On FB was an article “Open Letter to John Piper on White Evangelicalism and Multiethnic Relationships” by Raymond Chang. It was shared by ChurchLeaders and Ed Stetzer, but originating in Christianity Today. It seemed to be a rather nice article, a bit too benign if anything, on race relations in Evangelicalism.
I am a “white evangelical” in a multiracial marriage and having multiracial kids, attending a non-white church in a non-white country. To me Revelation 7 describes an ideal— with people of every tribe, nation, race, tongue worshiping God together. Unity with Diversity. One could argue it describes Unity empowered by Diversity.
I thought it might be interesting to read the FB comments. Perhaps I shouldn’t. I won’t quote any, singling any out, but I would like to give some comments to some.
- One suggested that it was a silly thing to bring up… that “white evangelicalism” is a made up term, and that these “peripheral cultural arguments” lead to divisions. I would say that all terms are made up… the question is whether a term is useful or not. In the US at least, the term seems useful, not so much where I live here in the Philippines. I must say though that culture is NOT peripheral. Culture wasn’t peripheral in the book of Acts, and cultural issues were faced squarely, not ignored. Dealing with the issues prevents divisions… not ignoring them. This problem is also in local churches, where it is assumed that problems are best handled by ignoring. But ignored problems OFTEN become big problems. Not always but in good Game Theory, the risks of silence outweigh the benefits.
- One noted that blacks are racist as well and are part of the division in the Church. Well of course. That’s why what is suggested is Dialogue. Dialogue is two-way conversation. Anyone who thinks that Dialogue involves one side accusing and the other side is apologizing, either doesn’t know what dialogue is, or doesn’t take dialogue seriously.
- More than one suggested that this is “Affirmative Action” for the church. Another suggested that this was Christianity Today “going liberal.” I know it is always fun to rile up political conservatives by throwing around words they absolutely hate such as “Affirmative Action,” “liberal,” “Obamacare” and such. But, first, this is an article of theology, ministry, and religion, not political science. (There is no self-evident connection between “conservative theology” and “American conservative politics.”) Shaking the political ant farm may be fun, but is ultimately a misdirect. The one who said it was CT “going liberal” may have meant theologically liberal, but I can hardly see how dialogue should be seen as the domain of liberal Christianity. Does that mean that conservative Christianity is the domain for polemics and apologetics only? A different respondent was a bit more direct speaking of the article in line with a “leftist” political agenda, and then as a non-sequitur brought up that we are not nice enough to Israel and too nice to Muslim refugees. (I wonder how mean Jesus really wants us to be to Muslim refugees?)
- “White Evangelicalism” is a divisive term. One might make the argument that it is a racially insensitive term (like the Washington Redskins) but I see it as identifying a divide. That divide does exist, it is not something created through language. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Since the divide exists in a statistically relevant way, the real question is whether the term “White Evangelicalism” is a good term to identify the disunity. I honestly don’t know.
- One noted that we should get people truly born again and filled with the Holy Spirit and this would become a non-issue. While I like the hopeful sentiment, again the book of Acts showed a lot of born-again people with the Holy Spirit struggling in how to embrace diversity of culture in the church. While the Spirit of God bridged the gap through allowing the disciples to communicate with those of other languages in Acts 2, the rest of the book involved struggles. This includes struggles between Hellenstic and Hebraic Jews in Jerusalem, what to do with Samaritans who come to faith, what to do with Roman and Greek respondents, and how to contextualize the faith to pagans and Gentile philosophers. Living in the Spirit is a good start, but Acts 15 describes a church that chose to wrestle with the issue rather than describe it as irrelevant.
- At least one suggested that there are only two groups that matter in Christianity… those filled with the Holy Spirit and those who are carnal. As enticing as reductionism and dualism is, the Bible simply does not discount diversity within the unity of faith. When Paul said that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor Gentile, nor Male nor Female, Paul suggesting they are not issues. If they were not issues, he would not mention them. They must be dealt with to move past them.
- Some noted that their church is multi-ethnic and they don’t see those problems describing their context. I suppose I could say that as well since I am a “white American” part of a multi-ethnic (majority non-white) non-American congregation with completely non-white pastoral staff. But I have seen the problems the writer was concerned with, and I suspect you have too. I am actually a member of two churches. I am a member of a predominantly white church in the US, and a predominantly non-white church in the Philippines. I have had American white Evangelicals assume, for example, that I share their political opinions because I am a white Evangelical. A very bad assumption. I have never had non-white Evangelicals assume I share their political opinions. Of course, one could argue that both views are racist in their own ways. In the end, we REALLY need to talk.
I think this is a good place to stop.