This is the fourth post in a series of four posts on race and reconciliation. Sincere public apologies in matters like this are difficult for many reasons, some of which I discussed in my exchanges with Thabiti. We live in a time where many are hyper about race, and so whenever you address the topic publicly, you are speaking to a public which includes the pc-police, race hustlers, white guiltists, sheer opportunists, men of good will who have been affected more than they ought to have been by the hustlers, and men of sound sense and good will. The challenge is to speak to the last group, genuinely, without giving an inch to the first four groups, and in such a way as to create opportunities for fruitful reconciliation with the penultimate group. As we should all know by now, demanding apologies is one of the central techniques of modern polemical warfare, and the man who simply capitulates because the hounds have started baying is both a coward and a fool.
Nevertheless, in those places or areas where apologies are owed in the sight of God, they are owed regardless of what the unscrupulous might do with them. Whenever there are men of genuine good will, men engaged in the difficult task of genuine racial reconciliation, men who are willing to both hear and say hard things, who are willing to stay at the table despite the tension, who work hard to understand and express other people’s views with accuracy and fairness, and who are willing to pray together and embrace as brothers when such a difficult meeting is over, the situation is quite different. To such men, men like Thabiti, and brothers I met with in Minneapolis, I want you to know that I deeply regret my failures to anticipate your legitimate concerns, natural feelings, and understandable perspective on some of the things that I have written. I regret the barriers that were erected between us as a consequence and hope that this apology can go some of the way toward removing those barriers and setting us on a course to greater fellowship in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That is a general statement, and so I need to make it more specific. When I first started speaking and writing on this topic, the group of people I was reaching was very small and pretty insulated. There was no Internet, no blogging, and I had only written a few books, the reach of which was either limited or uncertain. If we did a conference on American history (which we would do), we were pleased to have fifty people in attendance. In short, we were nowhere near any kind of national microphones. We were backwater historians, back porch theologians.
Despite this, I saw clearly (with an eye of faith) that what we were doing and saying would at some point have a significant impact . . . with the first groups I listed above. I was a nobody, but I had every expectation that the pc-police would know my name at some future date, and I was deliberately preparing some stinkers for them. This was not being done for the sake of cheap entertainment — I have mentioned in other settings the kind of thing we were dealing with in our “insulated” circles (e.g. Paul Hill). So there were reasons for it, and I am not sorry about that in the least.
But this being the case, I ought to have guarded against being simultaneously farsighted and myopic. If I could anticipate some things that were still decades in the future (as I did), then I had a obligation to anticipate other aspects of my future as well. If I could see the one, then I had a responsibility to see the other. That is where my basic failure was, and that is what the apology is for.
I did guard myself against accusations of racism (in multiple ways), but there is a difference between anticipatory defenses against the pc-police and the hustlers, and anticipatory love toward those who have been directly affected by real racism, and who are my brothers in Christ. And to whatever extent I have been responsible for any barriers there, I am happy to do my part to take them down.