344 White No Longer or Fault Lines?

When some of my friends informed me the Nazarene Theological Seminary has invited Robert P. Jones, the author of White Too Long:  The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (New York:  Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, c. 2020) to give a series of lectures, I decided to read it and see what he might say.  Jones is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and writes regularly for The Atlantic online.  He holds a PhD in religion from Emory University, briefly taught religious studies at Missouri State University, and earlier published The End of White Christian America, which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.  His sequel has  garnered accolades, such as that by Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, who says:  “White Too Long is a rich and astute reflection on the role of white churches in creating and sustaining America’s system of racial caste.  Robert P. Jones features his customary skillful blend of journalism, social science, and commentary, adding splashes of illuminating personal memoir, to explicate how churches perpetuated white supremacy for centuries—and still do.” 

Jones’ thesis is concisely summed up in the book’s epigram, a 1968 statement by James Baldwin:  “I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation.  They have been white, if I may so put it, too long;   they have been married to the lie of white supremacy too long; the effect on their personalities, their lives, their grasp of reality, has been as devastating as the lava which so memorably immobilized the citizens of Pompeii.  They are unable to conceive that their version of reality, which they want me to accept, is an insult to my history and a parody of theirs and an intolerable violation of myself.”  In brief, to Baldwin and Jones:  this nation’s original sin of slavery has so tarnished its history that nothing short of a massive cultural upheaval could redress the past and establish a truly equitable society.  

White Too Long combines copious details regarding Jones’ personal pilgrimage as well as historical anecdotes.  (Indeed, his approach to history is largely a matter of finding illustrations to prove the points he wants to make!  Such, moreover is the method followed by influential writers Robin D’Angelo in White Fragility and fits in nicely with a postmodernist commitment to “narratives” rather than traditional “objective” approaches.)  Reared in a pious Southern Baptist environment in Jackson, Mississippi, Jones followed the path of devotion enjoined by his church—numerous weekly services, revivals and youth camps, daily routines of prayer and Bible study.  Following high school he attended Southwestern Theological Seminary intending to enter the ministry.  In time, however, he became critical of his church, with its focus on personal salvation, and determined to make social justice his vocation, working through his research center.  

He now takes a decidedly jaundiced look at the history of Southern Baptists, a “convention” organized in the 1840s to defend slavery, though he occasionally notes similar developments in Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Catholic churches.  He condemns celebrated Southern Baptist founders, such as Basil Manly, not only for their antebellum activities but also for their prominent roles in supporting the Confederacy, resisting Reconstruction, passing Jim Crow laws, imposing mandatory segregation, and opposing the civil rights movement.  “While the South lost the war, this secessionist religion not only survived but also thrived.  Its powerful role as a religious institution that sacralized white supremacy allowed the Southern Baptist Convention to spread its roots during the late nineteenth century to dominate southern culture.  And by the mid-twentieth century, the SBC ultimately evolved into the single largest Christian denomination in the country, setting the tone for American Christianity overall and Christianity’s influence in public life” (p. 2).  Consequently, white churches have ever led the way in making racism America’s true DNA. 

Today’s evangelicals simply carry on, in more subtle ways, the nation’s pernicious  racism.  To Jones, current efforts of Southern Baptists to address racial issues are basically “the white Christian shuffle.”  Thus Richard Land, a prominent denominational spokesman criticized some Black Lives Matter assertions (bolstered by President Obama) regarding the death of Trayvon Martin.  Then there’s “Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary—the oldest SBC seminary, which was founded in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina, but relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, after the Civil War.  Mohler presents a case study in the limitations of how far even well-intentioned white evangelicals are willing to go to reckon with their white supremacist past” (p. 56).  At times Mohler has spoken boldly about the sinfulness of racism and the need for racial reconciliation, but he ultimately denies “that their legacy requires reparative or costly actions in the present” (p. 56).  Even worse, though Mohler acknowledges the seminary’s founders, James Boyce and John Broadus “served as chaplains for the Confederate army, he also defends them as ‘consummate Christian gentlemen, given the culture of their day’” (p. 58).  

Christians, past or present, Jones suggests, should share his position on things racial or forfeit their claims to the true faith.  Indeed, he wonders if “Christian conceptions of marriage and family, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, or even the concept of having a personal relationship with Jesus developed as they did because they were useful tools for reinforcing white dominance?  Is it possible that the white supremacy heresy is so integrated into white Christian DNA that it eludes even sincere efforts to excise it?” (p. 71).  Anyone wanting to peruse a voluminous litany of evil deeds orchestrated by white American Christians will find in this book an abundant supply.  Should one want to enter the “woke” world of many modern churchmen, this is a useful text.  

What’s lacking is the balanced perspective of thoughtful historians such as Eugene Genovese, whose many scholarly works (not listed in Jones’ bibliography) afford in-depth nuances missing in White No Longer.  The book is, in fact, an excellent illustration of the “anachronistic fallacy” (imposing current ethical standards upon past persons or institutions) succinctly dispatched by David Hackett Fisher in Historians’ Fallacies.  So too, Jones seems to be unwilling to imagine that there is such a thing as “invincible ignorance,” blinding people in certain times and places to what seems virtually self-evident in other eras.              

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In Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe (Washington:  Salem Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2021), Voddie Baucham Jr., casts a critical look at those promoting most versions of  “Critical Social Justice.”  Born in Los Angeles, he was reared by a single mother who “shaped my thinking about who I was and what I was capable of.  She never said or did anything to cause me to believe that my blackness was a curse or a limitation.  She gave me a sense of agency and accountability that remains with me to this day” (p. 14).  Since they lived in a tough neighborhood, she decided to re-locate to Texas, where they found a more healthy environment.  “Not only would I go to high school, college, and seminary in Texas, but it is also where I met and married my wife, welcomed all nine of my children, and started my ministry.  I often say, ‘I am a Californian by birth, but a Texan by the grace of God!’” (p. 15).

Largely because of his mother’s strict discipline, Baucham flourished in high school, excelling academically as well as athletically.  He fully entered into the life of his school, serving as a leader in many organizations and graduating as a Merit Scholar.  Granted a football scholarship to New Mexico State University, he almost instantly became a starting end and enjoyed a successful year.  More importantly, he met a Crusade for Christ representative and began a process of biblical study and philosophical seeking that led him to faith in Christ.  “I believed the Gospel. I repented of my sin.  And God saved me” (p. 24).  Transferring to Rice University in Houston the next year, he continued playing football while pursuing a pre-law program.  He also  he met and married a wonderful woman.  After two years at Rice, feeling a call to ministry, he transferred to Houston Baptist University, joined a Southern Baptist church, and “was welcomed into Southern Baptist life” (p. 30).  A gifted preacher, he was soon speaking all over the country and gaining the attention of prominent Baptist leaders such as Al Mohler.  

He was, however, at that time more black than Baptist!  His early infatuation with Malcolm X and the “black power” movement had prompted him to assume a defiant stance vis-a-vis white America.  Only time, experience and study—particularly the importance of careful exegesis when expounding the Bible—awakened him to the realization that his deep concern for justice actually alienated him from the “social justice warriors” so influential in today’s culture.  In particular, as he looked at the celebrated cases of “injustice” he found folks bearing false witness!  Looking at the celebrated stories of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Baucham found the  Black Lives Matter spokesmen consistently “bearing false witness,” a violation of biblical justice.  

While the issues he addresses appear throughout society, Baucham’s concern is with Evangelicals.  He’s concerned that pastors such as Tim Keller and various denominations have embraced the social justice agenda, while other pastors, such as John MacArthur, and organizations have opposed it.  He’s concerned that the historically “mainline” evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, published “nothing less than a full-throated recitation of the ideology of Critical Race Theory” (p. 127).  And he fears “fault lines” preceding an earthquake are appearing.   As a black Southern Baptist minister, now serving as the dean of the School of Divinity at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia, he brings to the discussion both rich scholarship and personal perspectives making his treatise an important source whereby we may better understand important issues.  “This book is,” he says, “among many things, a plea to the Church. I believe we are being duped by an ideology bent on our demise.  This ideology has used our guilt and shame over America’s past, our love for the brethren, and our good and godly desire for reconciliation and justice as a means through which to introduce destructive heresies.  We cannot embrace, modify, baptize, or Christianize these ideologies.  We must identify, resist, and repudiate them.  We cannot be held hostage through emotional blackmail and name-calling.  Instead, we must ‘see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ’ (Colossians 2:8)” (p. 204).

Of ultimate import, Baucham thinks, is to rightly understand and properly pursue justice.  But there are contentious arguments concerning its true nature.  He has, has “pursued justice my entire Christian life.  Yet I am about as ‘anti–social justice as they come’”  because he thinks “the current concept of social justice is incompatible with biblical Christianity” (p. 5).  Battles are being waged by “two competing worldviews in this current cultural moment.  One is the Critical Social Justice view—which assumes that the world is divided between the oppressors and the oppressed (white, heterosexual males are generally viewed as “the oppressor”).  The other is what I will refer to in these pages as the biblical justice view in order to avoid what I accuse the social-justice crowd of doing, which is immediately casting its opponents as being opposed to justice” (p. 6).  Fault lines have appeared in Evangelicalism, and an earthquake may very well follow.

“At the epicenter of the coming evangelical catastrophe,” Baucham believes, “is a new religion—or, more specifically, a new cult.  While some may consider the term ‘cult’ unnecessarily offensive, it happens to be the most accurate term available to describe the current state of affairs.  John McWhorter was the first observer I am aware of to refer to it as the ‘Cult of Antiracism.’  Others have used similar terms, and I think they are right to do so” (p. 66).  “This new cult has created a new lexicon that has served as scaffolding to support what has become an entire body of divinity.  In the same manner, this new body of divinity comes complete with its own cosmology (CT/CRT/I); original sin (racism); law (antiracism); gospel (racial reconciliation); martyrs (Saints Trayvon, Mike, George, Breonna, etc.); priests (oppressed minorities); means of atonement (reparations); new birth (wokeness); liturgy (lament); canon (CSJ social science); theologians (DiAngelo, Kendi, Brown, Crenshaw, MacIntosh, etc.); and catechism (‘say their names’)” (p. 67).  Missing from the lexicon is soteriology!  That’s because in the antiracist religion there’s no salvation—“only perpetual penance in an effort to battle an incurable disease” (p. 67).

The sin of racism, according to social justice warriors, can be neither forgiven nor eradicated because it’s not tied to  individuals’ beliefs or behaviors.  Rather, it is “systemic,” embedded in the amorphous depths of “society.”  It’s evident in economic or educational inequalities which must be eliminated in order for oppressed groups to get justice.  Whites cannot, as persons, confess or repent of their sin because it’s not really theirs—it’s “institutional” or “structural.”  They cannot pray for God’s forgiveness, nor can they plead the blood of Christ.  Instead they’re “told that they must do the unending work of antiracism. And this work must be done regardless of their own actions since the issue at hand is a matter of communal, generational guilt based on ethnicity” (p. 129).  So, ironically:  “today we have ‘racism without racists’” (p. 85). 

In 2018 Baucham was one of 15 men, recruited by John MacArthur, who drafted the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.  “What came out of that meeting would,” Baucham thinks, “prove to be a pivotal piece of the puzzle in the contemporary discussion of race, ethnicity, and justice inside and outside the Church” (p. 133).  Though the document failed to stimulate the healthy dialogue its signers hoped for, it elicited a response from the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention, which passed a resolution (carefully guided by SBC President J.D. Greear) supporting Critical Race Theory.  The one man who might have persuasively opposed the resolution was Albert Mohler, “the most respected theologian and cultural apologist in the SBC, who has repeatedly repudiated CRT” (p. 149).  But he “didn’t say a word.  Nor could he.”  To do so would have put him in the position of openly opposing a prominent black delegate and given his critics the opportunity to brand him a racist representing the “white supremacist faction” within the SBC.  Subsequently, however, Mohler and the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement repudiating CRT and the convention’s controversial resolution.  While they condemned “racism in any form,” they declared that the “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

Baucham supports this critique of CRT because it tries to rectify problems in the black community by blaming whites and demanding reparations of various sorts.  But many blacks such as himself want to challenge their communities to solve their own problems.  Thus many pastors get “standing ovations as they passionately admonish their young members to ‘pull up your pants, get an education, stop dropping babies all over the place, learn to speak proper English, get all that gold out of your mouth.…’  They and their members know that, regardless of what is going on outside the black community, culture matters.  The black family matters.  Education matters.  Decisions and choices matter.  And above all, God’s Word matters” (p. 158).  For example, God’s Word clearly condemns abortion, something generally ignored or carefully nuanced by most social justice proponents.  To Baucham this is a scandal, for the killing of the unborn is devastating the black community.  Christians may genuinely differ when seeking to alleviate poverty or care for immigrants or provide housing for needy families.  But abortion is another matter.  “‘How we will respect and understand the nature of life itself is the overriding moral issue,’” said Jesse Jackson’s in his pro-life days,  “‘not of the black race, but of the human race.’  I could not agree more! That is why I believe the abortion question belongs at the center of any discussion about race and justice” (p. 172).  “Fifteen and a half million black babies have been aborted since 1973.  That means abortion is not only the leading cause of death among black Americans, but it has taken more black lives than heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crime, and AIDS combined.  Though black women make up less than 13 percent of the population, they account for 35 percent of all abortions.  In major cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, more black babies are aborted than born” (p. 175).  Don’t murder!  Stop killing the innocents!  That’s a fundamental component of living justly.   Yet numbers of “Christians” approve it!  Critical Social Justice spokesmen  rarely condemn it.  Indeed, “access” to it crucial, enabling women to freely choose whether or not to kill the baby.  “‘Abortion is a social justice issue,’ says SafeAbortionWomensRight.org, ‘in that criminalizing, restricting or stigmatising abortion creates barriers that women with unwanted pregnancies face in exercising body autonomy’” (p. 181).

Other than recovering a biblical concept of justice, Bauchan has no easy solutions  to the divisive racial issues we face.  In part this is because he doesn’t believe there is actually a “racial injustice problem.”  He’s encountered racists and acknowledges racism exists.  But he rejects “the idea that America is ‘characterized by racism,’ or that racism is an unavoidable byproduct of our national DNA.  In fact, I believe America is one of the least racist countries in the world” (p. 201).  Christians must realize there’s a war going on, and:  “If white people need to ‘check their privilege,’ then Christians will soon be asked to do the same.  Make no mistake about it—we are under attack” (p. 209).  Inasmuch as the Black Lives Matter “organization is Marxist, revolutionary, feminist, misandrist, pro-LGBTQIA+, pro-abortion, and anti-family, with roots in the occult” (p. 223) make it something Christians should resolutely condemn and oppose. 

In the book’s final chapter, Baucham sets forth a remarkable testimony.  Living in Africa, reflecting upon the tragic history of slavery, he had a moment of clarity and charity.  His ancestors once lived where he now lives, and “for one reason or another, other Africans sold them into slavery—probably after taking them as slaves themselves.  I thought about the horrors of the Middle Passage and the indignities of bondage in America.  I thought about the fact that slavery had robbed me of so much that I didn’t even know which African country my ancestors had come from, let alone which tribe.  Then I thought about the moment at hand, and something switched.  Suddenly, I realized that I had traveled thousands of miles from the place of my ancestors’ oppression to the place of their betrayal.  And for the first time in my life, I forgave.  I didn’t forgive because I was big enough, or a godly enough man.  Nor did I forgive because anybody asked me to. I forgave because I was overcome by the weight and majesty of God’s providence.  By God’s providence, my ancestors survived their ordeal.  By God’s providence, one of their descendants (me) had returned—not as a slave of men, but as a slave of Christ.  By God’s providence, I was born a free man and a citizen of the greatest Republic in the history of mankind.  By God’s providence, I was numbered among the healthiest, freest, most prosperous people (of any race, not just black people) on the planet.  By God’s providence, I had received the best theological education available in the world.  And by God’s providence, He had brought me back to Africa to bless the descendants of the people who sold my ancestors into slavery.  So I forgave.  I forgave the Africans who took my ancestors’ freedom.  I forgave the Americans who bought and exploited them.  . . . .   I just forgave!  I did not harbor any ill will.  I did not feel entitled to any apologies or reparations.  By God’s grace, I recognized that Providence had blessed me beyond my ancestors’ wildest dreams—or my own.  I couldn’t help but remember Joseph’s words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

In the end, it is forgiveness that will heal our wounds. My hope is not that white Christians can feel sorry enough for their past or that ministries and organizations can dig up and grovel over enough historical dirt.  That is not the powerful, life-changing, world-confounding message of the Gospel.  That is the message of the world” (p. 229).