This IS White Normativity

Maybe not, but who can imagine that regeneration washes away the perspective that comes with being a white man? Joe Carter, for instance, wrote a series on Christian journalism for the gospel allies that contains this nugget:

Almost all news stories we encounter are devoid of context. They assume we understand the broader background and that we have followed the details from previous iterations of the story. But most of us tend to “catch up” on a news item only when we have to, when we realize that a particular current event item is not going away that we should probably develop a basic awareness and understanding of why it’s important.

My role as an explanatory journalist is to “make complicated things clear, quickly” by reinserting some of the missing context. Again, this doesn’t take any unique skill. I’m able to do this not because of my own specialized knowledge but merely because I have the time, willingness, and patience to dig through a backlog of material to put together a few key details that might be useful to a casual consumer of news.

What does race do to Carter’s perspective? If, as Thabiti Anyabwile and other African-American pastors tell us, that white Americans can never escape the blinkers that filter their perceptions of the news of a black young man shot by police, how are the non-white readers of Carter going to trust the context he supplies? Won’t his perspective reflect white-middle-class America with a helping of Christianity on the side?

Or maybe regeneration is supposed to supply a better perspective. But since Carter and Anyabwile are both regenerate, then why do they see some news matters differently? So much for Christian w-w. More like ethnic/racial-Christian w-w.

When Carter further explains the work of the Christian journalist, he summons help from Tim Keller:

“When the third, ‘eschatological’ element is left out,” Keller says, “Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters. Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world.”

This eschatological element motivates and frames the calling of the gospel-oriented journalist. The Christian journalist must constantly ask how, in the light of the gospel, we are to do God’s work of enlightening our neighbors with truth. Sometimes this means the work will have a definite and obvious gospel outcome (i.e., the article is explicitly biblical in the “Christian” genre). Other times it may mean that while the final product is indistinguishable from “secular” work (in the “common grace” sense), the journalistic process (the choosing of sources, the purpose for the writing, and so on) was guided by a commitment to the gospel.

This is where neo-Calvinist-like endeavors to claim every square inch break down. Journalism is properly a matter of providence, not redemption. Secular journalists, thanks to their creaturely capacities, have the ability to see and understand the real world in ways that escape Christians. Some of it may be IQ. Some of it may be more experience as a journalist and being skeptical about the claims that humans make. Regeneration doesn’t make someone a better journalist. One’s location in the created order — family, schooling, native ability, personal instincts — makes someone a better journalist.

Just the same, if Carter and Keller want to claim that the gospel makes Christians more interested in peace and justice in the world, they need to use that argument the next time that an African-American pastor or activist claims that white Christians “don’t get it.” If getting the gospel is what really matters for seeing things whole, Joe Carter is just as good a source on race relations at Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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16 thoughts on “This IS White Normativity

  1. Also journalism is hard. It is not just being able to read and compile stuff. I tried writing something for the school paper once and quit when I realized facts cannot just be copy and pasted from someone’s blog.

    That’s how I feel about most explainers (whether on TGC or Vox). They are usually a very platonic run-down of some issue that you could have done if you had Google and 10 minutes.

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  2. I get a lot out of TGCs website, but also think they just plain talk too much. Carter’s “10 Things You Need To Know About…” typically leaves me thinking, Why?

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  3. This points to the problem knowing which theological claims interpret the facts on the ground and which ones can be proven true or false by the facts on the ground.

    Though I am not a big fan Carter, there might be, at times, a degree to which what he claiming here is true. But have to also understand that grouping Carter and Keller must be done carefully. Both definitely have flaws with some of them being different. But Carter approaches his writing as an authoritarian as in authoritarian personality type. Keller does not.

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  4. The last two paragraphs of this post constitute a straw-man attack on Keller’s and Carter’s views. They are not saying a journalist who knows the Gospel is inherently better than a journalist who does not know the Gospel. They are saying that a Christian journalist will perform their work in accordance with Christian ethics. The end result may not be technically better than a non-Christian journalist’s result, but the way they come to that result will be informed by a Gospel-enlightened ethic.

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  5. DGH – I don’t see what the “problem” is. If you are talking about editorial content, then certainly Christians can see things differently and have different opinions. For example, you think The Wire is great, while I think it is very good, but not HBO’s best. We can both still be regenerate and have different opinions and tastes. (By the way, you should check out The Night Of, if you haven’t already. Excellent mini-series on crime and police work.)

    And if you are talking about straight objective reporting, then a black and white journalist might report different angles on the Michael Brown case: a black reporter might emphasize the impact on the community, while a white reporter might emphasize the technical details of the case. If both are Christians and conduct themselves ethically and honestly – as we hope they would – then they are living up to a Gospel-centered ethic.

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