As Green and others have noted, the new anti-racism has become a new religion with its own original sin (white racism), baptismal liturgy (confession of whiteness), and new birth (to wokeness). But there is no redemption, and its ethic encourages people to practice what Jesus condemned, “Do not judge, lest you too be judged” (Matt. 7:1). It imputes motives to others based on skin color—bad motives to one skin color and good motives to other colors. This is racism by another name. It is also sinful judgment.
The death of George Floyd has shaken our nation’s foundations. Our churches are rightly trying to respond with compassion. But in pursuing that admirable goal, many church leaders and parishioners are adopting a race narrative that is empirically and theologically suspect.
Protestants and Catholics alike are affirming the mainstream media’s explanation for Floyd’s brutal killing: systemic racism in police departments and society as a whole. Some Anglican pastors have written that since America is “structurally” and “systemically” racist, catechesis, preaching, and evangelism must now focus on race and racism. J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Jamie Dew, president of New Orleans Baptist Seminary, decried the tragedy as evidence of “racial inequity in the distribution of justice in our country.” The Catholic bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said Floyd’s death is evidence of “systemic racism, bigotry, and discrimination in our country.” White Christians, many influenced by Critical Race Theory, are eager to demonstrate their virtue by confessing their “white privilege.”
There are empirical reasons to question the mainstream media’s account. For instance, see reports on police bias by black Harvard economist Roland Fryer and by Heather Mac Donald. In addition, for the last half-century, affirmative action policies have advanced people of color in education, corporations, the military, government, the courts, media and entertainment, and most American denominations.
According to Carol Swain, retired professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, this dubious narrative will hurt those it aims to help. It will strip from young people of color something essential for success in life: hope. Swain, an African American who grew up in dire poverty, explains, “I was convinced that I was born into a land of opportunity. Despite being born black and poor, I learned that one’s attitude toward life was far more important than your race or social class in determining what you will accomplish” (from Race and Covenant, forthcoming).
But there are even better theological reasons to reject the mainstream narrative.
Paul said, “From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.” He saw other people as present or potential members of the “new creation”: “The old has passed away and the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:16–17). The new creation, wrote John, is made up of people “from every nation (ethnous), tribe, people, and language” (Rev. 7:9). Nations (ta ethnē) in the New Testament world were often multiracial, like the United States, but typically united by a common culture. The early church recognized that culture was rooted not in skin color but in religious cultus.