My goal here is not attack or play sides, but to draw out areas of concern and point back to the truth of Scripture. I have chosen to believe for the most part that the people involved are Believers, that they have good intentions, and care deeply about this issue. But, none the less I am very concerned about this new movement in the Church.
On April 3-4, 2018, in Memphis, TN The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition hosted a special event titled “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” to reflect on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s tragic death. According to the website, “The 50th anniversary of King’s tragic death marked an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and the culture. It created the occasion to reflect on where Christians have been and look ahead to where we must go as we pursue racial unity in the midst of tremendous tension.”
One of the most frustrating aspects for me is most of the Social Justice movement’s ideology regarding race, gender, economic equality in America exists from a non-Christian & non-Biblical perspective. It is evident that some of that ideology or thinking has crept into the Church. What I often hear in these message is the same ambiguous terms with no real & tangible Biblical solutions.
I recently came across one of the panel sessions from the MLK50 conference titled “The State of Racial Tension in America.” It was frustratingly painful to watch, or rather listen to, at some points. I will agree that some good & right things were said, but there were a couple of major red flags for me. The biggest for me was the explanation by one the panelist, Christina Edmondson, regarding repentance. Repentance is brought up early on in the conversation, and then again later in response to one of the moderator’s question.
Maybe you can counsel us? It seems as if this racial tension in America is amplified by some of these cultural flash points that were talking about. Certainly we can go back in recent years to Ferguson, to Charlottesville, to the NFL protests, to certainly the Presidential election.
How can we be best equipped to serve our communities in response during these crisis? How can we keep these sudden setbacks, how can we understand them in proper context , continue to get up that next day, and continue that fight. The blows just keep coming and we never know when the next ones going to hit us.
These things are grievous. It is a good thing when the implicit becomes explicit. So that touch points that we are referring to are just examples of the implicit becoming explicit. and so for many people that have a strong sense of the data, and the lived experience of racial injustice. When these touch points happen, we grieve, and we also say “see were not crazy, and we have said it for a really long time, and our ancestors said it before.
And so I think there is an opportunity in conflict, there is a transformation opportunity in conflict, if if, we hear like Jonah heard God say again, if we hear God say to us “come to us again through these experiences. And so the questions becomes will we ignore, will we downplay, will we dismiss, will we function lie we did in the garden, do deny, to blame, to ignore, to hide? Cause we do that systemically, and personally when it comes to sin. Or will we repent? will we believe in the grace that God, that Christ has secured for on the cross. We just celebrated Easter. If we believe, that the cross has given us grace, then we repent. And we repent with our legs, our feet, and pockets. And we repent in a way that is reparative beyond rhetoric that says what would it look like if things has been right, oh for quite some time? What would it mean for the school systems, what would it mean for relationships between men & women, what does this mean for, uh, job opportunities, health disparities, and maternal/ mortality rates. What would it mean? And then we put our money to it, and we make repair.
Here are a few problems with her response. My goal is not attack her but bring into question her response. A response that no one pushed back on, and in fact was applauded.
Something key here. Who is “we” in her response? Who is she specifically speaking about? This is important because she is supposed to be speaking about ” how can we be best equipped to serve our communities in response” but her response doesn’t appear to line with the question.
She begins with some of the same language that non-believers use. About when the implicit becomes explicit. What does that even mean! She appears to be speaking about implicit bias vs. explicit bias. And in case you didn’t know implicit bias says that subconsciously a person is racist, and they just are not aware of it. That’s part of the idea of getting “woke.” Incidentally here is an explanation.
Explicit vs. Implicit Bias
Explicit bias is the traditional conceptualization of bias. With explicit bias, individuals are aware of their prejudices and attitudes toward certain groups. Positive or negative for a particular group are conscious. Overt racism and racist comments are examples of explicit biases.
Implicit bias involves all of the subconscious feelings, perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes that have developed as a result of prior influences and imprints. It is an automatic positive or negative preference for a group, based on one’s subconscious thoughts. However, implicit bias does not require animus; it only requires knowledge of a stereotype to produce discriminatory actions. Implicit bias can be just as
problematic as explicit bias, because both may produce discriminatory behavior. With implicit bias, the individual may be unaware that biases, rather than the facts of a situation, are driving his or her decision-making. (Understanding Bias:
A Resource Guide)
Secondly, her reference to the story of Jonah. She calls for “we” to respond to God like Jonah did. This Scriptural reference appears to be taken out of context. Yes, Jonah was called by God to go to the people of Nineveh, and deliver a message from God in hopes they would repent. They were facing judgement because of their wickedness, and ultimately they respond in repentance. Of course Jonah disobeys God, and runs away from the call. So, you have God sending, Jonah the messenger, and the people of Nineveh who need to hear the message. Again who specifically is “we” in the story, and what specifically is the message?
Lastly, she goes on to further clarify how “we” should respond, and it concludes with the most troubling aspect of her response. She defines what repentance looks like, and that it includes that “we repent with our legs, our feet, and pockets. And we repent in a way that is reparative.” Her response sounds a whole lot more like Black Liberation Theology, and not true biblical repentance. This idea that reconciliation for injustice or oppression can only take place if money is involved. Sadly, this was also part of MLK’s thinking, and so in some way I am not surprised it came up at this gathering.
At the end of the day racism, injustice, and oppression are all symptoms of sin. And sin is not a collective or systemic issue, but an individual issue. And only those individuals need to repent to God, not man, for their individual sin. And in Christ that sin is forgiven fully by the work of the cross. It requires nothing else from us, because Christ has paid for that sin in full. And for the individual, not the collective, but the individual that has been sinned against? They need to forgive as they have been forgiven. And they need to trust that Jesus paid for the sin against them, and that Jesus will bring them justice when He returns. That is how you begin to find racial reconciliation or any other reconciliation for that matter. Not by adding to Christ’s perfect work of the Cross in anyway, shape or form. Most of all, we do not cheapen it with something as temporal, and trite as money.
Yes, having difficult conversations is important. But, I always say that we must take what is being said by those in the Faith, or at least proclaiming to be, and place their words up to the mirror of Scripture. Does it line up with the consistency & fullness of God’s Word? Being grounded in the Bible, and in prayer will help us to navigate these complex issues. To guard our minds against the lines that are blurred by good sounding words, thoughts, and emotions.
Yes, were are also to respond to Jesus, and to not disobey like Jonah did. But, the primary mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that like the people of Nineveh, who are like those facing God’s wrath & judgement for their sin can repent, and be saved. Who then disciple those to make disciples that preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so those facing God’s wrath & judgement for their sin can repent, and be saved. That is the mission. And the claim that we cannot make advances in the Great Commission unless we make progress in the area of racial reconciliation first is nonsense. We preach the Gospel foremost. Then out of the fruit of Christ in people they, individually, can best treat & love others in ways that honor God.