Catching Up

Mark Galli thinks evangelicals have opened a new chapter on race. But I wonder if it is the chapter that mainline Protestants opened — oh — fifty years ago:

We are currently experiencing a new “God moment,” when God is shining his burning light on how our nation and our churches are fractured by racial division and injustice. In the past two years, we’ve seen image after image of injustice perpetrated against black Americans. We’ve studied the statistics. And most important, we’ve heard the anguished cry of a suffering community that is understandably hurting, angry, and demanding progress.

Moderate white evangelicals, who make up the bulk of our movement, see more clearly than ever how racism is embedded in many aspects of our society, from business to law enforcement to education to church life. We have been slow to hear what the black church has been telling us for a while. And in all that, we hear God calling his church to seek justice and reconciliation in concrete ways.

To be evangelical now means to be no longer deaf to these cries or to God’s call. In 2012, only 13 percent of white evangelicals said they thought about race daily (41% of black evangelicals did so). Today, we’re thinking about race more than daily—due partly to the news cycle, and partly to our rediscovering biblical teaching.

I used to hear a lot about how evangelicals were always about 10 to 15 years behind the times.

So I wonder when evangelical Protestants like Galli will get around to reading John McWhorter whose book, Winning the Race, came out ten years ago:

It’s not that there is “something wrong with black people,” but rather, that there is something wrong with what black people learned from a new breed of white people in the 1960s. . . . The nut of the issue is that [people who see racism everywhere] want neither justice nor healing. What people like this are seeking is, sadly, not what they claim to be seeking. They seek one thing: indignation for its own sake. . . .

Two new conditions were necessary for alienation among blacks to so often drift from its moorings in the concrete and become the abstract, hazy “race thing” that whites just “don’t get.”

One condition was that blacks had to be prepared to embrace therapeutic alienation, and ironically, this could only have been when conditions were improved for blacks. When racism was omnipresent and overt, it would have been psychological suicide for blacks to go around exaggerating what was an all-too-real problem.

Second, whites had to be prepared to listen to the complaints and assume (or pretend) that they were valid. This only began during the counter cultural revolution, within which a new openness to blacks and an awareness of racism were key elements. . . . Many whites were now, for the first time, ready to nod sagely at almost anything a black person said. And in that new America, for many blacks, fetishizing the evils of the White Man beyond what reality justified was a seductive crutch for a spiritual deficit that we would be surprised that they did not have. It was the only way to feel whole. Even blacks less injured were still injured enough to let the loudest shouters pass, as bards of their less damaging, but still aggravating, pains. (4, 5, 7)

What will Galli’s successor write about evangelicals and race in twenty-five years when she discovers John McWhorter?

Some Matters Should Really Stay in the Closet

Full and unequivocal equality for Petra fans? I don’t think so:

My best friend became a loser right around age 14. I had hopped a Greyhound from Hamilton to the far side of Toronto to spend a weekend with Paul. We sat down to do what boys that age do—probably something destructive—and he popped a new tape into his stereo. “These guys are Christians.” I scoffed. “They’re called Petra. The album is Beyond Belief.” I laughed. What a weakling. It really was beyond belief. He and I used to listen to Duran Duran together. Bon Jovi. Guns N’ Roses. And now we were going to listen to this tripe? Come on. Plus they can’t actually be Christians. Not good Christians, anyway. They play electric guitar! They’ve got long hair, for pity’s sake!

I endured it for the weekend, though I’m sure I griped and complained all the while. Or maybe I played along—I don’t exactly remember. But I do remember that moments before I left for home I scrounged up a blank tape and copied just one song—just one song to take home to my friends so we could laugh together. I ended up with the first song on the second side: “Underground.” Then I went home.

Sure enough, I played it for my friends and we laughed. After all, we were Reformed and baptized and catechized—we didn’t need Christian rock. Christian rock was for Arminians or Pentecostals or Baptists—weaklings all of them. It certainly wasn’t for the likes of us.

I played it for some more friends. I played it for my family. I kept playing it until I realized I was playing it for me. This song was saying something to me. At some point I had started to hear the lyrics—to really hear them. I realized “Underground” was a song about professing Christ instead of denying him, of being bold instead of intimidated. That was strong, not weak. Was I willing to stand for Christ? Or was I a weakling? Uh oh.

“Mom! Can you take me to the Christian bookstore?”

I bought the album and listened to the rest of the songs. It started with “Armed and Dangerous,” a song about relying upon God, then went to “I Am on the Rock,” a proclamation of confidence in God. “Creed” was simply The Apostle’s Creed set to music, “Beyond Belief” was about current and future hope, while “Love” was an adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13. And that was just side 1. I listened to it until I wore it out. I listened to it on my ghetto blaster, in my parent’s minivan, on my awesome walkman—whenever and wherever I could. I listened until I knew every one of John’s words, every one of Louie’s beats, every one of Bob’s solos.

I listened until I became a Christian.* Late one night I caught a glimpse of the ugly depravity of my heart side by side with the heart-stopping holiness of God. (A night, as it happens, when I was also reading a Frank Peretti book, but that’s a story for another day.) I was undone. I was redone. I was reborn. All of that parenting and Bible-reading and sermonizing and catechizing had done its work in me, but somehow it was just waiting for one more thing—for news of the warm and personal relationship with God that Petra kept singing about.

I could respond with my own encounter with Iron Butterfly and In A Gadda Da Vida (BABY!!), but as I (mmmmeeeeeeEEEEEE) say, some thing are best left in our private selves, divorced from our public identities.

It’s Still Not 1968

Is this why Hillary Clinton will bring Bill back to the White House?

It’s worth repeating: there is no precedent in modern history for such a mass display of disunity by elected delegates at a national political convention as occurred this week in Philadelphia. Hundreds of people elected at primaries and caucuses not only vacated the Wells Fargo arena, they subsequently staged incendiary acts of civil disobedience and stared down Pennsylvania State Police riot cops—all to express the depth of their opposition to Hillary. Then, on Thursday, swaths of delegates chanted, booed, jeered, and walked out on Hillary during her nomination-acceptance speech. The closest analog may be the infamous Democratic convention of 1968, which erupted into turmoil mainly over the Vietnam War. But that turmoil mostly had to do with external protests met with violence by Chicago police. These acts of rebellion in Philadelphia were carried out by duly credentialed delegates.

The lack of coverage the tumult received, despite its historical significance, is indicative of a wider problem that Sanders supporters have long identified: few members of the elite media are sympathetic to the “Bernie or Bust” movement, which has resulted in disproportionately little media attention. Conversely, the failed #NeverTrump movement had countless devotees active in elite political, media, and ancillary spheres, so it received outsized coverage relative to the actual number of GOP voters who supported that position.

A Gospel for the King Penguin

This is how providence works. The same morning that I finish an article by Jonathan Franzen on his trip to Antarctica (and birding), I finish an interview that Ken Myers did with Norman Wirzba. The latter is trying to help Christians think wholistically about creation and has written a book about (in part) about the language we use. If we call the world out there “creation” instead of “nature,” will we think about it differently, more in relation to the creator? And then, what happens if we remember that Jesus is not merely savior but also creator? Doesn’t that invite thinking of Jesus as savior of creation? At one point, Wirzba even spoke of a gospel for non-human creatures.

That’s when the jaws clenched and the pace (of the constitutional) quickened. I understand the appeal of thinking about creation in broader terms so that Christians might care about the environment. Heck, I’ve read and still admire Wendell Berry and believe that I should try to live in a way that shows some respect for the created order. But that prevents me from venerating or sacralizing it, the classic way that pietists try to make something more important or permanent than it really is. If we can turn a cause into something holy or sacred or redemptive, then we must support it. If it is great instead of merely good, then not to support it is wrong, wicked, undesirable.

Here’s where Franzen came in as the conversation partner Myers and Wirzba need to have. The birds he adores, king penguins, survive by eating krill:

Krill are pinkie-size, pinkie-colored crustaceans. Estimating the total amount of them in the Antarctic is difficult, but a frequently cited figure, five hundred million metric tons, could make the species the world’s largest repository of animal biomass. Unfortunately for penguins, many countries consider krill good eating, both for humans (the taste is said to be acquirable) and especially for farm fish and livestock. Currently, the total reported annual take of krill is less than half a million tons, with Norway leading the list of harvesters. China, however, has announced its intention to increase its harvest to as much as two million tons a year, and has begun building the ships needed to do it. As the chairman of China’s National Agricultural Development Group has explained, “Krill provides very good quality protein that can be processed into food and medicine. The Antarctic is a treasure house for all human beings, and China should go there and share.”

So what would Wirzba propose as the gospel for krill? How does Jesus or his followers “save” krill?

One way that Franzen suggests is by humans being less fertile (which poses a few problems for Christians — Roman and Protestant — who believe the chief function of marriage is reproduction):

It’s true that the most effective single action that most human beings can take, not only to combat climate change but to preserve a world of biodiversity, is to not have children. It may also be true that nothing can stop the logic of human priority: if people want meat and there are krill for the taking, krill will be taken. It may even be true that penguins, in their resemblance to children, offer the most promising bridge to a better way of thinking about species endangered by the human logic: They, too, are our children. They, too, deserve our care.

And yet to imagine a world without young people is to imagine living on a Lindblad ship forever. My godmother had had a life like that, after her only child was killed. I remember the half-mad smile with which she once confided to me the dollar value of her Wedgwood china. But Fran had been nutty even before Gail died; she’d been obsessed with a biological replica of herself. Life is precarious, and you can crush it by holding on too tightly, or you can love it the way my godfather did. Walt lost his daughter, his war buddies, his wife, and my mother, but he never stopped improvising. I see him at a piano in South Florida, flashing his big smile while he banged out old show tunes and the widows at his complex danced. Even in a world of dying, new loves continue to be born.

The article makes perfect sense of the references to Franzen’s uncle here, a person who left the author enough money to splurge on a cruise to the South Pole and endure a long trip with very few young people (as the slide show on the last night of the cruise revealed).

The article also makes sense of a tragic dimension to creation that Wirzba’s inspiration neglects altogether. What if Darwin was right? What if nature is red in tooth and claw? And what if God created and sustained the world to run that way, not in a theistic evolution way, but in a way where critters survive on other critters? Even in a vegetarian world, plants die, humans cut down trees for warmth, and carnivores still eat critters. A gospel of creation does not fix that fundamental problem of survival. Granted, I’ve not read Wirzba’s books (reviews are here and here). But once again I am struck by the way people in the name of Christ blur fundamental distinctions (ecclesiastical-civil, sacred-secular, human-natural, redemption-creation) seemingly to transcend the very creatureliness they recommend.

If To Die is Gain, Is Climate Change Loss?

Here‘s an old-fashioned Christian way of viewing death:

For the faithful—and Mother Mary Angelica was surely that—the day we die is the greatest day of our life on this earth. And even if some final purifications await us, the beatific vision for which we long lies just ahead; the exile in this valley of tears is ended.

Is calling the day we die the greatest day of our life too strong a statement? I have seen some fellow Christians wince when I say this. But in this age of emphasis on worldly comforts, medicine, and the secular, this age in which we rarely speak of Heaven (or Hell), I wonder if we have lost some of our longing for Heaven and cling too strongly to the trinkets of this life.

So do those Christians who advocate care for the creation take proper note of the impermanence of this world compared to the “solid joys and lasting treasures” that await believers in glory (and we know which ones go straight there)?

Or do Christian environmentalists wind up turning creation care into a gospel endeavor to make up for what the Bible teaches about the death of saints?

The former National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) official stated that some on the Left believe it is “our job, our calling” to restore the goodness to creation and that “ours is the work of being good people”.

Recalling a visit with an environmentalist from Maine who claimed the trees sent him, Cizik replied, “For me, it is the salvific work of Christ” that drove special concern for the environment.

Cizik compared climate change skeptics to the biblical persecutor Saul, who in the book of Acts sees Jesus and is blinded.

“Human beings are in rebellion against God and suppress the truth – faith comes by the supernatural work of God’s spirit in regenerating a person – given that they are our friends then (many of whom do follow Jesus) and yet do not see any responsibility to address the care of creation or the coming catastrophe called climate disruption – what gives?” Cizik asked. “What is this blindness?”

I wonder if Mr. Cizik should be more careful throwing around “blindness.”

Would Donald Trump Fire Curt Schilling?

I don’t know much about the tweet that cost Schilling his job with ESPN other than that it made fun of transgender efforts to liberate the nation’s bathrooms from sexual tyranny. I understand that Schilling has a bit of a problem keeping his opinions to himself in the realm of social media.

But I am still wondering why this “issue” is absorbing the attention of state and federal officials (not to mention the news media). If Hillary Clinton can ask, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism? Would that end sexism?”, why can’t other Americans wonder, “If we allowed cross-dressing men to use women’s bathrooms tomorrow, would that put an end to police brutality?” And people wonder why other people find Donald Trump refreshing (emphasis on fresh)?

Are the Democrats that serious about the politics of (make up your own) identity? Michael Lind knows that they are:

The centrality of identity politics, rather than progressive economics, to the contemporary Democratic Party is nothing new. In 1982, the Democratic National Committee recognized seven official caucuses: women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, liberals and business/professionals. Thirty-four years later, this is the base of the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton. The pro-Sanders left objects to the solicitude of the Democratic Party for Wall Street and Silicon Valley, the sources of much of its funding. But it is safe to assume that most progressives, when confronted with conservative candidates, will prefer incremental, finance-friendly Clintonism over the right-wing alternative. Moreover, the ability or even willingness of Mr. Sanders to help down-ballot or state candidates is doubtful. The next generation of Democrats are figures like Julian and Joaquin Castro and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who are much more in the mold of the Clintons and Mr. Obama than of the maverick outsider Bernie Sanders.

If true, that means that both parties are guilty of not being serious about politics. I understand when Glenn Loury says he will vote for Hillary. None of the Republican candidates (except for Kasich) seem like three-dimensional candidates who are above sloganeering. But can the Democrats be all that serious a party when they let human private parts drive American understandings of liberty and equality?

Confessing Sin One Church Officer at a Time

The following from Pastor Jonathan Inman (PCA) is a call for his communion to confess its sin of racism by the book — that is, by the Book of Church Order. (Pastor Inman originally submitted this to By Faith magazine but the editors decided against its publication.)

GA Commissioners: Please Lead by Example

To my Fellow Commissioners to the 44th General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in America,

Brothers,

Among the various items of business we have before us this summer, several presbyteries have requested the General Assembly confess and repent of sins past and present. Further, we are being asked to encourage our member congregations and presbyteries to do the same in their local communities. I am writing to urge all who support these overtures, and especially those presbyters who plan to be in Mobile in June, to lead others by example in confessing and repenting of your sin as individuals before your courts of original jurisdiction in keeping with the provisions of BCO 38-1.

I agreed with last year’s momentous decision to refer the matter to this year’s Assembly. A year later, it’s not as though the issues giving rise to this initiative have gone away or abated, and the opportunity for folks to think through the issues and consider how best to address them is welcome. But now it is time to act.

By “act” I don’t mean wordsmithing by committee, perfecting language few will read and fewer still will take as pious advice. Nor do I mean huffing and puffing at microphone 6, bewailing our own or others’ failings, or castigating – if only by implication – those who disagree with us. Nor do I mean we should do much more than we did last year – that is, refer the matter – except in a different direction, with more determined purpose, and with a more realistic expectation of effectual results.

I would like for this year’s Assembly to answer all the related overtures by sending them back to the courts from which they originated to be dealt with according to our rules of discipline. Fully a third of our BCO is devoted to how our courts should deal with our members’ sin, and one section in particular, BCO 38-1, spells out how our courts should receive confessions of sin. I do not begrudge anyone’s earnest attempts to deal honestly and graciously with the sins of God’s people. I am calling upon the officers of the PCA to do so in a fashion to which we’ve all agreed.

If you think you have sinned, and not just a little, or in some ordinary fashion, but in an especially heinous sort of way, then 38-1 is totally the way to go. Serious sins, public sins, sins perpetrated by officers of the church – if ever there were occasion for serious, public and official confession and judgment, wouldn’t this be it? And all without the rigmarole of process!

Leaders in the church who believe they have so sinned – whether covenantally or generationally, jointly or severally – should lead by example by formally confessing their sins before their sessions and presbyteries, and asking for judgment to be rendered. Failure to do so suggests a lack of seriousness, either in their estimate of their sin, or their commitment to their ordination engagements.

No need to wait for the Assembly to give you permission; you’ve already agreed to this when you were ordained. There’s plenty of time between now and GA to get the ball rolling. And if you come to Mobile prepared, having discharged your conscience in conformity to the provisions of our constitution, it is reasonable for you to expect that others who share your concerns will have done the same.

Would you like the entire denomination to deal seriously with the substance of the issues presented in these overtures? Then have our elders, teaching and ruling, humble themselves to confess and seek discipline for their acknowledged sin before their brethren to whom they have promised submission. Have their sessions and presbyteries determine what is a full statement of the facts, render judgment, and mete out any censures. Far from superfluous procedures, these basic responsibilities executed by the courts would provide the blueprint for precisely the sort of appropriate responses on the part of the presbyteries and congregations called for by the overtures.

Whether you are for or against this or that sentiment in this or that version of these overtures, the best way forward would be for living men to lead the way, exemplifying how very concerned we are for Christ’s honor and our neighbors’ well-being.

And yet, if you personally vote to support some version of these overtures at this year’s assembly in Mobile, and if I see you next summer in Greensboro and you somehow haven’t yet invoked 38-1 for yourself, I might be willing to meet you at a lunch counter downtown and let you try to explain why you didn’t.