Social values fail to bring about racial reconciliation. Today’s call for full racial equality and justice is full of “cannon fodder.” Whites are told what they need to do to makes things right. Good faith efforts are made. Then what? The goalposts are moved. Evangelical leaders have signed numerous pronouncements and resolutions denouncing discrimination past and present. But according to the guidance for whites, mentioned previously, the same whites remain in need of “intensive training in anti-racism.” Clearly some people will never be satisfied.
It was an evening of open discussions on Facebook like any other. But something unfortunate happened that night. A former student of mine, a young black woman, unfriended me.
Why? I wrote to her that, as a Christian, her value and identity were found in Christ, not in her racial identity, and that that same truth applied to me as a white male. She wrote back that my words “hurt.” She went on to say that my brand of hate would not be tolerated on her timeline and that she would pray for my “ignorance.”
Where racial discrimination exists, it is wrong. Its existence is one reason I have labored to plant two colleges, one in Kenya, the other in Congo (DRC). I love my African brothers and sisters, as well as my students of color in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.
Given the sadness I felt over the Facebook incident, I’m concerned that cultural norms are a bad remedy for healing wounds caused by racism. So, I feel compelled to ask a question. Are secular values the real answer for improving race relations?
Permit me to propose seven reasons why secular values fall short of the biblical solution for addressing racial bigotry and divisions.
- Secular values do nothing to end racism, but instead foster it
A recent Labor Day weekend event provided promotional materials, which mention “white folk” who are called upon for the sole purpose of “hearing, repenting, and listening more than you speak.” The very language employed stems from the binary logic of identity politics, not from the unity of the Church. The materials assume, even before the event has occurred, that white attendees share in the guilt of systemic injustice toward blacks. I am to repent? Repent of what? This is groupthink at its worst. The division between “whites” and “blacks” assumes the original sin of secular society—white privilege. Imagine Paul writing to the churches, “There is indeed a distinction between white and black, Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female; for you are all divided according to inbred racial bigotry.”
- Secular values promote another gospel
A point I impressed upon my former student is that the gospel redirects our attention away from self-love as a black person or as a white person to finding our self-worth and being “in Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Paul counted his Jewish circumcision, ancestry, and righteous as “dung” that he might gain Christ (Phil. 3:8). That the power of the gospel extends beyond its insular benefits to include healing from racial discrimination is portended in the “mystery of the gospel” made known, and which includes the gentile nations (Eph. 3:3-13; Matt. 28:19). Because “God is not one to show partiality” (Acts 10:34) nether are we. When Peter capitulated to the prejudiced Jews, Paul confronted him (Gal. 2:11-14). And on what basis? The gospel (v. 14). Imagine Paul offering the same advice to Peter, as does the same Labor Day event mentioned above in its guidance for whites, that Peter should “dedicate one semester hour to anti-racism training.” Is this the gospel? Clearly, such teaching falls under Paul’s anathema (Gal: 1:8).
- Secular values confuse justice with love
The call to redress black disadvantage is too often indebted to the secular theme of class struggle e.g., numbers of blacks in prison, numbers pulled over, numbers shot by police, etc. Because a whole class of people is said to be suffering, remedial measures must therefore be afforded to an entire class. So that we don’t think black injustice is isolated, the purveyors of the revolutionary pedagogy are quick to link individual injustice to a critical mass consciousness, which is the basis for black social justice theory. According to Jemar Tisby, the Philando Castile shooting didn’t end in a call for justice for Philando Castile, but “means black people are never safe.” The problem this creates is that respect for black people is mistaken for real, personal love. What motivated the Good Samaritan was not social justice, but love for God and neighbor. Under the constraints of social justice theory, the neighbor is to be turned into a stranger when Jesus says to turn the stranger into a neighbor. Modern advocates for black social justice would have us treat our black neighbor with a universal impartiality e.g., “black people” that places him/her on the same level as someone we do not personally know or feel affection for.
- The secular value: “You can’t possibly know” is a smokescreen
Just prior to unfriending me, my former student wrote, “You will never understand what I have to go through daily because of my race.” The same is heard from one writer that “many white middle-class people will never understand what it is to be black in America.” But consider this. If it’s not possible for me, a white person, to understand black people, then it’s not possible for black people to understand white people. And if black people can’t understand white people, then how can they be so confident about their many observations about white people? While “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” is a grand old song, as an argument, it’s a logical fallacy. Yet people use it in a variety of settings. In marriage counseling, I’ve heard, “You can’t possibly know what it’s like living with him.” But the fact is I really don’t need to know. Your history may provide valuable insight. But in the end, what matters most is your response to what Scripture says about your responsibilities to God and to your spouse. “You’ll never know” is a self-serving way to retain one’s anger and to keep others who seek to address it at arm’s length.
- Secular values gather friends that should cause us pause
Few people know that Black Lives Matter (BLM) is fully committed to the LGBTQ agenda. The following is from BLM’s Guiding Principles.
“We are committed to fostering a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or, rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless s/he or they disclose otherwise.”
“We are committed to embracing and making space for trans brothers and sisters to participate and lead. We are committed to being self-reflexive and doing the work required to dismantle cis-gender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.”
Evangelicals who support BLM ought to reconsider and find scriptural solutions for racial intolerance.
- Social values fail to bring about racial reconciliation
Cannon fodder is a phrase used in the corporate world to refer to an employee who is considered expendable. To get rid of the nonessential, simply make promises to him/her for some offer after he/she completes a series of jobs. Then follow that with another series of tasks, then another, until the expendable gets the message and quits. Today’s call for full racial equality and justice is full of “cannon fodder.” Whites are told what they need to do to makes things right. Good faith efforts are made. Then what? The goalposts are moved. Evangelical leaders have signed numerous pronouncements and resolutions denouncing discrimination past and present. But according to the guidance for whites, mentioned previously, the same whites remain in need of “intensive training in anti-racism.” Clearly some people will never be satisfied.
- Secular values as expressed in Intersectionality are the new Ten Commandments
Intersectionality is a term used in critical race theory (CRT). It asserts that all forms of oppression e.g., transphobia, classism, ableism, etc., intersect thus creating a system of oppression. To commit one phobia is indicative of one’s culpability to other socially defined phobias. According to Dr. Jarvis Williams, black women are most susceptible to intersectional injustices. William H. Smith writes how CRT and intersectionality influence the secular move toward racial harmony. However, James has a different kind of intersectionality in view. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). It is God’s Ten Commandments that stand as one, whereby to break one is to break all. This is the only intersectionality God expects his children to understand. Nevertheless, in much black evangelical theology, intersectionality has now eclipsed the Law as the unifying standard for judging and guiding human behavior.
Dr. John Barber is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he lives in Jacksonville, Fla.
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