Christian Social Justice Warriors are a Legalistic Sect

It’s been a few months since the Metanoia Collective began – enough time for some feedback to start filtering back to the collective’s contributors. I heard recently from a good friend of mine and an alumnus from my evangelical undergraduate. He accused us at Metanoia – “Christian social justice warriors” – of being a “legalistic sect.”

willworkforsalvationpageA legalistic sect. My friend felt towards us something like Paul’s fury towards the Judaizers in Galatians, who had added burdensome requirements to the simplicity of the Christian gospel. Jesus commands his followers to love God and love neighbor. So for Paul: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6 NIV). To this essential minimum, we at Metanoia have (in his view) demanded as necessary to Christian faithfulness that other white evangelicals join us in pursuit of racial justice. We also give the impression of looking down on white Christians who do not share our commitment – the condescending hallmark of legalism. We alone know the narrow way – a sure sign of sectarianism.

A strong charge, and one we are working to digest.

A few considerations:

  •  The first and only remedy for legalism, real or perceived, is to prioritize God’s love. “We love” – God and our neighbor – “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We take it as a good challenge to us as writers and thinkers that one of our readers has found the ethical cost of following Christ far more in evidence at Metanoia than the good news of God’s love. Unless our writing and advocacy and obedience radiate out from gratitude for God’s gift, we will only be weighting people down with “a cumbersome load” (Mt 23:4). We can certainly strive to keep these better proportioned: the good news front and center and the shape of a thankful life in its wake.
  •  The solution to sectarianism is to emphasize that there are other ways besides our own to love and obey God. We acknowledge this; loving God and neighbor looks different depending on the time and place. We at Metanoia are concerned about faithfulness in one time and place and context: ours, as white American Christians living after slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights, and now living through a resurgence of the Civil Rights struggle. We realize that the form Christian love takes in our generation will not be the same as in other times and places.

As we try to discern what loving God and neighbor looks like in our own moment, we keep in mind a few biblical trend-lines. Jesus calls each generation afresh, but because he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Heb 13:8), we can expect him to make demands of us consistent with those he made of our forebears in faith. The first pattern, then, is: faithfulness for the privileged looks like divestment. Jesus tells the rich young ruler to give up his possessions and the Pharisees to give up their pride of place. Paul tells the rich in faith to consider the weak (Rom 15:1), and those with plenty to share with the poor (1 Cor 11). As white people, we are the safe, secure, and privileged in American history.

Second, that faithfulness is public; it isn’t just for the private spaces and places of prayer and church, interpersonal friendships, or community cookouts. Jesus Christ led a public ministry and was executed by the public authorities. The early church set a similar pattern of engagement. Loving neighbor cannot be set apart from social justice; in the words of Cornel West, “justice is what love looks like in public.” Conversely, the word for someone who is friendly and loving on an individual level but acts for his own best interest on the public plane is hypocrite. There were plenty of individually kind slavemasters who had no intention of ceasing to profit from the public institution of slavery – just as today there are plenty of individually caring evangelical Christians who will do nothing to cut off our flow of privileges or to join in struggle with black people seeking survival and equity. The black theologian James Cone writes that “it seems that whites forget about the necessary interrelatedness of love, justice, and power when they encounter black people. Love becomes emotional and sentimental.” [1]

Third, faithfulness looks like prioritizing the voices that we and “the crowd” tend to ignore. Jesus Christ welcomed the children when his disciples thought they were beneath him, and he healed blind Bartimaeaus when the crowd tried to hush his cries. Paul tuned in to the voice of him whom he had been persecuting. In the same way, we as white people have been trained not to listen to black and brown voices. We must begin in earnest.

[1] James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power. 12th ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010), 54, 53.

 

Advertisements

National Anthem, America’s Original Sin, and Christian Repentance as a Way Forward

[Samuel Son is a columnist at North State Journal, a pastor of a multi-ethnic church, a writer for Presbyterian Outlook and Mocking Bird, and a leader in Micah. Read more from Samuel at his website, sonsamuel.com. Samuel’s most recent post was featured on The Raven Foundation. We have reposted it with gracious permissions from the author and from the site administrators at the Raven Foundation. The original post dates to September 19, 2016, and can be found here.]

your-voice-racism-2-e1474309815941

The recent hoopla about our national anthem and black athletes, whether they supposedly displayed disrespect by not covering their heart as Gabby Douglas or sitting it out as Colin Kaepernick and other athletes following suit, is an exposé of why racism is a rattrap for America: racism has been a core identity of America like no other nation.

Before the first slave was sold in London, England was a nation. Not so in America. Investment loans were created to buy slaves in Richmond before the ink on the Declaration of Independence dried. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, pillars of American democracy, the former by his political savvy and the latter by his eloquent words, got slaves when they were of age. Slavery, and its ideological child, racism, is America’s original sin because the American republic, as Jim Wallis argues, was founded on the principle that “black lives and black bodies don’t matter.”

Gabby was thrashed, but no one batted an eye when the shot put champions, Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, gazed at the flag with their arms comfortably limp at their thighs.  To be American is to be white. Blacks — and other non-whites — are perennial foreigners who must prove their citizenship unfailingly. My Korean father made us memorize the anthem because, he explained, “You are not white so you have to be more American than whites.” Most of my white friends mumbled through it.

After the 2015 execution of nine African-Americans by Dylan Roof with a monomaniacal vision of volleying a racial war, immense community pressure translated into a vote to bring down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House, a long-coming admission of the racist nature of Confederacy. But the Confederate flag has served as a scapegoat. Before the Confederacy, there was one America, birthed on the shipping, buying and selling of black bodies. So fundamental was this anthropology that when Jefferson wrote, “All men are created equal” no qualifying phrase was necessary, for it was “self-evident” that it meant whites only.

With racist ideology being fundamental to America’s raison d’etre, talk of racism inevitably incites powerful emotions. The chant “Black Lives Matter” feels like an attack and thus the rejoinder, “White Lives Matter.” Both racial equality and accusations of racism are perceived as a threat to America as dangerous as submarine nukes possibly lurking under the Pacific. Denouncing Washington for owning slaves is paramount to attacking the American government. I understand the sentiment. I would rather speak of my father’s courage to land in J.F.K airport with a single Benjamin in his wallet rather than the hurtful words that echo fresh in my head.

Abraham Lincoln boldly confessed this dark American identity in his second inaugural address. In an attempt to frame a meaning to the horrible loss of life, half a million Americans, he said:

fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Sensing that the loss and the dark past was beyond political language, he called upon theology, a way to talk of the world with a divine agent, to help the nation, and himself, be both honest and hopeful in the tragedy and sin.

I wonder if the only way we can make a passable path on the issue of racism as a nation is the language of theology, specifically, the theology of repentance, that can reach back to our past, face our original sin and make full repentance.

Repentance means “changing of one’s mind.” In Christian theology, it begins as a confession, not just of one’s sin but one’s state: “I am a sinner.” Sin is not external to you, like a cloth. It is part of your identity. Yet, by that confession one creates a separation from the sin. “I am a sinner” leads to “But I am not that sin.” With sin separated, a new identity is given which actually is a return to the original identity. In repentance, one practices the paradox of becoming more oneself by recognizing the contradictions in oneself. Confession in repentance then leads to reparation, actions consistent with the new/old identity.

So John the Baptist called his tax collecting Jews to be true Jews by repenting and returning any money wrongfully collected.

If America could fully repent of its original sin, it would find a new American identity that is not a betrayal of the old.

The power and viability of the theology of repentance was recently embodied by Georgetown University when on September 1st, John J. DeGioia, its president, publicly apologized for profiting from the sale of 272 slaves in 1838. It had all the marks of “true repentance,” full admission of sin at its core identity and commitment to reparation, such as the policy to give preferential admission to descendants of the enslaved (people disagree on whether the reparation went far enough). Mr. DeGioia said the impetus of Georgetown’s actions were drawn from the rich source of “Catholic tradition,” i.e., the Christian theology of repentance.

Georgetown offers a vision of what America can do. If America publicly repented of its “original sin,” neither whitewashing nor demonizing the founders, but confessing that though they sought equality of all men, they wrongfully excluded blacks, then America would remove all justification of racism that still linger hidden in the public discourse and policies.

Additionally, we would see the fight against racism not as an assault on the American identity, but as a building of a new Union that is more faithful to the words than those who signed off on them, the words that began the American experiment: “All humans are created equal.” Such repentance would be a faithful revision, a turn to a truer self.

 

Another Day, Another Hashtag. White People, You Gotta Get to Work NOW

[Awesomely Luvvie is a writer (and author), digital strategist, red pump rocker, techie, and professional troublemaker. She blogs at Awesomely Luvvie.com and her book, I’m Judging You, is a New York Times bestseller right now! In her most recent piece, “Another Day, Another Hashtag,” she addresses white people directly and provides nine things that we can do to fight racism now. With her gracious permission, we have re-posted an excerpt, with links here and below to the original.]

It’s another day and another hashtag that shouldn’t be. It’s another day for us to know someone’s name, not for how they lived, but how they died. It is another day where I am reminded that to be Black in America is to have an acute countdown clock over your head.

[…]

White people. Yes, you. Even you nice ones. These things that are happening? These horrifying things that are happening to my people? They are because people who look like you, have set up a system of supremacy that flourishes. It is one that says people who look like me are violent, threats. It doesn’t matter if they’re holding books, wallets, bags of skittles. It is one that allows people to be killed by cops while sitting in their cars. It allows people to be killed while they lay on the ground with their hands showing. It allows people to be killed while walking away. And their murderers are employees of the state. These killings are state-sanctioned.

White people, I’m talking to you. THIS. IS. YOUR. PROBLEM. TO. FIX. Y’all got some work to do, because this system that y’all keep on privileging from, you’ve got to help us dismantle it. Because those of us who are Black and Brown. We have tried. You created this robot, and it is yours to deactivate. My skinfolk don’t have the passcode. This is your monster to slay.

How? I am not sure, but below are some real ways to start.

[Follow the link here to finish the article and read Awesomely Luvvie’s nine ways to start!]

america-blood-patrick-campbell-artist

 AMAZING art by Patrick Campbell Illustration

What I Do

what-i-do

Amid all the discussion and debate about the inequalities and dangers faced by black and brown individuals in the United States, the question arises: what can I do about it?

It is overwhelming to look at the endless accounts of police brutality, justice system failures, blatant and subtle racism, and white denial.  When feelings of helplessness begin to wash over me, I have to take action.  These actions are usually not big, but they are steps towards the larger cause.

I work full time, keep myself busy with some side gigs, am newly married, have been sick for several months, and am learning how to live with someone new—but the need to participate in this movement burns inside of me.

With such a busy schedule, some days my “action steps” look like me gobbling up articles from Truth Dig, Democracy Now, Police the Police, Shaun King, and others and then reposting them for my Facebook friends to see.  What good does this do?  My friends have posted articles that caused me to pause and contemplate—so I post with the hope that mine will do that same for someone else.

Facebook sharing isn’t the only way to be proactive—there are many other social media avenues that can help spread the word.  It also helps to follow the accounts of organizations that are organizing events, planning protests, and starting nationwide movements. (Stop Mass Incarceration Network, Black Lives Matter, their region specific social media accounts (i.e. Atlanta’s Stop Mass Incarceration Network chapter’s twitter: StopMassIncNet-ATL).

But what do you do with the information these articles communicate?  You can’t stay silent!  Talk about it.  I love starting conversations with peoplemy husband, family, friends, co-workers, or complete strangers.  It doesn’t take much for the conversation to turn towards social justice—hearing where they are, sharing your perspective and ideas, discussing the movements and problems in the country, and finding community (or not). Remember, by sharing about the need for social justice, people can never again claim ignorance about the problem.  Plus, given time, they may come to recognize the seriousness of injustice and become activists, too!

Another way I try to stay aware is to notice when police pull someone over or detain them. I look at the person’s skin color, keep track of how the situation is being handled, and have my phone ready “just in case.”  You never know when you’re going to be a witness to police misusing power.

You’re probably wondering what BIG STEPS you can take.  Look at the sites of the organizations that are in the fight for equality and see what’s happening in your area, an hour away from you, four hours away, or even further.  See if anyone wants to go with you, plan the trip, and go prepared for the unexpected to happen.  And use social media to talk about it.

I’ve shared a little bit of what I do (social media posting, talking with people, etc.). However, my husband and I have done some other things, too.  Last fall, A traveled to NYC for Rise Up October, organized by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.  It was a multi-day event with big names, families who have lost parents, spouses, partners, children, cousins, siblings, etc. to police brutality.  There was a sit-in protest against one of the worst prisons in the country, and police made arrests.  While I wasn’t able to attend, it was my first exposure to big-time protesting.

Through that event, we learned about a regional event in Charlotte, which isn’t too far from where we live.  We attended, heard stories from family members who had lost someone, whether to death or prison, and began planning events at colleges and universities in the Southeast.  Excitingly, I got to plan the No More Stolen Lives Tour event at the University of South Carolina.  While not a large event, the people who were there were supportive and excited about the cause.

For those of you who live in bigger areas, start Googling and find out what’s going on.  For those of you who aren’t in a big area, see what’s happening in cities near you.  But, whatever you do, don’t feel that you are unable to contribute.

This is not a popular cause to join.  When you find like-minded people, bask in the community for the time you have it.  Most people think there are no real problems. However, as Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam executive committee: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”

* Also, if you are interested in donating money to organizations that use the funds to further the mission of social justice and equality, you can do so at these links:

Just Gonna Love My Neighbor

“I’m just gonna love my neighbor as best I can.”

This is a refrain we at Metanoia Collective have heard a lot lately in conversations with fellow white evangelicals. For various reasons — tactical, political, theological — many folks who read our blog feel they cannot lend their support to initiatives for civil rights like Black Lives Matter. The whole issue of race in America is (they say) too complicated. Too fraught. The BLM movement is too politicized. Too liberal. Too grandstanding. Too accusatory. Too controversial. Too self-righteous. Etcetera etcetera.

To which we say: perhaps so!

Perhaps the tactics, politics, or theologies of BLM and their coalition of supporters are misguided in the ways our readers specify.

But the point I would like to make is just this: the alternative course of action that so many of our conversation partners propose is simply untenable.

“I’m just gonna love my neighbor as best I can.”

This kind of claim sounds pious. It means: “On an individual, interpersonal, and local level, I am going to strive to my uttermost to practice love. But beyond that, I just don’t know — or I just can’t go.”

i-love-my-neighbor-happy-neighbor-dayBut imagine for one moment if the black and white evangelical abolitionists of the early 1800s had taken that approach. What would have happened if, instead of speaking up and agitating for the emancipation of enslaved black Americans, they had contented themselves to be loving and responsible (if also politically agnostic and disinvolved) neighbors in their churches and communities?

Or: imagine if the multitude of ordinary black Christians in Montgomery, Alabama had, instead of boycotting the city transit system, determined that the best thing for them to do was just to be loving towards their personal circle of friends and neighbors? Or if the black students in Greensboro, North Carolina had decided not to put themselves at risk by engaging in sit-ins? Or if folks declined to march from Selma to Montgomery in the spring of 1965? After all, these actions were each very controversial and grandstanding and self-righteous!

I’ll tell you what would have happened: nothing. Slavery and Jim Crow would have remained the law of the land.

“I’m just gonna love my neighbor as best I can.”

So when white evangelicals make this their purpose statement, it is in fact a rallying cry for doing nothing and maintaining the status quo. It is saying, “I will not step beyond the comfortable, manageable realm of my own friends and acquaintances.”

It is saying, “I will love my neighbor — as long as that means I sustain no risk to my reputation, no change to my politics, and no substantive alteration to my thinking.”

It is saying, “my life is not in jeopardy; I am safe. Maybe this is not true for the black and brown people of my country, but I can only tackle the race problem on an individual, case-by-case basis. Not in any concerted, collective manner!”

But this is not what Christ did, and not what he calls us to.

Jesus Christ demonstrated what love for God and love for neighbor look like. And it did not mean living a modest, quiet, careful life of doting on a few neighbors. It did not mean staying insulated from controversy, politics, and solidarity with the hated people of his society (sinners, tax collectors, and other lowlifes). Jesus wasn’t targeted by the authorities and killed because he was so politically sober-minded and universally well-respected. Au contraire. As Christians and as evangelicals we claim to worship a crucified man as Lord. One could not dream up more of a lightning rod for controversy in the ancient world — even if we’ve lost touch with that and have become pious and respectable defenders of keeping things the same and God-forbid-the-boat-should-rock.

“I’m just gonna love my neighbor as best I can.”

If we white evangelicals make this our mantra, we will excuse ourselves from discipleship to Jesus Christ and we will ensure that later generations look back on us as champions not of his fame but only of our own racial self-interest.