Distinctions, distinctions, distinctions.
We must be willing and able to make distinctions if we are going to have conversations about things like religion and politics. These are highly sensitive subjects important to many if not most people. Thus, we need to be careful with our language and with how we approach these things. It is easy to be needlessly inflammatory but hard to be precise and careful.
In Scripture, distinctions are made, important ones. God is distinct from creation. This is why Christianity is not pantheistic or panentheistic. If we were to sloppily pass over that distinction within the science of systematic theology, we’d all be heretics. Man is distinct from woman. This leads Christians to conclude a particular sexual ethic which is grounded in God’s creational work revealed in Genesis. Paul addresses separate churches about distinct issues. For example, the Corinthian church struggled with sexual immorality while the Galatian church struggled with (presumably) Judaizers and the disparity between Gentile and Jew cultures, which brings me to my first point in this article.
Paul’s Letters and Making Distinctions
Within our modern context, hastiness has been a cancer. It’s almost impossible to have a conversation about race, between two parties in disagreement, without hasty conclusions being brought to the table which actually cause more strife and harm. A leading hasty conclusion today is that American blacks are oppressed by a system favoring American whites. This affirmation is often made in the broadest sense possible. Just like Brod’s systematized privilege, the above statement is often applied to all whites and all blacks within the United States, without exception or qualification. But this is simply the sloppiest way to go about solving any problem.
No social issue has been solved this way in the history of humanity. We need a biblical method.
Paul was a Roman citizen. As a Roman citizen, Paul had voting rights extending to elected senators which, at times, had influence on the Emperor. But Paul never made politicized generalizations in churches that had Roman citizens in order to cause social activism. Even within the congregations where Jews and Gentiles worshiped together, where in-fighting was the norm, Paul does not appeal to injustice, culture, or ethnicity to solve the problem. Rather, he appeals to the unity the gospel brings in Christ Jesus.
Conflicts arising because of residual identities, before Christ, are dowsed with the cool water of Scriptural truth, and this is done not by making hasty generalizations or false claims but by trusting the supernatural effects of the Holy Spirit.
What if Paul were to have written a circulatory letter, meant for all the churches in Asia minor, condemning all the Jewish Christians at once for their prejudice against the Gentile Christians? Some Jewish Christians would have been questioning Paul’s antics. “Why is he condemning us?” they may ask, “We have shown nothing but brotherly love to our fellow Gentile believers!” Paul addressed individual local churches according to the various issues within each of those churches. Yet, today, the strategy is much different.
Thomas Sowell refers to the liberal media as the intelligentsia in his book, Intellectuals and Race. The intelligentsia often advance these hasty generalizations which cause further division along the lines of race. I think they could learn a lot from Paul. Those, also, who buy into the scheme of much liberal outflow should consider the possibility of the media over-inflating isolated instances, making them look like the national average. This, again, only causes more division.
When we shift to the church, and more specifically, the Reformed church, the same principle may be applied. Is “there is white privilege within the Reformed church!” a helpful statement? I suppose if that statement could be verified, it may point out, at best, that white Reformed evangelicals have higher credit scores or that there are fewer blacks in Reformed circles than whites, or that white Reformed Christians have more money.
But would those facts, if they were indeed uncovered, say anything about racial injustice or privilege as Brod paints it? Or discrimination? We would have to hastily conclude those things. What if it just meant that there was a smaller black demographic in Reformed circles to poll? It could be that the smaller portion of Reformed people, who are black, have received less home loans, for example. But that doesn’t mean the Reformed church, in general, is turning its head away from racial injustice or anything like that.
What about the unwarranted shootings that cops have committed against black people in various locations? Ignoring that these instances are exceptions to the rule, why hasn’t the white Reformed church said anything about this? And, why do I keep referring to the white Reformed church as the white Reformed church? Isn’t our identity in Christ?
First, the unwarranted shootings. It’s hard for many, if not most, people to relate to situations when those situations are far removed. A Presbyterian congregation in Texas may have no idea how to react to a wrongful death in Philadelphia, PA. What is the Presbyterian congregation in Texas to do?
Let’s say 45 wrongful black deaths happen in different locations across the United States. What is the church supposed to do? What is our response? What about the wrongful Asian deaths and the wrongful white deaths? How do we respond to those? The Presbyterian church in Texas would most likely respond to a wrongful black death in New York the same way they’d respond to a wrongful white death in Oregon. They’d do nothing. Is that ideal? No. But is it wrong? Well, not necessarily. If every local church was called to respond to every sin, the church universal could not survive. We’d be the world police, or at least the world protest force. This is not what the local church is called to be.
What about the inequality or disparity between whites and blacks, in general?
As we’ve already discussed, this disparity is caused by a number of variables—variables the church doesn’t necessarily have the respond to. Why don’t we shift the responsibility upon white Christians? What are white Christians doing to help black Christians?
Well, granted there is no social effect of past sins that is necessarily bad, at least in terms of what we’re talking about, there may be nothing to help black Christians with in terms of systemic racism; and from a biblical perspective, the greatest help found in the church is the preaching of the Word and the administration of the ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Any church that does not practice those things is no true church at all and is thus not the subject of our conversation. We are talking about the church and, to get more specific, the Reformed church.
Is it plain, yet, just how many variables we have to talk about to get to the bottom of just one issue? It’s hard to solve issues this complex by making hasty generalizations as is common among the intelligentsia.
How, then, do we approach the issue as it has been discussed in the three previous articles? We mentioned that white privilege exists, but only in terms of the benefits resulting from rights all people should have had and now have, by law, in the United States of America. But, now that black Americans do have the same rights as white Americans, how do we make up for the time they’ve lost and for the effects of the privation of those precious rights? Is there even an effect of slavery on the black community today in any significant sense?
To summarize, we have discussed the importance of making distinctions. Problems, in our world, have hardly ever been resolved by making hasty conclusions or hasty generalizations. We should adopt Paul’s method in addressing specific issues in specific churches. If the church in Texas sins against their black members or regular attenders, that church needs to be reprimanded, preferably by their pastoral leadership or their association/presbytery. But an issue in Texas does nothing to indicate an issue in general among American Reformed churches. More substantive evidence is needed for such a claim.
In the next article, I will be exploring the question of whether or not American blacks are really still experiencing the effects of a Jim Crow America. It is difficult to deny no effects whatsoever linger, especially when it comes to the segregation so prevalent in the early 20th century, but are these effects strong enough to keep blacks, generally, from taking advantage of the same opportunities white Americans have? There are indeed adverse effects working upon the black community; but what are the causes? These questions and more will be discussed in the next article.