12.12.13

What Are We Going to Do with Our “Crazy Confederate Uncles”?

I hate to say my uncle “Sonny” was my favorite uncle growing up. I hate to say it because all my uncles were great dudes. Uncle “Whimp” was the coolest. Had that deep lean and one-open-hand steering thang down in those big hoopties he used to drive. Uncle “Topper” was the most generous. Every Friday, when the eagle flies, he’d bring me home a bag of Sweet Sixteen doughnuts. My lips and cheeks would be white for a week eating those things!

But uncle “Sonny,” or “Sonny Boy” as my grandmother called him, was different. He was and is schizophrenic. He had his own room at the back of my grandmother’s house. The door was almost always closed and no one except my grandmother went into this room. But even she did so with palpable hesitation. My uncle Sonny came and went as he pleased. Since his room was near the back of the house, the back door was almost a private entrance. Many days I watched him, heavy winter coat in North Carolina’s humid August, walk the streets of my hometown, sometimes talking to himself, sometimes tipsy, and always alone.

Uncle Sonny was and is gentle—except when you try to make him do something he doesn’t want to do. Then he’s the strongest man in the world. I’ve watched him toss my two other uncles and a brother (all big men) like rag dolls whenever they’d try to cut his hair or get him to bathe before a doctor’s visit. It would begin with a kind of intervention. The men in the family would show up and give a strong lecture. Sonny would mostly ignore them until he got impatient. Then in a voice loaded with resolution he’d say, “I’m not telling you again. I’m not going to the doctor.” By this time he’d normally be cornered and the attempt to walk away would end in lots of wrestling, scuffling, “Hold his arms!” and my mama’s knick-knacks getting knocked over. Sonny was never hurt. Usually the other guys walked away with scrapes and bruises. In the end, he’d have his haircut, take his bath, and see his doctor.

“Uncle Sonny was and is gentle—except when you try to…”

As a boy, when I asked about uncle Sonny, adults would basically say, “He ain’t quite right.” No one knew the term “schizophrenic” or what to do. So we just managed around him. Tried to keep him from hurting himself or others and included him as much as we could. Because he never bothered anyone, we fought to make sure nobody bothered him. I think all of my family has a story about fighting or standing up for uncle Sonny because someone tried to hurt him in some way. After all, he was family—whether he was “not quite right” or not.

There are several points I suppose I could make drawing from uncle Sonny’s life. I could say something about the necessity of mental health services in the African-American community and the community taboos that still keep many from getting help. I could make a point about the role of extended family.

But this morning, following Tony’s excellent piece yesterday, I want to make a theological point, a point about theological families. It’s very simply this: Every theological family has, if you’ll permit me the term, their “crazy uncles.” The uncles who are “not quite right,” who normally keep to themselves in their own rooms and usually don’t bother anybody, but occasionally need an intervention. The family knows they’re there and wish they were better, healthier, and able to join the rest of the family in the regular routines of the tribe, but for everybody’s sake leave them in their rooms.

For us theologically reformed types, I call these folks our “crazy Confederate uncles.” Somehow they’ve managed to hold onto the old blending of southern Presbyterianism or Reformed theology and are trying desperately to keep the old world in this new one. So, they make videos and give speeches about the South being the “greatest Christian civilization” or slavery “not being that bad.” They show up with flammable comments whenever “racial issues” dominate the news, like when a South African president dies or a teenage boy is killed. And it seems that our “crazy Confederate uncles” have been out of their rooms a lot lately, talking crazy about Christian hip-hop, interacting with the town folks and leaving a lot of people aghast. Even as a family member, I’ve been pretty embarrassed and sometimes angry.

But, “They don’t know no better.”

Here’s why—at least in theological part. Our “crazy Confederate uncles” suffer from a deep split in their Christian personality inherited from the early days of the Protestant Church in America. When much of the “white Church” decided that Christian theology could be conceptually and then practically separated from Christian ethics, a kind of spiritual schizophrenia developed. Much of the “white Church” came to believe that a person could hold the “right” theological views while refusing to do the right things. So, one could be “Christian” (whether “Reformed,” Arminian, Universalist, Deist, etc.) and hold slaves, for example. One could be “Christian” and segregationist. One could be “Christian” and a racist. One could be “Christian” and insist the oppressed “fight” (a better word would be “wait”) for freedom on the terms of their oppressors. One could be “Christian” or “Reformed” or “Conservative” or “Evangelical” and oppose interracial marriage and so on.

So, in this view, one could study systematic, historical or biblical theology and give very little reflection to ethics—what to do with all that theology besides write more theology. Theology became something for the head and occasionally the heart but very seldom the hands—especially if those hands were going to be lifted to help the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.

Since the time of Lemuel Haynes (at least) and Frederick Douglass, African-Americans have recognized this as “not being quite right.” We’ve seen our brothers and sisters as “a little off.” On the underside of history and society you tend to see how belief must be married to behavior, how theology and ethics must walk hand in hand or they’re both crippled. It’s not that we don’t understand that the best of men are men and best (hence Mandela or King or Washington have their serious flaws). We’re all imperfect at living out the faith. But some inconsistencies are more glaring. Some inconsistencies amount to poor mental health, spiritually speaking. We see our uncle Sonnys and our “crazy Confederate cousins” and we recognize, as the Black Church has always recognized, that there’s a great deficiency in the very conception of Christianity held by some of our white brethren. There’s a significant and almost fatal schism in their thinking. There is the willful ignorance that manfully resists both common sense and common progress toward what’s right, just and good. That’s why our “crazy Confederate uncles” have so often and so painfully been on the wrong side of history and justice issues. They don’t have a category for justice unless it’s simply the reification of their own individualistic and culturally-centered views.

As a consequence, many in our family who see themselves as the heirs of Dabney and company find it difficult to embrace life as it really is, as it has become following centuries of hard-won victories in the cause of justice. They find it difficult to see the Bible’s repeated emphasis on justice, deliverance, and liberation without running and yelling in clinically diagnosable tones, “Liberation theology! Liberation theology!” And they suppose identifying the liberation Martians who want to put chips in everybody’s head is equivalent to keeping the faith pure and fighting for the best kind of justice while they try to roll the clock back or at least revise our view of slavery, slave owners and even the slaves themselves with rosy pictures and soothing stories.

“Every theological family has their ‘crazy uncles.'”

Meanwhile, as Tony so eloquently pointed out, Black Christians feel ourselves held at arm’s length—not just arm’s length from our crazy cousins, but from the deep truths of the Bible these cousins so adamantly insist they know and represent.

What’s the family to do?

Well, we can’t join our “crazy Confederate uncles” in their delusions. We have to remain firmly planted in reality—the Bible’s reality and the world as it really is. This means you can’t treat the uncle Sonnys of the world as though they’re actually lucid during their episodes. You can’t answer with rational argument because that only affirms their sense of being right and in their right mind when they are neither. You can’t answer the question, “Are not some cultures superior to others?” as if “cultural superiority” isn’t just another term for “white supremacy” and as if white supremacy is something other than the live-in girlfriend of racism. How can we even ask that question when we’re talking about a “society” that brutally enslaved millions of people made in God’s image unless we’re first guilty of severing theology from ethics? In dealing with such views, we must remember palatable labels for ugly ideas do not a polite conversation make. The odd moments when they are “crazy” and correct (and it does happen) can tempt us to treat them as if all their ideas and attitudes deserve our attention. But, as the cliché goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The wider family must refuse to join the delusion and we must refuse to give backward opinions legitimacy by debating them as if they were worthy.

Also, we sometimes have to wrestle these folks to the ground and insist they shave, get a haircut and bathe. Even the demoniac when healed by our Lord attended to the sanitary customs of the day before he sat “in his right mind” with the Lord and the others. You can’t come out the back room tossing everyone around like rag dolls and demanding to be treated as a socially respected peer. Nor can you come out of the room blasting the family and then cry “Foul!” when the family responds with the necessary sharp rebuke. We all have to “act like somebody,” as my grandmamma would say to uncle Sonny. The rest of the family must insist our “crazy Confederate uncles” stay in their rooms until they can join the family productively. And that’s why I’m glad that the Internet has also been filled with so many other family members writing so eloquently and tweeting so prolifically to oppose inappropriate statements and views.

Finally, we have to insist that the fundamental problem receive the most attention and treatment. Here’s where things get difficult for our uncles because it means they actually have to listen to and learn from people they don’t want to listen to and learn from. My uncle Sonny never wanted to visit the doctor and often refused to take his meds. But seeing the doctor and taking meds was the path to well-being, to seeing life as it really is, to joining the family more fully. Our “crazy Confederate uncles” will have to listen to some people who’ve actually thought a lot longer about the joining of theology and ethics and about what biblical justice entails across racial lines. They’ll have to visit and take some medicine from quarters of the Church they’d like to ignore but who actually hold the remedy to much of what ails them. And it’s a family responsibility to insist that they do.

I love my uncle Sonny. To this day, when he sees me he gives me a slight smile, asks me how I’m doing and whether I still live in Raleigh. I’ve not lived in Raleigh for nearly 15 years now. But he remembers Raleigh intimately. It was the home of the State mental illness hospital where he from time to time was hospitalized. It was the place name used as a threat to get him to comply with some treatment for his good. I’m sure my having lived in Raleigh gives him happier thoughts about the place, maybe even helps him conquer some painful memories. He’ll then ask me for a couple of dollars. I always refuse because I know he’ll misuse it. I love him too much to aid him in self-destruction.

When our “crazy Confederate cousins” talk as if it’s 1813 rather than 2013 we have to remind them of the dates and times. When they ask us for some currency that would further their self-destruction, in love we must refuse. Our “crazy Confederate uncles” deserve and need our love, too. I know some people will wince at making the comparison to my uncle with schizophrenia. But I’m not disparaging my uncle when I say he has schizophrenia. Nor am I disparaging our “Confederate cousins” when I compare them to my uncle who I love dearly. It’s an analogy about the patience and firmness required for dealing with people who in one way or another have lost contact with the reality most of us share. If we love this way then in time and with patient effort the family gets better. I know my Uncle Sonny has. And I pray the Father’s family gets better, too.

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

C’mon Up!

  • george canady

    Schooled, thanks.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      lol. Thanks for hangin with us in these conversations.

      • george canady

        wouldn’t miss one. Can’t wait for another. Please pray discernment for me. Thanks.

      • george canady

        learning, thanks.

  • shai linne

    Brilliant.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Thanks, man.

  • Larry Miles

    Bruh Thabiti 🙂 you and bruh Tony is a serious 1-2 punch on THIS. I admire you man. Keep up the good work.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Thanks for the encouragement, bruh. ‘Preciate it.
      T-

  • DeMars Fam

    Awesome as usual, Thabiti. I do wonder, though, how these brothers feel about being compared to a schizophrenic. Probably the same way I feel about the way they degrade my culture.

  • http://ethicspeak.blogspot.com/ Benjamin Marsh

    Can I respond in love?

    The repeated use of “crazy uncle” is pejorative because it contradicts what should be the true the remedy given for your uncle (and the remedy for racists – for let’s call them what they are): to first break through this whole notion labeling one another another as “crazy” or whatever other term you want to use.

    Your “crazy uncle Sonny” should never be called that. This is a man made in God’s image, broken by a disease born by a sin-sick world. He “Uncle Sonny with a disease,” “Uncle Sonny who is sick.”

    Calling racist white reformed preachers “crazy confederate uncles” perpetuates the notion that labels like that are helpful or healthy, when indeed the only label we should allow one another is brother in Christ. Call them “brothers in Christ who preach heresy” and we have a starting point, or “brothers in Christ with a sick head or a sick heart.” Let your theology guide you and meet these men where they are, no? Do we not claim, as reformed brothers in Christ, the overwhelming capacity of the Holy Spirit to redeem even the sickest soul?

    Giving the title “crazy confederate uncles” opens the door to the ability for any of us – white or black – to give racists a “pass” for some erratic behavior, just as you would shake your head when your “crazy” Uncle acted out his disease. Also, branding like this perpetuates the divide between us: we are not brought together under one head, but are split apart. Finally, we allow space for these labels to become self-fulfilling prophecies as these “crazy Confederate uncles” are no longer seen as image-bearing brothers but as the “other,” something that is not human.

    You write: ” Our “crazy Confederate uncles” will have to listen to some people who’ve actually thought a lot longer about the joining of theology and ethics and about what biblical justice entails across racial lines. They’ll have to visit and take some medicine from quarters of the Church they’d like to ignore but who actually hold the remedy to much of what ails them. And it’s a family responsibility to insist that they do.”

    Yes Yes and Yes, all over – in total agreement. But this very act – listening – is the result of the true fellowship of the Spirit and can only begin when we are sitting across the table from one another as co-inheritors of Christ, as true brothers. This listening does not pre-date repentance, but is a result of these white folks repenting of their latent (or active) racism and their broken hearts.

    In other words, modern approaches to mental health have moved beyond labeling – the individual is not the diagnoses – to focusing on real life-long recovery. We must see this in our brothers in Christ who perpetuate falsehoods about slavery and race and thus treat them the same: these are racists attitudes that must be called sin and repented of before the dialogue can ever happen.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Benjamin,

      Welcome to The Front Porch, man! Thanks for climbing up and sharing your thoughts. We welcome that on the porch. And, we shouldn’t forget, the front porch is where you let your hair down, let yourself relax a little, and say what you think. So, your comments are welcome and so are pejoratives.

      On the one hand, you’re correct. “Crazy Confederate uncles” is a pejorative. I don’t apologize for that because I think the views represented by that label are repugnant to scripture and to history. So, we need words that characterize things the way they are.

      I certainly don’t mean to disparage people with mental illness. I should think that would be evident by the way I remember and love my uncle. If anything, I’m not disparaging “crazy Confederate uncles” by comparing them to my uncle with mental illness. Actually, I’m disparaging my uncle by the comparison!

      As for dialogue and labels, you may be correct. But often conversation gets started when people are pushed or provoked enough by strong language to respond. The various and vigorous responses to the NCFIC panel would be an example of someone speaking pejoratively (the panel) opening a lot of responses and conversation. May that be the case here. But if not, I’m happy to put our “crazy uncles” back in their rooms until they’re able to “play nice.” By which I mean we shouldn’t treat such views as legitimate and give them a lot of air time.

      Grace and peace,
      T-

      • http://ethicspeak.blogspot.com/ Benjamin Marsh

        Amen – I would spare them no air time whatsoever. I guess I want to see higher expectations placed on men who would claim Christ than allowing them to be the crazy uncles for life – I want them to stop being crazy entirely. Their sin (and the massive weight of history that you and others have pointed out that lies on the glass houses of reformed white preachers in American history) gets imputed on those of us who hate that very attitude. We don’t need to put those kinds of folks in their rooms – we need to take them out and expose them to the fresh air of humility until they repent!

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          Amen to that, too!

    • Larry Miles

      Hi Benjamin 🙂 I’m feeling your comments and you make a valid points. However, as we all learn to “live life” together our particular ethnic distinctive’s set us hopefully, not at odds, but apart. During the holidays my white reformed brothers will sing the praises of pumpkin pie, while black reformed brothers will cry “foul” if a sweet potato pie is not present.

      My “crazy uncle” is a colloquialism familiar in what I’ll call, “black life.” For us, its the “barbershop”, “front porch,” (no pun intended) “living room” speak in our culture. In many cases (even in the church) the “responder” (many times us) gets the heavy medicine ball thrown to them to see if we’ll throw it back or drop it. In other words, it becomes “our” responsibility to ease a soft, seemingly un-offended, “that’s ok” type response, when our white brothers should have weighed their conclusions before speaking as if they are the vanguard for reformed principles.

      The vitriol they spewed was almost to akin to “oh no there goes the neighborhood.” And a rebuttal of, “do two wrongs make a right?” still makes “us” the responsible one to lay flat and let our white reformed brothers speak in unwarranted tones. They attacked some flesh and blood performers, we attacked a mindset.

      • http://ethicspeak.blogspot.com/ Benjamin Marsh

        I think I am a bit misunderstood – I actually am saying you (as the black reformed community) and we (white and black brothers in Christ) should hit them (racists, those who would soften slavery, etc.) harder than giving them the “crazy uncle” title. I am suggesting that hitting with the title of “heretic” is a bit more fitting and condemning in this context. Do not lay flat and us unwarranted tones – by no means! These are men who are supposed to be brothers in Christ with the same Spirit, same Lord, and same Baptism and they are calling some of the most blessed and gifted poets in a generation “disobedient cowards?”

        I am not implying Thabiti was wrong in his response – I am suggesting that he could have been stronger. These guys need to repent of their presumed cultural superiority and the sin it soaks in.

        I love sweet potato pie, by the way, as well as bean pie. Can anyone here raise a hand for bean pie? Why have bean pies been hidden from white america?

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          Wow! I was outflanked on the right! Not used to that :-).

          And, brother, I agree. These kinds of things need sharp rebuke and there’s a good discussion to be had about how and when to use the label “heretic.” It’s been reserved for cardinal points of theology, but it might be useful to articulate cardinal points of ethics (as I believe the Bible does with love, for example).

          Now this is the front porch! Let’s keep chewing on this. Grateful for you brothers.
          T-

      • John Sather

        Right on Larry!! Blessings!

  • PastorKenny

    Thank you for the apt analogy!

  • http://twitter.com/mattsmethurst Matt Smethurst

    Thanks for this, Thabiti.

  • Jeannie Hagopian

    Really powerful and challenging statement. “They don’t have a category for justice unless it’s simply the reification of their own individualistic and culturally-centered views.” Praying now that this article keeps up a discussion and especially brings about conviction among white believers including myself. Thank you for your patience as God does His work changing hearts.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Jeannie,

      It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for coming up on the porch with us and sharing. I appreciate your prayer and join with you in praying it this morning. The Lord is at work, even in weak posts like this one! Grace and peace,

      T-

  • Paul Yates

    Well said, Thabiti. I’m young enough to never have seen obvious racial segregation as a public school student, and old enough to have preceded the hip-hop movement before it finally hit our small North Carolina town. I’m a Southern white man who is uncomfortable with the way some of our so-called “crazy Confederate uncles” subconsciously resurrect the specter of racial inequality through poorly-considered worldviews and careless words. I love the South, and many aspects of its culture and history, especially my family history. My great-grandmother, born in 1899, left the Appalachian hills of North Carolina to go to college and became a schoolteacher. She married my great-grandfather, a farmer and railroad engineer, and raised their family in Orange County, NC. When laws were passed giving African-Americans the right to vote, she realized that despite the laws, her black neighbors would not be able to vote…because they couldn’t read. So, she took it upon herself to help any of her African-American neighbors to learn to read, at least sufficiently well enough to read and mark a ballot. Her actions were not overly popular with her white neighbors. As many know, when desegregation and equal rights became the law of the land, community compliance did not necessarily follow right along. She did what she thought was right, anyway.

    My great-grandfather received a summons one day, asking him to visit an African-American man who had been condemned to be hung to death for the crime of sexually assaulting and killing a white woman. When he arrived at the jail, the man asked my great-grandfather to please attend the hanging. When my great-grandfather asked why he wanted him to attend, the man said, “Mr. ———-, I just want to be able to look out at that crowd and see one friendly white face before I die.” My great-grandfather attended that hanging, as requested. He was carrying a silver dollar in his pocket that day, and he carried that silver dollar in his pocket every day for the rest of his life. After his death, that silver dollar was found among his possessions, worn thin and completely smooth from frequent handling.

    Given my southern country boy background, and my ultraconservative religious upbringing that precluded contemporary Christian music, not to mention pop music, hip hop, and other musical forms, I was ignorant of inner city life and the hip hop culture. My foray into Reformed theology introduced me to Lecrae, through sites like TGC and Resurgence. Curiosity piqued, and figuring the best way to learn about hip hop culture was from someone with a solid Biblical worldview, I downloaded Lecrae’s first Church Clothes album. I made myself listen to it at least three times until I could clearly understand what was being said. The lyrics moved me; the music was compelling. I found more of Lecrae’s music, 3 more albums. While my cultural heritage is vastly different that that of Lecrae, I am deeply appreciative for his ministry in the music industry, particularly among the hip hop culture.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Dear Paul,

      Man, thanks for joining us on the porch. And thanks for relaying some of your family history! That’s a moving account from a tough, tough time period. And it’s a poignant and hopeful reminder that though we sometimes suffer cruelty we can look out to find at least one friendly face that knows and does what’s right (or will at least remember us). I’m grateful for your sharing that because it’s the many white great grandmothers like your own and the many black foot soldiers who have changed the racial narrative of the country for the better. Remembering them honors them and directs us. So grateful.

      Glad you also found Lecrae and some Christian hip hop that moves you. The Lord bless you and keep you, brother!

      T-

  • fctorino

    Sometimes brother T, you use language to gouge people’s flesh. I remember that some of your language was unChrist like in one of your Trayvon Martin’s posts. I called you out, but you deflected the issue, and gave a unsatisfying explanation. Here too I think that you have erred in rebuking our at-one time errant White brothers as schizophrenic. There too is a vitriolic odor to this post. If the Gospel is about reconciliation, where is the balm in this post that serves as a salve to our White brethren? Indeed, God has confined many of the Confederates to the attic. That there are still a few wandering is doubtless. Yet, why not treat our brothers who are only distantly related to their Confederate uncles by blood with more mercy and compassion? Dispensing with the divisive language would be a start. Then again, are we not a new creation in Christ?

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hey friend,

      Welcome to the porch. Thanks for your comments. I don’t recall either using “unChrist like” language in Trayvon Martin post or deflecting your critique (bearing in mind there were a lot of comments in response to that post). I stand by that post and this one.

      To be clear, this post isn’t about having Confederate “blood.” That’s your stuff. I’m talking about a way of thinking, of viewing the world, that revises history and “acts out” from time to time in unhelpful ways across ethnic lines. That acting out reveals a view of the world that, in my opinion, is fundamentally at odds with both the Bible and the history as it really was/is. In so far as it’s a way of thinking out of step with the reality of the scripture and history, then it is a kind of disassociation with the truth.

      It has nothing to do with not showing mercy or reconciliation. I am, after all, calling them brothers (or uncles to keep the metaphor consistent). I’m calling them family and arguing we should do what families do–persevere in hope and respond as appropriate. That’s the argument of the last FIVE paragraphs friend.

      Don’t know that I should do more than that. Grace and peace to you,
      T-

      • fctorino

        Thanks for that clarification. Most of all, peace, love and joy to you and your family and friends this Christmas!

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          The same to you and your family this Christmas! I appreciate that!
          T-

    • george canady

      Dear fctorino, your comment reminded me of my baptism. I stood in front of about 100 people and basically told them I was a tramp and a forgiven one. To my surprise that language encouraged one of the pastor’s helpers to come to me after, in the open ,in tears, and thank me as she admitted in very strong ,and surprising language, what she has been forgiven for. It also encourage her husband later to do the same in private. Some of us want specific forgiveness from God and so I think this requires specific repentance. If one calls me out in strong words and I see later, It turns out to be love; truth. I am a forgiven, recovering “crazy uncle”. If bold people like you are not afraid of the vivid truth, perhaps we can talk it out and maybe more recovery and reconciliation will occur, Even if you suffer for a while, its worth the effort. Thanks

  • danhill09

    Thabiti,

    I hear a little Ralph Ellison in your blog but with a much kinder tone which I appreciate. Per usual, your blog has helped me process thoughts that have been quite jumbled in my own mind. The bible makes it clear that all of the members of the family are “in it together,” regardless of their level of delusion. But at the same time, what does this look like? How are we to respond lovingly? I know that in any family, crazy uncles or not, there will be friction. But in our quest to be a people known for grace, love, and truth… how does the minority try to wake up the sleepwakers (I’m stealing that one from Ellison)?

    For example, I was sitting in a meeting not to long ago when someone asked some of the older people there this question: are things worse than they used to be? If so, when did they start falling apart? The general consensus the 60’s. Being a person of color, that struck me as quite odd since… well let’s just say that Jim Crow in it’s official form lasted until the 60’s. Being the only person of color there, I’m sure that this was only peculiar to me.

    It truly breaks my heart that so often throughout the history of our nation, those who are correct doctrinally are unable to bridge the gap from their theoretical theology to their operational theology. I consider myself very conservative theologically but it grieves me that, during the Civil Rights and Emancipation days, conservative theologians were relatively silent, content to ignore a hole (read: crater) in their Biblical Anthropology which infects and poisons their soteriology and doctrine of God. Perhaps I’m being too critical. While I often hear the criticisms launched regarding MLK, Desmond Tutu, and Mandela… it confuses me why those same tongues are silent regard the horrific crimes of the Dutch Reformed Community and Martin Luther. Is it a little ironic that the modern reformed community is critiquing who was oppressed by and fought against a system that… the Reformed Community in his country supported? I’m not saying criticism of MLK/Mandela is unwarranted. But maybe we should stop making men into heroes and look at them as flawed, broken people who need a Savior. And then, thank God for the grace he gives to broken, small-minded and hard-hearted men like me.

    Your blogs often are helpful and I appreciate what you’ve done and said. Very thankful for your ministry.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Ellison. A master. I wish I could get just a lil bit of Ellison in something I wrote!

      You wrote: “Is it a little ironic that the modern reformed community is critiquing who was oppressed by and fought against a system that… the Reformed Community in his country supported?”

      I would say it’s more than “ironic.” It’s hypocrisy–staggering hypocrisy. If we’re going to police something, we should first police our own houses. The Reformed folks who truly value reformational truth should have their harshest critiques of South Africa’s Dutch Reformed church which provided the theological ammunition for Apartheid. But of course that would also mean condemning much of Southern Presbyterianism and American varieties of “Reformed racism,” and some people just can’t bring themselves to tell the whole truth about themselves or their forebears. So, point at the Mandelas and the Kings and hammer their faults instead. It’s hypocritical blame-shifting–and blaming the victim at that! It’s sad.

      Grateful for you bro. Thanks for chopping it up with us on the porch.
      T-

      • Ian Sims

        Thabiti. Don’t you think that if there were hundreds of articles being written extolling the virtues of the Dutch Reformed church there would be at least a few pointing out that it also had some major flaws? Don’t read too much into a few articles being critical of Mandela when the overwhelming amount of published material does the opposite. I for one am glad to hear different sides on the issue.

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          Hi Ian,

          Thanks for the comments and joining us on the porch. A couple quick replies:

          1. Writing on the day of the man’s death (in some cases the hour of his death) seems to me to be inappropriate. Courtesy requires more.

          2. I’m not sure comparing the Dutch Reformed church to a living, now dead, person is apples to apples.

          3. Insofar as the Dutch church continues to be an operating entity, it may still benefit from volumes of critique. Mandela the man will not. Nor will the rest of us benefit from so poorly time and so obviously political a set of comments as many have offered.

          4. It’s not a matter of reading too much into a few articles. It’s a matter of a pattern of comments from some quarters and persons, a pattern that consistently reflects, imo, a rather backward view of peoples and cultures not their own.

          I don’t mind different sides of an issue. I recognize my comments are a “side.” But to everything there is a season, and some “sides” turn out to be entirely different and false “realities” that ought to be rejected.

          Grace and peace,
          T-

  • Jose Roberto

    JoseRobertoUno

    • george canady

      What color is Santa, and Jesus.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Okay… where to begin? You’ve written a lot here. Let me try to answer with very brief statements (so I don’t write another post) and allow you to chase up any points you’d like to discuss further.

      1. You write: “It seems to me that much – even most – of Thabiti’s post was about people, practices and attitudes that used to be.” Actually, every attitude and action I reference in this post has taken place in the last few months if not the last few weeks. This isn’t history. This is as recent as your twitter feed.

      2. You ask: “For every crazy Confederate uncle left today there is a still a corresponding Louis Farrakhan or Bobby Seale. And what about Al Sharpton? What gospel does he preach?” This, it seems to me, is a deflection. Do you mean to imply that “crazy Confederate uncles” ought to be okay since there are “crazy 60s radical cousins”? Two wrongs don’t make a right. I’ve had my say about the Sharptons of the world, too. See here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2012/09/24/two-black-churches-one-true-one-not/ and here http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2010/07/29/reinventing-al-sharpton/, for example. To reject one error isn’t to excuse another or to ignore another. But there’s something terribly one-sided about the frequently heard retort, “Well, what about so-and-so?” when it comes time to denounce our “crazy Confederate uncles.” That, too, is part of the schizophrenia.

      3. You write: “Unless you are charging all of present American society with the sins of an earlier one (which it seems to me that you are, in a very oblique way) then there’s not much reason to keep beating this old dead horse, is there?” Now you know I didn’t make any such charge against all of present America–by which you must mean “white America.” Do see how terms like “America” and “South” get freighted with racial identities? I’m not the one widening this beyond scope of the statements and persons I describe in this article. You’re doing that. So if the conversation is a “dead horse” then you killed it, not me. Let’s stay focused on what I actually wrote and think.

      4. You wrote: Why is it “flammable” to point out that for every Trayvon Martin incident, there are hundreds of young black men killed by other young black men whose deaths go unremarked? Why is it a racial issue to say that black leaders care so little for these children that they refuse to indict the culture which produced them? Three out of four black children today are born to single mothers and will grow up without a father in their home. Why is it “flammable” to suggest that this is a cultural issue?” These are flammable statements because (a) half of them are not true, (b) the comments are usually made with no understanding or admission of history and oppression as context, and (c) they tend to come from folks who haven’t spent an honest minute working on these issues. So it looks like people lobbing grenades into a hospital and wondering why people can’t get out before the explosion. It’s dishonest. How would you know that black leaders care so little for children? Even Sharpton, who you vilify, spends a lot of time on these issues. How would you know these deaths go unremarked? Just saying that proves your ignorance of the community and the things we seem to be always lamenting and discussing and working on.

      5. Then you quote Machen?! Do you not know of Machen’s racism? You’re proving my point about the schizophrenia. Here’s a man that had so much right in terms of firm biblical conviction and so much wrong on this point of social ethics. I can’t blame Machen for what some southern Presbyterians made of him, but it’s his schizophrenia that that makes their use and misuse possible.

      This we know: When King Jesus comes He will decisively and eternally end all the remnants of Babel’s alienation and usher in the eternal kingdom of righteousness, love, peace and joy. When that time comes we’ll find we’ve all be right and we’ve all been wrong on some points or another. Maranatha, Lord Jesus!

      T-

      • John Sather

        Thabiti, AMEN to your words “This we know: When King Jesus comes He will decisively and eternally end all the remnants of Babel’s alienation and usher in the eternal kingdom of righteousness, love, peace and joy.”

      • Jose Roberto

        Dear Thabiti,

        Sorry to be so long answering your reply to my comment. This will be a really long one, and I hope that we are both seeking to glorify God, exalt the Lord Jesus, and edify our borthers and sisters in the faith as well as those who are not-yet believers.

        If we don’t agree on the problem then we will likely not agree on the solution in the here-and-now; i.e., before Jesus comes back. As Tim said, “I am afraid that this post does little to dissuade me of the notion that white people are not allowed to take opposing opinions on “racial issues” without being called racists”. So, a few more thoughts and questions for discussion:

        The history of mankind after the Fall is one of violence and oppression. As someone has said, there is not a square foot of ground anywhere in the world which some people didn’t take away from someone else at some point in the past. So what are we to do about that today? How far back shall we trace ancestral wrongs, and how far forward shall we hold their descendants accountable? We must be careful with this, because

        a) some of your ancestors probably did some really bad things for which you might still be responsible (like maybe selling some of your other ancestors to slave traders);

        b) some of my ancestors might have done some really good things that you don’t know about {like working to free slaves);

        c) and vice-versa, etc., ad infinitum, and so on and so on.

        See the issue?

        We have had nearly 50 years of increasing equality of opportunity in America, yet today white and black Americans still mostly live and worship separately. Why is that? Can it really be the result of some as-yet unremedied bias? And if so, bias on whose part? Unforgiveness and lack of charity on whose part?

        If black Americans are still underrepresented economically, whose fault, whose responsibility, is that? Surely it is not white prejudice that causes young black girls to have a single mother birth rate of 68% (and 80% or so in some inner city areas), when the rate is 11% of Asian women, 43% of Hispanics and 26% of non-Hispanic whites (Google this and you’ll find the numbers).

        Thabiti, do you know that the black single-mother birthrate has nearly tripled since 1961? Is it “flammable” to tell the truth? If so, when did that start?

        So I say again, tell me how black clergy and political leaders are addressing this problem — if you think it is a problem. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote to this problem in 1965 for LBJ, in “The Negro Family:
        The Case For National Action”. His conclusions were prophetic, and quickly buried by black leadership and the politicians they supported.

        You asked “How would you know that black leaders care so little for [black] children?” A: Because so few of them do so little about the problem of the black family in America, and because so many of them support political policies which exacerbate that problem, which is at the root of many (not all, but many) of the problems black Americans face.

        2) Have you read or heard Dr. King’s statement from a 1961 speech (underline and bold this date):

        “Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards. … We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”

        Have you ever heard of the late Prof. William Stuntz of Harvard Law? I hadn’t until I started writing this reply. Stuntz was actually quite vocal in calling out many of the injustices blacks faced in the legal system, but he also wrote this without apology in “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice”:

        “High rates of black violence in the late twentieth century are a matter of historical fact, not bigoted imagination. … The trends reached their peak not in the land of Jim Crow but in the more civilized North, and not in the age of segregation but in the decades that saw the rise of civil rights for African Americans—and of African American control of city governments.” Since Dr. King’s speech in 1961, many of the most violent cities in America were under black mayors and police chiefs.

        I didn’t pick my skin color any more than you did. So why does what our respective ancestors did or didn’t do (even if we really knew what they did, which we don’t) matter as between you and me?

        Likewise, I didn’t pick when and where I was born any more than you did. Had slavery never been practiced in America, where would you be today and what would you be doing? (Careful — this is a trick question, as you will see when you think it out.)

        Why is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday still the most segregated hour of the week? Is it really just a white thing?

        What would satisfy YOU in determining there was no longer any racism in America ? This is another trick question, and I challenge you as kindly as possible, in a spirit of edification, to say why you cannot or do not want to answer it.

        Grace and peace to you! Send me a private email (joserobertouno@gmail.com) and we’ll dialogue as much as you want — maybe even collaborate on a series of TGC and/or FrontPorch posts.

  • Pingback: Corner Store 12/13 | Empty Bottles of 8()

  • William Douglas

    Everyone, a friend of mine points out, gets caught in his own moment from time to time. The Puritans allowed their zeal for Christ as king to lead them into the error of seeing themselves as political and martial agents of that kingdom instead of proclaimers of it. And as I read your article I see faces and hear voices of those men not so much caught as afraid of their own moment and wishing to be transferred and caught in another moment. It is easy to sit at distance and read the best of Dabney or Thornwell and see those bits as the whole. (Eugene Genovese is one who points out the many positive aspects of their “muscular Calvinism” that was a strength in that day.) We do dis-service not only to the Savior but also to our ancestors if we do not see and learn from their errors as well as their virtues. The denial of self that comes with the call to follow king Jesus sometimes means to walk away from things we had once thought of as our heritage. Our “confederate uncles” can only see the orderliness and simplicity they imagine and not the great injustices required for that day to exist. We need to remind them that injustices can never be part of Christ’s kingdom and that they cannot be part of it either if they will not hear the call to deny themselves and follow.

    Let us hear the call of God to live in our own moment and not wish for any day other than the one our Savior has set us in. And let us serve him by welcoming, loving and encouraging all who stand with us as brothers by his appointment.

  • adamhuntley

    Wow. I’m white, 31, and grew up in NC in a Christian family that didn’t have the mindset that you’re critiquing. But man I’m learning a thing or two about what my black brothers who love the Bible and God’s grace are dealing with. I guess I must represent a group of white guys who don’t run in the same circles as the ones that you mention above. But, it is a good thing to know about for sure.

    Not that I haven’t seen the schizophrenic tendencies though. I work in cross-cultural missions in Africa and I have supporters who pray fervently and give lots of money for the people group we serve to have the Bible in their own language but….they would look cross-eyed at a white missionary marrying a black colleague who they would faithhfully pray and sacrificially give money for. Schizophrenic, huh? I just always assumed that this was an anomaly, but I’m learning from you that this is more systemic.

    God bless you brother…thanks for being my (American) cultural informant.

    On a side note. I can’t say that my family appreciates the genre of holy hip-hop like I do but they do invariably tear up when they hear and read the lyrics ‘perfect love’ by Shai Linne. As you know…the truth that we love and defines us is our point of unity. The more we all love it the less we’ll hold each other at arms length and listen to each other and change.

    Thanks brother.

  • Dwight McKissic

    Pastor T.

    I read your post often and comment occasionally. This is one of, if not the best post I’ve ever read from you.

    1. The creativity, relataibility, cultural sensitivity, and Kingdom-minded integrity reflected in this post is difficult to usually find in most commentary on contemporary Christian issues. That makes this post a rare read.

    2. Observing from afar, and not being reformed, I erroneously assumed that the African American Reformed Brethren were largely the type that would not speak truth to power, if need be. But your post, as well as the great piece on this subject by Tony Carter, document & demonstrate that my assumption was incorrect. BTW, your post in response to the Strange Fire Conference also challenged my assumption.

    3. The mere fact that several of the “crazy Confederate uncles” have recanted their positions is proof positive that what you say in this post is correct. Thanks. Job well done.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Dear brother,

      We got room on the Reformed side of the family for one more! 😉

      In all seriousness, thanks for your encouragements and challenges. I’m grateful for you.

      T-

      • Tony Carter

        I second that emotion!

        • Dwight McKissic

          T., and Tony,

          I appreciate both of your response. Rick Armstrong, who is reformed, is now serving on my staff as Pastor of Prayer & Evangelism/Missions. We discuss the distinctions between reformed soteriolgy & what I call biblical/traditional soteriolgy often. Of course, he does not agree with my labeling the traditional soteriological viewpoint as traditional or biblical. We get along well though. I’ve known him since college. We were roommates. He has really broadened my understanding & appreciation of reformed theology and personalities. I am somewhat encouraged to see this movement grow among African Americans. The traditionalist need to step up their game or else we may lose the next generation. But, if that’s the worst thing that happens to the next generation, I can live with that.
          T., you wrote a great piece ’bout what you love about prosperity gospel believers. I could write a similar piece about what I love about reformed believers. I really connected with the letter & spirit of the posts that you all wrote on this subject. Keep up the good work. I need to send an offering to The Front Porch & perhaps I will, simply to express my appreciation for the quality of the presentations & discussions here. I purchased Tony’s book many years ago, about African Americans who have become reformed. Your writing here has inspired me to now want to read it. Rick Armstrong & I are considering writing a book about the distinctions between the doctrines of grace(his preferred label for reformed/Calvinist soteriology) & amazing grace(my preferred label for the traditional/biblical soteriology that I espouse). We also want to demonstrate how two can work together while not sharing the same view on these matters.
          Thanks for the friendly, jovial invitation to join the reformed family. There is so much about you guys that admire. One day hopefully, I can fly to DC or the Caymans & I can sit on The Front Porch and we can talk about it. There needs to be a common ground meeting, with the reformed community & traditionalist, where there is mutual respect, if for no other reason the fellowship should be sweet. And possibly, there may be enough common ground to work together toward a common agenda, in order to advance the Kingdom of God. Enough rambling. I just wanted to thank you for your response.

          • Dwight McKissic

            Brothers,

            I forgot the one thing that I really wanted to say in my last comment. And that is, I can’t join the reform movement because JM made it clear in his SF Conference that you cannot be charismatic & Calvinist/reformed. Therefore, I am disqualified at two levels from being reformed.-:).My soteriology & pneumatology would not be compatible with reform theology as I understand it. My ecclesiology probably would be compatible, up to the point that I give women a greater latitude to lead, serve, and proclaim based on their giftedness, while maintaining that the office of the Senior pastor is to be biblically occupied by a male.

          • Thabiti Anyabwile

            Hey bro,
            Tell Ricky I said, “What’s up?!” Didn’t know he was there with you.

            We need to get you on the porch. We got lots of work to do with you! 😉 Seriously, it would be good to chop it up sometime. I’ll be keeping an eye out for your pen!

            The Lord’s richest blessing,
            T-

          • Tony Carter

            Doc, if you would make it a point to grab a seat on the porch, I would make a point to be there. We would love to have you. Let’s make it happen T! I am sure we can find a chair for a charismatic calvinist brother, despite what JM says. 🙂

            I too didn’t know Ricky was with you. Please give him our best. I commend you for having a Calvinist head up the Missions and Evangelism ministry. It debunks the myth that Calvinist are not interested in missions and evangelism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

            Doc, we appreciate your comments and insight anytime. Hopefully we can sit down face to face in the near future and chop it up on all things the church, gospel, and most of all our mutual affection for the Savior. God bless and Merry Christmas brother.

        • John Sather

          I ‘third’ it!!!

  • John Sather

    As usual, spot on Thabiti! You mentor me & our @cruinnercity ministry from afar. We are blessed to call you our friend and mentor! Nearly every day our African American pastors who we serve across the country-as well as our our staff and their kids struggle with the “crazy confederate uncles”. It saddens us in seeing white Christian leaders talking and writing in these “crazy” ways. These supposed Christian leaders are skewed in their teaching, thinking and world view by this “crazy talk”. They actually attempt to revise history as though there was NO history of slavery, etc. And they totally believe everything is ok today: that racism is dead; everyone should be ‘color blind’; that the south, if given time, would have abolished slavery; that the civil war was not needed. On and on they go. Job well done brother. In the journey with you.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Thank you for your labors in the city and for your encouragement, brother! Grateful for you. Grace and peace,
      T-

  • Tim Mullet

    Thabiti,

    I am afraid that this post does little to dissuade me of the notion that white people are not allowed to take opposing opinions on “racial issues” without being called racists.

    When I came to Christ, I began reading the Bible with some intensity. One of the things that stood out to me was the fact that the Bible repeatedly calls men to submit to their governing authorities. This notion of submission stood in stark contrast with the spirit of autonomy that had captivated me for so very long. As a Christian I was not called to defend my “inalienable rights.” Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. As a result, when I listen to conversations about the wisest way to end slavery, I am hesitant to affirm revolution as the wisest course. In fact, revolution seems to be a great evil, and in terms of ethical stances, I fancy myself an ideal absolutist. My point here is not to argue a stance on the issue. The issue is complicated and such a case would be lengthy. My point is to ask a different sort of question. As a white male, am I allowed to even question the biblical fidelity of a civil war without being patronized and dismissed as a racist?

    Similarly, before I became a Christian I regularly listened to rap music. I have had many black friends in my life. I was the white guy on the basketball team in high school. After becoming a Christian, I must confess that I wanted to distance myself from rap music, due to the many negative associations that I have with the music. As a white male, am I allowed to question the wisdom of baptizing rap with reformed lyrics without being spoken to in a condescending way and treated as if I am a moron?

    In truth, I find these two subjects very interesting, and I would love to be able to have a nice conversation about both of them. Yet, I wonder if I were to finally come to the politically incorrect position on either of these issues, would that make me a racist? Would that mean that I hate black people? Does that make me a mentally unstable uncle who needs to be ignored and not reasoned with?

    To put it simply, I would love to be able to hear different perspectives on the Civil War, Trayvon Martin, rap music, etc., so that I can evaluate them biblically. It does not seem as if this is possible. It does appear as if only one viewpoint is allowed to be spoken. It does seem as if sensitivity only goes one way. Instead of actually engaging the arguments in a respectful way, just realize that crazy racist uncle is making a fool of himself again. Smile at him and try to love him, but for goodness sakes, don’t try to reason with him.

    For those who would actually love to hear more thoughtful disagreement/debate along racial lines, this post might appear somewhat discouraging. I’m sure that I’m not the only one thinking this.

    Grace and peace,

    Tim

    • John Veazey

      Grace and peace to you, Tim.

      I’m not Thabiti, but your comment caught my eye. Partially because I agree with you and partially because I think you’re approaching this from a different angle than Thabiti is. 🙂 Hopefully, he’ll chime in, especially if I’m wrong.

      I understand and share your beliefs about revolution, at least insofar as Christians participate in it. I came to Christ in 2011 and previously, I was a pretty hard-core Pro-America (Yeah, George Washington!), deport the illegals, radical Islam needs to be eliminated sort of conservative. Reading the Lord’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s work changed me radically in many of these respects. Like you, I think armed revolution against government authorities is sinful. I think that unless government commands us to do something directly contrary to a command of the Lord’s, we’re bound to submit to them and always give them respect and honor. I’ve told my family, that as a churchman, I could not have in good conscience joined or supported the American Revolution (the matter of whether the revolution itself is the Lord’s ultimate will is another matter). That’s made me a bit of a black sheep in my South Louisiana family, to say the least. I think you’re absolutely right on that point.

      However, here, I don’t think Thabiti is advocating that taking up arms against our authorities, as Christians, is a good thing. I think that Thabiti is addressing intra-church relations and, in a corollary, how the church relates to the world. He’s saying that we have a duty, as Christian brothers and sisters, to work out these issues in the church, exhorting and rebuking with Scripture as our authority and appeal. That may ultimately involve having nothing to do with a brother, so that he may be brought to repentance. We have a duty, as brothers and sisters, to follow Christ and seek the upbuilding of our brethren into the full maturity of Christ, even when hard methods are called for. What he’s saying is that then and now, some Christians have and are failing in that and/or need to have that done to them in love. This is a proper revolution that honors Christ. Likewise, Christians have a duty, I believe, to address moral conditions and wrongs in the outside world around the church. Pursuing that kind of revolution is not sinful. Many failed in that and fail in it, even now, and that’s not right or honoring to Christ. I think that’s what Thabiti is addressing. Feel free to correct me, Thabiti, if I’m wrong. So in that sense, I think you’re a little off-base and are talking a little bit past Thabiti, if you take my meaning.

      The above segues into what I’ll say next about your statements about rap. I don’t think anyone would mind having a biblically informed and gracious conversation where both parties seek to be faithful to the Lord’s word. The problem is that many of those who oppose reformed rap are not really seriously engaging Scripture (throwing in a mis-used verse out of context doesn’t count) in their arguments. They are instead appealing to feelings, preconceived notions, and perceptions in calling reformed rap sinful and maligning those who make it as sinful also; they are using cultural notions of what is better to bind others. That’s not Christ-like in any sense. If you seriously and graciously labor to engage with Scripture in working out your convictions with others, I don’t think that you’ll be tarred and feathered as a racist, Tim. That’s not acting as a “crazy uncle”. People can and will see your honest attempts to be faithful to the Word.

      I hope that I’m not talking past you and your concerns! That can be all too easy to do.

      Grace be with you,
      John

      P.S. It may be that it is better that you, personally, stay away from reformed rap, if it reminds you too much of your former life, and that’s okay because “for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (). I don’t want you to stumble. The issue that Thabiti and others are addressing isn’t that. Just remember the difference.

      • John Sather

        Appreciate your thoughts John

      • Thabiti Anyabwile

        Hey John,

        Very well said on all counts. Thanks for joining us on the porch!

        T-

      • Tim Mullet

        Hi John,

        I do appreciate your thoughtful response. My intention was not to argue against the civil war or reformed rap. I do have person friends that are Reformed Rappers. I was simply using my own experience to show that people form different opinions on these issues and those opinions are formed for a variety of reasons. I have formed opinions on those particular issues and those opinions, as far as I am aware, have nothing to do with race.

        As a result, I have been excited to see the many recent discussions on these issues and at the same time, have lamented the fact that charges of “racism” and “racial insensitivity” seem to come so quickly to the forefront. I simply cannot fathom why this is the case. Therefore, my intention was not to argue a particular position, but simply to lament the fact that Thabiti seems to be so intent on “reading between the lines” and recognizing the “code” that I seem to be blissfully unaware of.

        For example, I do not understand why the following things are necessary evidence of racism:

        “But if you don’t want to be mistaken for a racist then don’t… argue for a supposed “cultural supremacy” and pretend no one recognizes the code. Also, don’t pretend to objectivity for your own view and treat other views as inferior or other people as cowards needing to be “discipled” out of their cultural backgrounds.”

        I can think of many more charitable readings of the issues being addressed. I am not sure why racism is the most obvious choice, but then what do I know?

        I suspect that what is going on is that white people are simply not allowed to speak negatively about Nelson Mandela for instance.

        For example, when I saw Douglas Wilson post this blog article, http://dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/photogenic-lies.html, my immediate response was something along the lines of, “he’s not allowed to talk about that issue, he’s white, that’s racist.” I learned this somewhere and I imagine there is a bit of this sentiment being expressed as of late. However, I could be completely wrong, I am willing to acknowledge this. I am not objective.

        Hope that helps!

        In Christ,

        Tim

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      I’m not surprised this post does little to dissuade you of the notion that white people are not allowed to take opposing opinions on “racial issues” without being called racists. It wasn’t written to dissuade you of that position. It was written to pinpoint why I think some people arrive at untenable positions on historical and social matters. Namely, they develop their theology without regards to ethics, just as some develop their ethics without regard to theology. In either case, we end up with half-truths at best. And some of the positions we come to are so patently wrong that they don’t deserve debate.

      Now, none of that is to say someone who takes an opposing view is a racist. They may simply be wrong. But they may be racists, too, and we should stop pretending like they can’t possibly be. Racism isn’t dead. Sometimes it rears its head in important conversations using sophisticated language. The importance of the topic and the erudite language doesn’t make it any less racist.

      As a white man, you can talk about slavery and rap all you want to. You can disagree with what you think is the “politically correct” position all you like. Plenty people do so. You can discuss how you think slavery should have ended or whether rap is a legitimate genre for Christians to engage. Much of that conversation goes on all the time without the specter of racial animus. We’ve seen a good bit of it lately. Have at it. But if you don’t want to be mistaken for a racist then don’t say racist things or argue for a supposed “cultural supremacy” and pretend no one recognizes the code. Also, don’t pretend to objectivity for your own view and treat other views as inferior or other people as cowards needing to be “discipled” out of their cultural backgrounds. And, please, be honest with the history and avoid the sweeping ahistorical revisionism that’s been characteristic of youtube videos of late. Tell the whole truth, not only when it’s inconvenient for “the other side” but when it’s inconvenient for “your side,” too. Avoiding these pitfalls, it seems to me, ought to be a rather simple thing to do for honest discussants and few people would take offense.

      Grace and peace,
      T-

  • Caleb A. Sweazey

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    I have been blessed by your ministry and appreciate your insight, candor, and willingness to engage in rational dialogue. However, this article disturbed me. Could you specify who you are referring to as “crazy Confederate uncles?” You provide a description of such people in paragraphs 6-9, but stop short of naming names. The validity of your term might depend on who you refer to, especially since you state in paragraph 15 that you cannot/should not/will not engage such people with “rational argument because that only affirms their sense of being right.” That’s a pretty intense approach, and one that we should likely use sparingly. Thus, I hope that your term is not overbroad. Are you referring to people like the panelists who made the sinful statements about Christian rap? Are you talking about individuals claiming the Christian and reformed labels while believing that white people are superior to other races? If so, awesome and amen. Do you have someone else in mind? I appreciate your description of such individuals in paragraphs 6-9, but you use some phrases that caused me some concern. You tied these individuals’ craziness to such statements and belief that the South was the “greatest Christian civilization” or slavery “not being that bad;” these quotes sounded like some things that Pastor Doug Wilson has written in the past. Are you calling him a “crazy Confederate uncle?” I hope not. Your recent extensive dialogue with Pastor Wilson encouraged me immensely and contained statements on both sides that challenged me, and many others. Your actions, embodied in that dialogue, showed that you didn’t believe that he was a “crazy Confederate uncle;” you engaged him in rational dialogue, affirmed him as a brother in the Lord, and the Church was edified in the process. I hope you haven’t changed your mind.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Caleb,

      In this post I’m more interested in describing the phenomenon and problem as I see it, not in naming names. If the descriptions in paragraphs 6-9 are a fair description–fair enough to communicate the issues at stake–for now I’d rather leave it there. Once someone starts naming names then we’re off to debating those individuals rather than discussing the principles involved. There’s a place for naming names, and I’m not hesitant to do so when circumstances require it. But, here, I want to stay focused on the basic principle.

      I appreciate your concern. And I think these issues are concerning.

      Thanks for jumping up on the porch!
      T-

      • Caleb A. Sweazey

        Fair enough. Individuals represent ideas, but I appreciate your desire for the conversation to center on issues and not individuals. I also agree with you that the issue of racism within the reformed family is very concerning. My desire was for a clarification of the term that you used.

        I hope that the term does not include good-willed brothers who rejoice at the diversity of God’s kingdom and the unity of His Church in Christ. If paragraphs 6-9 exclude such people, praise God! If those paragraphs don’t exclude such people, then your term is overbroad.

        Additionally, I pray that our first response to people with whom we disagree is to love them enough to tell them why they are wrong, including rational argument from God’s Word in our rebuttal of their disagreeable stance. I hope people reading this post are not dissuaded from lovingly dialoguing with people with whom they disagree simply because those people seem, or are, racist. Engaging such individuals with rational arguments does not exclude firm rebukes.

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          Hi Caleb,

          Thanks for hanging in with the conversation.

          To further clarify, I certainly would not include the many (majority!) of good folks of good will who love the diversity of God’s kingdom as “crazy Confederate uncles.” Not by any means.

          You’re correct to say rational arguments do not exclude firm rebukes. But, in biblical terms, not even rebukes are to be expended on “fools” who are not teachable or open to instruction. I’m thinking of the many Proverbs that teach this. I suppose we’ll lovingly disagree on the when’s and if’s of engaging certain arguments. I don’t think Farrakhan’s view of “race” deserves the legitimacy that rational argument and discussion would confer. In the same way, I don’t think ludicrous arguments of the sort I describe above need to be dignified with a “rational” engagement, an engagement that presupposes the rationality and worthiness of the ridiculous in some cases. Again, we can lovingly disagree about this.

          T-

  • Antecho

    Hi Thabiti,

    Your story about Sonny is a good yet sad one. I hope we ourselves don’t ever end up with such mental difficulties as we age on this side of physical death.

    I think of instead of you writing that it is inconsistent (i.e., theologically and ethically schizophrenic) for one to be a Christian and hold slaves, it would be much better towards the truth to say something qualified more along the lines of “to be a Christian and hold slaves that were unjustifiablykidnapped (against ; ), treated/abused harshly rather than as brothers/sisters/’countrymen’ (against ; ; ) unjustly separated from their families (against ) — especially mothers separated from their children (against ) [see the scene where the woman is separated from her children when sold in the excellent yet sober film ’12 Years A Slave’], made to serve more than six years (; ), made to serve involuntarily (), or not being set free with abundant/lavish blessing ()” with at least any one of these qualifiers. Each of these qualifiers are all not only typical of American slaveholding, but also disobediently rebellious against how God commanded masters to hold slaves in righteousness against the above verses parenthetically referenced. We know that any ethic/tradition against the Law is against what is presently good, righteous, and holy () as it along with all commandments of God throughout Scripture define what is sin (; ). In joyful concurrence with God’s commandments in the Law () as a portion of all Scripture that trains/teaches us righteous conduct (), Moses’ teaching in exhorting masters to treat their slaves in righteousness, treating them with justice and fairness (; ),
    where God’s standards of justice for such masters are more explicitly revealed in Scripture found in God’s Law (just as also God’s standards for what constitutes relationships of incest are more explicitly found in ).

    To be sure, there are some commandments that were meant to be obeyed by the
    letter until “a time of reformation” (), such as those commandments
    that make ethical distinctions between Jews and Gentiles (; ), which as copies and shadows portray the Jewish Christ’s holiness and perfect atonement. Now that the gospel of Jesus Christ has gone out to all nations, the standards of righteousness/justice (even in
    slavery) that were distinct between Jew and Gentile, including the more gracious revealed standards toward sociological freedom that were given originally pertaining to the Hebrew slave would now apply to both Jew and Gentile (i.e., all) slaves; just as the more gracious standard toward freedom/liberty of no food being distinctively unclean for the Gentile () is no longer clean just for
    Gentiles only/distinctively since further revelation has shown its intended temporality under Jesus Christ’s New Covenant (). God’s commandments are a standard of righteous/just ethical conduct to be obeyed for its intended duration in letter, even if the letter of some commandments are revealed in further revelation as patterned copies and shadows (; ) only meant to be obeyed in the pattern-letter up until the New Covenant’s “time of reformation” (). Thus, depending on the commandment, EITHER in abiding/remaining principle (e.g. Christ as our Passover per ) OR together in both abiding/remaining letter & principle (; ), we are to obey Christ’s exhortation to keep and teach even the least of the commandments from the Law and Prophets, rather than attempt to “annul” them () according to our own autonomous authority/reasoning apart from further New Testament revelation. Paul, as a minister of the New Covenant’s gospel in the Lord Jesus, also in concurring with the Law () also did not teach for us to arbitrarily annul () God’s Law, upholding Christ’s exhortation in to the Law’s validity/application as a standard of righteousness according to its letter unless later revealed by God to otherwise be intended to be obeyed in letter until the New Covenant’s ‘time of reformation’ as a temporary copy or shadow patterned after the “substance” of Christ ().

    Now, I do believe we are much better off without slavery in accordance with ; and just as God gave Abraham the victory to set free those who were unjustly kidnapped in , I praise the Lord that He used another Abraham to wage war with the sword () against the South’s evil kidnappers & unsubmissive/rebellious/insurrectionist () civil magistrates to set free those captives of African descent. This greater blessing of slavery being abolished is not in contradiction with the Law since God never commanded His people to become masters and purchase volunteering slaves, even if it would be done with a commitment to God’s revealed standards
    of righteousness and justice in His word as it pertains to the master and slave relationship. However, my main point in writing this comment to you is that as part of the whole of inspired Scripture to be used for training in righteousness (), Paul would expect the Christian slave-holding master to not contradict God’s commands given in His word through Moses on how to deal justly/righteously with slaves according to the commandments originally describing how Hebrew slaves should be treated (whether or not such slaves were Jew or Gentile, lest Jew-Gentile ethical distinctions be made in disobedience to New Covenant instruction). That is, God’s commandments originally given for how masters were to treat Hebrew slaves are now extended without distinction to Gentile slaves: not kidnapped (including from another continent like Africa), not serving involuntarily beyond six years, not treated differently than a hired
    brother/countrymen during his service as a slave, not breaking up families especially mothers forced to be separated/alone from their children, not emotionally/physically/sexually abused. Unfortunately and disgustingly, such prohibitions were not typical of the American way.

    Moreover, with so much past wicked disobedience in America and throughout the West against God’s standards of justice in His word on how masters should treat
    slaves, making an unqualified case about the ethical inconsistency of Christians owning slaves would be as rational as making an unqualified case against marriage itself because there exists the wicked and disobedient sexual neglect and physical abuse in marriages of many Muslims whom are efficaciously of the school of thought that the Quran’s Surah 4:34 or the Hadith’s Abu Dawud 11:2139-2142 or Ibn Ishaq (p. 496) grants husbands the authority from God to neglect their
    wives conjugal rights or even physically beat them (which are disobedient to God’s true revelation by true prophets of God given in ; ; ). The fact that a type of functional relationship (e.g., husband & wife or master & slave) can be abused through unrighteousness does not make a type of functional relationship in all circumstances categorically without qualification unrighteous in itself so that a Christian is not ethically consistent with what Scripture teaches if he has any participation in the type of functional relationship.

    Also, I saw in a comment under this article that you stated that Machen was racist. Would you please give at least one reference from his writings (or from some eyewitness accounts) where you believe he has portrayed this disobedient and prideful mindset? Honestly, I’m surprised to hear that Machen would be thinking (or behaving as if) one set of the sinful sons of Adam are ontologically superior over another set of the sinful sons of Adam, and I would like to verify this for myself.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Antecho,

      thanks for joining us on the porch. Two replies:

      1. Your exegesis of the slavery texts the two NT texts that directly address the question of freedom from slavery: and Philemon. In the first Paul encourages the slave to get his freedom if he can. In the second Paul appeals on the basis of love that the Christian slave owner, Philemon, free and treat as a brother (no longer a servant) Onesimus.

      2. Your application of the biblical texts slide past the American context far too quickly. If you take seriously the first line in your second paragraph, that man-stealing is contrary to the gospel, then you should have only made one additional statement: The entirety of the slave system practiced in the America’s was ungodly, contrary to the gospel, and should be condemned. That’s it. Arguing about the other text abstracted from the context we’re discussing is how the spiritual schizophrenia works. We’re not talking about an “abstract doctrine of slavery.” We’re talking (at least the Black church is talking) about real people, really enslaved, and a real church compromised by its hypocritical participation in it.

      Here’s my question: What purpose does arguing about the permissibility of slavery serve (a) in a country that is 150 years beyond Emancipation and (b) in a world where sex trafficking and other forms of slavery still exist? What possible good comes from that?! The entire discourse seems bizarrely disconnected from the realities faced then and now. And that, I think, is very dangerous.

      3. The categorical ethical case against slavery is a case based upon love. Love does no wrong to its neighbor. Period. If Paul appeals on the basis of love for Philemon to free Onesimus, then it stands to reason that as Christians with the light of centuries of reflection and a 1.5 centuries after slavery’s end in the country, should be better able to apply the requirements of love in a unilateral way. It’s no contradiction at all and it’s not complex theology. It’s simple. Love doesn’t harm its neighbor. Slavery harms its neighbor. Therefore slavery is not love and is not permissible according to love.

      Machen is well-documented. Google should help.

      Grace and peace to you,
      T-

      • Antecho

        Thank you for welcoming me on the porch, Thabiti.

        Sorry, but it actually doesn’t follow that if I take seriously that
        man-stealing is immoral; then, I should make ONLY one additional statement that condemns American slavery. You’re use of ‘should’ seems based on arbitrary morality that you have made up. I want to demonstrate that American masters were guilty with multiple ways of transgressing God’s standards (rather than just the one way of man-stealing) of not treating their slaves as God prescribes in the parenthetical texts I used. If you prefer to only use the one way of kidnapping,that’s still rational — I wouldn’t fault you for that — but this limitation is not a matter of ‘should’ but your personal preference. Similarly, if I were discussing why I don’t believe
        baptizing infants is what God intended for how He prescribes baptism to be practiced, it’s likewise not a matter of ‘should’ that I use EITHER only one OR even more than one reason that I know of in how infant baptism is inconsistent with God’s word.

        In my original comment to you, I am also talking about American
        slavery of those “real” people of African descent. But I do also make abstract categorical statements based on God’s word, and
        have apply such “abstract doctrine” to show both how “real” American slave owners in history did not live up to how masters should treat their slaves in love/righteousness according to what God prescribes in His word. The “abstract doctrine” is also beneficial for you to know apriori/independent of any known historical context why it would be better (being accurate to God’s word) for you not to write without qualification that ‘Christians should not own slaves’ — Sorry, but again your unqualified ethical notion (in the previous single quotes) seems to be another instance of more arbitrary morality from you. I remind you that is exactly from arbitrary morality that men such as Dabney arrive at attempting to justify an ethic of participating in a slave trade through kidnapping. If you take seriously the immorality of unjust slavery (as well as schizophrenia), then you should also make sure that your ethical statements are neither inconsistent with, nor even exceed (), what is written in God’s word (i.e., unbiblical or even extra-biblical). Specifically, the portions of God’s
        word given through His prophet Moses (; ; ) that says that masters should set their slaves free with lavish blessing after 6 years of service while loving them as “brothers”/countrymen, and not treating them with severity “is” (note the NT’s present tense use by Paul in ) to be regarded as “holy, just, and good”. And, it is good for me being motivated by love to appeal to you to not write statements that as unqualified (at best, seems to) contradict what God’s Law says in how Christians should regard God’s teaching in how masters are called by God to treat their slaves.

        To answer your question that you asked me: My purpose in
        arguing for the moral freedom or “permissibility” of slavery
        after 150 years of emancipation and where slavery and sex-trafficking exists is twofold:
        (1) To show that your sound hatred of the historical misuse/abuse of slavery does not justify you in believing/writing that slavery
        categorically is lawlessness/unloving/wrong/harmful, and would thereby be arbitrarily disobedient/inconsistent to God’s law, which true lovefulfills, where the form of love to be shown is specifically
        through commandments (even the ones that deal with how masters are to justly treat their slaves during their service) of how it actually means to love neighbors (including slaves as brothers).
        (2) To show against Dabney and those sympathetic to his position on American slavery (which would in some degree/principle include
        sex-traffickers) how American/Western slavery fell short of God’s holy, just, and good standard of how slaves should’ve been treated (i.e., as the Hebrews were to treat their slave-brothers in love) now that the gospel has gone out to all nations so that no ethical distinction between Jew and Gentile remain.

        Thus, in the words of , my purpose
        is to encourage you (1) to ensure you don’t autonomously veer to
        the left, and (2) how to accurately help/critique those who
        autonomously veer to the right. Praise the Lord(!) that you don’t
        agree with Dabney, but you also should offer a sound justification (that is apparently faithful to the Lord’s word in scripture) for such
        a conclusion against schizophrenic Dabneyites. The problem with
        Dabney is not that he knew from God’s word that it was possible for a Christian to have the moral freedom in righteousness to be a master of slave according to God’s good standards in the Bible, but that he arbitrarily suppressed the truth that American/Western slavery absolutely failed God’s good standards in all of Scripture through kidnapping (and through the additional ways I mentioned — which in my mentioning them, unfortunately you have arbitrarily found fault with).

        Yes, Paul appeals to Philemon to have Onesimus back as brother for eternity, where Onesimus is stated to be a brother in the Lord and also in the flesh to Philemon. However, this instruction does not categorically mean that all masters no longer have the moral freedom to have slaves. Beyond other possible reasons, since there are conditions given in Scripture where a slave should be freed (e.g., if kidnapped, if having served more than six years, if treated with severity), we shouldn’t arbitrarily believe that none of such apply to Onesimus’ situation, and thus Paul’s appeal to Onesimus must be a categorical statement for all masters to free their slaves. Such sloppy exegesis/reasoning would be similar to teaching that since Lydia in was baptized with her household, then all unbaptized persons in all households where there is a believer must categorically be baptized, to include infants. We have no right to teach that if all persons of one household (Lydia’s) is baptized when at least one person of the household believes, then all unbaptized persons of all households, including infants, must be baptized. Without knowing the situation or reason for Paul’s appeal to Philemon to graciously/lovingly release Onesimus, we have no right to make and teach a
        distinction that the love to one particular slave to take the form of
        being freed, must now be shown to all slaves in the identical form of being freed. Furthermore, such an unnecessary/fallacious interpretation, that all masters ought to free their slaves, contradicts other NT instruction between functionally subordinate relationships of slaves & then masters (), which in the immediate context there is instruction given to functionally subordinate relationships of at least some continuing duration between wife & then husband () and children
        & then fathers (). This same pattern of instruction in Colossians between functionally subordinate relationships is given for slaves & then masters (), as it is for the instruction of some continuing duration between wives and husbands (; and children and fathers ).

        Moreover, your categorical statement that slavery “harms” a
        person, and therefore is against love seems to stem from fallacious reasoning that misuse of a thing (e.g. slavery) proves the immorality of the thing itself. But, of course it’s not the thing, but the abuse/misuse of the thing (slavery via kidnapping) that is necessarily concluded as immoral. Also, and (in the context of other functionally subordinated temporal relationships that are not harmful/evil in themselves) says that masters are to treat slaves without impartiality, but
        with justice and fairness — just as the presently “holy, just, and good” () commandments of of the Law say that masters are to treat their slaves as brothers, in accordance with love as the fulfillment of God’s Law. If these relationships were inherently harmful or sinful, then it would be absurd for Paul to give this command to masters. This would be like Paul addressing
        kidnappers or rapists, instructing to lovingly treat their victims with good will,justice, fairness without threating ( and ). Thus, the commandment for masters and slaves to obediently love each other is not a new NT commandment, but according to previous OT revelation from God’s “good and just” Law prescribes for Hebrew-brothers as masters and
        slaves given throughout “all Scripture for training in righteousness/justice” (). Obedient just love ought to have been characteristic throughout Philemon’s
        and Onesimus’ master-slave relationship, whom were brothers not merely in the Lord (like Paul), but especially because they were “much more” brothers in the flesh (unlike Paul) per b.

        Since according to Paul, the Law is good and is fulfilled by love (), then obeying God’s word/laws does
        nothing inconsistent/against love (), if the Law allows
        for a master to own slaves for 6 years, then their must be a way in
        which a master justly possess a slave in righteousness, despite the
        potential for it’s misuse in transgression against the commandments of how masters are to treat slaves. ‘Love’ towards God & man or it opposite of unjustified ‘harm’ are summary terms, yet are not for us to define what conduct it summarizes on our own authority according to our preferences or imaginations. Rather, love summarizes God’s commandments (). Just as a summary does not oppose what it summarizes so proper love towards God and man does not oppose God’s commandments, even the laws pertaining how a master ought to treat a slave.

        Thabiti, we don’t disagree on the necessity of the abhorrence of American slavery as I qualified it in my original comment, and the guilt of those who participated in it. But, I hope to give you some considerations on how to exegete God’s word more faithfully
        against Dabney and his sympathizers, so that it doesn’t appear that your conclusion about how Christians should not have participated in American slavery is likely false because your justification/reasoning is
        fallacious (including weak unqualified or too broad statements that at face value seem to contradict God’s word and the reliability of it as a holy and righteous standard). Please be sure to have read these two comment-posts of mine in the fairest and best light, they have been written with the intent to strengthen your ministry unto the Lord. Blessings and love to you.

        Regarding Machen, I have looked on Google and only read some claims by others that he was racist. I think it would be good for me to know of a quotation that he wrote/said to make sure his beliefs are not misrepresented. I have seen some say he was for segregation, but even if that were proved with a quote, I’d want to know his motivation for the erroneous belief that segregation is the way to go. If Machen thought it was an easy way to maintain peace or even peace within his denomination where there may be many schizophrenics, his reasons as such would be foolish, fallacious, &
        compromising reasons leading to the poor conclusion that segregation is valid; but they wouldn’t be racist ones as if he would be a segregationist because he thinks his own race is better than another’s. To be sure, if anyone told me that Thabiti recently stated something racist, I would be similarly surprised, and want to see a quote of you before I believed it. If Machen’s racism is well documented, then it should be easy for you to find something. If you shouldn’t be able to find such a quote that justifies your belief that he was ensnared with racism, then I hope you would be open to reconsidering the truthfulness/accuracy of your belief/statement, repenting from such beliefs/statements without verifiable warrant.

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          Hey man,
          You’re welcome on the porch, but you gotta let other folks talk, too! Your comments are far too long. As Einstein put it: “If you can’t say a thing simply then you don’t understand it well enough.”

          Two very quick replies:
          1. What’s “arbitrary” about the Bible’s command to love? It’s on the basis of love–which is the badge of Christian discipleship according to the Lord in –that involuntary slavery and man-stealing of the American variety is always wrong.

          2. Machen’s racism is easy to document. That’s why I said do a simple google search. Have you done that?

          You get the last (short!) word. I don’t want to have to kick you off the porch :-).

          T-

          • Antecho

            Sorry, and yes I can take a shorter approach, but there is a trade off of possibly being too short, not providing a thorough enough response to cover the bases/subtleties. Yet, at your request, in love I will now risk erring at being
            too brief.

            Love itself, being rooted in the nature of God, is not arbitrary (). And, I do believe that God clearly reveals what love is in our experience of the created realm (Ro 1:20; 2:14-15). However, in our struggle with sin, we
            (even as Christians) still arbitrarily in our sinful hearts/thinking suppress/muddy the clear truth of what love is according to our own understanding that is contrary to God’s revealed word (Ro 7:22-23). However, what God has revealed to us naturally/generally does not contradict (Ti
            1:2) what He specially has revealed as love objectively (thus, with greater clarity) on the publicly observed pages of Scripture. And, we know God’s word (including His law, every commandment) is love, love towards God or man
            (inclusive ‘or’) per Ro 13:9-10. So, obeying God by giving alms to the poor, or a master obediently setting free a slave after 6 years while obediently in love blessing him lavishly (lovingly helping him get a head start akin to separation
            pay).
            Now, to what degree we love can indeed be of arbitrary personal preference, yet not in a sinful/wrongful manner (e.g., one may may give various amounts in an alms offering, or someone may set free a slave at six years or even sooner with even greater degrees of lavish blessing). Yet, in another sense these examples (despite the moral freedom in their arbitrary degree of love) are all non-arbitrarily loving since they objectively obey God’s
            law/word (assuming good motivation). On the contrary, participating or agreeing with a man-stealing based slave trade is objectively/non-arbitrarily unloving/sinful — such is objectively known that God hates this, as this action violates His word/law/command that reflects His own
            just/righteous nature. Similarly, if I teach owning slaves could never be done obediently in love as a Christian endeavor, even if such ownership is done according to God’s law (which love summarizes); then, I am also arbitrarily (in a sinful manner) contradicting God’s word against love.

            We know that Paul’s appeal to set Onesimus free was an appeal for Philemon to show his love for Onesimus in the form/manner of setting Onesimus free, for setting Onesimus free does not violate God’s law/word, and thereby is love, fulfilling (not. opposing/breaking/violating) God’s law, which shows how man can love. However, since it seems that Paul could command/order Philemon (v. 8) to set Onesimus free, it seems that Philemon’s slaveholding of Onesimus for some reason particular to their situation was against God’s “proper” (v.8) commandments (perhaps Philemon disobediently had him as a slave for more than six years, or disobediently dealt in severity with him, or did not treat Onesimus as a hired man) as God requires a master to lovingly do in His law. Despite not knowing this exact particular reason why Paul makes this appeal to do what is “proper,” we still do know Philemon would not be loving Onesimus as he ought to if he does not set him free.

            In faithful love towards God, I don’t want to arbitrarily presume Paul’s exact reasoning of why setting Onesimus free was necessary for love/obedience, lest I arrive at an arbitrary (unjustified extrabiblical) ethical conclusion. We know it was love to set Onesimus free, but we don’t know
            precisely why it was as it pertains to their situation. To not know exactly why it was necessary to love in this manner would not justify us in believing/implying that there wasn’t anything particularly unique to their situation so as to end up teaching that Philemon’s example is non-uniquely
            (i.e. universally) categorical for all masters to immediately do for their slaves as necessary/obligatory/commanded in order to show love.

            To answer your 2nd question: In my 2nd comment, I meant to convey that I had looked on Google about Machen when I wrote: “Regarding Machen, I have looked on Google and only read some claims by others that he was racist….”

            I hope this time I didn’t write more than you enjoyed/wanted. Truly, your first question was a good one, and I thought it’d be good to make some careful distinctions to attempt to give an answer with a helpful justification so that you don’t feel like you’re left to take/read a terse answer willy-nilly.

            Grace and Peace to you too, Brother.

          • Antecho

            The command to love is not arbitrary, but that does not mean we get to arbitrarily define love in a way that is inconsistent with God’s word with your teaching that implies Christians should believe it is never moral/loving to hold slaves when the commandments of God’s word by which love fulfills (and thus, does not contradict) says there are conditions where slaveholding can be done in righteousness/love. Also, I haven’t written anything that implies your straw man question of God’s command to love being arbitrary.

            To answer your 2nd question: In my 2nd comment, I meant to convey that I had looked on Google about Machen when I wrote: “Regarding Machen, I have looked on Google and only read some claims by others that he was racist….” I hope you will lovingly retract your statement if you can’t provide even just one statement that Machen made that conclusively supports your allegation that his teachings are racist, which should be easy to provide if as “well documented” as you also alleged.

  • george canady

    Pastor T. I know you not to be a one issue man. I am thankful for the video I saw with you defending the faith of the puritans as you talked on the subject of Jonathan Edwards. But on this subject here, those of us who find it a primary issue, we are grateful for your boldness and we know there is a cost. In this context, I sometimes think of the advice Bathsheba gave to Solomon in : 8, 9 and how weak I have been at times to do that because of the cost. This morning in my Bible study I pray for us men of clay feet : 6-8. I myself pray peace and safety for you. Please continue to pray for us who have limited understanding to go with wisdom.

  • Keith Butler Jr.

    Good stuff!

  • Nathaniel Simmons

    I confess that I found this article to be discouraging. Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I will share my concern so you can correct me if necessary.

    My largest concern came from the paragraph that both included, and was characterized by this sentence. “You can’t answer with rational argument because that only affirms their sense of being right and in their right mind when they are neither.” You conclude the paragraph saying, “we must refuse to give backward opinions legitimacy by debating them as if they were worthy.” I recognize that the very next paragraph talks about the need to sometimes interact with the “crazy uncles,” but even here the sentiment is, “The rest of the family must insist our “crazy Confederate uncles” stay in their rooms until they can join the family productively.” To put it more succinctly, I am discouraged by what seems to be a “they can’t help it so lets just ignore them unless they do something to embarrass the family” attitude.

    I remember when Doug Wilson’s Black and Tan was receiving some very negative remarks. For the most part, it seemed like the people who criticized Wilson were following this model. They weren’t responding to his arguments; they were simply trying to beat him back into his room by calling him a racist. Thabiti, you took a much different approach and I really respected you for it. You patiently and systematically dealt with the material of his book and his arguments. In the end, there wasn’t complete agreement, but there did seem to be mutual respect. More than that, the conversation, and especially your interaction was immensely helpful to me as I tried to understand his book and the larger conversation. If you chose to simply treat him as a crazy uncle, I would have been the loser.

    The reason I say this post was discouraging is twofold. First, as I said above, if you choose to ignore the “crazy Confederates,” some of whom I read fairly regularly, I loose. I need to have my thoughts and biases challenged. Simply calling me crazy won’t help. Instead, I would benefit much more if you would continue to engage in a reasonable way, much like you did with Doug Wilson’s Black and Tan.

    The second reason I found this post discouraging is because it left me feeling that my problem is insurmountable. I am not sure if you saw the question and answer portion of the “Race and the Christian” conversation between Piper, Keller, and Bradley. In the first question Piper explains how his tendency to respond to Bradely’s critiques were to “take his ball and go home.” I must admit that this post gives me a similar feeling. If you truly view my schizophrenia as something that I cannot help, and presumably overcome, I wonder why I would continue to play the game.

    I may be misunderstanding your position. If so, please correct me. Also, I recognize that asking you to interact with “crazy uncles” puts you in an exhausting position that is probably also discouraging. Nevertheless, you have already demonstrated that you can do it in a way that is both loving and productive. I would be encouraged to see you continue that trend.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Nathaniel,

      Thanks for joining the conversation, brother. Grateful to have you on the porch!

      You wrote: I am discouraged by what seems to be a “they can’t help it so lets just ignore them unless they do something to embarrass the family” attitude.

      Actually, I believe exactly the opposite about our “crazy Confederate cousins.” Here’s where the analogy to my schizophrenic uncle breaks down. They’re entirely able to “help it.” They’re capable of thinking through a wider set of arguments than the old pro-South and often pro-slavery arguments. They’re capable of admitting more about the virtue of other peoples and cultures. And they’re capable of learning from others. The issue isn’t capacity; it’s willingness.

      Most African Americans dealing with these kinds of attitudes have been taught by their parents that there are some people and attitudes that simply do not deserve a response. That has two purposes. First, it keeps you from dignifying certain things with a response. That’s important for showing the thing to be the foolishness that it is. Think Proverbs: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly.” Second, as your last paragraph points out, it keeps you from exhausting yourself needlessly with persons who aren’t good faith discussants. Thank you for pointing out in your last paragraph that you can see the potential for discouraging and exhausting interactions. But keep in mind: All this applies to folks who demonstrate that they’re not good faith discussants and unwilling to charitably engage or concede anything at almost any point.

      As to your two discouragements:

      First, there’s no reason you need to assign yourself to the category “crazy uncle” because you read their stuff. I read some of the guys you may think are “crazy uncles.” I benefit from them. I just don’t agree with them. My main encouragement would be to read widely. Make sure you’re getting input beyond that circle. But you don’t have to write yourself off because you read these guys.

      Second, “your problem” is not insurmountable. There’s grace sufficient for us all in our blind spots and ignorance. However, “your problem” is not my problem to fix. If you recognize you’ve got some problems in your point of view, it’s for you to seek solutions to it. One of the reasons these discussions become so exhausting for African Americans is some of our white brothers tend to put us in the position of having to “educate them.” There’s a lot of room for well-meaning folks to take responsibility for educating themselves.

      I hope this is helpful in some measure. Don’t be discouraged. We hope in a God who raises the dead.There’s no limitation on His ability to help the contrite and humble through cultural issues.

      Grace and peace,
      Thabiti

      • Nathaniel Simmons

        Thabiti – Thanks for your helpful and gracious response.

        I suppose, my goal was to encourage you and others not to be quick to write people off as “unwilling to charitably engage or concede anything at almost any point.” Certainly, I recognize that there is a time that wisdom demands this, but I think we should all be careful not to make that decision quickly or lightly. This is especially true in the complicated world of the internet where your conversations are public.

        Though I felt that this particular post sounded like you were writing off people too quickly, I have not got that impression from you overall. So I want to make sure that I don’t exaggerate my sense of discouragement or act as if I have reason to believe that you are unwisely choosing when to engage and when to ignore these conversations of culture.

        One final point, I really do understand why it would seem exhausting when white people, myself included, ask that you educate us of our blind spots. I don’t want to minimize that in any way. However, I also want to point out that reading things like the Front Porch is an honest attempt to take responsibility for my own education. I depend on people like you to educate me, and that is not an attempt to shirk my own responsibility, its an attempt to embrace it.

        Thank you again for your response. As always, it was well thought out and helpful.

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          Hi Nathan,

          Point taken in your last paragraph there. Thanks for embracing that responsibility and for including The Front Porch in the list of things you read. I’m truly grateful for that. The Lord shower grace, mercy, peace and joy on you this Christmas season and always!

          In Him,
          T-

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  • Darryl Hart

    Pastor Anyabwile, I appreciate the candor of this piece and your responses to a variety of comments. Because of that candor I sense I may be able to ask about further candor. Do you see yourself as committing certain sins that will cause others in future generations to label you a crazy uncle? “He was right about the Trinity but did nothing to stop abortion.” “He was sound on Scripture but did nothing to oppose the Assad regime in Syria.” “He was good on the atonement but continued to drive a car and use fossil fuels in ways that escalated global warming.”

    I have no idea if you have spoken or engaged in activism on abortion, Syria, or global warming. Perhaps you have. I know I have not. And I know that in future generations people may look back and say that I was guilty of a gap between my profession and my ethics.

    So my question is whether this is fair, either for you to do it or for future generations to do it of us? You may say that racism is a worse sin or a more obvious sin than other inequities and injustices. That may be. But the larger point is that none of us is free from the culture we inhabit or its expectations. And none of us is powerful enough to prevent shifts from what we consider to be okay to what future generations will condemn.

    And in that case, if we all have logs in our own eyes, should we be careful about pointing out the logs in others’ eyes?

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Mr. Hart,

      Welcome to the front porch. Thanks for joining us and sharing your perspective.

      Those would all be fair questions if we were looking retrospectively at our “crazy uncles” and judging them by today’s standard and history’s perfect hindsight. But this post isn’t as anachronistic as all that. In fact, we’re responding to people today, in our own time, making the mistakes of the past. The situation works in precisely the opposite direction as your questions suppose. Critiquing our contemporaries by the standards of our day seems to me to be an entirely legitimate thing to do.

      Grace and peace,
      T-

      • Darryl Hart

        But since you are alive today, the question is not about the future or the past. Are you a crazy uncle when it comes to abortion, global warming, or Syria? Those are not exactly issues irrelevant to now.

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          I’m not sure I’m following you. Your first comment asked whether future generations would judge us for our stances today, then argued on that basis that I should not label folks “crazy uncles” today.

          If I’m following, now it seems you’re asking if I’m a “crazy uncle” today on certain issues. Well, if we’re to use the label consistently between the two of us, then to be a “crazy uncle” on the types of issues you list I’d have to reach back a couple hundred years to appropriate a position that in today’s light would generally be regarded as wrong-headed then and especially now and try to argue its applicability (wrongly) to those issues. As far as I know, I’m not using 18th century climate models to discuss global warming, or 17th century views of child labor laws (or lack thereof) to talk about abortion, or taking the anti-Arab version of “Gone with the Wind” to argue for a foreign policy to address Syria. To keep the metaphor consistent, that’s what I would have to do to earn the “crazy uncle” label.

          Now, I may, in fact, be wrong on one or more of your example issues. But I’m wrong while being firmly in this time period and attempting to bring theology to bear on ethics and vice versa. I’m not wrong because I’m trying to resurrect some bygone golden age of Christian culture and am refusing to countenance the very deadly ethical questions involved in a matter like abortion or revolution in Syria. I’m wrong, if I am wrong, because I’ve taken these things seriously, faced them contemporaneously, and in human fallibility missed the mark rather than engage in the kind of escapism that isn’t truly facing the problem at all.

          I hope that helps.
          T-

          • Darryl Hart

            It’s probably worse. You’re likely using 16th c. BC views of the Middle East, unborn babies, and the environment as in Moses and the Pentateuch.

            The point is that we all have crazy uncle in us. I was just wondering whether you acknowledged that. Sounds like you don’t.

          • Thabiti Anyabwile

            LOL. If that were your point, that’s all you had to say. A point I would happily stipulate and qualify. The qualification is: There’s crazy and then there’s crazy.
            T-

  • Jose Roberto

    Hey Thabiti,

    A p.s. re Machen — the excerpt I quoted from his book suggests he was not at all a “racist” but a godly man longing for a church where two or three could gather in Jesus’ name without regard to their pigmentation.

  • Jose Roberto

    Sorry, one more post script. Ask me if I could see myself as a member of a predominantly black church. I’ll answer “Well, a) is their doctrine and theology sound, and b) what is their worship style?” May I suggest to you as others have implied at least, that what is often taken as “racist” is no more than a dislike of particular cultural characteristics.

    What about you? Can you see yourself choosing one church rather than another based on culture and worship style, even though the one you chose not to attend was of a different ethnicity than you?

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hi Jose,

      I was converted in an AME church. Then I helped to plant a predominantly African-American church with significant white membership. Then I served in a predominantly white church with significant numbers of Asian, Latino/a and a small but growing number of African Americans. I now pastor a church in the Caribbean with about 40 ethnicities represented from about 25-30 nationalities. All the churches have been solid theologically and have varied considerably in their worship styles.

      Now what was your point again?

      This post isn’t about church membership or preferences in worship. This post is about a certain “split personality” in some quarters of white evangelicalism that from time-to-time creates deep consternation across ethnic lines. That split personality has to do with the bifurcation of theology and ethics and a certain kind of historical escapism and romanticism that prevents folks from dealing lucidly with the truth and with reality. That’s really what needs to be dealt with.

      Grace to you,
      T-

    • John Sather

      Jose
      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Db0Ti-gkJiXc

      Helpful video in understanding what could be viewed as being “racist”?
      To me many of our European white Christian leaders marginalize the Black church and rarely will a white pastor (who supposedly has all their doctrine “right) have a long term relationship with another man of color–especially African American pastors. We serve in 17 major inner cities of America and I can tell you that racism is alive and well (sick actually!!). And often it is the majority culture (white church) that is in the lead by trying to control the agenda and relationship. However there is a growing movement of white and black leaders that are intentionally building relationships of trust and hope. The majority culture is finally listening to the heart and yes the pain of black leaders. And TOGETHER are making a movement of Christ that is gospel centered, “correct doctrine” and loving in heart.

  • John Sather

    “What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been loved by Jesus himself. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake”— D. A. Carson

    I align with Dr. Carson–it is ultimately the gospel and Jesus (Christ, our Lord and Savior) that builds the bridge for men and women from different backgrounds to minister together–as Christ is made much of!

  • John Sather
  • John Sather

    Bringing to the porch another article. “Justified anger: Rev. Alex Gee says Madison is failing its African-American community”….http://t.co/PYxvkM1L9p

  • Riley

    Thabiti, I appreciate your spirit of charity and reconciliation in recognizing that Southern Presbyterians and other Confederate sympathizers are your brothers in Christ. I think it was in this spirit of loving your fellow redeemed sinner that you used the term, “crazy uncle.” However, I’m not convinced that this way of looking at them is helpful. We are talking about reasoned arguments from a distinct and coherent theological tradition within the Reformed family, not the insane babblings of a madman. It would be much better to study to understand their arguments and views on race and slavery, and then you will be in a place to actually dialogue on these topics by discussing areas of agreement and disagreement. Much better than just writing off an opposing view held by some brothers as “crazy”, and more conducive to Christian unity.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hey bro,

      Thanks for joining us on the porch. Thanks also for sharing a gracious disagreement. I appreciate your spirit.

      But we do disagree. I don’t find their positions “reasonable.” I find them dangerous. I have read, understood and responded to their positions. I think their positions often strain at exegetical gnats (which shouldn’t be confused with “reasonable” or “biblical”) and swallow entire racial and cultural camels. Jesus dismisses such positions rather than “patiently engage” them.

      If you think dialogue needs to happen on these issues, then perhaps you’re the person to do it. But I’d Prather talk with people who speak of me as a brother and aren’t interested in defending southern slavery. If you like, you can call me “crazy.”

      Grace and peace,
      T

      • Riley

        Thanks for your response, brother. Note that I referred to “reasoned arguments”, not “reasonable.” A position may be both well-reasoned and dangerous. That’s why the intellectually consistent tend to be more dangerous than the purely mad. I have to admit that I can’t comprehend some of your statements very well, perhaps because you’ve read some things that I haven’t. But I don’t know what “racial and cultural camels” you’re referring to, or what positions you’re saying “Jesus dismisses”, or who it is that doesn’t “speak of you as a brother.” If someone is trying to engage both sides of a topic, it’s not very helpful if one of the sides refuses to make an exegetical argument. I would like to see reconciliation because I have close brothers on both sides of the argument. I see that this is primarily a historical/cultural/political debate. We all agree on the basics of unity in Christ, in the church, and that God has made of one blood all the nations of the earth. And I believe that should transcend any of these other differences of interpretation and application.

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