No Comment Is an Option

Among several public remarks that pastors made to the press last week after the tragedy in Poway, PCA pastor, Duke Kwon’s to the Washington Post stand out for a failure of imagination. Here are some of the quotations:

In the manifesto, “you actually hear a frighteningly clear articulation of Christian theology in certain sentences and paragraphs. He has, in some ways, been well taught in the church,” said the Rev. Duke Kwon, a Washington pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, another evangelical denomination which shares many of its beliefs with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Kwon said he does not think most people should read the manifesto, which calls for its readers to also go out and attack Jews and tries to convince them they can do so without getting caught. But he found the letter darkly instructive for pastors. He tweeted snippets of it, and before Twitter removed those tweets, they prompted intense debate among evangelicals. Some castigated Kwon for casting blame on the church in any way. Some argued Earnest must be mentally ill; many sought to make clear that anti-Semitism is incompatible with biblical belief.

Kwon disagreed. He pointed to the evidence that the writer shares the Reformed theology of evangelical Presbyterians: that only God can offer salvation to those he preselects. “Obviously something went wrong. I think it’s important for Christians, both those in the pews as well as those in the pulpit, to take a moment for some self-reflection and to ask hard questions,” Kwon said.

Kwon said he already exercises caution when he gets to some of the very same verses of the New Testament that are quoted, verses that have long been popular among anti-Semites because they seem to cast blame on the Jewish people for the death of Jesus.

“For any of us who are preaching who are aware of the history of how these passages have been misused . . . there’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” Kwon said. He said the shooting should lead other pastors to greater awareness that they need to explain to their congregations what the Bible means when it says Jews killed Jesus. To Kwon, it means some specific Jews alive 2,000 years ago were involved, alongside Roman officials, in Jesus’ death — not that Jewish people today bear any guilt for the crucifixion.

But that nuance often gets lost, Kwon said. “There’s a deep and ugly history of anti-Semitism that’s crept into the Christian church, that needs to be continuously addressed, condemned and corrected,” he said.

Imagine if you were the pastor under whose ministry the shooter sat. How would you read those quotes?

The gunman “shares Reformed theology.”

“Obviously something went wrong.”

Pastors need to “take a moment for self-reflection and to ask hard questions.”

“There’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” which apparent the shooter’s pastor did not seem to have had.

Anti-Semitism in the church needs to “continuously addressed, condemned and corrected.”

The penultimate paragraph in the story belonged to Kwon:

“It’s possible to teach people in the church about personal individual salvation in Jesus Christ and still fail to instruct them regarding the ethical implications of that faith,” he said. Going forward, Kwon called for “a vision of the gospel that includes implications for the love of neighbor and those that are different from ourselves, to teach it as an essential feature of the gospel of grace and not just an add-on or an appendage to more important matters.”

Imagine this: thinking you understand and present the gospel in ways that show how Christians should love neighbors who are different and not considering that you yourself may have church members who are capable of sin and don’t apply your teaching to all aspects of their lives. An event like this may not be the time to instruct conservative Presbyterians about the social implications of the gospel or to promote your own theology.

You may have a point and you may want to instruct the rest of the church and America about a fuller explanation of the gospel. But why not let the dust settle, the tears dry, even the courts work? Why use this moment to display your own sensitivity to the gospel’s breadth? Why not imagine what it must be like for pastors and sessions (not to mention parents and Sunday school teachers) to see one of their own go so wildly astray?

Does not a better understanding of the gospel go with a wider moral imagination? What is so hard about “there go I but for the grace of God”?

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In Christ There is no White, but Lots of Multi-culture

Trigger warning for those who oppose Lutherans (does that include Princeton Seminary these days?), I’m about to quote from a Lutheran pastor who thinks confessional Protestant churches face straw-man objections about how blinkered and ineffective they are:

We are not better than you. However, we do have the same struggles as you do. Namely, we struggle with sin. We have the same inclinations toward pride, jealousy, selfish ambition and self-aggrandizement that you do. We like things a certain way. We like our carpets certain colors. We like people to dress certain ways because those ways make us feel comfortable. We can be hypocritical, judgmental and prejudiced without cause. We are all of these things because we are sinners. No, dear culture, we are not better than you. But that is why we are here every Sunday. We do not seek to be confirmed in those things that divide us. We seek to be forgiven for the times when we do not act like Christ. And we are. We are forgiven and renewed by Christ, and that makes all the difference. You do not want us to judge you by your checkered-past of sins? Why would you judge us by ours?

The church is for sinners of whom we are the worst. The church is the place where God has ordained the forgiveness of sins to take place. The church exists to proclaim the Gospel. It exists to proclaim that you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner when repentant. Why would you exclude yourself from that because you are surrounded by other sinners? Are you differentiating sins and making one sin worse than another? Judging, by chance? Hmmm. Interesting. Please forgive the snark, but this is the point that is made time and time again by the historical Christian Church. We are sinners and we are saints! We are forgiven only by the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is for us. The blood of Christ is for you. We beg you, come–for your sake, not ours.

The church is bigger than you. This is the part that you might not like to hear, but it is the truth. The church is not about you, your preferences or your tastes. The church is about Jesus. It is about the Son of God who came down to earth in humility as part of His creation. It is about this same God-man who dies willingly on the cross bearing the sins of the whole world–bearing your sins. It is about Jesus who left your sins in the tomb and rose victorious to reign for you. It is about the victorious Christ who will come again, who will create a new heaven and a new earth, who will restore these lowly bodies to be like His glorious body by the power that allows Him to subdue all things to Himself. This is the church in which uncounted saints have had their uncounted sins forgiven. Uncounted souls have been saved through the waters of Holy Baptism, taught through countless hours of instruction, bowed at numerous altars and received the infinite body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and strength for their lives in Him. This church is the voice of ages of martyrs who have not recanted the faith that we make to appear so malleable. This church has a language, an order, a life that is bigger than you. It is a life that includes 90-year-old Uncle Bud and 9-day-old Stryker. It is a life that is big enough to include you also. So if you want to be part of this church, show some initiative. Learn the language. Learn the story of the church that spans all time and space in the promises and words of Jesus.

Some in the PCA, though, may deem this understanding of the church as “white normativity.” Duke Kwon explains:

White Normativity is defining ministry to certain communities and contexts with qualifiers— “ethnic ministry,” “urban ministry,” “international ministry,” or “outreach ministry”—while calling ministry to the majority culture simply, “Ministry.”

It’s savoring the doctrine of justification in Galatians—which we should do, yes—while overlooking the original context in which the Apostle points to cross-cultural fellowship as one of the preeminent fruits—and proofs—of our justification. It’s embedded in an ecclesiology that habitually warns against the dangers of emotionalism in worship, yet ignores entirely the spiritual dangers of joylessness. When was the last time you heard a workshop or read an article that warned against intellectualism in worship?

White Normativity is moral silence on social issues that are ancillary to white communities, but core concerns of black and brown communities. It’s dismissing as “political” what is in fact personal and pastoral and practical theological for brothers and sisters of color. White Normativity is desiring diversity without discomfort. It tries to add diversity without subtracting control. It’s the preservation of dominant culture authority in the name of theological purity. It’s what makes so many young seminarians of color that I’ve spoken to nervous about entering the PCA, as they all-too-often feel forced into a false choice between ethnic identity and theological fidelity.

Because what keeps folks of color out of our churches, friends, is not public racial hostility. And the greatest hindrance to racial harmony in our denomination is not crass bigotry. It’s our shared, institutional blindness to the exclusivity of a white normativity that is protected by plausible deniability.

Mr. Kwon thinks the church should follow Multi-cultural Normativity instead:

Multicultural Normativity is when the Church is a resurrection Banquet Hall more than a Lecture Hall—and, occasionally if you dare, maybe even a Dance Hall. Multicultural Normativity rejects “racial reconciliation” as a pursuit of interpersonal harmony unless it also seeks interracial equity and mutuality. Because it’s about inclusion, not just “diversity.” It’s placing men and women of color in positions of influence and leadership. It’s inviting Irwyn Ince to serve as chair of the Overtures Committee one day again, not because we’re debating racial reconciliation but simply because he’s a Bad Man! Because diversity is about who’s on the team, but inclusion is about who gets to play.

So I wonder, does Mr. Kwon think only white Protestants need to feel discomfort, or does it go both ways — that the banquet hall has to make room for the lecture hall also? Is Mr. Kwon willing to make room for the Gospel Coalition and fans of Tim Keller? Or has PCA church planting been captive to white normativity?

Bill Smith has been asking these questions. So far, the answers are only coming from folks that might fall in the category of white normativity.