[For context, see “A Civil Rights Leader Is Accusing John MacArthur of ‘Lying’ About Where He Was When MLK Died.”]
As many discuss the accuracy of Pastor John MacArthur’s oft told experience with John Perkins and Charles Evers the night Dr. King was murdered, I’d suggest we need to keep in focus the hypocrisy involved in the very telling of these stories. MacArthur often offers such tales to bolster his Civil Rights bona fides before going on to criticize the so-called “social justice” movement in the Church. He prefaced his very first post in a series attacking modern Racial Reconciliation (RR) advocates with the same. Immediately after claiming, “[w]e were also shown the place where James Earl Ray stood on a toilet to fire the fatal shot,” he declares the following with bolstered accreditation:
This is a continuation of our last post, “What Is & Isn’t Being Said: 8. Systemic Racism & the Narrow Spirituality of the Church.”
Meanwhile, a very different understanding of the mission and role of the Church had grown up in the United States. From the time African Americans began forming their own churches and denominations in the 18th century—due to abuse, violence, persecution, and egregious violations of the Communion of the Saints—they consistently rejected this narrow spirituality view, and for what should be very obvious reasons. The hypocrisy of the American Church was never lost on African Americans, whether slave or free, nor the spuriousness of their truncated “gospel.”
[For needed context, please see the previous posts, “Correcting (my own) Normativity of Whiteness: 1. From the Arrival of the First African Slaves to ‘Partus Sequitur Ventrem’” and “Correcting (my own) Normativity of Whiteness: 2. From Bacon’s Rebellion to ‘White Men’ and ‘White Women’.”]
Thus far, we have witnessed the movement from a disparate group of indentured servants—originating from various European and African nations, working side by side in the English Colonies—into a bifurcation of (1) “white men” and “white women” and (2) “Negroes, Mulattos, and Indians.” Through the developing legal code, we have also seen the class “white” receive legal protections and privileges while the class “Negro and Mulatto” alone became subjects of life-long chattel slavery—they and their children.
As stated at the end of the last post, the only element lacking in the construction of the “white race” by 1723 was the concept of “race” itself. We will now briefly turn to this, though with an eye to our purposes rather than the details of the “science” itself, its definitions, etc. We will then move on to the post-Revolutionary era and conclude with some application.
[Please see the previous post, “Correcting (my own) Normativity of Whiteness: 1. From the Arrival of the First African Slaves to ‘Partus Sequitur Ventrem’,” for needed context.]
In what follows, we continue to consider the construction of the “white race” and “whiteness” as developed in Colonial American history. As noted before, there simply was no such thing as “white people” prior to the 17th century. We have already witnessed how, through legal changes, a disparate group of indentured servants from various European and African nations, working side by side at the beginning of the 17th century, were transformed into roughly two groups, (1) “Christians” and those from “Christian nations,” receiving legal protections, and (2) those imported from non-“Christian” nations, comprising (with few exceptions) those of African descent alone—and their children. The latter increasingly became subjects of life-long servitude, while the former were granted more and more legal protections and comparative privileges. But as we have also seen, once conversion to Christianity was legally clarified to not require manumission, new lines of demarcation and categorization were needed to maintain the social control system necessary for a slave-based economy, wherein a few wealthy land-holders employed with scraps and chains an overwhelmingly large labor class.
And possibly more than any other event, Bacon’s Rebellion made clear to Virginia’s leadership the necessity of new lines of demarcation among these laboring people groups. To this we will now turn.
In this article, I hope to give some idea of the state of the race debate among conservative Presbyterians, especially those associated with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and those who would later form the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), just following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. This will be done through the lens of The Presbyterian Guardian and will feature a discussion of C. Herbert Oliver’s articles condemning segregation, Morton H. Smith’s article defending segregation, and letters to the editor written by R. J. Rushdoony, E. J. Young, and other Reformed and Presbyterian believers of the day. My hope is that as we reflect on these articles and the state of the debate in 1964, we will see that while much has changed, much of the opposition has remained the same.
Please see the previous post, “‘Racism Isn’t the Problem, Sin is the Problem!’ : A Brief Clarification,” for some needed context for what follows here.
What Does “Jew & Gentile” Have to do With “Black & White”?
The Jew/Gentile conflict throughout the New Testament is often either (1) leveraged to prove there should be no recognition of race and ethnicity in Christ (“no Jew, no Gentile”), or (2) is denied to have anything to do with race and ethnicity since it is properly a covenantal/religious conflict. Others—those I’d agree with—see this conflict as an indispensable Biblical example of both definitive unity in Christ and a call to seek progressively lived unity in the Body. I hope, in what follows, to provide some clarity to the similarities and differences between the New Testament Jew/Gentile conflict and the white/black conflict we have inherited in the United States.
A few questions have come up over and over while discussing the issue of racial and ethnic reconciliation, so I’ve thought it best to pause my “What Is & Isn’t Being Said” series to offer some brief clarifications. Each should be taken quite narrowly, as addressing only that which is mentioned. E.g., below, this clarification does not address the wider social applications beyond the body of Christ, which will be addressed later. It also does not address the history of those who knew and preached the gospel, yet nevertheless promoted, defended, and preserved racist ideas.
“Racism Isn’t the Problem, Sin Is the Problem!” : A Brief Clarification
The problem isn’t ‘racism’, or any other ‘ism’ for that matter, but the congenital sin nature we each bear in our heart. The gospel makes this perfectly clear, particularly in Mark 7:17-23. Racism is ‘dealt with’ the same as any other sin. This is not rocket science, folks. SMH! (Darrell B. Harrison via Twitter)
I do not intend to pick on Mr. Harrison in particular, but his statement above does reflect a common sentiment among evangelicals. “Racism isn’t the problem, sin is the problem, and only the gospel can change the heart”; or, “racism is sin, and the only remedy for sin is the gospel.” Statements such as these seem quite correct on the surface. It is certainly true that all sin is from the heart. It is also true that only Jesus can change the heart. And it is true that the gospel is the only ultimate remedy for sin. But it seems odd, at least to me, to then conclude that a retelling of the gospel—in most evangelical cases narrowly defined as something like the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God—is the only remedy to be applied, or even suggested, and that little to no detailed discussion, research, or acknowledgement of specifics is required. We certainly don’t do this with other sins that plague the Church.