Alan Noble at Christ and Pop Culture posted an article yesterday that is actually a rebuttal to an article at Gospel Coalition by Voddie Baucham. I am linking to it because it has so much to offer in addition to the response to Baucham. Even though Baucham has been the victim of systemic racism, he relies on an explanatory framework which leads to a number of false dilemmas. I won’t review them all since Noble examines them well. Here is just one example from Baucham’s article:
I [Baucham] have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”
Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.
Baucham seems to see the problem in this situation as either sin or systemic racism. Can’t it be both? Systemic racism is sin but reframing what Baucham, and countless other African-Americans, go through as sin alone in some vague manner doesn’t help address the problem in the real world. Furthermore, racism exists in the church where everybody agrees sin is bad. Being against sin hasn’t kept white Christians from racism. Baucham’s analysis isn’t totally false, but it is incomplete and therefore unhelpful.
I have been in churches where everybody believed in sin but didn’t believe segregation and exclusion was sin. Unless the script to keep African-Americans down is named and confronted, nothing will change. The whites in the pews thought they were treating others with dignity but wanted the dignity to stay down the street at the black church.
As a teen, I sat in a church where white members didn’t want blacks to worship in the same building. In my hometown, I recall blacks being refused service at various establishments, including a bowling alley and swimming pool. When my father took over as principal at an integrated school, he was told that there were two sets of rules, one for the whites and one for the blacks. My dad’s answer: “Like hell there is! Not while I’m here.” My dad wasn’t an evangelical Christian but he did a very Christian thing without believing he was fighting sin in some theological sense.
Baucham calls the concept of white privilege “Gramscian” and “neo-Marxist.” This is stunning coming from someone who has experienced something because he is black that I have never experienced as a white man. I have never been stopped by police for reasons other than my conduct (i.e., my lead foot as a young man). I was never chased out of an establishment because of the color of my skin. I have never worried about my son being targeted because of the color of his skin.
It is simply true that I have never experienced what many black men experience due to the difference in skin color. There is no virtue in dismissing a truth because it is unpopular with one’s ideological mates. Calling the concept of white privilege Marxist doesn’t make it false.
Noble closes with a hope that we can go deeper than an either-or analysis:
What Ferguson has demonstrated in a very public way is the deep divisions between the various ways that Christians understand race in America. While I am glad to see many in the evangelical church speaking out and having important conversations about race, we must be able to imagine a way forward which does not rely on an overly simple view of personal responsibility and causality.