As I consider the next chapter of Eric Mason’s book, and look around at the dumpster fire news that is floating away on the crest of yet another flood, and with this happening on a day-to-day basis, it is hard to escape the conclusion that God is just messing with us. All of the snooty pretensions that our secular establishment has managed to ensconce within our midst, with “us” being the evangelicals who have somehow acquiesced willingly to this farce, are starting to tumble down. And why shouldn’t they tumble down? I do not see why we should put their gargoyles on our cathedral.
Consequentialism, MLK, Donald Trump, and Whatever Shall We Do?
Whattaboutism is when you complain that the standards that the other side is applying stringently to your guy is not being applied by them to their guy. This is the whining complaint of the partisan, the man who wants the butcher’s thumb off the scale when he is buying hamburger for his political rally and picnic, but has no problems with the butcher’s thumb if some Democrat is trying to buy hamburger for his political rally and picnic.
But when the church is speaking with a prophetic voice, she is willing to condemn sin, period. For example, John Knox was called to the ministry in the middle of a complicated hostage situation. As the tutor of two boys, he had taken refuge in a castle at St. Andrews that was occupied by some thugs and hoodlums who had previously assassinated the local cardinal, and after he was called to the ministry there, he occupied himself with denouncing the sins of the people inside the castle. In other words, he was a minister of Christ, not a minister of a particular renegade political faction.
This means that when the church speaks with a prophetic voice about the history of race relations in America, she will not speak the way Eric Mason does, about which more below, down in the next section. Sin is sin, regardless.
But in the meantime, speaking of Martin Luther King, Jr. Mason says, “It is impossible to look at his ministry and his writings and not see the gospel in it” (Loc. 1159). Quoting King, and applying it to the evangelical churches of the South at that time, he says, “I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” (Loc. 1164). Lamenting what might have been, Mason says of King, “Although he had allies, evangelicalism’s theology wasn’t robust enough to include his mission” (Loc. 1169). But perhaps there was some wisdom in their hesitations.
What do I mean? So then, just the other day, the news breaks that a biographer of King, a left-of-center guy named David Garrow, already author of one Pulitzer prize treatment of King, revealed that King was just an awful man. As one person put it, King was “the Harvey Weinstein of the Civil Rights movement.” King’s philandering has been an open secret for a while now (although references to it were strictly policed), but Garrow said that when the FBI tapes on King are eventually released, they will show that King’s infidelities were of epic proportions, and that he laughed while a fellow minister raped a female follower of his. Thus far the allegations.
And anybody who has followed this blog for more than ten days knows what I think of unsupported allegations. So let us wait until the allegations are proven before we tear down any statues of King, or make a move to remove his name from all those boulevards all over the country. But—and I offer this tentatively, and with some trepidation—could we perhaps slow down the rate at which we are erecting new statues? Could we perhaps stop accusing people of racism who had their reasonable doubts about King all along? Could the leaders of Big Eva stop holding conferences that celebrate him as a man? I mean, there would be nothing worse than to be the new director of the $30 million dollar Gospel Coalition MLK Museum, with the ribbon-cutting ceremony having happened just last week, and the FBI tapes due to be released next week. I mean, there would be a certain amount of pressure there to deny the Obvious.
Equal weights and measures. If someone says that MLK was quite possibly a vile human being, and one who likely did more to hurt Coretta Scott King than all the 1950’s racists in Alabama combined, but that he was an important figure in the history of civil rights nonetheless, and that we should honor his legacy with our eyes open—well, this would be a defensible consequentialist argument. The problem with defensible consequentialist arguments is that they can be carried straight across to the 2020 election, which will pit Donald J. Trump, known adulterer, against whatever commie among the Democrats proves to be most inanely telegenic.
In other words, are we consequentialists or are we not? Like I said earlier, it appears to me that God is just messing with us.
Getting the History Right
One other thing should be said about this chapter. Eric Mason says that we have to confront the ugly things about our past racial history together. He is correct about this, but the problem is that he does not do this as a prophet, but rather as a partisan witness. He pretends to have objective distance, but he plainly does not. He says, “one of the key things to work through is family history” (Loc. 1010). “But it blows my mind that in American Christianity today, we behave as though our familial past has nothing to do with our present” (1013). “It grieves me that there is such an unwillingness to go there” (Loc. 1015). “The Woke Church must understand its history” (Loc. 1019).
“We are tired of arguing about race and injustice” (Loc. 1195). Well . . . tough.
When a Christian preacher confronts the history of race relations in America, he must do so with a biblical worldview that understands of how ethnic hostilities work. Men are sinful, and their hatreds are sinful. Men are depraved, and when they are not obedient to the law of Christ, their behavior toward other image-bearers is depraved. And so when a preacher stands up to declare the law of God, so that he might proceed to gospel of Christ, he must preach the law in a manner calculated to stop every mouth—and not just the white mouths. Every mouth. Every man a sinner.
This is how Paul approaches the task in the book of Romans. He indicts the wickedness of the Gentiles in chapter one, and right when he gets all the Jews cheering him on, he turns to them, and indicts them in chapter two. Lest anyone miss the point, the Scriptures teach us that sinful men hate one another, and they do it for all kinds of no-good reasons.
“For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
Translated into the world of American race relations, this means that unregenerate men of various skin colors hate other men, some with the same color skin that they have and others with a different color skin. In the violent world of a violent American history, we can multiply many instances of white on white violence, white on black violence, black on black violence, and black on white violence—and very little of it righteous. Very little of it justified. Coming straight to the point, white people have been guilty of racial crimes, and black people have been guilty of racial crimes. And when the perpetrators of such crimes stand before the throne of God on the last day, they will have nothing to say for themselves
Now if a preacher blurs the camera whenever the topic concerns the group that he grew up in, he is not being faithful to the Word.
For example, Mason tells the story of a race riot in Tulsa in 1921, where the white rioters “killed almost 300 Black people” (Loc. 1127). And this disturbance was not targeting a black underclass, but rather “systematically targeted Black wealth” (Loc. 1130).
“Cities across the country experienced similar events: Atlanta race riots of 1906, Chicago race riots of 1919, the Rosewood massacre of 1923, Washington, D.C. riots of 1919, Knoxville, Tennessee, race riots of 1919, and the East Saint Louis race riots of 1917” (Loc. 1140).
But his indignation only runs in one groove, which means that in this he is not representing the gospel. The gospel is for all men because the law of God condemns all men. If the law of God does not condemn you, white man, then the gospel of Christ is not for you. If the law of God does not condemn you, black man, then the gospel of Christ is not for you.
Mason also mentions the historical significance of the Nat Turner rebellion, and the repercussions of it, but refers to it simply as a rebellion or a revolt. He doesn’t mention the women and children who were slaughtered in it. He doesn’t call for anyone who admires Turner to repent of their sin in doing so. There were innocents massacred in that black revolt, and there were innocents slaughtered in the white reprisals for that revolt. Sin is wicked, and racially-based sins are no exception. And, apart from repentance, all such murderers, red and yellow, black and white, are going to Hell.
In short, if I hold back in denouncing white sins against blacks, and do so because I am white, then I am not being faithful to my charge as a minister. If Eric Mason holds back in denouncing black sins against whites, as he does in this chapter, and does this because he is black, then he is not being faithful to his charge as a minister. And we cannot expect the gospel to address our racial tangles with power so long as we are trying to put our caveats on that gospel. Mason even makes this point in this chapter, but unfortunately he does not heed his own caution.
Most Important Postscript
Eric Mason cites an expert historian of this period in the course of this chapter, a man whom Mason and I both admire. I am speaking of Eugene Genovese, and I was glad to see that Mason approves of Genovese’s work. The reason I was glad for this is that it might hint at some common ground between Mason and me. Genovese actually read through the manuscript of my book Black & Tan, and made some valuable editorial suggestions concerning it, and was then kind enough to blurb the book. Here is that blurb.
“The Reverend Douglas Wilson may not be a professional historian, as his detractors say, but he has a strong grasp of the essentials of the history of slavery and its relation to Christian doctrine. Indeed, sad to say, his grasp is a great deal stronger than that of most professors of American history, whose distortions and trivializations disgrace our college classrooms. And the Reverend Mr. Wilson is a fighter, especially effective in defense of Christianity against those who try to turn Jesus’ way of salvation into pseudo-moralistic drivel” — Eugene Genovese
Some might say that I have been dining out on the blurb for a number of years now, which would be quite true. I have been. But I do this, not because I am concerned for my own reputation as such, but rather because I am absolutely convinced that no man can be a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ if he has left any room in his heart, sermons, books, or blog posts for identity politics, whether white or black.
And that is the only real issue in any of this.