How Slippery is the Normativity Slope?

I listened to a discussion among Asian-American PCA pastors about race and ethnicity and was surprised to hear the use of “white normativity” as frequently as they did. They object strenuously to white normativity in the church. I wonder about that way of putting it since John Frame and I are both white and yet the differences he and I have about worship have little to do explicitly with being white. I do, by the way, like the idea that Frame’s brief for Contemporary Christian Music has as much white culture attached to it as exclusive psalmody since the old canard about so-called traditional Presbyterian worship was that it was too white, male, European, and suburban (even though none of the Westminster Divines had a clue that Levittown was on the horizon of white cultural normativity).

Here is one example of the use of white normativity from one of the interlocutors’ talks/homilies/speeches:

That leads to a deeper and better informed repentance, does it not? One that names with far greater specificity, repenting of specific sins specifically…one that names with far greater specificity the problem of white cultural normativity and supremacy in the church.

If you wanted to know the instances of white normativity in the church, like too much stuff that white people like, you might be surprised to hear that wealth is an instance of white dominance in the church and a way to repent is for whites to pay ecclesiastical reparations to black and people-of-color congregations. But wait, isn’t currency itself a form of white normativity? Can you really make up for it by relying on it in the way you make up?

Aside from that logical speed bump, the real point here is how do you head down the rhetorical path that relies on intersectional ideas like white normativity and turn off before you arrive at heteronormativity. After all, for the leaders of Black Lives Matter, the systemic nature of injustice does not stop with skin color but runs all the way to sexual identity:

We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.

We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.

We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.

This is not some threat about where ideas lead. Some PCA pastors could make a real contribution and explain how to address racial and ethnic inequalities or discrepancies while excluding discussions of sexual orientation, gay marriage, and Christian-family-normativity in general. Since I don’t rely on the arguments that lead someone to detect white normativility and then reject it with contempt, I can’t do the heavy lifting here.

But since the PCA is at a difficult juncture about homosexual identity, some in the communion may want to ponder whether white normativity and heteronormativity tend to pick up speed on the slope of normativity.

Fun With Numbers

Would it surprise readers to learn that Tim Keller and I, according to the intersectionality meter, enjoy more privilege than 96 percent of the rest of Americans? Would it also surprise anyone that Tim Keller and I have more privilege than Donald Trump? Because if you move the slider on Christianity from Christian to Not Christian (sorry Donald), your oppression footprint decreases, from a 5 to a 14, which means Trump has more privilege than 88 percent other Americans. Throw in income, with differences for religion, and here his how the picture changes: Trump (rich) 11, me (moderate) 5, Keller (more than me), 4. So in the intersectionality sweepstakes, Tim Keller has more privilege than Donald Trump and I. (And since Keller and I are Christians, that may make both of us Christian nationalists.)

This fits what Keller himself has even admitted.

Keller acknowledged white privilege and ways he’s benefited from it, but with his characteristic wit he added, “I’m not going to feel sorry for myself because that is a very white thing to do.”


John [Piper] and I are both old enough to remember the complicity of evangelical churches and institutions with the systemic racism in the US before the civil rights movement. I took my first church in a small town in the South in the early 1970s. The courts had recently ruled that the whites-only public swimming pool, operated by the town with taxpayers’ money, had to be integrated. So what did the town do? It shut the pool down completely, and the white people of the town opened a new private swimming pool and club, which of course, did not have to admit racial minorities. Because I was a young pastor, our family was often invited to swim there, and swim we did, not really cognizant of what the pool represented.

Here’s some more fun with numbers. What does minority and majority populations mean without nationalism? The world’s total population is 7.7 billion. The United States’ population is roughly 330 million. That means Americans (third in total behind China and India) are 4 percent of the world’s population. In majority/minority statistics, that looks decidedly like a minority.

But I get it with power and wealth Americans look a lot bigger and wealthier than the rest of the world’s peoples. Doesn’t some of that size and power extend to minorities within the United States, such that Amish or Armenian-Americans in the United States have more power and wealth than people living in Nigeria or Guiana?

And what about minority groups not based on race or ethnicity but on religion? Are members of the Presbyterian Church in America — roughly 350,000 — a minority compared to Japanese-Americans at 1.4 million, or Korean-Americans, or Chinese-Americans at almost 5 million? Can ethnicity and wealth simply turn those numbers around so that a denomination that is 7 percent the size of Chinese-Americans has the same sort of privilege as — well — Tim Keller?

And don’t even get me started on how flawed Asian-American is as a category?

However you slice it, the numbers only make sense if you start with the United States and its population, which makes you some kind of nationalist.

Minorities within a Small Segment of a Sliver of the Population

This reflection about the experience of ethnic minorities and the Southern Baptist Convention got me thinking (which is about when then missus leaves the room):

Dave Miller wrote in SBC Voices that although he didn’t comprehend why many minorities reacted so strongly to the announcement of Pence’s invitation, he wanted to be able to comprehend. He wrote, “I know some of you in minority communities are discouraged but things are beginning to change and we need you. I need you. I need to hear what you think and how you think even when it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my normal thinking.”

I am thankful for people like Dave Miller–people in the SBC who genuinely want to understand the experiences and opinions of minorities. It is this open-mindedness that prevents stagnation and fosters growth.

I am a SBC pastor who is an ethnic minority. I am only one voice, so I cannot represent all ethnic minorities in the SBC. However, I thought I would offer my take on the situation in the hope that more people will understand where we come from. Here are a few things to know about ethnic minorities in predominantly white denominations, and how it affects our reaction to what happened at the SBC Annual Meeting.

Does this pastor, Larry Lin, assume that Southern Baptists are in the majority of the U.S. population (or mainstream)? With roughly 16 million church members, the SBC is almost four times the size of Chinese Americans (3.8 million). But even as large as the SBC is, they account for about 4.5 percent of the American population. That puts Southern Baptists well behind either African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans. (Let’s not even do the math for Reformed Protestants in the U.S.)

If pastor Lin’s point is that by virtue of being white, the SBC belongs to the dominant culture, then why aren’t all white people Southern Baptist?

But then, he shifts to politics:

When I am spending time with white ministers within my denomination, people are often taken aback when I mention that I identify with the political left more so than the political right. It is almost as if I am speaking heresy. Evangelical Protestants frequently assume that all theological conservatives are political conservatives, but that assumption is not true. A Pew Research study in 2014 found that while 65% of white evangelical Protestants lean Republican, only 49% of Asian evangelical Protestants, 31% of Latino evangelical Protestants, and 12% of black evangelical Protestants do so. Alternately, while only 21% of white evangelical Protestants lean Democrat, 37% of Asian evangelical Protestants, 41% of Latino evangelical Protestants, and 73% of black evangelical Protestants do so.

I can’t do the math, but at this point pastor Lin has gone from the minority (ethnically within the nation and church) to the majority (within the nation and the church). The reason is that far more people in the United States identify with the Democrats than the SBC has Republicans. If 81 percent of Southern Baptists voted for Donald Trump, that’s almost 13 million, though of course, the figure needs to be calibrated to exclude kids who don’t vote. But since almost 66 million Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, Lin’s political preferences take him from the minority of Southern Baptists to the majority of American voters (or something like that).

Of course, in the United States we side with the underdog (unless we are Yankees’ fans or Roman Catholics). I wonder if pastor Lin can make room in his minority world for white Baptists.

How Deep Down Does Religion Go?

Word has it that the polls on Scottish independence are narrowing, with the yes vote gaining momentum. Sorting out all the angles of relations among the Brits and Irish can get really complicated, especially if we remember what Fintan O’Toole reminded us a few decades ago:

In ethnic terms, Ireland is far less complex than many European societies, and infinitely less so than the United States. The biggest inward migration in the last five hundred years came from Scotland in the eighteenth century, and its descendants still form the largest single minority group. But Scotland itself had been settled by the Irish many centuries before. The very name Scotland means “land of the Irish,” “Scotus” being the Latin for an Irishman. The west of Scotland even today is called Argyll, from Ar-Gael, the eastern Irish. In the long view, the Scottish influx in the seventeenth century to the northern Irish province of Ulster is part of a pattern of back-and-forth migration between two places that are, after all, separated at their nearest point by less than forty miles of water.

O’Toole used that feature of Irish and Scottish history to make a two-kingdom point about “the troubles,” namely, that they had far less to do with Protestant-Roman Catholic conflicts than meets the eye:

Only a fool would deny that the Troubles in Northern Ireland or the sporadic episodes of rebellion and repression in the previous five centuries can be understood without taking account of the division between Catholics and Protestants. What can be denied, I think, is that religion itself has ever been the primary source of those conflicts. In Tanner’s eyes, religion is the wound that has caused Irish people to bleed over the centuries. It makes more sense, however, to think of religion as the weapon that has been used to cause the wound. Religion, like its secular counterpart history, has been wielded at different times and in different ways in the pursuit of economic and political advantage.; “Take away the religious factor and you still have enough economic, political, and national divisions to fuel a great deal of nastiness and a few wars.”

The broad shape of modern Irish history certainly forces the issue of religion to the forefront. From the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, the Irish ruling class was Protestant and imperial, deriving its power from its origins in the slow conquest of the island by England. Those over whom it ruled were for the most part Catholics. Indeed, Ireland stands out as one of the few European countries in which the religion of the masses was not simply determined by the choice of their masters. The Catholic population stubbornly resisted the Protestant Reformation. The state church, the Episcopalian Church of Ireland, treated the Gaelic-speaking masses as a subject people rather than a flock to be protected and served. As a consequence, Catholicism became by and large the faith of those whose politics could, after the French Revolution, be called nationalist; and Protestantism was the religion of those who were loyal to Britain.

This is what happened; and give or take some important nuances, it is not in dispute. Still, an interesting set of questions can be promoted by a little counterfactual speculation. What if Henry VIII had remained happy with Catherine of Aragon and true to his papal title of Defender of the Faith? What if the English Reformation had failed, or had been reversed by the Stuart dynasty? With England and Ireland still loyal to the pope, would there have been no oppression and resistance, no haughty land-owning aristocracy and resentful dirt-poor peasantry, no eventual nationalist revolution? The answer to those questions, surely, is no. Take away the religious factor and you still have enough economic, political, and national divisions to fuel a great deal of nastiness and a few wars.

O’Toole could well have used the factual of England’s relationship to Scotland in the seventeenth century to make his point. Even though both kingdoms were Protestant, that “common” faith hardly provided a smooth ride to the Union of 1707. Charles I’s head is proof.

An Acquired Taste that May Not Last

The missus and I finished the first two seasons of The Killing (better than Breaking Bad, not nearly as good as The Wire) and turned last night to the third season of Downton Abbey. After two episodes, I like the presence of Shirley Maclaine far more than I expected. The differences between Yanks and Brits on tradition and history is particularly intriguing and definitely ironic. Most citizens of the United States (Canadians are Americans after all) sympathize with the idea of ending tradition and letting estates like Downton be relegated to the ash heap of housing developments, representative government, and wireless internet. At the same time, the ongoing appeal of the British royalty and the popularity of shows like Downton Abbey prove that for all the common sense of equality, merit, and reason, many moderns still enjoy having around a ruling class with its pomp and circumstance. Perhaps that kind of tradition sets a standard that provides order even for those outside the ruling class, and it is a desire for order that keeps institutions like the British and Dutch monarchies alive. Whatever the explanation, I am betting the executives at BBC know that a series based on the Earl of Grantham and his estate will always pull in better ratings than a show based on Sybel’s husband, Tom Branson, the Irish chauffeur who can’t help spouting republicanism at family dinners and making uncomfortable all guests of aristocratic backgrounds, along his former peers among the downstairs help.

That appeal of estates, titles, wood-paneled libraries, grand dining rooms, dutiful servants, and formal dinner attire may explain why some Protestants find Rome or Canterbury a better brand of Christianity. Roman Catholics and Anglicans simply set a better formal dining room table than Presbyterians. Just compare the altar and Mass to the table and the Lord’s Supper. One is grand, the other is ordinary. It is comparable to the difference between Tom Branson and the Earl of Grantham. I might feel more comfortable having a pint with Tom, but I’d rather watch a series about the Earl.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard picked up on this dynamic somewhat in her reflections about why low-church Protestants turn to high-church communions:

The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

Missing from this description is a recognition of the difference between liturgical styles in historic Christianity. The options are not simply high-church liturgies over against megachurch informality. Another layer of difference is one between simplicity and ornateness. Reformed Protestants have been sticklers for simplicity in worship. Reformed worship has plenty of reverence and transcendence but it comes from the word, read and preached, with the sacraments as illustrations. Anglicans and Roman Catholics derive reverence and transcendence from the show of the architecture, vestments, images, music (not Roman Catholics post Vatican II), and THE sacrament. It is like the difference between folks songs and opera. For Christians who want a sensual experience in worship, a Reformed Protestant service will come up short — too didactic and logocentric. For those same Christians, the P&W worship service will simply be tacky.

VanDoodewaard is on weaker footing when she goes on to commend Reformed churches for holding on to their children in ways that evangelicals do not:

But not all kids who grew up in American evangelicalism are jumping off into high church rite and sacrament: congregations that carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to their children are notably not losing them to the Vatican, or even Lambeth. Protestant churches that recognize their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage, training their children to value and continue it in a 21st century setting, usually retain their youth. These kids have the tools they need to think biblically through the deep and difficult issues of the day and articulate their position without having a crisis of faith.

I would like to see some statistics on this, but my own sense is that communions like the OPC (perhaps not representative but certainly one where a lot of theology is taught) do not retaining their children. For instance, at the recent General Assembly, roughly one-in-ten of the commissioners was a child of the OPC. All others had jumped from somewhere else to benefit from the OPC’s dedication to doctrine. Not even the attempts of the OPC to create something of a brand with its history (the OPC has to have more pages of history per capita than any other Presbyterian denomination) — not even all that history has left the next generation (or their parents) with a sense that they have joined a tradition that is bigger than they are. Sure, 1936 is not as impressive a starting point as 1857, 1618, 1560, 1534, or 33 AD. But conservative Reformed denominations generally have no fixed sense of identity apart from family ties. When membership is part of ethnic identity (say in the case of the Covenaters or the URC), the next generation is more likely to recognize a denomination as being bigger than its teaching and ministry. But when it is limited to teaching the truths of the Bible and the catechism, children after leaving home need only look for another church that teaches the Bible.

I don’t know what the fix is. I really don’t know how to create ties of institutional loyalty among teenagers and young adults who have only been in a conservative Reformed or Presbyterian denomination for possibly only half their lives. If mom and dad switched from an independent Bible-believing church to a Presbyterian communion, why can’t those parents’ children switch to another Bible-believing church? In other words, how do you connect family loyalty to church membership? Or should you when you consider what happens to ethnic denominations? At the same time, without some sort of link between blood and creed, middle-class Christians like Reformed Protestants are never going to set a table as elaborate or refined as the upper-class communions.

What Happened to Gender?

Carl Trueman has already raised questions about feminism but those thoughts returned while reading a variety of reactions to the George Zimmerman trial. You see a lot about race and class, but hear nothing about gender.

What does gender have to do with this? Well, both Martin and Zimmerman received their father’s surnames. That includes President Obama who gave a speech about the verdict on Friday (more below). What would the press and pundits have been saying about the case had Zimmerman been called George Mesa (his mother’s surname)? And what would those folks have said about race and ethnicity in the U.S. if Zimmerman were identified as a Hispanic-American with Afro-Peruvian blood (from his maternal grandfather)? And what about Zimmerman’s membership in the Democratic Party? The country has had a lot of debates for the last five years about illegal immigration or undocumented aliens (with Republicans trying to get out from under their white-only reputation), many of whom come to the U.S. from south of the border. Granted, Hispanic hardly does justice to Mexican-, Cuban-, or Peruvian-Americans, nor does Mexican do justice to the diversity of ethnic backgrounds in Mexico. But in the strange world of white/majority-non-white/minority relations in the U.S., George Zimmerman should qualify as a fellow as much on the minds of those who worry about race, class, and gender/transgender as they do about Sandra Fluke. In which case, the trial has an upside. A Hispanic-American, at a time when many Americans are skittish about immigrants from Central and South America, gained a welcome verdict in the nation’s white-dominated justice system. Obviously, that is no consolation to Trayvon Martin’s family. But since so much of the discussion of the trial and its aftermath has been about race, with the implication of how white Americans and their institutions mistreat non-whites, why doesn’t Zimmerman’s minority status provide some consolation to those sensitive to race and ethnicity?

Similar questions can be raised about President Obama. What if his name were Barack Dunham, and what if Americans perceived him as a white man instead of an African-American? (No one is really going to defend the idea that the slightest amount of African blood in a person makes them black, are they?) And what if the President himself thought more about being reared by a white mother and white grandparents before saying this:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

Instead of the Trayvon Martin case showing how badly America treats blacks, the overwhelming reaction has been how much white America empathizes with blacks.

Does this mean that everything is fine in the U.S. and that we can all go back to work believing that this is a great land where the justice and economic systems work fairly? If you’ve seen The Wire (or read Wendell Berry), you never go to work thinking that. In fact, it is hard not to see a photo of Trayvon Martin and not think of Dukie Weems, or to have watched the series and not understand David Simon’s recent reaction:

In the state of Florida, the season on African-Americans now runs year round. Come one, come all. And bring a handgun. The legislators are fine with this blood on their hands. The governor, too. One man accosted another and when it became a fist fight, one man — and one man only — had a firearm. The rest is racial rationalization and dishonorable commentary.

At the same time, the inequities of the U.S. extend beyond white-black relations. Turning the George Zimmerman case into only a discussion of race and class will miss the larger canvass on which the tragic encounter between Martin and Zimmerman played out. I think I even learned about the complications of all social interactions from David Simon himself.

Is Reformed Worship Ethnic?

While nursing a bad cold yesterday (which seems to be more, but heck if this child of Depression Era children is going to see a doctor), I went to the website of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah and heard a couple of fine catechetical sermons by senior pastor, Terry Johnson. One was on effectual calling and one on justification and adoption. I believe I heard mention of “union” twice. But I digress.

While at the church’s website I also ran across a series of posts by Terry on Reformed Worship and Ethnic Churches. It is smart and reflects Johnson’s own work on the history of Reformed worship. Terry also shows the welcome capacity to read outside biblical and theological sources to understand the common realm of culture. What follows is from the second part of the series:

There would seem to be many who think that the only “authentic” black worship is of the Pentecostal variety. The DNA of African Americans, so the theory goes, requires “emotionally expressive” music, preaching and congregational interaction. Thomas Sowell, scholar at Stanford University, Hoover Institute, offers another perspective. He connects inner-city African-American culture, including black dialect and music, the ghetto culture of violence, promiscuity, and indolence, as well as the oratorical style and the emotionalism of African-American church culture, with the northern Britains who populated the Southern states in the eighteenth century. They brought their social pathologies with them from the lawless, violent, barely civilized border regions of late 17th to early 18th century northern Britain including Scotland, and northern Ireland, and perpetuated them in what became white “redneck” culture. Poor “crackers,” as rural southern whites are sometimes called, provided the cultural context within which slave and post-emancipation African-American culture developed. It was “cracker” social and religious behaviors which southern blacks often mimicked.

Whether you agree with Johnson or Sowell, this is a perspective worth considering and one that you seldom hear from sappy evangelicals.

The Gospel Coalition Goes Racial

Several recent developments among the gospel allies have revealed that no matter how much we denounce racism, race is a category that is alive, well, obscure, and still divisive. Race, for instance, is almost as foggy as evangelicalism. Try to tell the difference and explain it briefly between race and ethnicity. Try to tell someone of African descent who came to the United States by way of Haiti that they are “black” in the same way that descendants of African-American slaves are. Try even to explain how President Obama is more black than white. Or for lighter shades of racial characteristics, try to explain how the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese, despite historic animosities, are all “Asian.” And don’t forget about the Irish, white people whom other whites – in this case Boston Brahmins – called black. Race is, as you may be able to tell, slippery. What is more, the persistent appeal to it ironically keeps alive the kind of quasi-scientific claims that fueled eugenics and other early twentieth-century schemes for preserving racial purity.

But the folks with good intentions, the allies of the gospel, keep stepping in the gooey subject of race with consequences unbecoming their wholesome (even if sappy) aims. First it was Christianity Today’s publication of an excerpt from John Piper’s new book, Bloodlines. The provocative title of the piece was, “I Was A Racist.” It chronicles Piper’s life, from his southern youth where he presumed the superiority of whites to blacks, to his days at Wheaton College where he was confronted at an InterVarsity Fellowship conference to consider the legitimacy of inter-racial marriage, to his studies in Germany which allowed him to visit concentration camps designed by the “master” Aryan race, to his decision as a middle-aged man to adopt an African-American child. Along the way, Piper employs tropes and taps sentiments designed to show the wickedness of racism, all the while he avoids a technical definition of the concept. And without a definite idea of what constitutes racism, readers don’t know if Piper really was a racist or whether his self-absolved declaration of innocence is justified.

Here’s one example of the sentimentality that lurks around Piper’s reflections:

I was, in those years, manifestly racist. As a child and a teenager my attitudes and actions assumed the superiority of my race in almost every way without knowing or wanting to know anybody who was black, except Lucy. Lucy came to our house on Saturdays to help my mother clean. I liked Lucy, but the whole structure of the relationship was demeaning. Those who defend the noble spirit of Southern slaveholders by pointing to how nice they were to their slaves, and how deep the affections were, and how they even attended each other’s personal celebrations, seem to be naïve about what makes a relationship degrading.

No, she was not a slave. But the point still stands. Of course, we were nice. Of course, we loved Lucy. Of course, she was invited to my sister’s wedding. As long as she and her family “knew their place.” Being nice to, and having strong affections for, and including in our lives is what we do for our dogs too. It doesn’t say much about honor and respect and equality before God. My affections for Lucy did not provide the slightest restraint on my racist mouth when I was with my friends. . . .

So Lucy was only as good as a dog? Is that really the way that whites viewed blacks when they taught them the Bible? Do dogs have souls? Were Boston Protestants “nice” to Irish Roman Catholics? And was this sort of treatment the same that the Nazis showed to Jews? Whatever the answers to these questions – and they will be decidedly mixed depending on the answerers’ bloodlines – Piper avoids a systematic treatment of race and opts instead for associations. Please do not misunderstand. Slavery was abhorrent, skin-color based slavery more so. But do we need to liken slavery to the Holocaust in order to condemn it? Meanwhile, notice the flip side of these associations – Piper’s kin were the equivalent of the Nazis. Is this any way to regard our families (as if Nazis were only evil all the time, as if people who believe in total depravity would locate wickedness in one ethnic group)?

Another observation to make about Piper’s piece is the way that adopting a child of African descent seems bestow racial innocence. I admire Piper for doing this, and for the kind of life he tries to lead by living in a specific neighborhood in Minneapolis. But is he not aware of African-Americans who might regard his adoption as simply another way of saying that “some of my best friends are black”? Of course, the folks who might say this about Piper, from Al Sharpton to Cornel West, could be harboring views of race and racism that a person of European descent could never avoid. But if that’s the case – which it is (think about Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team) – then why bring up race at all? Why not write a book about families, adoption, and urban living? Why the need to talk about private matters that are so patently alarming and have the potential for manipulation? If evangelicals read and adopt this book as a clear and incisive statement on race, they will surely be surprised the next time they enter a discussion or read a news item which reveals how deep and contested are the politics of identity.

One more thing — why does Piper not apply his assumptions about diversity to African-American churches? When I taught a course on religion in Philadelphia I showed students some videos from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, not at the same time, but to cover the African-American experience one week and the experience of some ethnic-Europeans another. What was striking in these videos was how proud the African-American churches were of being black. They made no effort to reflect the diversity of their congregations because they didn’t have much racial or ethnic diversity. But not so for the Lutherans. We saw Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and even European-Americans in the Lutheran videos, even though the appeal of Lutheranism outside German and Scandinavian settings is tiny.

This does not mean that Lutherans or Piper are wrong to seek diversity in their churches. It does mean that if diversity is a biblical imperative – as opposed to an outgrowth of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism – then Piper should be communicating to black church leaders the importance of enfolding white’s and Asians into their congregations. But if he did that, would he be able to claim that he WAS a racist and isn’t one anymore?

Around the same time that Piper’s piece appeared in Christianity Today, the Gospel Coalition was engaged in some soul searching thanks to James McDonald’s decision to interview T. D. Jakes for Elephant Room. The problem apparently (since I don’t know the work of MacDonald except for the excruciatingly painful video he did with Mark Driscoll and Mark Dever about pastoral ministry, nor do I know about T. D. Jakes except for Don Imus’ regular invoking of and praise for the bishop — note the irony) was the terms under which MacDonald invited Jakes. Was Jakes a fellow believer in gospel? Or was and is he guilty of faulty view of the Trinity? MacDonald’s explanation of the situation was not good enough for a number of bloggers, white and black. The problem was particularly the mixed message that MacDonald (and by extension) the Gospel Coalition would send to the black church about the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Thabiti Anyabwile:

The news of T.D. Jakes’ invitation to The Elephant Room is widespread and rightly lamented by many. I’m just adding a perspective that hasn’t yet been stated: This kind of invitation undermines that long, hard battle many of us have been waging in a community often neglected by many of our peers. And because we’ve often been attempting to introduce African-American Christians to the wider Evangelical and Reformed world as an alternative to the heresy and blasphemy so commonplace in some African-American churches and on popular television outlets, the invitation of Jakes to perform in ‘our circles’ simply feels like a swift tug of the rug from beneath our feet and our efforts to bring health to a sick church.

Justin Taylor jumped on the bandwagon. “The most sobering and painful commentary on this controversy has been penned by Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter, who have both labored winsomely and heroically for a reformation in the black church and see this invitation as a tremendous setback for the cause of grace and truth. I’d encourage you to consider their perspective on something like this.”

What is remarkable in this reaction to MacDonald is, first, the assumption that the white church has a sound doctrine of the Trinity. Unless I missed something, the Gospel Coalition is a wart to the Matterhorn (thank you Henry Lewis) of the Trinity Broadcast Network and the larger Pentecostal and charismatic world which consists of Americans of European descent as much as blacks. In other words, the black church has no corner of heresy and the Gospel Coalition has a lot of work to do if it is going to labor winsomely and heroically for a reformation in the white church.

Second, the Gospel Coalition’s doctrine of the Trinity is not exactly Nicea. The first point of their doctrinal statement reads:

We believe in one God, eternally existing in three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who know, love, and glorify one another. This one true and living God is infinitely perfect both in his love and in his holiness. He is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible, and is therefore worthy to receive all glory and adoration. Immortal and eternal, he perfectly and exhaustively knows the end from the beginning, sustains and sovereignly rules over all things, and providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.

Compare this to the Westminster Confession and you see a lack of precision:

1. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.

3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Of course, the Westminster Confession is not Nicea either. But it does have the important Nicene bits – the affirmations about substance and person, and the one about the Son being eternally begotten of the Father. In which case, if the Gospel Coalition wants to set itself as the standard for orthodoxy in the white church, especially on the Trinity, why not actually affirm (or teach about) the Nicene doctrine of God?

In the end, I’m not sure what race has to do with the current status of orthodox Trinitarianism in the United States, or with one pastor’s decision to adopt a child. But a lot of people seem to think that race still matters and that is not a recipe for overcoming racism but for keeping the vague concept of race alive.