Selective Implicit Bias

The journalistic treatment of the Larycia Hawkins controversy at Wheaton College is out (written by a lapsed Orthodox Presbyterian no less). Once again evidence of academic naivete cloaked in a pose of dissent and asking hard questions emerges.

I have no problem with Dr. Hawkins questioning jingoistic American patriotism or American Protestants who wrap themselves in the flag. American civil religion is national patriotism at it worst and Protestants have been especially egregious in their fawning over American greatness (though for the last 30 years they have had lots of help from Neuhaus Roman Catholics). But if you challenge Americanism, don’t you also have to question Islam?

A year or two after arriving on campus, [Hawkins] developed a distaste for performances of patriotism and decided to stop saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. “I feel very strongly that my first allegiance is to a different kingdom than an earthly kingdom,” she told me. “It’s to a heavenly kingdom, and it’s to the principles of that kingdom.” Evangelicals tend to emphasize righteousness on an individual scale, but Hawkins was becoming attracted to theological traditions that emphasize systemic sin and repentance.

In particular, she was reading a lot of black liberation theology, a strain of thinking that emerged from the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Jesus’ central mission was to liberate the oppressed, the philosophy argues, but mainstream American Christianity is beholden to irredeemably corrupt “white theology.” The tone of black liberation is often angry — think of Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “God damn America” sermon — and conservative evangelicals are wary of it because of its theological pessimism and its politically radical roots. But Hawkins was beginning to view many of the Bible’s commands through a lens of race and class. “Theology is always contextual,” she told me, a core idea of black liberation theology. She said that evangelicals have trouble confronting “an ontological blackness of Christ.” Responding to Wheaton’s charge for professors to “integrate faith and learning,” she took these ideas into the classroom.

Fine. But an academic’s job is also to ask hard questions about Islam, liberation theology, and Jeremiah Wright. It’s not fair selecting which ox you gore.

22 thoughts on “Selective Implicit Bias

  1. Wheaton hired Larycia Hawkins in a transparent attempt to jump on the whole Racial Diversity Industrial Complex bandwagon. They wanted some serious street cred from an authentically black person and she was supposed to provide it. Her classes included “Race and the Politics of Welfare” and “Race and the Obama Presidency.” Serious scholarship no doubt. She was supposed to make the majority white students at the “Harvard of Christian schools” race conscious. It’s the latest fad with the Young Socially Conscious Evangelicals today – now that the Old Republican Religious Right is dying off.

    But she went a little bit too far out with the God and Allah equivalence – and quoting Pope Francis to back her up was just beyond the pale. And at the “Harvard for Evangelicals” to boot.

    All Wheaton ever wanted was to be seen as hip, progressive, urbane, cosmopolitan. They wanted Diversity. But they got a Tenured Radical.

    Give me back my Ol’ Timey Religion back, please.


  2. First, what does one gain from asking questions about everything? Second, asking questions about those areas of life and locations for which one is most responsible seems better than asking questions about those areas of life and locations for which one is not responsible. Plus, it takes far more courage to challenge the tribalism of one’s own group than that of another’s group.

    I have no problems with her challenging Islam, but I don’t see a big problem if she doesn’t. As for ties to the angry tone of Black liberation theology, considering the context, that theology would have little substance if it did not have an angry tone. Remember that Jesus sometimes spoke with angry tones when addressing hypocrits and those who oppressed others. The issue with the anger is not the anger itself, but whether one can forgive and seek repentance and reconciliation despite the anger. One can be angry and sin not.


  3. Jesus was poor. Most “radical” professors are not. Their challenges to the status quo seldom implicate such things as academic tenure. Their battles smack of, “Let’s you and him fight.”


  4. Curt, “First, what does one gain from asking questions about everything?”

    It’s what academics do. How anti-intellectual of you.

    “it takes far more courage to challenge the tribalism of one’s own group than that of another’s group.”

    Exactly. So why doesn’t Hawkins challenge African Americans?


  5. Christianity Today now hypes NT Wright and the idea that the Resurrection is more about world renewal than personal renewal. Social Justice has become the youth pastor fixation du jour. You look at it all and think, wow, first the mainline churches chased after liberal theology to failure, and the Catholics at Vatican II followed. Now, postconciliar Catholics find themselves in spiritual bankruptcy court, and the Evangelicals cluelessly knockon the doors and ask to be the next ones placed on the docket. ‘This world is not my home’ remains the hymn lyric no one wants to own while they are still young enough to pretend to be relevant.


  6. D.G.
    IF you wish to ask questions about everything, go ahead. My point is that one should not fault some who doesn’t. In fact, not all of us have the time to ask questions about everything. In addition, to get the first set of questions answered, it is best to hold of on other questions lest they become a distraction.

    As for Hawkins not challenging African-Americans, I believe the house she saw on fire was that of the persecution of Muslims. And I would add to that perhaps she saw herself as an American more than as an African American. That is a possibility. And since she hasn’t questioned the African American community to your liking, why not ask the questions here that you would like her to ask.


  7. “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work of peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace, it destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

    Thomas Merton, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”


  8. Curt, “not all of us have the time to ask questions about everything.”

    Fine. But academics get paid to question.

    Hawkins saw herself as more American? But when white evangelicals at Wheaton do that it’s participation in the system.


  9. D.G.
    They do. But they don’t use new questions to ignore answering questions previously asked. So if you want to ask other questions, that is fine. Just don’t use them to answer the questions Hawkins has been asking. Avoiding answering questions is not the job of an intellectual or an academic.


  10. Curt, you still don’t get it. If you ask a question of someone else, you had better make sure you’re ready to answer it of yourself. So if Hawkins wants to question white evangelicals, fine. She doesn’t get a pass from receiving questions. Fine.

    Believe it or not, answers are complicated on both sides.


  11. D.G.
    You are the one who doesn’t get it. Before questioning the other person, make sure you answer their question. Otherwise, your question is nothing more than a dodge.

    Yes, White evangelicals can question Hawkins though I don’t know why we are pointing out race. But they should answer her question first.

    And I agree, answers are complicated on both sides


  12. Kent,
    I’ve been here for a while and so I know what has happened here. It is the same as what has happened before. Some refuse to answer uncomfortable questions.


  13. D.G.
    Just think of how many times you dodged my question of whether what the Nazis did by invading other nations and committing genocide was sin and immoral. In fact, if memory serves, and it doesn’t always, you have yet to say that what the Nazis did by invading other nations and committing genocide was sin and immoral. The closest came, again if memory serves, was to say what they did was illegal. The problem is not all illegal acts are immoral.

    And I already answered question for now. I said you must first answer her question and then what you have to ask is fair game. To ask question in order to avoid answering a previously asked question is nothing more than an attempt to dodge the question.


  14. D.G.,
    You stalled answering that question for such a long time because it dealt with admitting to the existence of corporate sin. And when you did answer the question, you didn’t, if memory serves, admit that Nazi Germany had sinned and done anything immoral as a nation.

    For all of your academic credentials, your behavior on the boards sometimes borders on being childish whether that be in our conversations when we disagree or your acting as if you are superior to neocalvinists. And none of that is necessary. You have valid points to make whether it be with 2kt or your knowledge of history–I saw your interview on book tv for example. There is no need to compete as if discussions must have winners and losers.


  15. Curt, when you ask about corporate sin, it’s like asking if I believe in elves. How am I supposed to answer whether Hitler believed in elves? Does it make him worse if he did? If corporate sin existed, you really need that to see that putting Jews in prison camps is unjust?

    But please tell us the gospel remedy for sin while everyone’s answering questions oh dodgy one.


  16. C Day, Your suggestion sounds good but ignores real people. Teaching at an HBCU for 10+years, I have yet to meet an African-American in academia who does not think of his or her blackness as more fundamental to identity than Americanism. Period. Race trumps everything but possibly faith in shaping contemporary A-A identity, to everyone else’s nodding approval. The Hawkins case was tired, predictable fare for anyone familiar with, yes!, her profile, one she subsequently embraced with exuberance. To each her own, right?


  17. @jm

    Is that so remarkable? The Dutch side of my family can’t seem to stop talking about how Dutch they are, despite the fact that our last living ancestor born in the Netherlands died in the 1950s. If we Dutch-Americans can make such a big deal about how our Dutchness makes us so special (and I tend to believe that it does), then I can cut some slack to an African-American who focuses on such things.


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