So then, it seems to me that Jonathan Merritt has gone and done it now. He has exposed, and about time, sez I, the fact that I am being mollycoddled by The Gospel Coalition. They do this mollycoddling, not sure how exactly, but they do it, despite the fact that I am—and I use the quote marks here deliberately—an “unhinged racist.”
Let us deconstruct this, shall we?
Juicing the Noun
The offensive word here is the adjective—that word unhinged. This is because Merritt is suffering, along with many others, from the fact that the word racist has been devalued down to a nullity with about ten decimal points. Never forget we live in Goofball Times, when somebody might easily lose their job for hosting a Mexican-themed office party and wearing a sombrero to it. Cultural appropriation, micro-aggression, racism, and all the rest of that jitney, nickel-plated clown show.
So because all the hyper-sensitive people, whipped up by the intensity of their passion into a tolerance meringue, have absolutely destroyed the meaning of actual racism—the belief that one ethnic group is innately superior to the others—in order to call someone a real-deal racist anymore, the kind that is significantly worse than the sombrero guy, you have to resort to adjectives.
Believing Christians—see what I did there?—resorted to this strategy a number of years ago. Now we have born-again Christians and Bible-believing Christians, and so on. When a noun gets pale and etiolated, you need to juice it up again with adjectives. Now we all know who devalued the word Christian—the devil and the Archbishop of Canterbury—but who inflated and devalued the currency of words describing racism?
A Word with Superpowers
The answer, of course, is Jonathan Merritt. Now I want to resist the temptation to overstate my case here in that I am retorting in the midst of a polemical exchange, a temptation to overstate to which the flesh is all too susceptible. But I am pretty sure that Jonathan Merritt did this all by himself. I can say this on the basis of having just discovered that the word “unhinged” has numerous superpowers. It clearly means that if you apply it to someone who flatly denies whatever it is you are talking about, an adroit use of this word can flip the meaning completely around. Since Merritt would claim to be a moderate, and moderates would deny doing any of this devaluation stuff, all I need to do is call Merritt an unhinged moderate. This has the added virtue of demonstrating my moral earnestness, and my furrowed brow adds its silent attestation. I really mean this, people.
Throwing the Apostles’ Creed Out the Overton Window
So while Merritt is busy trying to move the Overton window for what’s left of the detritus of evangelicalism, such that we can grow accustomed to agreeing to disagree on the morality of immorality, he can simultaneously write a strident column against character assassination in the course of which he calls me an unhinged racist. Of course he did. I probably also am an unhinged bestower of unwarranted and unwanted epithets. Somebody is, at any rate. I can tell from all this that we have almost reached our destination. There is an eerie glow on the horizon, and this hand basket we are bumping along in is making pretty good ground speed.
He makes a deal out of the fact that Jen Hatmaker, despite her support for same-sexiness, does not differ with one line of the Apostles’ Creed. But all we need to do to demonstrate the lameness of this argumentative standard, at least as far as Merritt is concerned, is to point out that the Apostles’ Creed does not condemn unhinged racism anywhere either. It therefore represents a personal opportunity. Merritt can’t touch me for I too affirm every line of the Apostles’ Creed. And do you know, this is what the official communique from The Gospel Coalition said to me? On letterhead. They said to me, they said, “You know, Wilson, as much as we detest, loathe and abominate your unhinged racism, we do recognize that you do not deny one line of the Apostles’ Creed. We reluctantly have to let it go.”
They didn’t really. But if they had, Jonathan Merritt would have had nothing to say right about now.
One Wrecked Race, One New One
It is bad enough having to call people unhinged racists to get across the point that they are, you know, racists at all. But Merritt called me an unhinged racist. But I am not any kind of racist, whether hinged or not. So shall we measure the shape of his arrow and its current location with regard to his intended target? This will be like Robin Hood getting up to shoot in that big contest at Nottingham, and accidentally shooting Maid Marian in the right arm, sitting up there in the stands. It sort of puts a damper on all the excitement, as the crowd realizes what just happened.
So what do I believe about race?
I believe that there is only one race, the human race. There are ethnic variations within that one race, but every mother’s son of us is a blood cousin, all of us bearing the image of God. Those ethnic variations do not constitute, comprise, make up, or contribute to, any innate superiority that is genetically settled or determined. This one human race rebelled against God in our first parents’ act of disobedience, and shattered our fellowship with God. The human race became the wrecked race. Because we fell into sin, we also fell in love with ideas of superiority and striving, and this includes the sins of racial vainglory, a sin I find particularly detestable. It is detestable in how it mocks the gospel of grace. But while we were in this broken and rebellious condition, God sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of His people, and to be raised to life again for our justification. In doing this, He established His kingdom, made up of men, women and children from every language, tribe, nation, people group, or subsets of melanin levels. This kingdom constitutes a new way of being human, a new human race, built on the foundation of the sovereign grace and mercy of God. Because the gospel is working through the old human race at varying rates of speed, transforming it, the way leaven works through a loaf, some parts of the loaf are affected before other parts are. This creates a temptation for some (living in those parts) to take credit for God’s gifts, as though our loveliness somehow brought down His favor. But what do we have that we did not receive as a gift? And if as a gift, why do we boast as though it were not a gift? Had the gospel moved down south through Africa first, instead of west and north through Europe, the people in Africa would have been building cathedrals when my ancestors were still painting themselves blue for battle and cooking their meals over goat dung. And this is to proclaim the superiority of absolutely nothing except Jesus Christ and the glory of His gospel.
What shall we call this outlook just described? I submit that somebody should call it unhinged racism. The hatred just wafts off the top of it, like the aromas off a Burmese sewage lagoon in August. The brittle conceits of your standard white supremacist are so brittle here that they have to be entirely hidden away for safe keeping. These brittle conceits will not come out in the open for one of two reasons—either they are especially pronounced and vulnerable, or they are not there in the first place. The reason we must not accept the latter possibility that they are hiding by mere non-existence is that this would exclude the possibility of making reckless accusations of unhinged racism. And that is a non-negotiable, at least for Jonathan Merritt. If there actually were no unhinged racism, whatever would we do with this spirit of unhinged accusation?
The Alinsky Treatment
One other thing, ere I go.
Do not forget the point made earlier about the Overton window. The point is not about whether we disagree on stuff. All politics have always been about such disagreements. Moving the Overton window is a larger project, one that seeks to move the acceptable range of disagreement. Within the window we find all the positions that a person might openly maintain and still get elected to something. Outside the window are positions that might best be described as unthinkable.
So you don’t believe that we are not currently experiencing massive culture-wide pressure to get the historic Christian view of ethics, particularly sexual ethics, into the realm of the unthinkable? You need to wake up and smell the sulphur. Wake up and taste the acrid touch of brimstone on your tongue.
There are two basic strategies for moving the window. The first is to create a climate in which many Christians—for the sake of testimony or something—voluntarily comply with whatever the ever-changing and yet compulsory standards for discourse and language are. They say that this word or that one is now offensive to our friends in the LGBTQ community. Christians say oh, and promise, for the sake of the gospel, to clobber any of our own number who dare to disobey the commandment that has crawled up out of this perverse Sinkhole Sinai. But in the meantime, let us never forget that the little faggot’s got his own jet airplane.
The second strategy has been used on me for many years. We go way back. It is now being deployed on my friend Toby Sumpter. If anyone starts to get what is going on, and is proving effective in talking about it, that person must be discredited on other grounds. “Change the damn subject. Ineffective communicator! Unhinged racist! Plagiarism! I agree with his central point but! He hurt my feelings!” This is right out of Alinsky, Rule 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” But that’s all right. I still have an Internet connection and Rule 5.
Yes, he might seem to be saying something important, and he might sound like he is making some sense, but he has been Officially Discredited. By all the people that Matter.
But I don’t mind being rejected by the people that Matter. Wanting to Matter is the central lust of evangelicalism, and this is why evangelicals are having such trouble believing the Word (John 5:44). The downside, which is significant, is that you wind up like Jonathan Merritt.