The Problem Stated
I want to be very transparent about my objectives in this series of posts so as to avoid confusion.
First, it is my experience that racial division is steadily increasing, especially since the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent Ferguson, MO riot in 2014.
Second, questions from friends and acquaintances have arisen which seek to expose the cause of this divide. I have found that an unrecognized white privilege among the white community at large and within the mainstream evangelical church is often the alleged culprit, in which case blacks are painted as victims. I have also found that many object to white privilege altogether and chastise the black community and white sympathizers for even mentioning the notion of privilege.
Third, it is my contention that hasty generalizations lead to confusion and further division, and this situation is no exception.
What Am I Talking About?
Let me unpack what I’ve just said.
My heartbeat behind this discussion is one of concern. I’m asking questions because this, honestly, blew up in my face toward the end of 2014 before I even knew what happened, and I imagine I’m not the only one who experienced the suddenness. I’m not certain, but I do not think this was due to me hiding in some white-only bubble, or not relating myself to people of color. By 2014, I had traveled the span of the entire eastern hemisphere with black Marines. In fact, I spent time with Koreans, Australians, the Brits, the Chamorro people of Guam and Tinian in the north Marianas. I spent time with Hawaiians, with blacks, with Hispanics, and with the Okinawans (who refuse to be called Japanese). I even spent time with the Japanese Self Defense Force in Okinawa.
I would later move to Southern California where I would serve under a black pastor as a member of that particular church (my first Reformed Baptist church). I would then move to Kansas City, KS where I attend church with black people, Hispanic people, and yes, white people. Truth be told, however, I never ran across a black person who found their identity in their skin color. Before I was saved, my black friends found their identity in being Marines. Post-salvation, my black friends within the church identified in Christ as Christians. In the Marines, we were brothers in arms, we didn’t argue about race and no one seemed to care on one level. In the church, we are brothers in Christ. We still don’t argue about race because Christ is coming back and the gospel destroys these types of walls.
Unfortunately, however, I realize this is not the norm in everyone’s experience. I understand that there are certain areas, groups, churches, etc., which have found it difficult to overcome these types of barriers, even when such a glorious truth as the gospel is made abundantly available to them. So, the notion of sharp racial division sort of slapped me in the face. I’m not exactly sure of the reasons which led to this abrupt realization of schism between the black community and white people and, more specifically, white evangelicals. Perhaps this is something I will be able to explore throughout this series. But one thing is for certain, now that I’m aware (since Ferguson), and since various events have occurred, the division between whites and blacks, even within the church, appears to be getting worse.
This leads me to my second point because after I became aware of this, and after I became involved in theological discussions ranging from the doctrine of God, to apologetics, to the doctrine of man, etc., I have come across the discussion about racism within the church at different times over the last couple years. This has prompted me to involve myself in a few different discussions and arguments along the way. These discussions have caused me to become very interested in exploring this issue more (hence this series). Questions of how do we “fix” this divide were, almost daily, found on my feed. Witnessing the accusations of the church’s harboring racism and privilege became a regular, everyday experience for me on Facebook, coming from some of my closer friends. There are three primary questions I’ll be concerned with in this series:
- What is the cause of this divide (racial tension, etc.)?
- Are there people alive today responsible for this tension? And if so, who are they?
- How, or in what ways, should this issue be eliminated?
Now, let me define the issue. As many of you know, I can only respond to what I’ve heard or read, so if there are other positions out there that I’m missing, I genuinely apologize; I’m simply ignorant of them. your comments are appreciated below.
As I understand it, there is a privilege favoring the white population.
This privilege is one of accumulation of past benefits which continue to have a significant ripple effect into the current. Slavery, for example, gave white people the societal and economical advantage over the African American people then, and that has certain repercussions lasting into now.
I should grant that this is undeniable, from my perspective, and we should all be willing to grant this to an extent. Those who deny white privilege altogether are either misunderstanding what it is, or they refuse to believe there is any such thing, even in the most isolated sense. At this point, I need to be clear that I do not see white privilege as something which necessarily requires an onus on white people, or the “white church.” If white privilege consists of benefits which are merely results of maintaining inalienable rights—which all people now possess in the United States—then there arises a question of culpability which will be addressed further down the road in this series.
Why is This Series Called ‘Death by Generalization’?
In my exploring this issue, I have concluded one axiomatic principle that I think will help us move this conversation forward. Unwarranted generalizations, that is, unsupported generalizations, have never helped anyone. We could call these hasty generalizations. This is to be seen as distinct from justified generalizations. A justified generalization is like “all bachelors are unmarried men.” That general statement is true by definition and so it’s ok to generalize all bachelors as unmarried me. Thus, some generalizations are okay and even logically necessary.
But, in my experience, there has been a very dangerous form of generalization used in conversations about race relations. The general language of white people or black people, in these types of contexts, is sloppy and unhelpful more often than not. We could think of the police or the church as another stripe of sloppy generalization.
Generalization by association is also unhelpful. For example, there are white people who associate the “ghetto” with black people. This is extremely inflammatory, hurtful and totally inaccurate language. There are ghettos filled with all sorts of different colored people: whites, Hispanics, etc. So too, associating white people with privileged middle class America is often inaccurate, inflammatory, and hurtful.
These types of generalizations serve to drive wedges further into the chasm of divide, either by universalizing large swaths of ethnic peoples or by not recognizing certain realities that obviously exist. Generalizing, in this way, only serves to solidify this divide in place, increasing the alleged perception of white privilege and frustrating the situation further. This makes productive discussion almost impossible.
The hasty generalization, therefore, is the rat poison that will put to death a winsome gospel-centered approach to advance this discussion in a God-glorifying way.
I want to thank you for embarking on this journey with me. I hope these articles will lead to a fruitful, biblical interchange among both black and white Christians. I hope that the gospel will be our source of spiritual sustenance throughout this discussion and that our disagreements would lead us to the pages of Scripture as we desire to uncover the truth behind this issue so that we may better address it in the future.