Someone once observed, sagely, that it is not necessary to choose up sides in an ethnic war. The other side does that for you. Put another way, there are some things you can’t opt out of. But considered from another angle, in the meantime there are certain things that Christians should strive to understand better than we currently do.
The recent shootings, in Minneapolis, Baton Rogue, and then Dallas have set off a nation-wide reaction that is the result of our identity politics come home to roost. There is a massive tendency to simply identify such incidents with race, when there is actually far more going on.
The problem is not only that we identify with our tribes before Christ, but also that in our confusion we have gotten our tribes all wrong. We are idolaters, which is bad enough, but then we have gone and gotten the name of the idol all wrong.
Andrew Breitbart once observed that politics is downstream from culture. I would add that in addition culture is downstream from worship and faith. A right understanding of this explains why Christian conservatives have been so disappointed over the last few decades. We have been fighting in the right war, but have been fighting from the wrong end. We have been fighting politically, which is most necessary, but we have been fighting as through culture were irrelevant to this political battle, which is why we have been losing it.
No Cultural Change Without Cultures Changing
The presenting characteristics of an ethnic group or tribe are largely a function of culture. The racist wants it to be that the presenting characteristics of an ethnic group, particularly the negative characteristics of a despised group, are genetic. These problems, or so the thinking goes, are just the way things are.
But this is not what the Bible teaches.
“One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:12–13).
There was a distinct Cretan culture, one which Epimenides observed, and which caused the apostle Paul to cite him favorably as he was equipping Titus for pastoral ministry in Crete. Note that a generalization is given, to the disadvantage of Cretans generally, and which was (for Christians) true. God thought what Paul said. Cretans, in marked distinction from other ethnic groups, were liars, animals, and slowbellies. But notice what Paul tells Titus to do about it. He says that he was to rebuke them sharply, so that they might be sound in the faith.
In other words, the call of Christian discipleship does not write off any ethnic group, any more than it writes off sinful individuals. People can change, and as a result families, households, and tribes can change, which means that over time cultures can change. The power of the gospel transforms more than individuals.
In His last charge, Jesus said that we were to disciple the ethnoi, baptizing them and teaching them to obey Him in everything. Those are our marching orders. We are not given the option of saying that this particular tribe among the ethnoi is incorrigible. To the extent that we cling to our racism, we are trying to be incorrigible.
The mission assigned by Christ does not really have the modern nation/state in view. Depending on which one it is, the modern nation/state can have a heavy ethnic element, or over time it can become its own ethnos. But ethnoi, tribes, are primarily in view. And He did not say that we were to teach obedience to all the tribes except for the obvious loser tribes. We are to preach the good news of salvation to every creature, and to the tribes they were born into.
“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9–10).
Note bene: Now I know have some commenters in some of my threads on race who believe they are being insulting to blacks, when they are actually insulting and taunting the power of the death of Jesus. Where some would see bigotry, I see something closer to blasphemy.
But Word-centered Christians need to labor to keep the truth of the gospel, and the power of the gospel, front and center in all of this. And why? Because all lies matter.
Tribes, Not Races
One of the besetting sins of white liberals is their insistence on reducing their beloved identity politics to the most superficial level possible — to that of the epidermis, regardless of cultural affiliations and loyalties which run far closer to the bone. But the real driver of behavior is culture, and behind that is the relationship of that cultural tribe to God and His Word. What behaviors are common in that group and, more to the point, what behaviors receive the social approval of that group generally?
But liberals just want to look at the skin. For example, liberals saw South Africa in black and white, instead of seeing three major black tribes (Zulu, Xhosa, and Sotho) and two major white ones (English and Dutch).
They see the white man conquering North America, taking it away from a group called “Native Americans.” But the Native Americans were made up of numerous tribes, very different from one another, with different languages, cultures, and so on. They were often deadly enemies to one another. And anyone who cannot tell the difference between the Nez Perce and the Comanche really ought not to be contributing to the discussion. I, for one, would be fully in favor of the state of Idaho seizing federal lands in Idaho, and returning a bunch of it to the Nez Perce, whom we did in fact rip off in a terrible way. But other tribes do not have my sympathy at all. Why? Because while tribes have an obvious genetic component, they are not defined by race, and they are not determined by it.
Tamerlane was racially distinct from the lands in the West that he invaded, but it would be a mistake to think he was conducting a war on “white people.” That categorization does not really apply.
So once you have divided Americans neatly up into “white” and “black,” you immediately have trouble explaining why someone who descended from people who arrived here in the 1920’s from Lithuania owes anything to blacks whose ancestors were abused by Englishmen in the 1720’s. If your grandparents fled Auschwitz and settled in Brooklyn, what do you owe blacks who had to deal with bigotry in Selma? Really? Skin color is all it takes?
In the centuries when millions of blacks were being enslaved and shipped from West Africa in the Middle Passage, the same thing was happening in reverse as Muslim raiders were taking slaves from Europe, as far north as Ireland. The very name slave comes from Slav, and as many as a million Europeans were captured and taken off into slavery — should we demand reparations from Libya now? And who are “we” exactly?
If you reduce everything to skin color, you are like someone whose library catalog system puts all the red books over here, and all the gray ones over there. But what do the books say? What are they about? Shouldn’t we file them in accordance with what they are saying? Red book! Red book! Hater!
Superficial analysis also has a great deal of trouble explaining the difference in accomplishment between West Indian blacks in America and American blacks in America. In culture quite different, they both had slavery as part of their legacy. In culture they are quite different, but with differences that would make no difference at all to the bigot who is refusing to hire blacks. And yet, West Indian blacks excelled here. Why? Because culture is far more of a powerful driver than liberals want to believe.
In short, white liberalism is profoundly racist. The fact that their racism is patronizing and and declared to be well-meaning changes nothing. Everything for them reduces to skin color, and the omnicompetent oppressions of whitey. Thus in a manner of speaking they want Koreans and Chinese to “stick together.” But somebody really ought to read a book sometime.
So culture trumps politics, but it also trumps pigmentation. Tribes are a cultural phenomenon, and not primarily a genetic, racial one. Culture has to do with shared language, expectations, sexual mores, values, and so on, and behind all of it, the God who is worshiped or not. If you are among those who assume that pigmentation settles culture, then you are a big part of our problem.
Black Cracker Culture
If you insist on “zooming out” and evaluating black culture with “blackness” as the sole determining variable of the group you are studying, what you will find is manifest inferiority. You will find a dysfunctional mess — high levels of criminality, illegitimacy, substandard education, and other forms of destructive behavior. This was not created by the welfare state, but the welfare state has most certainly grievously exacerbated it — a welfare state that was the brain child of officious white people. As Paul would say, therefore rebuke them sharply . . .
When you find, as you will, that black Americans have many more run-ins with the cops than do white citizens, you shouldn’t put on a shocked face. Blacks are around 12% of the total American population, and make up around 35% of the prison population. You will have to give some account of this. If you are a liberal, you will blame white privilege, the legacy of slavery, etc. If you are a racist, you will blame the incorrigible nature of blacks. But if you are a Christian, you will blame the world, the flesh, and the devil, and you will undertake the task of “rebuking them sharply” so that they might be sound in the faith.
Those who minister among blacks ought not labor to have their rebukes line up with some sort of egalitarian cultural mythology. The sins rebuked should be the sins actually on display, the sins that are destroying the people. The different sins destroying other people in other places and in other ways are not relevant.
Now as Thomas Sowell has shown, this particular culture originally arose in the border lands between England and Scotland, in Ulster, and in the highlands of Scotland. We are talking about cracker culture, the culture of poor whites in the American South. In many ways this culture parallels the culture of poor blacks in the South, and there has historically been a great deal of traffic between the two. Regardless, it is destructive. Sexual promiscuity and violence are not the key elements in building a civilization, whether you are white or black.
But if you zoom in and examine particular black subcultures, you will find more than one. You will quickly discover than black genetics have nothing whatever to do with lack of accomplishment. The culprit is disobedient culture, which is the result of the collective choices of individuals over generations.
Now to Some Policing Particulars
As more details emerge from the recent shooting incidents, the more it becomes obvious that trial by Facebook is not something we really ought to be striving for. This includes judgments passed on cops and civilians both.
The reason we should want to have an honest judicial system is so that disinterested investigators can methodically get all the facts, find out the back story, interview all the witnesses, and make a determination. This would result in an indictment or not, and afterward a trial if needed. Sometimes the determination must be made in field, as in the case with the Dallas sniper. It is easier to find out what is going on when someone tells the world what he is doing and why. But other times the investigation is going to take the weeks and months following, where the suspect denies doing what we think he might have done. This is not the same thing as passing judgment in the hours following the incident on Twitter.
But here is our dilemma. When our official establishment has disgraced itself time and again through various shenanigans and cover-ups, it is harder for those who want a judicious and impartial inquiry to be able to call for one, as I want to be able to do.
Here’s an example within recent memory. I mean that James Comey of the FBI achieved something of a milestone, when he was as lead investigator placed under oath in order to reveal that the target of the investigation was not placed under oath. His testimony was recorded, and Hillary’s testimony was not recorded.
One of the reasons why a justice system has to be manifestly uncorrupted is that people will not stop rioting in the streets in order to let a corrupt system handle their grievances. When the establishment has lost the respect of respectable people, they have lost pretty much everything. And so has everyone else lost something crucial.
In the meantime, I object to the militarization of our police. I object to the inane nanny-state laws that they are called upon to enforce. I object to the politicization of the judicial system, using it as a weapon on merely political foes. I object to the war on drugs. I object to corrupt cops who disable their body cams prior to mischief. But most of all, I object to partisans who care more for the interests of their tribe (whether a long-standing tribe or in a developing ad hoc tribe) than in the requirements of biblical justice.
I can’t be on the side of the Oregon ranch protesters over against the authorities because of the color of the protesters, and then be on the side of the authorities when they pull over someone for “driving while black.” I am a Christian first, and that means the principles of biblical justice first, and that means that in any given situation, a different tribe might need to be rebuked sharply.
In short, Eric Garner and Michael Brown were not in the same category at all, and we need a judicial system capable of telling the difference. If someone’s analysis of the situation consists of looking at the color of the fabric on the ones who did the killing, and the Ancestry.com sheet of the one who was killed, then that person really ought to be banned from jury duty for life.
A Short Reading List
If you want to read up on some of these things, here are just a few recommendations. For evidence that all the inner city pathologies that we see among black people here in America can be readily manifested by white people just as well, I would recommend Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple. And Thomas Sowell has addressed this problem in very trenchant detail in his essay Black Rednecks and White Liberals, found in a book with the same name. If you want to know my take on race relations in America, I am pretty much where Sowell is.
There is more to say, obviously, and perhaps one day I will get to it.