have to put it on his “policies” instead. But they never did this with any other president whose policies they merely didn’t like.
He next discusses challenging Franklin Graham for lecturing on how police shootings can be avoided, by simple “respect for authority and obedience”. Just do what they tell you. This of course ignores all the times the person wasn’t resisting, and still got shot. (And again, negates the existence of “The Talk”). An open letter written by black evangelical leaders offered “forgiveness” for his “sin” of “insensitivity”. “Your instructions oversimplified a complex and critical problem facing the nation and minimized the testimonies and wisdom of people of color and experts of every hue, including six police commissioners that served on the president’s task force of policing reforms”. (IIRC, it doesn’t even say he ever responded or acknowledged it).
Getting Serious: Calling out the “sin” (idolatry) and the call for Repentance
This now leads finally to the subject of “repentance”.”In spiritual and biblical terms, racism must be named as a perverse sin that cuts to the core of the gospel message. Put simply, racism negates the reason for which Christ died—the reconciling work of the cross, first to God, then to one another. It denies the purpose of the church: to bring together, in Christ, those who have been divided from one another—particularly, in the early church’s case, Jew and Gentile—a division based on racial ethnicity, culture and religion.
There is only one remedy for such a sin, and that is repentance. If genuine, it will always bear fruit in concrete forms of conversion and changed behavior, with both rejections and reversals of racism”, which “white America has yet to recognize the extent of, especially institutionally…and have yet to fully repent of our racial sins” (which are tied to the “economic, social and political purposes still served by the oppression of black and brown people”, and thus responsible for the fact that “systemic racism continues to shadow American life”.
This now leads to chapter 4, “Repentance Means More Than Just Saying You’re Sorry”. He now gives out biblical examples of repentance, starting with Ezekiel 14:6, 18:30, 33:11 and references to other prophets Isaiah 45:22, 1:16-17 and Joel 2:12-13.
He points out how in many churches, especially evangelical ones “repentance was more related to an acceptance of doctrine than to a change of behavior. Often only internal sins—mostly private and sexual sins—were involved. I gained little knowledge from my home church in Detroit about how my Christian faith leads me to behave in the world (other than to abstain from sex). Repentance would never have been applied to the racism and racial conflicts going on in Detroit that the whole world would learn about in the Detroit ‘riots’ of 1967. To that monumental social uprising, my church was clueless about our response as Christians, so it just reacted in the ways most white Detroiters did—with fear, condemnation, and a complete lack of empathy”. He then cites N.T. Wright on “the tendency to focus on personal sins”, where the phrase “repent and believe the gospel” to Josephus meant “give up your agendas and trust me for mine”.
Next is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and that if the sins we repent of are just “general” and not “concrete”, then the Church will “have no credibility when it talks about its faith, forgiveness and salvation”. The failure to see the “stern reality” of racism in the US, indeed, is when white churches in America lost their credence. (And Wallis wonders if this was what was on Bonhoeffer’s mind as an example of what he was trying to say).
He next mentions James Cone’s God of the Oppressed (and who had also done Malcolm and Martin in America, which is one of my all time favorite books), and mentions the need to “die to whiteness”, which is to “be reborn”, which is “the biblical language of repentance and conversion.
This is all true in a large sense, but is an area that raises questions for me. He also says speaks of repentance, in light of the race issue, as “a transformation so fundamental that Jesus would later refer to it as a ‘new birth’ (John 3:3-8)”
He cites Wright on “the real meaning of repentance”, a turning away from patterns of life which “deface and distort our genuine humanness”. “Sin” is then defined “not as breaking the rules”, but as “missing the mark”, which is “failing to hit the target of complete, genuine, glorious humanness”.
Soon is the section on “The Hard Work of Repentance”, which features Karl Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote “it is suggested that repentance is the beginning of redemption, even that it is synonymous with redemption”. So “all this suggests that repentance isn’t possible until we name the sin to be repented of. Admitting, naming and confessing sin is the first step in repentance. The sin of white racism must be named, directly and publicly, especially by white people, for the process of genuine repentance to begin. Just saying sorry won’t be enough.”
Again, “From a religious perspective, racism is also a sin against God, who requires fairness for all God’s children, and even against oneself, as it is contrary to the image of God in which we are created and hinders us from becoming fully human, conformed to the fullness of Christ (Eph.4:13). Quite simply, this American sin must be repented of and turned from; and the American faith community cannot rest until that repentance is done”. [emphasis added]
Next is chapter 5 “Dying to Whiteness”, which touches upon some of what Lopez and Wise touched upon, regarding “ethnicity”. They started out as their different national ethnicities (English, Italian, etc.), but became “white” when they arrived in America, “which in reality was merely a social and political construction, created to supply the ideology and justification for slavery and racial oppression. Because if you were ‘white’ in America, it meant you were not ‘black’ or ‘brown’ or ‘yellow’.” He reiterates “To put it bluntly, racial ideologies had to be created to cover up greed”, by denying the people’s humanity. Prior to English slavery, categories of “white” versus “colored” did not exist. (I can hear someone out there pointing to the Bible’s mention of “the Ethiopian’s skin” ⦅Jeremiah 13:23⦆, but all this shows was that the Ethiopian’s skin was notably different, in being particularly dark [of course]. It does not establish any “white vs colored” dichotomy, nor suggest that the Israelites the OT was written by and to, were on the “white” side, let alone, any supposed “curse” or “inferiority” of anyone).
Next, we continue with history, “after Slavery”, and come back to the present, with figures like Limbaugh and others, who “regularly say or write things that suggest they truly believe whites are superior to other races”. Examples are Limbaugh’s “they are angry. And they want to use their power as a means of retribution”, and a Florida State professor who claimed Obama has single-handedly turned America into a “Ghetto Culture”. He then acknowledges that “The approach that ‘we are all racists and need to repent’ is neither good theology nor honest history” (being that “racism” is “prejudice plus power”. I myself believe the term can hold for any individual who is “prejudiced”. Still, some blacks I’ve seen go too far, with the “all whites are guilty, just for being white”, which is the same generalization that drives racism against us. They may benefit from the “privilege”, but the whole concept of “racism/ist” suggests a more active prejudice that not all are guilty of).
He then discusses that it’s “idolatry”. “It give us an identity that is false, one filled with wrongful pride, one that perpetuates both injustice and oppression. Whiteness is an idol of lies, arrogance, and violence.” The idol blinds us to out true identity as God’s children, which are of every color, and to believe otherwise is to “separate ourselves from God and the majority of God’s children on this planet who are people of color” (then quoting Gen.1:27-28. On the flipside, it’s also a sort of negative “worship” of blacks, in the form of an inordinate obsession with them, where they’re attributed almost divine power, though negative; and so all of the nation and world’s hope is in corralling them, rather than in God. Columnist Gary Wills once pointed out: “Obviously, blacks occupy a large amount of psychic space, no matter what their numbers are. All in all, if blacks could really do what people are claiming, they would be superhuman, and we should yield to them as our natural leaders”). Also mentioned is that “all humans being are to have dominion over the earth and all its other creatures. But they are not to have dominion over one another” [emph. added] (which is “against the very meaning of creation”, and “dominion” really means “not to dominate”, but to “serve and be good stewards of” the earth. So “Any notion of white supremacy and domination of other people is nothing less than a denial of God’s creation and its stated purpose”. Quoted is a Washington Post article talking about the “spiritual “lie” that blacks and other people of color are less human, and, as a result, “have less character, capacity, and calling to steward and lead” (which we hear more and more these days, especially with the ascendancy of the “alt-right”), and that whites are “more like God than others—uniquely equipped and called to exercise dominion on American soil” (which is the virtual insinuation of much conservative rhetoric).
He next addressed “I’m Not A Racist”, Am I”, which is “the wrong question”, as it’s not an individual matter, but rather a social and structural one. After that, is “Implicit Bias”, with its well known visual tests. He says along the way, “We must get to the place where racism and our response to it are not identified as liberal or conservative issues”.
Next is “I Am a Beneficiary of Affirmative Action”, where he discusses how his family and many others benefited from :The US government’s biggest affirmative program so far, the GI Bill, which were often written under Southern auspices and local white officials, deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow. Also mentioned is discriminatory housing practices and policies. “To refuse to admit that the white families of my generation were beneficiaries of affirmative action—and then for these same white people to complain about the affirmative action blacks would later receive—is nothing but complete and utter hypocrisy“.
He quoted Robert Jensen on “rugged individualism”, that people have complete control over their fate (which you would think conservative Christians would reject as denying Christ and encouraging “human pride”, but when it comes to economics, they have bought into it completely and become one of its main foot-soldiers!)
In “White Fragility”, we get an interesting point that “White people tend to see racism as an individual issue, about good and bad behavior by moral or immoral people. And because most white people don’t think we are ‘bad’ or ‘immoral’, and certainly not deliberately ‘racist’, racism can’t be applied to us”. (emphasis added; see also https://erictb.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/humanitys-biggest-pitfall-merit/#comment-3953). Citing someone else “And the thing is, it feels good. Even though it contradicts our most basic principles and values. So we know it, but we can never admit it. It creates this kind of dangerous internal stew that gets enacted externally in our interactions with people of color…”. (I have been pointing this out, or at least mean to, more).
In “What Color are the Children of God”, he mentions “color-blindness”, which is not the answer “as many suggest”. God created the diversity, so it is important.
In Chapter 6 “A Segregated Church or a Beloved Community”, he discussed “the Most Segregated Hour of the Week” (11:00 Sunday morning, from ML King):
“The Biblical Narrative: From Genesis to Revelation” discusses “the movement toward inclusion” that started “at the beginning of biblical history”, with man being created “in the image of God”, and mentions the secular theory of human civilization beginning in Africa and the skin color developing in different climates. He says “sin” entered [“in what Christian tradition calls ‘the fall'”] “When humans sought to have dominion—or domination—over one another, even over creation itself. Choosing not to trust God, we decided to trust ourselves instead”. I would say choosing to trust ourselves came first (manifest in their trying to hide), and the “dominion” emanated from that. It was basically “conquer and rule them before they conquer and rule (and perhaps destroy) you”. “Nature” now took over, and man lost his “integrity”.
This then leads into a treatment of the Bible and its diversity, including treatment of “strangers”. The Church’s mission of erasing the line between “Jew and Gentile” is considered “racial integration” as “an original mission of the first disciples of Jesus”. (Xenophobes might appeal to God’s frequent condemnation of mixing with “heathens”, but have ignored that if they converted, they would be allowed into the nation with full privileges; so the issue was obviously not “racial”. It’s amazing that you had fundamentalist schools, who (as late as 2000!) in the name of “Biblical separation” [2 Cor.6:4] practice racial segregation. But if everyone in the school was [presumably, or at least as far as anyone knew] Christian, then that scripture didn’t apply to them. Of course, they get angry at the rest of evangelicalism for not listening to them on the issue of ecclesiastical “separation”, which they may have had more of a biblical justification for).
He along the way mentions how:
•”whites often believe they are cultureless”
•”there is no otherworldly heavenly culture and certainly no superior human cultural identity in God’s reign”
•”the sociology of many white communities shapes the theology of their churches, making them ‘conformed to the world’ and disobedient to the gospel”.
He then discusses King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and how there was no clergy response until the 50th anniversary of the letter.
In “A Future Multiracial Church”, he makes the great statement
For a very long time, white evangelicalism has been simply wrong on the issue of race. Indeed, conservative white Christians have served as a bastion of racial segregation and a bulwark against racial justice efforts for decades, in the South and throughout the country. During the Civil Rights struggle, the vast majority of white evangelicals and their churches were on the wrong side—the wrong side of the truth, the Bible and the gospel.
Ever since, when evangelical Christians gathered to draw up their theological concerns, the sin of white racism was nowhere to be found. In recent years, when conservative white Christians began to construct their political agendas, a recognition of racism’s reality was absent from the issues list of abortion, homosexuality, tax cuts for the middle class, and yes, opposition to affirmative action.
(Emphasis added. He then acknowledges that some of this seems to be changing, like in the NAE’s confession of the sin of racism. There was also, notably the SBC, years ago. And as was pointed out by Horton Beyond Culture Wars, which before this, contained the strongest rebuke of racism in the Church I had seen; that “We have never repented of that silence [regarding racism] as a body”, pointing to how the church in South Africa finally came around and named apartheid “sin”, as “only the Church could”, and that we should not have expected the world to take us seriously in moral matters, when we were “proven bigots even when morality was not the issue”).
This is basically the central issue. I have said, that all the political dispute we see today, with the dog-whistle racism is a matter of repentance. What they’re holding onto is the “exceptionality” of “their” nation, “culture” or “civilization”. So they can’t admit that the stuff done in the past (and the remnants of it that linger today) were wrong, because that calls into question the exceptionality stance. So they must justify everything that happened, including demonizing the descendants of oppression today, by proving that the nation is so good that even they could lift themselves out of the negative cycles if they wanted to, but the problem is that they don’t want to, which of course, is some moral or “character” deficiency in them. To maintain the “colorblind” deflection (that they are the true “anti-racists”, while their opponents, including the blacks themselves, are the true racists), they wrap all of this up in a partisan criticism of other whites (“liberals” or “Democrats”), deemed exploiting the situation for their own gain.
The theme of Makers-Takers (http://www.erictb.info/makers-takers.html) was how racism is more “The desire…to elevate themselves rather than put down others”. This makes it all clear. The “exalting of one’s self” is the sin that needs to be repented of, and conservatives are always the first to point this out —when it’s some other group of men exalting themselves! A critique of this issue is not complete without going after the self-glorifying and anti-scriptural notion of “exceptionality” driving all the animosity toward others they feel are eroding it.
A Problem I See (Liberal vs Conservative handling of scripture)
All of this is what I’ve wanted to see from the Church for 30 years. It’s the first time I’ve seen a really strong message of “repentance” from the “religious left”. When you think of that term, you think of the opposite movement, fiery conservatives, especially the perennial “fire and brimstone preaching, Bible-thumping fundamentalists”. Or at least the Grahams, who are the more popularly familiar representatives of “fundamentalism”, though seen as already having softened and “compromised” from the old ways, even decried as “no longer preaching Hell”, by the more “old-line” fundamentalists Graham senior began drifting away from in the 50’s, when what became more properly, “new evangelicalism” began splitting off into its own category.
These more conservative types then also respond in an actual reversal, accusing this message of being “legalistic”. You would think the more “liberal” or “moderate” would be the ones putting down “works” in going against conservative “moralism” or “pietism”. The tables have completely turned!
But they actually do have a point. Especially what I’ve displayed in blue, above: “Dying to whiteness” being connected to being “reborn” and the “new birth”. Somewhat related, is “the Fall” in which “sin entered” being defined by “dominion”, and defining Christ’s death itself, and the purpose of the Church, purely by racial “reconciliation”.
I had for the whole 30+ years been aware of conservative ideology (even before becoming a Christian), because it is what gets preached the loudest. This included hearing their frequent criticisms of “liberal” (whether political or religious) belief. And now I can see some of what they were talking about. To them, it all gets lumped in with a generalization that the liberals “reject the Bible”. So of course, “the gospel”, and its theme of “sin and salvation”, get “redefined” into some “liberal agenda”, such as a “social gospel”.
Whatever the liberals say about race, using these principles, then gets readily, “safely” dismissed as “anti-scriptural”, and they go on with their beliefs, feeling completely unchallenged and unrefuted.
Also, skewing the purpose of creation or the Cross only adds to the conservative deflection. This criticism of racism starts with “All men are in God’s image”, but racism didn’t start and become entrenched in the Church because people simply forgot that point in scripture. They had OTHER scriptures, which they believed qualified “God’s image”. Man was created in God’s image, but didn’t remain “good” like that, but rather FELL into sin. That “image” was then “marred” into “evil”! (This is what conservatives will then use to claim liberals and “modernists” reject scripture, believing all men are “good”, or at least not “taking seriously” the universal nature of sin). God then “chose” certain peoples out of this, for His Plan.
This is where they themselves then begin going off track, and essentially overriding the universal Fall they so loudly preached at others. They surmise that the “chosen” make a good “race” (in practice embodied in a group of [“converted”] nations via “culture” or regional “civilization”); where the effects of the Fall are essentially, or at least, ideally reversed (through the reverencing of God and teaching and “following” His “principles” leading to outward “morality”). Ps.33:12 seems to be a big inspiration for this, not realizing this was another parcel of the Law that nations of men would never be able to live up to. Many then go on to insist some other groups or nations of people (in contrast) are even further “cursed”.
So you end up with “good” people vs “bad” people every bit as much as what a liberal or non-Christian who doesn’t believe in the Fall might believe in; only the conservative gets to pose with the Bible, which they hold up as making them “right” and having God’s “Truth”
I now have gone in a totally different way, of the “Fulfilled view”, which may on the surface seem like “universalism”, and thus another kind of “liberalism”. But the difference, is as writer Tim King pointed out, is maintaining “the covenantal framework of biblical eschatology”, with “the concept of salvation[‘s] Hebraic roots, the victory of God…and Christ as the central figure in the victory of God”. (Rather than “The victory of God reinterpreted through the lens of human worth and Christ removed as the central figure in the victory of God”)
Even here in Wallis, we can see, subtly, man, or human endeavors such as [racial] “reconciliation” being made the central focus of both “creation” itself, as well as the Cross; precisely as conservatives charge.
However, to conservatives, in practice, the focus is “moral” reformation, which is really just a different aspect of the same thing the liberals are focusing on. In fact, both positions deal with “morals”, (and both thus become “man-centered”); the difference is in which commandments they focus on in defining them. To conservatives, the Fall generally was all about an “act” of “disobedience” from basically, an apparently random command, perhaps just a “test”; to which God then retaliated by cutting man off, and cursing the formerly “good” world into a corrupt universe of pain and violence, followed by an even worse “Hell” when we die. The Gospel, to many, would be the means where our slate could be cleaned by “believing in Christ”, but this becomes in practice something we must “give back” to God, in order to have the debt forgiven (give up this world to gain entrance to the new one), or at least “show” (prove) we were “really” converted. “New birth” ends up meaning new behavior, which of course, becomes their focus on the “personal” sins (rather than collective ones like racism). So now here is a liberal also making it about behavior; only a different set of behaviors, which the conservatives dismiss as unimportant, and thus “legalistic”. But conservatives should realize, if they want to criticize liberals on this, they essentially got it from the same earlier (and more conservative) expression of the faith that conservatives got it from!
So, as I pointed out in the followup to the Sword of the Lord review (https://erictb.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/further-thoughts-on-race-issue-and-the-gospel-in-light-of-two-books) both racism (as well as economic injustice) are dismissed with “well, there’s sin in the world, and as long as you have sinful men, you will have these problems”, while “saving souls” became a totally separate issue, that is much more important. However, when it comes to sexual sin (and opposing religious/scientific/political beliefs), this and only this, they believe, can be preached away! Then, souls —and “the nation”— will be saved!
Yet neither approach is right. Both racism, as well as sexual sin and the rest of the so-called “sins of the flesh” that one segment or another of the church focuses on, violate the [divine] Law, which defines and condemns “transgressions” of it, which are “sin”. Between “Right” and “Left”, each side just chooses its most important issues, and then makes them issues of “conversion”.
But it’s still lopsided so that we’re probably also not accustomed to seeing racism as an issue of “repentance”, like the familiar “personal” sins. (But for one thing, racism is “personal”, for it is something you can adopt and have in your heart, and no one can make you adopt it, or repent of it for you). James 2 addresses precisely this mindset. That if you refrain from sexual immorality yet commit murder, you have still broken God’s Law! (Racial ideology and the resulting tensions have certainly become murderous, both spiritually, as well as often literally!) Now “the world” believes the opposite— that murder is wrong but fornication is OK. Yet James is addressing the “religious” (those who uphold “God and His Law”), who have tended to think sexual sin is what (almost by itself) defines “morality”!
Typical example of the selectivity of sin in “traditional conservative Christian” preaching
So to address this, the Fall resulted from man taking upon himself something specific: knowledge of good and evil. (Gen.3:4-22). This then led men to establish a sense of “give and take”, and then often cheat and violate it, for the sake of raw “survival”. So they would feel the need, as stated, to rise up and conquer each other. (It must be kept clear that this is the effect, not the cause!)
“Sin” is “breaking the rules” (1 John 3:4), which is what defines “missing the mark”. (Rom. 3:20, 7:7). Both are true, and there is no conflict. Christ is the one who imputes His righteousness to us, so that we don’t “miss the mark”, even in spite of our inability to hit it on our own. (This explains many passages that speak of “not sinning” or that those charged with sins “will not enter the Kingdom”. Either one was “covered” or they weren’t).
To make “complete, genuine, glorious humanness” into “the target” is to make man the measure. If this is from defining this human ideal by God’s desire for us, then it’s better to just put it that way, where it’s clear that He is the standard.
From here, it should also be pointed out, that the reason the Gospel is grace and not works is because so many things we do violate the Law, and would amount to lack of “conversion” and “new birth” if consistent.
So the reason to not be racist is love, which fulfills the Law; not to fulfill “conversion” (as if for its own sake), or just some human standard.
The “Reconciliation” Christ came to establish is between man and God. (Romans 5:10-1, 1 Cor. 5:18, Col.1:21-2, Eph.2:16). He does say “first to God, then to each other”, but the reason why there was a distinction between “Jew and Gentile” in the first place (which is the only ethnic separation between people the Bible addressed), is because God, in working out the Plan leading up to Christ, chose one group of people to spread His Word through. That of course, didn’t really work, but rather “wrote the lesson” in how more Law (more “knowledge of good and evil”, actually) was not the solution to man’s problem (as we often assume; Prov.14:12). Of course, this was to be eliminated by the “reconciliation” Christ brought (which would also eliminate any separation between all races and thus support racial reconciliation), but unfortunately, what happened, is that the Church (after the apostolic age) ended up “spiritualizing” this distinction into “the Church vs the World”, with “Church” as the “New Israel” (the “true Jews”, according to Rom.2:29), and the “world” as the new “heathens” (which it had already defaulted to anyway). That appeared to conform to the Gospel, in eliminating a hard ethnic division. Jews would now be revealed as alienated from God if they rejected Christ (and they could remain that way), while gentiles could accept the Gospel and be reconciled.
This was taught by the New Testament, but to make a long discussion short, was to be temporary, but has created all the problems we see in the religious world, by being extended over the centuries, with the Church (now beyond the period of supernatural apostolic guidance) reshaping itself, either “still waiting” for the Kingdom, or at times, teaching that the Church itself was the Kingdom.
So from there, the “spiritual” categories actually ended up becoming ethnic all over again, as Western [i.e. European and American] nations, which “accepted” the “Gospel” (as taught by the large institutional Church), were assumed to be the “New Israel”, with everyone automatically born into “the faith” (precisely what Paul taught so much against, and that’s even assuming the parents and the rest of the environment taught it to them properly to begin with), and also, whose mission was again, like Israel under Joshua, to “conquer” the “heathens” in order to “spread the Gospel” (and also, the spoils of conquest being the “reward” for “the elect”).
And so that brings us back to what was mentioned earlier, the “black vs white” distinction created, to justify this, or basically back it up. (To be brutally honest, this was necessary in case people’s underlying conscience was correct, and it proved not to be so “biblical” after all. I’ve even elsewhere cited a quote of a colonial era French political theorist expressing the rationale that they had to dehumanize black slaves, else people would suggest they were not Christians).
It is true, however, that if conservatives were consistent with their “dying to the old man” emphasis, then according to scripture, this would be “dying to whiteness”. That would actually be “the flesh“, that has been taken overly literally as the physical body and its “desires” (especially sexual, but also including the other commonly mentioned ones, such as what leads to gluttony, sloth, anger, etc.) But “flesh” in Paul’s usage meant physical inheritance, assumed to be what made one a “child of God”, and which of course, would include physical “skin color”.
But none of them ever seemed to see it that way. (They do have black preachers telling people of an Afro-centric mindset that they must “choose Christ over [their] culture”, and of course this is also behind the condemnation of various music styles by the old-line fundamentalists, in favor of traditional hymns only. [Another area the more moderate I feel should have been more strong in responding to]. In each case, “traditional Western/white Christian culture” is always the “sacred culture” [proven by its “exceptionality”] that one must adopt as the “new life”, while everything else is assumed to be the the “old life” people need to give up. So the “colorblind” will say it’s not the physical “skin”, but rather the “culture” itself, but they still miss the point that human culture in itself, even if it could convey the whole truth of the Gospel, cannot justify anyone, and this they should know, as every evangelical tract and sermon points out that you cannot be saved by the righteousness of your family or background).
So again, when it comes to the “active” aspect of “repentance”, we see this liberal position equal, or even possibly topping the conservative one!
I’ve elsewhere been discussing a lot “behavior change” as a mandate that often, at least in practice, is used to determine “true conversion” or basically, “salvation”. And coming from conservative teachers, it usually is the “personal” sins, often greatly focused in the sexual area. Even down to our “thought life”, based on the Sermon on the Mount.
But if it’s wrong to stake one’s “walk” on “personal” sins, then it’s also wrong to do the same for racism, and focusing on all the “works” repentance requires. It leads to them dismissing this message as “just more liberal agenda”, contrary to the Gospel by virtue of denying “Grace”. (Of course, they don’t see the strict sexual and other rules that way. They are more likely to see them as “God’s work”, now telling us at that point about how it all depends on our “dying to self daily”, which they then admit is “hard”, to the point of being “The Cross”. They never make the extension of this to racism. It just doesn’t figure).
But it is just about as strict as any generations ago conservative message of personal “morality” (and “personal sins”-based political public morality).
Also, while it’s nice to see the use of scripture in opposition to the “conservative” assumptions, I believe that being scriptural includes “tearing down” (2 Cor.10:5) the wrong use of scripture, not just ignoring it and assuming that pitting new proof-texts against this automatically refutes them. (Often, when this is done in debates, the other side is accused of simply “making scripture contradict scripture”. You have to show how one set of texts works with the first set, in harmony. But liberals and moderates are trying not to be too confrontational. From what I see, both in religion and politics, this is what allows the stronger arguers to sway the most minds to their view. Then, we wake up to this monster before us, such as all the racial issues, and now, even the political candidate, and those following him, coming out of the woodwork all boldly).
So to really address racism, we must start at its theological source. For that is what the conservative drives his beliefs on (even if erroneously). Gen.9 I’ve never seen addressed by anyone. Even the author of Sword of the Lord, chronicling the racism of the IFB “fundamentalist” movement he saw growing up, granted the proper reading of this scripture as “God cursed Canaan” (which then was assumed to spread to the entire black race). As I pointed out in the review of that book (https://erictb.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/review-the-sword-of-the-lord), the issue was made that you either accept the “divine curse” on “the [uncle of, essentially] the black race” as “the literal reading of the Bible”, or you accept “modernism” so that all men can be “equal” (And thus can be dismissed as “rejecting the Bible”). This passage [to them] effectively overrode “all men” being in “God’s image”, so that you could reject that with “scriptural” sanction. Either it was true or it should be able to be shown from scripture that they were reading it wrong.
To address this “curse”; if you actually read the account; God never said “cursed be Canaan”! None of verses 25-27 are God’s words! V.24 says “and Noah awoke from his wine; and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he [NOAH!] said “cursed be Cannan. A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren…And God shall enlarge [margin “persuade“] Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant”. Not only is this not some universal curse that God had placed; still, there is nothing to even suggest that this has anything to do with descendants (even such as being the cause of their later sins and judgment), and that this goes anywhere beyond just the literal brothers! (And that assuming that God even honored it; which is not mentioned! God certainly would not be “honoring” it millennia later on distant descendants who moved to other continents; with perhaps all races having some Cannanite blood in them by then! And even if He did; why would this even get past the Cross; which ended such things?
Yet for centuries now, the actions of “Christian” civilizations and racist laws have been justified by these things; thus bringing a mountain of disrepute onto the Bible and God! All based on a complete failure to even read the simple context of the passage and its pronouns right! And they got mad at the modern society or church’s “biblical illiteracy”! “Search the Scriptures, for in THEM you think you have eternal life”, Christ warned in John 5:39. Even Satan quoted scripture, at Christ! Their real significance: “they are they which testify of ME“. All the proof-texting in the world doesn’t do any good, when you interpret it in self-glorifying ways, and lose sight of what or WHO the revelation is all about!)
The current leaders of that movement have all shied away from that interpretation of Genesis, now following the rest of conservativism in denouncing “the race card”, yet still holding “dog-whistle” beliefs that something is just wrong with black
people er, “culture”. (And still deflecting or “isolating and splitting” the charges of racism. Many years ago, I saw in one of leading creationist Henry Morris’ books the blaming of racism on his particular foe, evolutionism. Recently seeing an online copy of the February Sword of the Lord magazine, I see an ad for a book [Lawwell] saying the same thing [in addition to euthanasia, genocide and abortion].
So this is probably now the official narrative of fundamentalism on the problem of racism. Evolutionists created it in teaching blacks hadn’t evolved as much as whites and perhaps others. Conservative Christians taught “the truth” of Genesis, that all men were created in God’s image, and are fighting racism simply by fighting evolution!
While it’s true many people did believe that, you cannot erase the religious origins of the doctrine, from that “godly” past “Christian” civilization, long before Darwin, and from the same Bible book [Genesis] Creationism fights evolutionism over).
So now, in “colorblind” fashion, they substitute “culture”, as if it is incidental and not inbred. But the original basis is still Gen.9, which they have probably never heard refuted, and rather than focus on the “curse” on the blacks, they instead look the opposite way, focusing on the “exceptionality” of the traditional white Western “Christian” cultures (the “enlarged Japheth” basically?), particularly America (which we have of course “turned away from” in adopting multiculturalism and different “moral” standards).
In a similar issue, apparently [I had not heard this yet] “several universities and science institutes suggested earlier in August that billions of years ago Venus might have once supported life”
So I recently read that today’s leading “Creationist”, Ken Ham’s response to this is “Since Earth, not Venus (or any other planet), was designed to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18), our presupposition implies that we wouldn’t expect to find life on Venus in the past or the present,” Ham argued in a blog post on Answers in Genesis.
Isaiah 45:18 God “fashioned and made the earth…he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited”
This says nothing about ONLY earth is to be inhabited. But this is the way they read scripture, completely sure it is an absolute statement of their belief, and others are “willfully ignorant” of it.
The other argument is that there can’t be any other life, because “death” then would be unrelated to Adam, and they wouldn’t have a savior. Clearly, the plan of salvation, from Adam to Jesus is clearly for God’s creation on earth, and to say He couldn’t have created anything anywhere else with a separate divine Plan is to limit Him to us. It makes us the center of His existence, which they would criticize otherwise (like in modern worship).
But the liberals who don’t accept young earth literal creation don’t seem to ever point out how these proof texts don’t actually prove what they’re claiming they do.
The rest of the book: calls to action
Chapter 7, “From Warriors to Guardians” he starts off with Plato’s Republic, which is basically the source of the David Keirsey “temperaments” in the popular MBTI “16 types” theory. The four types of people essential to the ideal state were the “Artisan”, “Idealist”, “Rational” [not mentioned] and finally, the “Guardian“. In Keirsey’s mapping to type, this correlates into the “_S_J” types, which in translation back to the Jungian functions (which Keirsey rejected, but most of us use both theories together), represents the “introverted Sensing” types (or the classic “Melancholic” temperament, in the area of leadership, responsibilities, and by extension, action). This is those who focus on the tangible world more than the world of abstract ideas, but draw upon individual reflection more than emergent sensations, and thus like familiarity and “guard” what is “tried and true”, and authorized.
Of course, this archetype is not just a [presumably inborn] temperament, but also a classic “role” anyone can play (which is basically what makes an “archetype”). Another archetype and classic role is the “Warrior“. This one did not become a temperament in the 16 types, but does likely correspond to what Jungian type theorist John Beebe calls the “Opposing Personality Complex”. It basically shadows the “dominant” ego state, and becomes associated with the dominant function (sensing, intuition, thinking or feeling), but in the opposite orientation (introverted or extraverted. The female counterpart of the Warrior is generally the “Amazon”. Also, having finished Wallis, I got Beebe’s new book, and reading that now!) This will then be what the ego uses to fight off obstructions to its agenda.
The point of Wallis’ chapter is how police end up becoming “warriors” instead of “guardians”, which causes a lot of the problems we have in racially driven policing. One section is “Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter”. (Many people find it insensitive to respond to “Black Lives Matter” with some other category of “lives” that “matter”. Which has usually been “All”, but then police and their supporters came up with the concept of “Blue Lives”. Which is not even really accurate, because that’s a job, with a uniform color, that you take off when your shift is over, not a skin color that you are born—and die—in. So the point of BLM is that yes, all lives matter; black, white, and blue, but black lives are the ones that have in practice not mattered).
He also goes into the actual points of discrimination, “The Clear Data on Racialized Stops, Arrests, Sentences, Incarcerations, and Recidivism” and quotes someone making the much needed point that there is no evidence that young men of color drive faster, so why should they be pulled over more? It’s obviously “profiling”. He concludes that section on “a broken justice and mass incarceration system that is not ‘reforming’ or ‘correcting’ those whom it imprisons, much less empowering them with the basic life skills they need to succeed when they return to society” .
Remaining sections are “Establishing Trust”, “Community Policing” and “School to Prison Pipeline” and concludes the chapter on 14 points in “Lessons and Solutions”.
Chapter 8 is “The New Jim Crow and Restorative Justice, which of course mentions Michelle Alexander, author of the book The New Jim Crow (see https://erictb.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/review-the-new-jim-crow). He says “Alexander’s historic work has caused many of us to wake up to this twenty-first century caste system”.
In “restorative justice”, he cites Howard Zehr, “the grandfather of restorative justice”, and contrasts the different understandings of wrongdoing and our reaction to it. Basically, instead of just creating “guilt” for “violation of the law and the state”, and focusing on giving offenders “what they deserve”, restorative justice is focused on violations of “people and obligations”. So the “focus” is victim needs and offender responsibility for repairing harm. This should be familiar from the Old Testament commandments for the punishment of many violations of other people. Of course, that’s “the Law” (the same one that “Grace” counters), and yet, even the OT Law had more restorative “grace” than the cold system of today’s punitive justice, which I’ve long though is just “disposing” of criminals (and often those who so much as cannot afford bail). Just this morning, I run across this http://www.suggest.com/lifestyle/1534852/ex-cons-share-their-craziest-experiences-while-locked-up on Facebook. All that goes on in prisons among inmates is the same crime of the streets [and worse, like the same sex rape] that put them there in the first place. That’s not “reform”; it’s actually perpetuating criminal atmosphere. So of course they’re going to do the same if or when they get out, and it just feeds into the conservative dog whistle of “pathological black culture”.
Chapter 9 goes more into “Welcoming the Stranger”, regarding the immigration debate. It’s pointed out that immigrants are the ones who are “growing the churches”. This then leads to the subject of chapter 10 “crossing the bridge to a New America”. This is what conservatives are afraid of, and the crossing of the bridge at Selma is used as the precedent for this.
Another thing I would still like to see, is someone drive the point home on how fearing a demographic change totally contradicts the standard conservative Christian teaching that this world ultimately doesn’t matter; only Heaven ultimately does. This has been used to pacify others, including blacks, and even other sufferers of things in life. But if “God’s peace” can make us “content” in suffering oppression or financial or even physical ailments, then why is whites becoming a minority in 50 years when you likely won’t even still be here something that needs to be worried about and fought against? And that’s not even taking into account the whole “futurist” eschatology that says Christ is coming back “soon” (with all the decay of morality in this country, as well as the election of people like Obama or the Clintons as proof that this time, it really is before us). So if we’re all “falling away” just as the prophecy said (which would include the admission of so many “heathens” into the nation, including the Muslims supposedly intent on destroying us), and this is the prerequisite to Christ returning, then why are you fighting it, and not as Christ’s soldiers following His direct orders, but rather as scared humans fighting for identity, which is what everyone else is told they need to “give up for Christ”? This is really what needs to be highlighted, else, all of this will just pass right over them.
“The New Talk” of this “New America” is to take place in “schools”, “sports” and “congregations”. Along the way, a point is mentioned “Often, in the liberal white world, comments like this are made: ‘My son’s teacher is African American, and she is really good!’ The ‘and’ is often a code word for ‘but’, and implies levels of expectation. Recall how many times you have heard admired blacks talked about as ‘articulate’, implying that most blacks aren’t, or as ‘clean’ and ‘smart’, as Barack Obama was described by some when he was first running for president.”
The book closes on “Walking While We Talk”, meaning “doing and not just talking” in crossing the bridge into a new America.
(Here, we can see how the more liberal or moderate viewpoint, which can be embodied in an “Idealist” role, represented by _NF_ types, and particularly NFP, which is defined by “introverted Feeling with extraverted iNtuition”, has another side to it, which can be seen as its “shadow”, which resembles the conservatives they are arguing against. Introverted Feeling is an internal assessment of “good” or human want or need by “empathy”, or putting yourself in another person’s shoes, and then responding to them accordingly. It yields the most “responsive” or “people-focused” types or classic temperament combinations. It’s coupled with the taking in of more “conceptual” data from the environment, which leads to envisioning possibilities of what the Feeling judgment can be applied to. However, introverted Feeling is reflected by the diametric opposite extraverted Thinking which drives the purely “directive” or “task focused” temperaments or viewpoints preferring it, in which we often see the cold conservative rhetoric of “facts”, “objectivity”, “instilling the fear of God in society”, and “rugged individualism” and its “bootstraps” claims, and the charge for the sufferers to “stop whining”, and that the rich and powerful are more “deserving”, and should rule, however unequally over others they possibly can.
So in this liberal manifestation, where Thinking backs up the preferred Feeling judgment, we see it nevertheless come out as strong commands for action, and even defining “conversion” by it, much like the opposite side. It then explains why liberalism often becomes “authoritarian” when implementing their otherwise good-intentioned ideals).
So even though I believe it could be stronger in a couple of areas, this is a good and much needed read for the Church, and a perfect companion for all the other books on race coming out in the secular arena.