Tuesday, December 26, 2017

There IS A Race Relations Problem In The Church But Maybe Not Where You Think

More and more it seems that prominent, once orthodox, black evangelicals or Protestants are abandoning the Gospel which has the same message for all men regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, and begun embracing identity politics dressed up in religious language. I have already mentioned men like Lecrae and Thabiti Anyabwile who have turned their back on "White evangelicalism" or have scolded White evangelicals for supporting Trump while at the same time proclaiming their support for pro-infanticide career criminal Hillary Clinton. Now there are two more examples that are deeply concerning. The first comes via a tweet from Anthony Bradley.

According to Bradley evangelicals, which presumably he defines as White, conservative Protestants, have never had  the Gospel. Ever. As someone who qualifies under virtually any definition of "evangelical" that statement says to me, as someone born again more than 15 years ago who has in my own feeble way been studying the Gospel ever since, that I don't really have the Gospel. Does that mean I am not justified before God in the eyes of Mr. Bradley and the "black church"? There exists no justification apart from the Gospel so if Anthony Bradley thinks that as an evangelical I have yet to "embrace the Gospel for the first time ever" he must therefore be saying that I am unsaved. Not just me but millions upon millions of my fellow evangelicals that have been told in no uncertain terms that we have never embraced the Gospel, that apparently only those who see the Gospel from the "black church perspective" have a true understanding of the Gospel.

That begs the question: What exactly is the "black church"?

From what I am seeing and hearing from Mr. Bradley, Lecrae, Jemar Tisby and others is that blacks in America and around the world have a unique and distinct view of the Gospel. That in itself is fine but there is also a further suggestion that their view of the Gospel trumps all others and seems to also delegitimize the views of people that don't share their view of the Gospel. To me, you can have culturally distinct lenses to view the Gospel from just so long as you don't alter what the Gospel is but when something like this causes controversy, I suspect that the Gospel some of these men are talking about is actually "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6-10)

There isn't a race specific aspect of the Gospel in the New Testament. The struggles of the descendants of black slaves, the persecuted Irish during the Potato famine, the starvation of Ukrainians during the Holodomor, the killing fields run by Pol Pot, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict all have the same message from the Gospel. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. How that looks might be a little different but those are secondary concerns. The Gospel, as Keller rightly puts it, is primarily about the forgiveness of sins, something all men stand in need of regardless of their race.

I have expressed on many occasions my own concerns about a myriad of issues with American evangelicalism, sometimes pretty stridently, but I don't drum the entire evangelical church out of the Kingdom because I have some concerns over the way they apply the Scriptures to specific contemporary situations. I have lots of issues I disagree with my Presbyterian brothers about but I don't sweepingly declare that they have never had the Gospel because I disagree with them on the issue of baptism.

When someone says that only their specific stream of Christianity has the "True Truth™", my cult alarm starts going off. Mr. Bradley is not speaking in a "all things to all people" sort of way (1 Corinthians 9:22) where we speak the universal Gospel to people in their specific cultural context. No, he is writing out of the Kingdom everyone that doesn't share his "black church perspective".

Dr. Anthony Bradley is a featured speaker at the Gospel Coalition's upcoming conference celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who is widely understood to be a plagarist and serial adulterer along with holding to some heterodox beliefs that would have been condemned in better days from TGC.

This should be a moment of truth for the Gospel Coalition. According to the founding documents of the Gospel Coalition, they are:
We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.
But according to Anthony Bradley evangelicals have never had the Gospel. Kind of weird that a Gospel Coalition would hold a conference including a speaker that accuses them of never having the Gospel in the first place. Also weird that Bradley would want to speak to a group that doesn't have the Gospel, unless he is only going to lecture the White audience. I replied to Bradley's tweet but I don't expect a reply in return.

So I would ask the leadership of the Gospel Coalition, men like Albert Mohler and Don Carson and Mark Dever and John Piper, men who I consider giants of the faith who have each helped me to better understand the Gospel, if they agree with Bradley's assertion that they have never had the Gospel. As for me I am confident that Al Mohler and John Piper have and understand as well as any human being can the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not at all confident and am in fact quite skeptical that Martin Luther King, Jr. ever had the Biblical Gospel.

Anthony Bradley is also a research fellow at the Acton Institute, which has an all White executive team and a  mostly White team in general. The Acton Institute is headed up by a White Roman Catholic priest, Robert Sirico. I wonder if Anthony Bradley thinks Sirico has the Gospel? I intend to reach out in multiple ways to the Acton Institute to see if they agree with the assertion from Bradley that evangelicals have never had the Gospel.

Then I saw a Facebook post from Eric Mason where he used the term "cooning"

Notice that Eric applies Titus 3:14 specifically to the "black & African diaspora", not to the church in general but to the "black & African diaspora". I would think that a lot of the black & African diaspora in places like Haiti and Africa are happy that white Christians apply Titus 3:14 to the entire church in need, not just toward people that share their racial/ethnic heritage.

Eric is a pastor and author of several books, including one I own, Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole. Eric was once considered part of the small but important core of black Reformed ministers that were seeking theological reformation in the black church but he seems to have abandoned that as have many others.

He also uses a curious and ugly term: "cooning". So what exactly is "cooning"? It is a term I have heard before, defined in the Urban Dictionary as follows:
Cooning is a verb derived from the word coon. A coon was/is a person of african decent whose sole purpose was/is to entertain white people. These 'coons' started out as wearing black face, characterized by haveing big eyes and painting big red lips on their face. These people would tap dance, play instruments and sing. 
Modern day coons are blacks who play stereotypical roles and black entertainers that promote ignorance. 
I have heard this pejorative term used before and as someone that lacks "perspective" it sounds to me like the all too common practice of blacks shaming other blacks for not acting sufficiently "authentic". In other words, it describes a black that is acting "too white". It creates a monoculture where only one manifestation of black culture is considered authentic and acceptable. Pardon my language but the only equivalent I can think of from a white perspective is a term that was in vogue in the 90's: "whigger", which as you can guess is a combination of "white" and "nigger" and was used to describe a white kid that tried to act black.

Of course I am coming at this from a White perspective so my opinion isn't even heard. It is a pretty clever rhetorical device. You stake out a position on race relationships and then declare that anyone black that doesn't fall in line is a coon and anyone white that speaks up on the topic isn't even worthy of being heard. At all. All that is left is a singular view from one narrow perspective that is above reproach. Like I said, a pretty clever rhetorical device. On the other hand I wonder why it is that black Christians can feel free to lecture white Christians and even question their salvation as a group and we are expected to meekly stand there and take it but on the flip side white Christians are not even worthy of being heard by black Christians simply because we are speaking "from a white space".

What this really boils down to is a black version of kinism. The logical conclusion of what Bradley, Lecrae and others are proposing, a unique and exclusionary racial identity that trumps shared identity in Christ, at least on a practical level, is not functionally different from what is proposed by white kinists. Instead of being a Christian that happens to be black, you are a "black Christian". Rather than a local church that happens to be compromised of mostly black people, you have a "black church". This calls for a segregated worship, a segregated community, a segregated theological system. It even, as above with the reference to Titus 3:14 sees good works as being racial segregated in the church!

If you can reconcile a belief that White kinism/ethnonationalism is a terrible thing but that the opposite, a "woke" church hermeneutic that examines the Bible in every respect through the lens of past racial grievances and condemns the entirety of the White evangelical church for being "captive to Western culture" and utterly absent the Gospel itself, you are a far more creative thinker than I am.

I understand that the church in America is dominated by white, European expressions of the faith that are grounded in Western culture. That is because America has long been a nation that was overwhelmingly populated by white people of European descent. I have yet to see, although it may be out there, anyone criticizing the church in Africa for being to "Afro-centric" or the church is Asia being too Asian. Thanks to the First Amendment blacks have the right to worship among themselves as they please, a right recognized and codified in law by the white Founding Fathers and many blacks have benefited enormously from this, including Mason and Bradley. Eric Mason was educated at the graduate level at Gordon-Conwell and Dallas Theological Seminary, two schools founded by whites in the tradition of Western, European culture. Anthony Bradley graduated from Clemson and teaches at The King's College, institutions that likewise bear the "taint" of unbearable whiteness. I have to assume that the audience and financial support for the Acton Institute is overwhelmingly white but that doesn't stop Anthony Bradley from being a research fellow there which gives his work greater exposure. The board of directors for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is made up of 100% white men but I am sure Eric Mason didn't return any of the royalties for his book that they promoted multiple times.

It might be blasphemous in some circles to say this and deeply unpopular in many others but I think that a huge amount of blame for the current problems with race relations in the church in America can be laid at the feet of the public leaders of the "black church". The permitted narrative is that race relations are terrible and the blame for this is only on whites, even whites that have never done anything to impede the success and happiness of a single black person. In too many cases there seems to be a new, different and false "gospel" that is being adopted to replace the Biblical Gospel of the Good News of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is a "gospel" of racial grievances, both real and exaggerated; of historical myopia where it is perpetually pre-1964 in America; of left-wing economic policies; of blame placing and responsibility avoidance; a "gospel" that is overly focused on the last 150 years in America and not focused enough on eternity.

As long as leaders of the "black church" are unwilling to stop lecturing long enough to have an honest and real dialogue and as long as they refuse to even "hear us at all" if we don't cede the entire conversation before we begin, then there is really little reason to try. If black leaders are going to call other blacks "coons" and arbitrarily claim that evangelicals have never had the Gospel and that our opinions are irrelevant and unworthy of being even heard because they come from a white man, then I really don't have time for them. I will do what I can for those in the church in need, regardless of race, and I will share the Gospel as I have opportunity, regardless of the race of the person I am witnessing to. What I will not do is be silenced or let accusations and slander in the public square go unchallenged, regardless of the respective races of those accusing and being accused.

Race is still one of the most fraught topics in America and it doesn't help when men who are elders in the church fail to exhibit the wisdom and temperance that their calling demands of them. If the "black church" and evangelical leaders won't call them out for their slander and foolishness, then I will.

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