Friday, July 28, 2017
Thoughts on Dave Miller’s Racial Reconciliation Dodgeball in the SBC
In the spirit of transparency, I am not a politically oriented person. I find the political dance to be one of the most nauseating dances available. It disgusts me top to bottom. I like things to be said directly, bluntly, without ambiguity. Here is an example: You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44) Now, there is no room for misunderstanding what Jesus meant here and who he meant it about. Imagine if we communicated like that today? Why not? Yeah, why not!
There is a continuing storm in the evangelical church regarding the issue of racism. And that storm is continuing to manifest itself in the SBC. Most recently, I read Dave Miller’s post over at SBC Voices regarding this issue. And I was remarkably unimpressed with his perspective. I am convinced that racism is a sin issue. It is not primarily a social issue. It is not a political issue. It is like adultery, pornography, unbiblical divorce, etc. Racism within the church is a theological issue. It is a matter of sanctification. The only way to address it is to address it theologically.
Now, because I believe adultery will always be a problem in a godless culture, I also believe racism will always be a problem in a godless culture. I believe this because men are sinners, all of us. As long as we are sinners, we will struggle with sin. And as long as we struggle with sin. Some of us will struggle with the sin of adultery, some the sin of pornography, and some, the sin of racism. Because of this, we need a constant reminder that these sins will destroy us. We need to hear the words of John Owen, be killing sin or sin will be killing you.
Dave Miller lists three responses to the racial issue that he calls dodgeball responses. In other words, people who respond in a way that challenges Dave’s perspective on the issue are really just playing dodgeball with the race issue. For starters, I will say that I disagree with Dave’s emphasis and I think I am doing anything but playing dodgeball. In fact, I think it is quite possible that the ones playing dodgeball are those who are making racism out to be a problem that it is, in fact, in reality, NOT!
The First Dodgeball: Put the Past in the Past
Dave talks about such a thing as corporate sin. The implication is that the SBC as a whole, just like Israel, is guilty of the sin of racism. First of all, I find such an application of Scripture dubious at best. The story of Achan is a type of Church discipline. The Christian community must deal with sin in its midst. To compare Achan and the history of other SBC leaders to this story is a misguided application at best. Second, Hezekiah’s leading the nation to repentance was not repentance for past generations, but for current sin that was also the sin of past generations, specifically, idolatry. Israel didn’t repent, the people of Israel repented. Now, these events are revelations of God designed for the purpose of instructing us in the ways of God. One of the greatest mistakes interpreters make is the reading of ourselves into the text in an overly literal way. By using Hezekiah as a model for the modern SBC’s alleged sin of racism, Dave has committed a hermeneutical error. He has placed us in a text in which we do not belong. Repentance is always the only appropriate response to God and God is always merciful to the repentant. The account of Hezekiah proves it.
Do I have a responsibility to fix what a previous generation broke? If so, how do I do that? What does this reconciliation look like? Let me be crystal clear: I am not estranged from anyone on the basis of skin color or race and never have been my entire life. And there are a lot of “me” types in the SBC…a whole lot…more that are, than are not. Now, the only reason I need to reconcile with someone is if I have been estranged from them. And if I am estranged from someone, I know it and so do they. This is a personal matter. That is to say, it is a matter between specific people. If they are true believers, the Holy Spirit will work in their heart to that end. There can be no hatred in the heart of those who love God. Dave mentions a fellow SBC man who apparently is a racist. What is the solution? The solution is church discipline. The solution is to call the man to repentance. If he really is a racist and hates others for any reason, and especially for something as trivial as their race, then the man does not know Christ and needs the gospel. Someone needs to speak that truth into his life as clearly, directly, lovingly, and seriously as possible. That is how you deal with racism.
Can we do anything today about sin in the past? Yes, we can. We can do something. Paul thought we could and should do something: Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. (Phil. 3:14) First, we put it behind us. We forget it. Paul murdered the church prior to his conversion and loved it after the fact. What did not do to reconcile with those he had once hated? He loved them. He taught them. He preached to them. He served them. Outside of these things, things we should already be doing, what else does Dave expect? What is he getting at, really?
The Second Dodgeball: All Lives Matter
Now, the black lives matter movement was instigated by several incidents of Law-enforcement officers shooting young black men. What I want to focus on is Dave’s double standard. He doesn’t think it is a double standard but clearly it is. Dave says, “And there is little point in condemning BLM and other such groups – there isn’t much support within the SBC for BLM (the political organization, not the concept). The SBC is still dealing with and trying to correct the effects of our century and a half of blatant racism. That is what we need to address.” While there isn’t much support in the SBC for such ideas, such ideas are clearly impacting the thinking of those within the SBC as Dave’s article clearly demonstrates. The whole idea of racial reconciliation itself is a response to pressure from such groups as black lives matter. How does a person go from being a racist to not being a racist? God! God transforms the heart. The word changes lives, attitudes, mindsets. There is nothing more left to say about the racism of 100 years ago. Focusing on the historical fact of past racism is unhelpful. It accomplishes absolutely nothing. Actions today will do nothing to alleviate the sin of the past. Only Calvary does that. And that work is done! I suspect Dave is after something else. I think he is looking for something more visible, more high-profile, more noticeable.
The Third Dodgeball: The Gospel
Dave seems to think that applying the gospel to the issue is either too simplistic or as his own words reveal, doing nothing. Well, Dave, I have to ask what else, above and beyond the gospel are we supposed to do? Is the gospel not the greatest unifier, the highest reconciler of reconciliation, imaginable? There is no other power greater than that of the gospel to reconcile or unify. Personally, I believe the gospel is enough. I believe preaching the truth about racism as it is revealed by God in Scripture is enough to protect Christian hearts from the sin of racism – black, white, native American, Asian, Muslim, you name it. The gospel is enough. The Word is sufficient!
Dave says the vast majority of racism in the SBC is White Christians mistreating minorities. Perhaps that is true. I have no way of knowing. I wonder if Dave has a way to validate this claim. But here is another question for Dave: how many times have you disciplined someone in your church and even had to excommunicate someone for the sin of racism? It seems to me that you should have a pretty good set of data to answer that question since you write with such confidence as a man who has first-hand knowledge and experience on the issue. That is the biblical way to deal with racism, Dave. Not the suggestion to elect minorities to leadership positions. This runs the risk of being seen as political pandering. I think it best that we avoid such appearances in the church.
The only thing I am responsible for, in terms of past racism, is not to repeat it, not to engage in it. Isn’t repentance exactly that? Doesn’t true repentance fix past problems? Isn’t true repentance the product of a radically changed heart and wasn’t it that heart that was the problem to begin with? If not, why not? Is this a veiled or subtle penance I see emerging in Dave’s theology? It certainly feels like it is something close to that. What more am I supposed to do? If I wronged an individual, I surely must restore the wrong. If I stole from him, damaged his property, slandered him, then yes, I must restore where restoration is possible, apologize openly where it is appropriate, etc. What else is there? What I won’t do is apologize for your sin. I won’t restore what you took. That is NOT reconciliation. It is something else altogether.
Now, here is where Dave is really going with this and it is an all-too-familiar place: That responsibility entails building relationships, making genuine efforts to include minorities at every level of leadership in the SBC, and seeking to break down walls of division. A big part of this is discerning what is biblical and what is cultural in our fellowship and being willing to give up our cultural heritage to build unity.
This is nothing more than the cultural idea of diversity creeping into the church. Because we sinned against a minority group in the past, we must now grant special privilege and advantage to that same minority group as a token of our repentance. I think what Dave is advocating is exactly a cultural point of view. I think it is purely driven by all the rage in the culture. I am not opposed to diversity. I see diversity as a good thing. God loves all men. In the Trinity, we see the perfect unity of diversity. But to push for minorities in leadership positions under the guise of racial reconciliation runs the risk of looking like just one more form of racial manipulation. Leaders must earn their positions by earning the confidence of those who have the authority to place them in those positions. Moreover, they must acknowledge the sovereignty of God in such decisions. If a man says to himself, “I was not elected to that position because I am a minority” then I would have to say that such a man is not qualified to hold the position after all. That sort of thinking is, from my perspective, racist at its core. To say that men voted a particular way based on race is a racist attitude itself. If I voted for the white guy instead of the black guy and you believe I voted that way for racial reasons, your belief itself is a reflection of racism in your heart. On the other hand, if I voted for the black guy solely on the ground that I wanted a black leader because I am trying to make up for someone else’s sin 100 years ago, then how have I treated the white brother fairly? My vote must go to the man whom I deem most qualified for the duties of the office without regard for skin color. Anything less is very close to, if not actually, political pandering.
Do we have a responsibility for racial reconciliation? Yes and no. If by racial reconciliation, you mean to say that Christians ought to focus their efforts on ending racism, then the answer is a resounding no! We are not focused on ending racism any more than we are focused on ending adultery. If by reconciliation you mean that a person who has struggled with the sin of racism must repent and reconcile with his brothers of different races by loving them, serving them, and seeing them as his equals in Christ, then the answer is a resounding yes!
The real issue could be manipulation. Do you expect special treatment because your great-great grandfather was a slave? Why? Should you be especially advantaged over your brother just because something bad happened to someone in your history? Should you receive special attention and special recognition because some men are prejudiced against you? Will you use the slavery or racist card to your personal advantage to get what you want even if it means others that are more talented, skilled, and deserving will pay the price? How is that godly? Will you withhold trust from a man you do not know simply because he is white? How does that comport with the love of God in Christ? Racial reconciliation is indeed, a two-way street. It is irresponsible to pretend it is not. There is sin the hearts of Christians on both sides. And I believe it is unloving not to speak the truth of the gospel into the hearts of the racist as well as the one who perceives himself to be the object of racism. Christ reconciles all of us in his body. Let each of us work to purge the sin from our lives and be holy just as he is holy.
What is the cure for racism then?
The gospel is the only cure for racism. It is a heart issue. Using the sin of past racism to justify extending a special advantage to a minority group does nothing to deal with sin and racism is a sin of the heart. Such policies are an external token that the most radical racist could actually perform with a wink and a nod. This is not the way forward if we want to minimize sinful attitudes in our churches. For the black Christian, I recommend you turn your attention upward. If you have been looking at man and blaming men for this evil, you have been focused in the wrong direction. I would direct your attention to Romans 8. God is working all things for your good. God is sovereign. In whatever circumstance you find yourself, just remember, you were put there by God and for God. So, glorify God. Pray for those who hate you, who look down on you, and love them. Show them Christ, so that perhaps, they may see the glorious light of the gospel and be converted just as you have been! It is always about the gospel. To the white Christian I encourage you to confront racism in the church wherever you see it. Confront it in your small groups, in discipleship, on the links, at dinner, lunch, and coffee. You cannot love God and hate your brother. It is not a small issue. It is a gospel issue and there is no greater issue than the gospel. If you see it, do something about it. If you brother refuses to change his ways, take it to the next level. Insist on church discipline if all else fails. Excommunicate the racists. An unrepentant racist is a repugnant individual who has no business in the Christian community. Purge the leaven!
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