I would like to try to make a very simple point, but one which could be misconstrued in a thousand different ways. I would ask my friends not to do so, my enemies not to do so too violently, and for the vast horde wavering between friendship and hostility to read the whole thing before deciding anything rash.
Repentance and Misdirection
Two denominations recently took a strong stand, or so they thought, against racism and the sins of the Old South. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) voted to “call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters . . .” And the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), according to World magazine, “overwhelmingly approved one overture confessing past and present sins of racism, and another to establish a study committee on racial reconciliation.”
At the same General Assembly, the PCA also decided to study the question of women in church office. If I had the camera on my computer turned on, you could catch a glimpse of my shocked face. If you have a cottage on the beach, the breezes blow in from off the bay. If you are in the PCA, the breezes blow in from Manhattan.
Perhaps the problem, ye Presbyterians, is that you try to address problems like this with study committees. What a white thing to do.
Now I Shouldn’t Have to Say This . . .
Before getting to my point, which I do intend to make, I must register a most necessary disclaimer. There really is such a thing as racial sin, whether it is racial vainglory or racial animosity. Sin is always sin, and God always hates it. Racism as defined by God is wickedness. Those who make a pet idol out of their skin tone, or who revile others because of their skin tone are the kind of people who go to Hell. They will not inherit the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Racism, understood biblically, is no bagatelle.
So anyone who wants to represent what follows as an attempt on my part to carry water for bigots, or as an attempt to justify what I know to be utterly contrary to the holiness of God, is . . . well, the kind of person who does that kind of thing. Watch for them in the comments.
My objection is not to any genuine repentance of any genuine sin whatever. My concern is that this kind of thing will simply represent a lot of thin wash white bustle, an activity to which we are exceedingly prone, and that it will lead to a perpetuation of the sins we pretend to decry.
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 8:11, ESV).
I happen to believe that a good deal of racial repentance really is in order, but it sure won’t be ushered in by any study committees on racial reconciliation who have been reading all the wrong sort of books. It will be brought in by a fundamentalist preacher, right out of a Flannery O’Conner short story, preaching hot gospel with his shirt sleeves rolled up and looking like nothing on earth. I don’t care what color he is. What will matter is the color of his words.
As Defined by God
So I said that racism as defined by God is wickedness. But unfortunately, the word itself—because of the world’s corruption of all words related to morality and moral choices—has become almost totally worthless.
Racism as defined by the world . . . actually, there is the problem. The world is unable to define racism. How could they? They have assiduously built a Great Tower out of the fog bricks of relativistic nonsense, but they still expect everyone to react with horror whenever they snap their fingers and declare that a moral outrage has been committed. The only people this really works on anymore would be the evangelical moderates and SJWs.
Racism as nebulously denounced by worldlings isn’t really anything at all. What is racism? Is it, as the wit had it, winning an argument with a liberal? Is it a failure to smell the white privilege wafting off Harvard Law School in the warmer months? Is it the Tea Party desire to get the budget to balance? You get my point—God hates racial vainglory and He hates racial malice. Everything else should just be considered a political cudgel that the left uses for keeping the unwashed peons in line.
Not only so, but they do this with utter cynicism, as the recently released DNC emails demonstrate. If any of those guys had petards any more, they would have been hoist upon them. Blown up by their own grenades, in other words. Their outreach to Latinos was dubbed “Taco Bowl” Engagement, or Outreach, or something.
So What Is the Real Problem Then?
My point is this. If we are going to repent of what caused the problem, then we need to repent of what actually caused the problem. When our society was openly racist—as it has been—the problem was that it was all very popular. It was Science. All the cool kids were in favor of it. When the world was all about something, there was always a wide swath within the church that desperately wanted to be all about the same thing for the sake of relevance.
Now if the original sin was capitulating to the world’s pressure then, you don’t really show repentance by capitulating to the world’s pressure now. The problem then was the church’s vulnerability to the cool shame. That is what must be addressed, and not primarily the content of the “shame.”
When white people lurch from being patronizing and critical of blacks to being patronizing and laudatory, do we actually think that this somehow represents repentance? Perhaps the problem was that insufferable smell of complacent superiority that comes off both. Thinking that this change is repentance is like thinking that teenagers—who have begged their parents over the changing generations, in turns, to pleeezzzze let them have saddle shoes, bell bottoms, nose rings and that neon-purple spray paint operation for their hair—are somehow gaining wisdom. No, peer pressure just blows in different directions, and so those vulnerable to peer pressure blow over in different directions. Watching last year’s compromises go out of fashion is not repentance, even if, like Esau, you look at your pet rock with tears in your eyes.
If you want to meet the kind of man who would have been out of step with prevailing nonsense then, you should look for the kind of man who is out of step with it now. People who are eager to be in step now are the same people who would have been eager to be in step then.
Tombs of the Prophets
When Jesus taught us about the identity of the caretakers of the tombs of the prophets, what was he saying? What was His argument?
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets” (Matt. 23:29–31).
Jesus is not catching them out over a slight verbal misstep—“Aha! you said ‘the days of our fathers’!” That wouldn’t have demonstrated anything. Jesus was descended from men who persecuted the prophets (Matt. 1:10). So He is actually saying that the garnishing of the tombs of the prophets was driven by the very same thing that caused their ancestors to stone the prophets in the first place. In one era, what the cool kids wanted was to kill those guys. In another era, what the cool kids wanted was to honor those guys, mostly for being dead now. Being dead made the prophets much more cooperative and likeable. In both eras, they were accommodated by a certain kind of person characterized by an extraordinary degree of pliancy. There is a certain kind of person who will always Do What Is Expected.
You want him to recycle for the planet? He’s there. You want him to dive into eugenics? He’s with it. You want him to establish a man’s character by counting the bumps on his head? Got it, check. You want him simply to accept what Approved Opinion has determined about (check all that apply) 1. the inferiority of blacks, 2. the rates of climate change, or 3. the undesirability of nuclear war. Approved Opinion never stays in one place, so you do have to be limber . . . but some people are ever-limber. They were born limbering up.
That is the foundational sin in all this that needs repentance—caring more about the world’s opinion than you do about the Word’s truth.
But there is a certain kind of man who knows how not to be stampeded. He is not valued greatly in any generation, for he consistently is a pain in the neck, but after he is dead and deep, the praise starts to trickle in.
The Dangers of Group Repentance
One last comment. C.S. Lewis once wrote a stupendous essay titled Dangers of National Repentance, which I would like to commend to all who think they might run the risk of falling into some intemperate passions after reading this post. The essay can be found in God in the Dock.
“The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing—but, first, of denouncing—the conduct of others.”