Since there are several layers to this statement as a performative speech act, this article will not be able to handle all of them. The nature of discourse in our country is laden with propaganda and propagandizing speech acts. The nature of a speech act is not located in the meaning of the propositions used in the discourse. Rather it is in the work that such a statement accomplishes. This is a feature of post-modern discourse that the Confessional Churches need to recognize.
Recently, By Faith, the online magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America published a statement by the Coordinators and Presidents of General Assembly committees and agencies dealing with recent “Heinous Killings.” This statement is troubling for the Reformed world for several reasons, not least of which is the unholy way in which this statement handles Scripture. This article is a response to this statement and a warning to all who are in NAPARC. This statement is nothing less than kneeling before the golden statue of Critical Theory.
Since there are several layers to this statement as a performative speech act, this article will not be able to handle all of them. The nature of discourse in our country is laden with propaganda and propagandizing speech acts. The nature of a speech act is not located in the meaning of the propositions used in the discourse. Rather it is in the work that such a statement accomplishes. This is a feature of post-modern discourse that the Confessional Churches need to recognize. And this for one simple reason. As long as we attempt to refute the claims of our current revolutionaries using exegesis and logic, we will miss the mark. Their statements are not made with an eye toward aligning with any objective standard of truth. The one universal canon of post-modernism is that there are no universal canons. The standard of discourse is to remove and disallow all standards of discourse. All that matters is power, effect, work, accomplishing the goal, and bringing in change. By whatever means. It follows that to combat this new discourse, we must first understand the goals of those who contradict and their methods. The fundamental method of revolutionaries is effect, not truth.
This article will be hard to swallow. The need of the hour is to recognize the nature of the enemy the Church faces. And the enemy which stands at the gate of the Church in America is not what many think. Up to this point, many think that the enemy we are facing is some form of white supremacy, or racial animus, or “oppression” of minorities. Brothers and sisters, I tell you, as an ordained servant of King Jesus, the enemy is not that. Rather it is the racist philosophy of Critical Theory which has burned down most, if not all, of the institutions of the West. It now stands at the gates of the Church, armed with the fires of Hell, arm cocked to hurl the Molotov of Marxist revolution upon the table of the Lord. The Lord’s promise stands sure. The armies of Hell shall not destroy the Invisible Church (Matthew 16:18). But they can, from time to time, burn down visible churches and render them synagogues of Satan (Revelation 2:9, 3:9). This is the danger we face.
Whatever the diversity of countries and methods, they have one characteristic in common: concern with effectiveness. Propaganda is made, first of all, because of a will to action, for the purpose of effectively arming policy and giving irresistible power to its decisions. Whoever handles this instrument can be concerned solely with effectiveness. This is the supreme law, which must never be forgotten when the phenomenon of propaganda is analyzed. Ineffective propaganda is no propaganda.
Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Vintage Books (New York), 1973, ix-x.
The narrative of the death of George Floyd is propaganda. The point of the narrative is not to report the facts of the case in a way that lends itself to correction in light of new evidence. Rather, the narrative that has been presented to the American public is meant to accomplish one goal. It is meant to produce an effect. It is aimed at bringing about action and to arm policy changes with an irresistible power. The results of that narrative’s dissemination are plain enough to see. As I write, major cities in America are burning and a enemy force has established a insurrectionist government in the middle of Seattle, Washington.
But here is where Christians need to be wise as serpents. We have been too gullible. We have accepted the reporting of this event as if it were as reliable as the reporting of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The purpose of the reporting of this case was not to present facts open to interpretation. The purpose of the reports about George Floyd’s death was to drive action. It was meant to produce an effect. The Ellul quote above notes this predominant feature of propaganda: concern with effectiveness. The statement by those presidents and coordinators of certain PCA committees and agencies is one example of a propagandizing speech act seeking to produce an effect.
Across our society, individuals, companies, and now churches are “responding” to the narrative of the death of George Floyd with calls of fighting racism, dismantling systems, and listening to the voices of people of color. There is also talk of applying the Gospel to our racial biases. “Biblical justice” is called for as well as speaking up when racial injustice rears its head. All of this is the effect that the narrative of the death of George Floyd has produced.
Does it matter that there is no evidence of racial motivation behind George Floyd’s death other than the superficial fact of a white cop and a black suspect? Does this matter? No. The facts don’t matter when we are talking about propaganda. What matters is the effect that can be produced by the message of the propaganda.
Here arises the problem that Christians face. We are used to dealing with honest actors. We ourselves try to get our story straight before we act. We have investigations in our church courts when sin is charged. We expect our ministers to study and do the necessary research into the texts they take up to preach. We honor the tradition of accountability within our congregations which, like the Bereans with Paul, holds our ministers to the Scripture and reserves the right of individual investigation into the Scriptures. In a word, Christians love the truth. The age in which we live does not.
The phenomenon of propaganda is here. It is all around you. You need to recognize this for, as Ellul also says, “Nothing is worse in times of danger than to live in a dream world” (Propaganda, xvi).
However, confronted by a necessity, man must become aware of it, if he is to master it. As long as man denies the inevitability of a phenomenon, as long as he avoids facing up to it, he will go astray. He will delude himself, by submitting in fact to “necessity” while pretending that he is free “in spite of it,” and simply because he claims to be free. Only when he realizes his delusion will he experience the beginning of genuine freedom – in the act of realization itself – be it only from the effort to stand back and look squarely at the phenomenon and reduce it raw fact.”
The signatories of the statement admit that they do not speak for the PCA as a denomination; that is the General Assembly’s role. Then why do the signatories feel the need to make a statement of this kind? These signatories occupy positions within the denomination that are merely bureaucratic. They perform administrative functions but carry no judicial authority. However, in the modern world, the bureaucracy has become the center of power.
The great shift from judicial authority to administrative authority has been a long development. To trace it here would carry us beyond the mark. The effect of this shift is that the center of power in institutions has moved away from those with the power of sanctions (sword in the state; keys in the church) to those with the power of policy. The way errors and sins are corrected is not through the exercise of the keys (excommunication preceded by rebuke and admonition). No, errors and sins are now “corrected” by policy changes, procedural adjustments, and altering quotas. This can be seen in the statement published in By Faith.
The key phrase is, “we will work within our committees and agencies to identify and apply the gospel to our racial biases.” This is a policy statement. The new modus operandi will be to identify and “evangelize” our racial biases. The danger of bureaucratic exercise of power is that it has no clear limits. The policy is always evolving. The procedure can always be improved. This further leads to an endless process of penance for those found guilty of violating the enlightened policy. There is no “It is finished” in procedural changes.
The rise of bureaucratic power coincides with the growth of the view of man as not any better than a beast. This view comes from Darwin and essentially removes all moral responsibility from man who, according to modern anthropologies, is a product of his environment or physical forces in his biology and chemistry. In either case, the will of man is subsumed under the instincts of the animal. And no one holds dogs accountable for their actions. The great danger this poses for the Church is that the category of sin (which is based upon the moral acts of the will) is lost in the morass of bureaucratic process.
As this relates to the bureaucracy, it means that a bureaucracy sees all things as a matter of policy. The problem is that we got the policy wrong. It is not that men are sinners and hence culpable. For if the policy was wrong we can always improve it. Hence, this bureaucratic performative speech act from the presidents and coordinators in certain PCA committees and agencies is as dangerous as it is meaningless. Meaningless because based upon an unfounded narrative, dangerous because those found in violation of the new policy will never be able to atone. Because, if there is no sin, there is no atonement. If there is not atonement, there is no forgiveness.
But what are racial biases? What will the new standard of righteousness look like?