- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue Between Christians
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Scott #1
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation Dialogue: Dennae #1
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Scott #2a
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Scott #2b
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Dennae 2a
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Dennae #2b
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Scott #3a
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Scott #3b
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Scott #3c
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Scott #3d
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Dennae 3a
- Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation: A Dialogue, Dennae 3b
What’s driving today’s polarization around race? And what’s the answer?
Two opposite answers—two narratives, if you will—are unfolding. One emphasizes systemic injustice and institutional racism. It views the problems black people face as sourced outside their community and attributes these problems to historic slavery and pervasive, systemic white oppression.
The other narrative emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility; evil is rooted in human hearts. Yes, white racism persists, but much bigger challenges confront the black community, challenges that can be overcome by the actions and decisions of black people in ways that are not ultimately dependent on the actions of white people.
Here’s the latest in our current series, A Dialogue on Racism and Christian Racial Reconciliation.
Dear Andrew and Dennae,
Thank you for the thoughtful response. I enjoyed reading it and getting a better sense of your heart.
You focused most of your response on the topic of systemic injustice. In my initial post, I suggested that all the talk of systemic racism/oppression in the broader culture was relatively new. A Google Ngram search of the terms “systemic oppression” and “systemic racism” reveals that these phrases were virtually never used in the English-speaking world until around 1970, and then used very infrequently until the mid-90s. Their use skyrocketed after 2000. This was my point. However, you are correct that the concepts are not new, and go all the way back to the Old Testament.
What do you think accounts for their skyrocketing usage since 2000?
You suggest that part of the reason for their increased use has to do with particular “legal and philosophical thinkers from whom these academic categories have come.”
What specific people do you have in mind here?
You also talk about their source being something called “systems theory.” My own examination would source these notions in a different (and perhaps related) school of thought called a critical social theory or simply critical theory. Are you familiar with this?
Systemic Injustice. I support your biblical exegesis of systemic injustice, which I found thoughtful and well-considered. In my own teaching on this subject, I highlight these points.
(1) We are created in God’s image. God created the universe. As His image-bearers, we too create. We create culture – families, societies, cultures, institutions, etc.
(2) When Adam and Eve rebelled, they were personally impacted by the fall, but so was everything they created. Families, societies, cultures, and institutions are stained by the fall. People use power and authority for selfish ends and create systems and structures that do the same.
(3) God didn’t abandon us in our fallen state. Motivated by love, He set out to redeem this fallen world. This redemptive work begins immediately after the fall and comes to its consummation in Revelation 20-21 with the final judgment of evil and the new heavens and new earth. The centerpiece of God’s redemptive plan is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I teach that God’s redemptive plan is comprehensive. He isn’t merely content to redeem human souls but intends to restore everything impacted by the fall. So yes, systemic injustice is a reality in our world today. But so is systemic redemption, whereby the truth, goodness, and beauty of God’s Kingdom break into this fallen world and begin to transform it.
Critical social theory, which now dominates our academic institutions and is spilling into the broader culture at breakneck speed, can be affirmed in its emphasis on the reality of systemic injustice and the misuse of power and authority for selfish ends.
But because it is rooted in an atheistic framework, it has no basis for redemption and consequently doesn’t acknowledge or “see” point three above. Instead, everything boils down to a zero-sum contest for power and domination between different groups, a contest with no basis for love, grace, mercy, or forgiveness. This is why it bears the bitter fruit of resentment, hostility, bitterness, and grievance. It cannot lead to reconciliation, only division.
Further, it rejects the biblical doctrine of the fall—the idea that evil exists in human hearts before it manifests in social structures and institutions. Accordingly, the deepest problem with the world isn’t fallen human hearts, but unjust and oppressive social structures. Thus, I would argue, Christians should only partially affirm its basic presuppositions, and even then, with great caution.
Many errors arise from focusing too narrowly on systemic injustice. If systems are the problem, the logical solution is to dismantle the systems and erect new ones. This revolutionary approach, now gaining incredible momentum in the broader culture, always fails (often in horrific, murderous ways) because it rejects the fact that unless hearts are transformed, no amount of systemic change will lead to the better world we want.
Our deepest slavery is to sin. Our greatest oppressor is not flesh and blood, but principalities and powers. Jesus came to set the oppressed free, yes, but He was misunderstood by His followers. They longed for systemic change in the form of a political revolution against their oppressors. Jesus had something much deeper and more profound in His sights. He came to break the power of sin, and defeat the great oppressor. Once this deepest root of evil was defeated, then (and only then) could man-made systems and structures begin changing for the better as well.
For over two millennia, God has been at work redeeming this fallen world and its families, nations, systems, and structures. Short of the eternal state, this transformation is never complete, fully-realized, or permanent, but it is real and significant. This biblical, redemptive, “inside-out” process of transformation is rejected by critical social theorists who place their hopes in systemic change. As Christians, we need to uphold and prioritize the power of the Gospel as the cutting edge of all positive social change.
Today, the phrase “systemic racism” has become something of a shibboleth. As Christians, I think we need to be far more cautious and discerning in our use of this phrase. It is a strong judgment. It can ruin lives and destroy families, organizations, and even nations. Before we level the charge, it seems to me we need to have serious evidence. Justice, I would argue, demands it.
What evidence needs to be established, in your view, before this charge can truthfully be rendered?
Hyper Individualism. In your response, you spoke of “hyper-individualism” in our society. How do you see this?
Would you also agree that there is a strong (hyper?) “communitarianism” at work in our culture as well? We see this in the move to reduce people to representatives of particular communities or groups, often based on skin color (as opposed to individuals with unique backgrounds, personalities, challenges, and blessings). This, for example, is implied when people like Latasha Morrison use the phrase “white privilege.” I was taught (and still believe) that it is wrong to say, “all (fill in the ethnicity or skin color) people are (fill in adjectives).” In other words, quoting the Merriam Webster definition of racism you affirmed, this is “a belief that [skin color] is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities.”
… to be continued