Over the last few days, on the subject of racial reconciliation, a collision of sorts has occurred between Thabiti and me, and also between Thabiti and James White. The central issue is the same, but some of the details are not. I do commend James’ post to you all, and Thabiti’s response to it is here.
At the same time, because it would be easy for everything to get all tangled up, I am going to limit myself largely to what Thabiti has said to me.
The first thing to mention is that he said this was not going to be an extended conversation.
“I don’t intend to have a back-and-forth with you at the length of our exchange on Black and Tan. This post will pretty much be my only response.”
That being the case, I am simply going to respond with a short series of bullet point rejoinders. What I will say here is just for the record. But also, just for the record, let me say again what I have said at different times to different black Christian leaders. If any black leaders want to have an off-the-record meeting with white leaders who are not part of the reconciliation echo-chamber, I am more than willing to be a participant. Reconciliation can only occur between groups that have actual differences that can be worked through (and a willingness to work through them). Reconciliation cannot easily occur between blacks with a grievance and flattering whites who are using them as one of Spike Lee’s magical Negroes.
Thabiti makes the point that preaching the gospel is not necessary in every blog post, although he seeks to make it his practice in every sermon. Now I grant this, sort of. I could write a blog post about whether the president should intervene militarily in Syria, or whether bump stocks should be banned, without then driving to the gospel. As it happens, I believe the gospel is relevant to all things, including such topics, but I don’t believe the gospel needs to be explicitly present regardless of the topic. But when you are making a major point about guilt—complicity in murder—that is absolutely what you need to do.
When I write about food phobias, I always drive toward gospel, because guilt is such a big part of our modern fastidiousness about food. If I were writing about my preference for Fords over Chevrolets, the gospel would not likely come into it. Chevrolet drivers are simply just too hardened . . . joke. Joke, joke.
Speaking of my occasional lapses into obscurity, my earlier reference to Procol Harum in the last post was a reference to their one big hit, which was A Whiter Shade of Pale.
In the title to his response to White, Thabiti says that truth-telling is essential to reconciliation. He says the same thing in his response to me. “It’s about whether truth is necessary for reconciliation and whether that truth-telling must come first. I think it is and it must.” But if truth-telling is essential, then why say something false like this?
“My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.”
The central problem here is that this is simply not true the way Thabiti states it. I do believe that generational complicity is a true biblical category, as I laid out in my post. I believe that covenants, and treaties, and governments, are important in sorting such things out. But to assign complicity (in a nation of immigrants) on the basis of melanin amounts in the skin is to open the door wide to continually exasperated racial grievances—instead of bringing about gospel reconciliation. Thabiti’s white neighbors actually may have had grandparents who were fishing off Norway at the time, and his black neighbors might be descended from the men who profited by selling their neighbors in Africa to the Portuguese. And if we are complicit in the sins of our fathers, what are we to make of the fact that black Americans are much more likely to be descended from slave masters than white Americans are?
I do remember when Martin Luther King was shot. We were living in Annapolis, Maryland. I was fourteen at the time, and had previously gone to the white elementary school that was a couple miles from our house. Desegregation had happened, and because my parents declined to be part of the white flight away from the schools, my sister, three years younger than I, attended the elementary school that had been the black elementary school. Despite the new law, there were only one or two white kids in the school. What I remember about it was how she got slugged in the stomach after King was shot.
If you reduce generational complicity to something as simplistic as skin color, the chances are excellent that you will simply perpetuate the evils rather than resolving them. You will slug the wrong kid.
Thabiti also brought up my sometime serrated edge in dealing with certain groups I consider recalcitrant. Fortunately, this requires a very brief response. When I am dealing with men and women that God wants me to be in good fellowship with—and Thabiti is most certainly in that category—I address them accordingly, and strive toward that end. Our current unhappiness with each other should be compared to that of Euodia and Syntche (Phil. 4:2), and we should all of us remember the reality of book of life that contextualizes all such disagreements (Phil. 4:3). But there were others out there, mentioned just a few verses earlier, that Paul was not trying to build bridges with—let us call them dogs or mutilators of the flesh (Phil. 3:2).
In my first post, I leaned heavily on the graciousness of grace. But I am no antinomian and I believe in the reality of Hell. I believe that whites who were and are characterized by ethnic hatred are going to that Hell. But I also believe the same thing about blacks who are consumed with racial bitterness and hatred. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). The grace of God is extended to us all in the message of the cross. If we make room for our malice, we are not making room for our salvation.
Last thing. I do not at all believe that Thabiti is trying to monetize anything out of all this.