ON RACE AND THE FIRES THAT UNBIND

Some bonds are good.

Like the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.

Other bonds are hateful.

Like those which make up the bondage of slavery.

The goal of most everything is to do away with the bad without destroying the good.

That’s the art of chemotherapy.

And that’s the kind of art we need to learn at this time in our nation’s history.

Because sometimes the attempted cure kills the patient.

A pastor’s role is more equivocal than it ought to be.

Pastoral tasks include bringing comfort and showing love.

But there are other responsibilities.

There are what we might call prophetic concerns.

The truth must be declared whether it comforts or disturbs – let the chips fall where they may.

If the trumpet sounds a hesitant note who will rally for battle?

In my own case the fear factor looms far too large.

I confess the sin of being a people pleaser.

I like to be liked.

Saying almost anything in the current climate is bound to get somebody’s back up.

No matter how benign our comments are we invite objections from the right or the left.

And sometimes both.

To be specific, if I express something sympathetic to people who have been undeniably oppressed and mistreated on this continent by people of my race, then friends to the right of me are alarmed that I am becoming a gullible captive of the Left. That I am reinforcing attitudes which encourage people to burn down buildings. That I am not respecting or supporting the 98% upright policemen who are risking their lives to protect our civilization.

If I express praise and admiration for those same policemen, if I warn that a sense of victimization inevitably leads to a sense of entitlement which traps us at an infantile stage (Ben Carson was attacked recently for saying something similar) then I am branded a racist.

Or if I am silent that also means (in the opinion of some increasingly vocal commentators) that I am a racist.

We have seen this sort of thing before, have we not?

I believe that acting out on homosexual desire is wrong.

According to those same vocal commentators that means I am homophobic.

I also believe that setting fires to property not my own is wrong.

Does it logically follow that I hate all arsonists?

I hate lying.

If that means that I hate all liars that leaves precious few people for me to love.

Of course it means nothing of the kind.

To insist that rejection of certain behaviors proves hatred of the person acting out is a lunatic perversion of language.

I am ready to make concessions which will alarm friends to the right of me.

But I am not willing to make those concessions without clarifications which will offend my friends on the Left. But there’s no need for alarm. I’ve not been given a mandate to tell anybody what to do. I no longer have a pastoral charge. There’s no flock looking to me to shepherd them. Plus I don’t WANT to tell anybody what to do.

I confess I do have a deep desire or even a compulsion to alert others to what God commands them to do.

And what not to do.

What follows is not an exhortation for others.

It’s not even a recommendation.

What follows is a confession of where I am as of today, how I’ve changed and what my perspective has become.

I write as a Southern white Christian, born in the city Martin Luther King Jr. was born in, the city where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind. I now live in the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered.

Both are great cities full of great people.

I do not disavow the white part or the southern part.

And I know I have enjoyed privilege.

But it’s the Christian part which makes me know that I am especially privileged.

All my life.

And it will get better after my life.

Nor do I take credit for my membership in these demographics.

How could I?

These are choices God made, assignments God has given me.

I had nothing to do with it – even the Christian part as there is a heavy dose of divine sovereignty in my theology of salvation.

I suppose it is inevitable but I very much want to avoid any tone which comes off as paternalistic and condescending. While trying earnestly to recognize the legitimate desires of oppressed people and adjust my attitude and my behavior accordingly, it is nearly impossible for me not to warn and render an opinion about actions I fear will be counterproductive in the long run.

Yet on this subject I affirm that it is black people themselves who should be telling us what they want and need, not people like me. The obvious problem with that conviction is that black people, like white people and all people, do not always say the same thing. And it is my view, as a white person whose opinion does not count for much, that the people from within the black community who bring the wisest political, economic, and spiritual counsel are most of the time a minority within the minority.

So to begin:

Of course black lives matter.

But no professing Christian can with consistency or coherence submit to biblical authority and support the ORGANIZATION which calls itself “Black Lives Matter” at the same time.

Those beautiful words have been hijacked and distorted beyond the pale of usefulness.

The contemporary connotation has usurped the original denotation.

Words can be taken over by activists whose agendas we cannot endorse.

The words may be impossible to reclaim.

In that case we cede the franchise.

Something akin to that has happened with astonishing rapidity to the words “black lives matter.”

The dictionary meaning of those words I heartily and sincerely endorse.

I would caution my conservative friends against the rejoinder, “All lives matter.”

That formula will not likely advance the cause of righteousness in a season like this.

Someone recently helped me to understand that.

We should rather say, “Absolutely, black lives matter,” full stop.

And I would earnestly wish to leave it there.

But I can’t.

I can’t because the activists who claim that brand as their own embrace a philosophy which must be exposed and opposed.

I do not think that racism has been the PRIMARY poisoner of the black experience in North America since the Civil War.

Don’t get me wrong.

The influence of racism has been hateful and insidious.

It poisons and slays today, and I fear it will do the same tomorrow.

Racism has many victims, including those who have hung on the bottom of a rope, been unfairly imprisoned or denied jobs they were qualified for.

But the oppressive social reality which has hurt black people more than even racism has been the absence of a father in the home.

Racism must surely have exacerbated that problem.

Whether racism has been the CHIEF cause of that problem I cannot say.

It can’t have helped.

Slavery is the fruit not the root of racism.

In my inexpert opinion the worst feature of slavery was the intentional disintegration of families for profit.

For a son or daughter to be sold in different directions,

never again to be held or beheld by their mother or father,

for a brother and sister to be sold in different directions,

never to behold the other’s face in the comfort of their parent’s company,

was an inexpressibly horrendous crime.

For a husband to never see his wife again, knowing that she may be subject to the ravishing of a stranger – it is impossible to write such words without tears.

That was then and this is now.

Nevertheless, it would be callous of me not to note that the thing I beg to be avoided is the thing which was once inflicted.

I only plead that the CURRENT fatherless household leaves more wounds inside the black community than the CURRENT racism which afflicts from outside the black community.

Can I prove that empirically?

I cannot, but I make the plea nonetheless.

For the case cannot be disproved empirically either.

I can pay one compliment to the leaders of the movement called “Black Lives Matter.”

They have been heroically transparent.

They make no effort to hide their agenda.

Fighting racism is not the exclusive goal of BLM.

Parallel and apparently equal to that goal is the promotion of deviant sexuality.

Deviance in this case means transgenderism, homosexuality – more specifically homosexual expression between women – and especially, homosexual expression between black women.

I am not slandering.

Their foundational documents are clear as to aims.

Once more, I salute them for their honesty.

Back to the original thesis:

It is the absent father which hurts the most.

What is the antidote that BLM offers for the pain?

Nothing less than the destruction of the family as biblically defined and historically arranged.

Their answer is to get the man out of the center.

Their “solution” is to pour kerosene on the blaze.

The wicked walk in darkness;

they know not over what they stumble. Proverbs 4:17

This morning I met with my black mentor.

He would be surprised at the designation.

It’s even possible that he may on occasion tell someone that I am HIS mentor.

But that would be a misunderstanding.

He is older than I at any rate, and he is without doubt my mentor on the subject I am now exploring.

Today he reminded me that Israel languished in Egypt for 400 years.

After the memory of Joseph faded the great bulk of that period was dominated by the horror of slavery.

When the children of Israel were set free the great work of migration and rehabilitation began.

But what was the work of rehabilitation?

If we could only cite one chapter which summarizes that work it would have to be Deuteronomy 6.

Deuteronomy 6 contains the first and greatest commandment of the 613 commandments God gave to His people.

Of course I mean the command to love God.

Central to the policy outlined in Deuteronomy 6 is the charge to fathers to never let the children forget who God is and what God had said (Deuteronomy 6:20ff).

So God’s strategy for the healing of a people recovering from the wounds of slavery and injustice was to remind those people of who He is and what He requires.

The strategy of BLM on the other hand is a strategy which obscures God and repudiates His commands.

Where do you think THAT strategy comes from??

I said I would embrace attitudes which will appall my conservative friends. So far I’ve mainly articulated views which will disappoint my friends of a more liberal persuasion.

Let me now provoke the other side.

It’s the side I usually sit on.

I would be a liar if I said I did not revere the names of Lee and Jackson.

But I am quite willing for all the Confederate monuments to be torn down if it grants even momentary relief for black people. I would not say one word to preserve them. I am willing never to display the images of Lee or Jackson. I am willing for the rest of my life never to explain the reasons why I do revere their memories.

I have had the privilege of serving a few churches in the last forty-plus years. But there is only one pulpit I have ever truly coveted. There has been only one church I nursed a fond ambition to pastor. I won’t take the time to share all the reasons which attracted me to that church. I was invited to candidate there in 1988, but for complicated reasons I had to say “No.”

The church is in Richmond, Virginia.

And I will tell you that the church is on the corner of Monument Avenue. It would be useless to deny that one of the reasons I was so attracted to that church was because it sat on that street.

That street is my favorite street in America.

I love the monuments which gave the street its name.

BUT LET THEM FALL.

Let them be dismantled if oppressed people believe that will help. I will not say a word to obstruct or delay the dismantling.

I consent to the destruction of historical artifacts which are dear to me.

But I cannot help but add a word of caution.

Dramatic events serve no great purpose unless they are interpreted in the grid of an informed perspective.

There are at least two sources for the wisdom which can inform the perspective.

One is history and the other is revelation.

By “revelation” I mean Scripture.

The demand that history be rewritten follows inevitably upon the rejection of revelation.

It is a thing of folly to condemn thought-leaders in an earlier age for not cherishing all the views of their descendants in a subsequent age.

That is happening now in a fashion quite mindless.

Was Aristotle a dullard because he believed the sun orbited the earth?

Decidedly not.

He suffered rather from the lack of astronomical data in his generation.

I would ask the protestors who defame the Protestant Reformers, the founders of the American Republic, or slave holders like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, how many people they can name in those generations who believed in racial equality.

I do not ask that people who opposed slavery be named.

Blessedly, there have been such at most times.

But the number of people in earlier ages who believed that all races were equal was far fewer.

Human beings may advance in knowledge of racial distinctions in much the same way they can advance in the knowledge of orbital spheres.

It should not be necessary to condemn a person because he exhibits primitive ignorance common to everyone in his century.

We are not proving our moral superiority when we insist on that condemnation.

We are proving rather that we do not know how to study History.

We are all creatures of our Age.

If the world lasts, future generations will doubtless ridicule our own prideful presumptions, which could be discredited a hundred years hence.

There actually was one Man in the ancient world who preached a racial tolerance, anachronistic in his Age.

And not only tolerance but LOVE.

That Man showed more courtesy to a Samaritan woman of questionable morals than to a Jewish leader of unquestioned prominence.

That Man told a story in which the esteemed icons of his own race (priests and Levites) were portrayed as villains, while one despised by his race He held up as a hero.

There is no greater anti-racist statement to emerge from the ancient world than the story of The Good Samaritan.

One of our most well-known Bible teachers has insisted that the story is not about race. True or not, those who heard the words as originally framed would have been shocked by the racial implications of what they heard.

Jesus’ most prominent follower addressed the ethno-centric philosophers of first century Athens who believed that their fellow Athenians were a special creation of the gods.

Paul told those philosophers that God made “of one blood” (Acts 17:26 KJV) all the nations who dwell on the earth.

Erasing history will not eradicate racism.

But preaching the Gospel which Paul preached in Athens, the history of the Jewish Man who told stories about Samaritan heroes is our best chance at improving race relations in the future.

Admiral Horatio Nelson was the greatest naval hero in English history.

He was to the British what Napoleon was to the French.

Lord Nelson condemned William Wilberforce for opposing slavery.

The Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square at Charing Cross is one of the three most recognizable landmarks in London.

The Nelson Column is the London equivalent of the Washington Monument.

The same logic which will decapitate Monument Avenue in Richmond demands that the Nelson Column be toppled in London.

I have no realistic hope that Winston Churchill was a believer.

But even if you save Western Civilization only once I think a monument or two can be justified.

Britain is now dealing with demands that the memory of Imperial Churchill be de-sacralized.

And on it goes.

Where will it end?

I am not a prophet, but at a minimum it will end in a misunderstanding of History.

That is already happening.

And a misunderstanding of History guarantees confusion about the present.

But I am not done with my concessions.

I am willing to kneel.

I caution my Christian friends against avowing that they will only kneel to God.

I think that those same Christians would allow for a young man to kneel before the woman he loves.

If it is proper for a man to kneel while he asks for a woman’s hand, I would contend it is proper for a man to kneel before someone whose forgiveness he is asking.

I am even willing to help design a context for kneeling.

Why?

Because Jesus designed a context for nailing.

He was completely innocent.

I am mostly guilty.

But there is more.

I found this in my Holy Book.

“The sons of those who afflicted you

shall come bending low to you,

and all who despised you

shall bow down at your feet…”(Isaiah 60:14 ESV)

Is this verse about the descendants of white slave owners bowing to the descendants of black slaves?

Of course not.

Still I would hope no Christian would ever try to run down that fire escape.

Because this verse offers a principle.

This verse evokes a pattern.

And if we try to deny the principle and the pattern we may as well dismiss the Bible as an ancient document which holds no relevance for us today.

I have never owned a slave.

As far as I know none of my ancestors ever owned slaves.

Many who lived during America’s slave-owning era were sharecroppers.

They had far more in common with the slaves than the slave owners.

But in my youth I consciously embraced racist attitudes.

It is entirely possible that I am unconsciously embracing them now.

Can I not kneel?

Following on the subjects of monuments and kneeling as a gesture of repentance there is one further subject.

I am willing to contribute to reparations.

Sacrificially (I hope) and cheerfully (I believe).

I have zero confidence in our government to fairly appropriate the funds for reparations or equitably distribute the same.

I have zero confidence in our government to accurately identify or penalize the guilty (or heirs of the guilty) or helpfully compensate the victims.

But I also have zero confidence in my own competence to evaluate government programs.

However, I want to be available to do anything I can in a way that involves financial sacrifice on my part.

This is meaningless posturing if I intend to wait on a judicial decision or a government policy.

Every Christian has a responsibility to the poor.

Any Christian can discover ministries to poor minorities which are making a difference.

We can sacrificially contribute to something like a reparation beginning today.

Why is that my goal?

Because Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain.

He washed it white as snow.

My secular friends will not likely be wooed by these words.

But I cannot help it.

Only Jesus can ennoble my motives.

Only Jesus can enable my capacity.

Only Jesus can valorize my effort.

I must repudiate any model which leaves God out of the equation.

I insist that any attempt to love a neighbor as if it were the First Commandment is doomed to failure.

It may even lead to tyranny.

Loving our neighbor is the Second Commandment.

First we must love God.

The ideology of those willing to riot to oppose racism has been fueled either by nihilism by default or Marxism by design.

And the prevailing attitudes are trending in a Marxist direction.

Ideologically Joseph Stalin was the legitimate child of Karl Marx.

Stalin was not an aberration, just as Mao, Kim, Castro, and Pol Pot were not exceptions.

Evict God and something monstrous will rush in to fill the gap.

Orwell said that when religious faith is abandoned totalitarianism is inevitable.

So I am willing to remove the monuments, to bow the knee, and to pay the ransom.

I am not willing to sanitize and glorify the motives of those who demand that the monuments be torn down, that white people kneel, or that reparations be paid.

Nor am I willing to charge others with sin if they defend the preservation of the monuments, if they cannot bow the knee, or if they oppose reparations.

I desire to bind no conscience but my own.

Why would I dismantle, kneel or pay if I have no great confidence that any of those concessions will be of much help in the long run to those who make the demands?

It’s a desperate gambit I admit.

Pardon the cliché but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Maybe I think I should serve the descendants of those whom my country enslaved.

Maybe I think I should freely accede to the demands of the descendants of those who had no choice but to accede to the demands of my ancestors.

But if I left it at that I would be pretending to be far more noble than I am.

Because my real motive lies in a different direction.

Because, you see, I am a missionary.

What I am really trying to do is angle for a little space.

Just a little crease where I might be able to preach the Gospel.

What I want to say is, “I’ll do everything you ask. Now can you just give me a little time to talk about Jesus?”

Maybe I am misguided, but in my own feeble way I am trying “to become all things to all men and women that I may by any lawful means gain a platform that might lead to their salvation.” 1 Corinthians 9:22

That is their only hope.

The descendants of the slaves I mean.

And do you know what?

It is our only hope as well.

Because it is everybody’s only hope – red and yellow, black and white.

We are all precious in His sight.

Finally I must challenge my WOKE friends on the subject of consistency and sincerity.

Will you demonstrate on behalf of those black lives which are being slaughtered in the womb (and even sometimes as they exit the womb)?

If not, why not?

Why do THOSE black lives not matter?

I wonder if you know how many slaves there were in the United States in 1860?

The estimate is 3.95 million.

I wonder if you know how many slaves there are on our planet in June 2020?

The estimate is 40 million.

You have drawn your sword to combat those imagined enemies of freedom who are long dead and buried.

I wonder what you are willing to do to combat those enemies of freedom who are active and alive this moment.

I wonder what protests you will raise against the religious ideologies which justify and perpetuate the enslavement of people who do not subscribe to the enslaver’s creed.

Just a sincere question.

Thank you for your patience.

Here endeth the reading.

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