The White Man’s Burden

With all the talk of intersectionality and white privilege, it now turns out that white men themselves can play the victim card. We too are oppressed and marginalized as Pete Enns recently discovered:

White male privilege really is a thing, I never see it from the outside in, and I was never challenged to critique white male privilege as an expression of my faith. Rather, it was allowed to fit far too comfortably with my faith.

Not being an oppressed person puts me at a disadvantage. I rarely need to cry out as the psalmists do about being treated with injustice, prejudice, with violence. I don’t need to worry about being pulled over by uniformed protectors of the public. There are many more places I can go and things I can do because I am part of the dominant culture.

And I don’t worry about my competence or value being questioned because of my gender. I am the default, the norm. I do the judging.

An iteration of the Christian faith that doesn’t see the problem here, really see it, is its own refutation.

But here come some complications when men of privilege grasp for the ring of oppression:

Was the fact that Pete was a victim of white male domination at WTS its own form of oppression? On the scales of social justice this instance of maltreatment (according to some) does not itself rise to the level of what people of color have experienced. But Pete needs to see that white male privilege only goes so far when it collides with other white men with privilege. Ten years ago the Psalms would have made total sense of Pete’s experience.

But that raises a question about using as expressions of lament the prayers of kings, which is much of the OT Psalter. Should a victim of oppression really appeal to a prayer from an officer who according to social justice warriors is inherently oppressive? After all, the left has taught us that the wealthy and powerful are chief among the perpetrators of injustice. So how do you sing the songs of lament of the wealthy and powerful, like kings as opposed to the oppressed people (who haven’t left much of a paper trail)?

One last wrinkle: can a white Christian man really appeal to the text of Hebrews even if that is his academic specialty? Isn’t this a form of cultural appropriation? If Oberlin College students have taught us about authentic tacos in the cafeteria, and if Pete wants to approve the arguments that currently fuel the politics of identity, hasn’t he gone to the wrong place if he turns to the Psalms? Wouldn’t T.S. Eliot be a better fit for a white Christian man if he were — hypothetically of course — to experience oppression?

The gods of social justice are a demanding bunch. Call on them at your peril if your complexion is pink or ruddy.

When Law Robbed the Phillies

To provoke students to think about whether the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery and similar inequalities related to property, I brought to class today a little piece of Major League Baseball and constitutional history. Anyone remember Curt Flood, the man for whom the Phillies in 1969 traded Richie Allen (my childhood hero)? Funny, he never played for the Phils:

So when the Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia that October, Flood, 31 at the time, was not much inclined to go, even though he had no choice if he wanted to stay in the game. That’s how the reserve clause worked. The owners insisted it preserved balance between the teams; of course, it also let them buy and keep talent on the extremely cheap. Such collusive, anticompetitive conduct would normally have violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. But in 1922, the United States Supreme Court had held that the business of baseball was somehow not interstate commerce covered by that law, and in 1953 it ruled, equally ludicrously, that Congress had wanted it that way.

Over the years, the court refused to extend that tortured logic to theatrical productions, basketball, boxing and football. But something about baseball — here, all those clichés about its hold on the American psyche apparently held true — blinded even the most revered jurists, including Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas and Felix Frankfurter. (Only the historically disparaged justices Stanley Reed and Harold Burton, who dissented from the 1953 ruling, got it right.) That the Supreme Court would reverse two of its own precedents seemed highly unlikely.

And that was what Marvin Miller, the firebrand executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, told Flood. His lawsuit, Miller warned, was “a million-to-one shot.” Bringing free agency to the game was on Miller’s agenda, but not for a while; at a time when baseball’s minimum salary was $10,000 and players got $15 daily meal money, his union was just too weak. And with his $90,000 annual salary — big bucks at the time — Flood was not the most sympathetic plaintiff. But backed by representatives from the various teams, Miller agreed to bankroll Flood’s case, retaining Arthur Goldberg, late of the Supreme Court, to handle it.

Flood himself was undeterred by the inevitable blacklisting to come. He liked living on the edge — he was the type to throw baseballs with his phone number written on them to pretty women in the stands — and was a contrarian, always itching for a fight. Then there was his race, and his rage. Other black stars, like Mays, Aaron and Ernie Banks, rocked no boats. But Flood always had, attacking segregated training camps in Florida, appearing at an N.A.A.C.P. rally in Mississippi and, with the help of a court order and police protection, moving into a white neighborhood in the Bay Area. To him, protests were nothing new.

And coincidentally (or providentially), I also read today why Curt Flood may not have wanted to play in Philadelphia (for reasons similar to Richie Allen’s:

Winter was a leader of the very powerful Philadelphia Klan, which at its height claimed some fifty thousand members in the metropolitan area. He was one of the movement’s most effective publicists and evangelists, but he was also deeply involved in factional struggles. In a striking portent of his later political allegiance, Winter earned notoriety by forming a personal elite bodyguard and enforcement squad known as the Super-Secret Society, the “S. S. S.” (at this early date, the similarity of name to the German S. S. is coincidental. And no jokes, please, about Double Secret Probation). The “Night Riders” of this “Black-Robed Gang” beat and intimidated opponents who questioned Winter’s shady financial dealings. Winter’s tactics included exposing the Klan membership of his opponents, seeking thereby to attract boycotts and demonstrations against them by Catholics and other hostile groups. His critics accused him of “building up a far more autocratic organization than Rome ever dared to build.” In 1925-26, the Philadelphia Klan’s klaverns (lodges) were riven by violence, lawsuits, and spectacular mutual expulsions.

In 1928, the Klan nationwide was galvanized anew by the threat of a Catholic Presidential candidate in the form of Al Smith. In that year, Winter published in his What Price Tolerance? (Hewlett, N.Y.: All-American Book, Lecture and Research Bureau, 1928) a comprehensive statement of anti-Catholic ideology. The book gives an excellent idea of the kind of rhetoric used by Klan leaders in their speeches intended to recruit new members, and to fire up supporters.

For Winter, Catholic “aggression” was expressed in the Catholic marriage laws, which denied the validity of Protestant marriage and family life, and in the sectarian schools, which created and sustained a whole alternative society and cultural life. Surging Catholic power threatened to overwhelm American society and values. In the previous century, the Church in the United States had grown from fifty thousand adherents and 35 priests to twenty million faithful with a vast network of clergy, schools, and seminaries. By the 1920s, there was a “general staff” – perhaps a provisional government? – in the form of the elaborate bureaucracy of the National Catholic Welfare Council. The nightmare was that all Americans would someday be subjected to this tyranny, and that a Catholic would someday attain the presidency. Catholic strength was founded on “Alienism”, “the unassimilated hordes of Europe”, which threatened American racial purity.

The shadow of racism was large in Philadelphia.

Predictable?

From our southern correspondent comes confirmation of an earlier prediction:

That –

The Assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church (RAO 9-1; 9-3). The Assembly authorizes the Moderator to appoint the study committee. The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA (RAO 9-1; Robert’s Rules of Order [11th edition], §13, pp. 174-175, §50, pp.495- 496, §50, pp. 497-498 §56, p. 579]).

The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:

The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;

The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;

Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;

Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider.

The committee will have a budget of $15,000 that is funded by designated donations to the AC from churches and individuals (RAO 9-2).

A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.

Grounds: The Cooperative Ministries Committee may not make recommendations directly to the General Assembly but must do so through an appropriate committee or agency (RAO 7-3 c; 7-6). The CMC has had a subcommittee on the role of women and has sent several recommendations to the AC (including a proposal for a study committee on the issue women serving in the church) and CDM to bring to the Assembly.

The former moderator of the PCA GA, Michael Ross, likely approves of this proposal:

The third reason is close to Ross’ heart, since it relates to the theme for this General Assembly, “Generations in Community.” A champion of church revitalization, he recognizes understandable tension and unrest within the PCA – as with most denominations – between older and younger generations.

“In biblical terms 40 years is a generation, and it’s normal to hear younger people saying, ‘This isn’t 1972 anymore,’” he explained. “As moderator, it’s important to have the ear of both the older and younger groups, so everybody has a voice and can be well-heard.”

Past General Assemblies have dealt with a variety of controversial issues, and although Ross does not expect “any landmines this year … there are always overtures that come up.” As for the PCA as a whole, Ross commented, “I tend to be optimistic about where we are and where we’re headed.”

When he entered the pastorate, the PCA was “either all-white suburbanites or in little towns. Now we’re coast-to-coast, much more ethnically diverse, and there is a strong PCA presence in large urban areas.

“Our seminary and college are doing well, as is the women’s ministry. The women and men in the PCA work together very well, which is not typical of many denominations. But we also are in a time of transition. It’s time for change, and change is always scary.”

But as I asked before, isn’t racism different from egalitarianism?

To be clear, racism is arguably different from excluding women from church office. Furthermore, the consequences of racism have been far more consequential than barring women from special ecclesiastical office (though I know some feminists disagree). But the question is whether the PCA’s condemnation of racism leaves wiggle room for distinguishing racial equality from equality of the sexes. (Have we all forgotten the CRC‘s arguments for ordaining women?)

In fact, the power of egalitarianism is so strong you have to wonder if the PCA will have the wits in a decade to avoid repenting not merely for tolerating financial inequality among its members but even advocating it. After all, once you start down the road of equality, doesn’t history suggest your brake fluid runs dry?

Can Sexism Be Far Behind?

In the run-up to the PCA’s debates about repenting corporately for racism, I wonder if the opponents of racism have left room for excluding women from church office. Consider the following definition of racism (with assertions of gender hierarchicalism for the r-word):

Racism Excluding women from special office is the denial of the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and its implications to someone of another ethnicity sex. Racism Male-only elders and deacons in the church is a contradiction of the visible unity of all believers in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22, Revelation 5:9, 7:9). Racism inside and outside the church Male privilege inside the church and the family is a contradiction of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31, Luke 10:25-37, esp. 29, 37), and of God’s creation of all people in his image (Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:26). So theologically, racism preference for men in church office entails a denial of the biblical doctrines of creation, man, the communion of saints and is disobedience to the moral law. We will not mince words. Racism Male dominance in church office and marriage is not only sin, serious sin, it is heresy.

To be clear, racism is arguably different from excluding women from church office. Furthermore, the consequences of racism have been far more consequential than barring women from special ecclesiastical office (though I know some feminists disagree). But the question is whether the PCA’s condemnation of racism leaves wiggle room for distinguishing racial equality from equality of the sexes. (Have we all forgotten the CRC‘s arguments for ordaining women?)

In fact, the power of egalitarianism is so strong you have to wonder if the PCA will have the wits in a decade to avoid repenting not merely for tolerating financial inequality among its members but even advocating it. After all, once you start down the road of equality, doesn’t history suggest your brake fluid runs dry? Consider the logic of social justice warfare among Roman Catholics:

We have an economy of exclusion, and a polity that refuses to challenge the ideology of the market that has generated the economy of exclusion. We do not start with the most basic human quality, work. We start with an alien and hateful ideology rooted in supposed “economic laws” that are, in fact, human creations, not natural ones, but which are so prevalent, no one dares to question them. This is why, if you go to a conference on Laudato Si’ and they do not speak about both human ecology and multinational corporations, they don’t get it.

Third-Degree Racism

I was listening to Glenn Loury and John McWhorter yesterday on whether Donald Trump is racist. During the podcast, Glenn threw out the notion that something Trump said was third-degree racism, but not the full blown variety.

That got me thinking about why it is the case that when conservative Presbyterians talk about race, racism is an all or nothing proposition. Think back to Leon Brown’s post (discussed here) about racism in NAPARC communions after the shooting of Michael Brown:

This is why we need a movement of the Holy Spirit. Amid the horrific realities of Mike Browns all over the United States, and even the incidents that occur which are not broadcast (e.g., unjust acts taken against poor whites), we must demonstrate that the church is different. We are unlike the world, which can segregate, almost immediately, based on the color of one’s skin and other factors. Have you noticed that is what has occurred in the death of Mike Brown? Why do you think the pictures and quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have newly surfaced on the internet, largely from ethnic minorities? Why do you believe pictures from the 1950’s and 1960’s have been newly awakened? For many, history continues to repeat itself, and that angers African-Americans and other minorities. Perhaps we, specifically Christians, are also angry at the lack of representation in the ‘Christian’ blogosphere from others in the majority culture. Robin Williams is okay, but apparently Mike Brown is not.

Without dodging or answering the question of whether blacks and whites should necessarily worship together (since historically black communions are such a part of the African-American experience), is it possible to distinguish what transpires among the Ferguson, Missouri police force from what happens on a Sunday morning in your average PCA congregation in the middle of Tennessee? Is one perhaps first-degree racism and the other third-degree? If we can make distinctions when it comes to the loss of human life, can’t we distinguish among the levels of prejudice that humans manifest?

So here’s the proposal:

Banning students from attending a Reformed seminary on the basis of race is first-degree racism.

A search committee at a white congregation placing an application from an African-American licentiate is second-degree racism.

Church members choosing on their own to worship in congregations where the majority of members are the same race is third-degree racism.

Do any of the overtures before the PCA reflect such differences? I’m merely asking.

How Do You Maintain Your Edge When You are a Foodie?

I see Rod Dreher has also listened to Neil Drumming’s piece on Ta-Nehisi Coates for This American Life. I too found the story fascinating, not only because Drumming humanized Coates — the MacArthur genius doesn’t only breathe fire against white America but also knows how to enjoy his success by eating oysters and drinking champagne. Drumming’s own reflections on status, his relationship to Coates, and his thoughts about jealousy of a friend who becomes amazingly successful are the sort of considerations that those with a modicum of success entertain about friends who do much better. It is reminiscent of the sort of rivalry-jealousy on display in The End of the Tour, the movie about David Foster Wallace and the writer who covered him, David Lipsky.

But what I really wonder about is the way that Dreher and Coates both openly enjoy their success as writers. First Coates:

Ta-Nehisi knew we were here to talk about his snobbery, and he wasted zero time getting into character. He told me a story about the other night when he’d had dinner in the restaurant of this very hotel.

Ta: And I was sitting at the bar. And the food was OK. It’s like one of these OK food restaurants. But it was decent. I was having a good time. And there was a couple like down the bar, and they had ordered this big-ass thing of oysters. It might have been 24 oysters. It was huge.

Neil Drumming (narration): Ta-Nehisi was fine with that. He loves oysters. It was what happened next that offended him.

Ta: Then the bartender started making drinks, right? And he makes the woman a sangria and the other dude some sweet something, some red, sweet something-or-other that no one should ever drink. And he took it over there, and I was like, you’re going to drink sangria and eat oysters? Like, we’re doing this now? Like, this is a thing you’re going to do? Oh, come on.

[LAUGHTER]
Ta: Come on. Just order a Hi-C. Get the Capri Sun. Just get the Capri Sun with your oysters.

Neil Drumming (narration): See, this is what I’m talking about.

Then Dreher:

That line of TNC’s about how having money brought out something in him that was latent — a love of good food — strikes me as a basically good way to enjoy your money (unless, of course, it becomes gluttony). People who were raised poor, or who have struggled for a long time to get money, and who come into success — I think it’s great if they use some of it to enjoy things that they never would have been able to otherwise. Maybe you always wanted to go whitewater rafting, but never could have afforded it. Or maybe you have always been interested in working on antique cars, and can now afford to take that up as a hobby. Well and good. Money can also call forth and exacerbate latent character flaws, of course, but one hopes to be moderate and sensible about these things. It sounds like TNC is well on course.

About fame, though, that is something I don’t understand people desiring. To me, the best thing about being really rich would be the liberty to be completely anonymous. Unfortunately for TNC, the nature of his vocation and the source of his fortune means that he will always have to be in the public eye.

The thing is, Coates has achieved his comfort by pointing out the discomfort (put mildly) that blacks experience living in white U.S. Meanwhile, Rod is touring the world and eating well thanks to his own writing about living in harmony with permanent truths as opposed to giving in to passing pleasures. The point isn’t that these guys are inconsistent. It is whether Coates can maintain his West Baltimore attitude while living in Paris and whether Rod can pursue the Benedict option while dining at Huîtrerie Régis.

I would have thought that both men would be aware of the tension between cause and success. So far, I don’t sense that self-awareness.

Hey Pastor Fosdick, The Fundamentalists Did Win

First it was smoking. I grew up in a fundamentalist home where smoking was off limits. I have also related the story of how devastated I was when I first saw Richie (later Dick) Allen smoking in the Phillies’ dugout. But now the world has turned into the Hart home (of my parents). Thankfully, the missus tolerates an occasional cigar indoors. But everywhere else in “the worldly world,” I can’t smoke (at least indoors). Not even women, who have absolute sovereignty over their bodies in the pro-choice world, may light up indoors. When will that barrier to human freedom topple?

Now it is language. The worldly worldlings are as worried about speech and its power to hurt as my fundamentalist fellow believers were about four-letter words and references to sex or body parts. The desire to make the world a tolerant and liberated place has now extended to Princeton University where students are objecting both to associations between the institution and its former president, Woodrow Wilson, but also to the word — wait for it — “master.” (Will Princeton stop granting “Masters” degrees?)

The group Black Justice League occupied the office of President Christopher L. Eisgruber at Princeton and offered a series of demands: that the university “acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and how he impacted campus policy and culture,” and that all buildings and programs named for Wilson have their names changed. The students also demanded that a portrait of Wilson come down from a dining hall. Other demands include having “classes on the history of marginalized peoples” be added to distribution requirements, and that a “cultural space on campus” be “dedicated specifically to black students.”

Also on Wednesday, the masters of Princeton’s residential colleges decided to stop calling themselves masters and instead to use the term “head of the college.”

At protests at Yale University, minority students have said that the word “master” is associated with slavery in ways that make it an inappropriate title for a college official.

Princeton’s announcement of the change noted that the use of “master” in the sense of an academic leader predates American slavery and has nothing to do with it.

“Though we are aware that the term ‘master’ has a long history of use in universities (indeed since medieval times), it seems to me by now to be anachronistic and unfortunate for the positions we hold,” said a statement from Sandra Bermann, head of Whitman College, Cotsen Professor of the Humanities and professor of comparative literature. “We are glad to take on the designation as ‘head of the college’ that describes our role more aptly.”

My forebears would have put “head” in Margaret Gray’s “filth file” because of its phalic associations. But everyone knows that contemporary fundamentalists give a pass to sex.

Perhaps the oddest part of this story was the following comment:

“We owe nothing to people who are deeply flawed,” the essay says. “There is an impulsive reaction to want to ignore uncomfortable or questionable legacies. However, what does it say about our society if we continue to glorify legacies without acknowledging — and at the very least caring about — the continuous promotion of unrectified inequalities and injustices? … By not recognizing the importance of this discourse, the university is telling its marginalized community and the outside world that it values its bleached-clean version of history over the prolonged discomfort and alienation of students of color. This erasure is especially dangerous in the present context of state-sanctioned violence against black people that prolongs this genocide.”

Actually, everyone owes a debt to our deeply flawed first parents, which is what we call original sin. But today’s self-righteous never recognize their own flaws or the possibility that they may have them.

And forget about all that outrage over Islamist attacks on Charlie Hebdo for its iconoclastic and blasphemous covers. The self-righteous, whether believers or tolerantists, cannot abide sin in this world.

Wait, maybe Fosdick won after all.