We reject theological liberalism–defined by J. Gresham Machen in Christianity and Liberalism as a “different gospel” from the Scriptural gospel. (43, 44)
Above is the first “Denial” listed in the “Report of the ad Interim Committee on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation to the Forty-Sixth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.” Every time I read this line, I think, “yep,” and keep reading. No alarms.
But as time and debate has continued since its publication and adoption, I’m starting to wonder if many within the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition see this inclusion as a contradiction of the rest of the document, especially among the self-described “Machen Warriors.” I fear that Machen’s personal political and sociological views have been illegitimately folded into his definition of “Liberalism” by modern hagiographers.
[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:
[The following is yet another clarification added to our series, “What Is & Isn’t Being Said.” And please note, “Calvinism” is in quotes; I believe everything that follows is consistent with a proper understanding of Reformed doctrine.]
One of the possible pitfalls of the Christian argument for racial and ethnic reconciliation (RR), especially among those of the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition (of which I am a member), is the potential implication that only believers, i.e., those in Christ, are included in the scope of sought social equity and justice. Of course, RR advocates acknowledge that all men are created in the very image and likeness of God; that is,
the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. (Herman Bavinck)
But when it comes to the idea of “reconciliation” itself, the argument usually moves from the reconciliation between God and man wrought by Christ on the Cross to reconciliation between man and man premised on the same. In the words of the Apostle,
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.
It appears that Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church and the Grace to You empire has entered the fray of Racial Reconciliation (RR) discussions. In his recent blog post, “Social Justice and the Gospel,” Pastor MacArthur decries what he calls the current “social justice” movement within evangelicalism. In his words,
This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of “social justice” is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.
Since there is not much substance in this particular piece, as it is only the first salvo in a series of blogs he intends to write on the subject, I don’t intend here to respond to his yet substantiated claims. (I also intend to muster enough strength to not be thoroughly annoyed by his consistent assumption that evangelical leaders are pushing “social justice”—a phrase I really only hear opponents using to align RR advocates against “Biblical justice.”) What I would like to briefly address is the claim that the movement today is fundamentally different than that of the 1960’s and 70’s, that in which he believed himself to have been a participant.
[I have since added some needed clarification to this post, beginning with “Correcting (my own) Normativity of Whiteness: 1. From the Arrival of the First African Slaves to ‘Partus Sequitur Ventrem’.”]
As we concluded the last post,
[T]here is nothing particularly pernicious about the social construction of race as such, any more than there is in the construction of genos, ethnos, or phulé [in the New Testament]. The insidiousness of the concept comes when a society, consciously or unconsciously, constructs racial distinctions for the very purpose of division, systematic subjugation, and a permanent caste system. And this brings us to our next post, “What Is & Isn’t Being Said: 2. ‘Race’ and the Racialized Society”.
We will now discuss “race” in the racialized society as we find it today, particularly in the United States. I ask only that you forgive the relative length of this piece; it will prove fruitful context for the topics that will follow. Also, I would like to make explicit that this discussion is in no wise intended to ignore the plight of other minority people groups in American society. Much of what is said here can apply to the experience of other race and ethnic groups as well, though there is a very definite distinction of degrees, length of history, and legal specificity within racialized institutions. As Condoleezza Rice once said, “I do think that America was born with a birth defect; it was slavery.”
As there has been much discussion over the topic of Racial Reconciliation in recent months, I thought I might do my best to clarify what is and isn’t being said by RR advocates such as myself. Of course, I cannot speak on behalf of everyone pressing the case, but I hope to at least clarify some of the terms, phrases, and assumptions being debated. This might constitute a lengthy series, but if it proves to be beneficial to any interested in this discussion, I will indeed continue—hopefully at least two topics per week. Topics will include “race,” “white privilege,” “color-blind,” “institutional racism,” and more. Feedback is welcome.
1. “Race” and the Bible
Many argue that the concept of race is unbiblical and is nowhere to be found in the Scripture. While I understand the intent of this claim, specifically to reject any basis for “scientific racism,” I think there is a complex of concepts in the Scripture which nevertheless capture what well-meaning English speakers mean by “race.” We find throughout the Scripture similar concepts of “kind,” “kindred,” “tribe,” “nation,” etc., attributed to men, and not just as Old Testament categories, as is commonly thought.