Book Review: America’s Original Sin

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America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, by Jim Wallis. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. 272 pages

During the past several years, Evangelical Christians have been criticized for their lack of involvement in the fight against racial injustice. It’s said that Christians willingly and consistently engage in Pro-Life issues (and issues concerning the proper role of marriage and sexuality), but are glaringly absent when it comes to the issue and consequences of racial injustice.

In reacting to these criticisms, Evangelicals have attempted to increase their visibility and participation in the ongoing, national conversation on the topic of racial injustice. Recently, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship — an Evangelical campus ministry — held its Urbana 15 Student Missions Conference that had as a keynote speaker a social justice advocate and self-identified supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last week, Wheaton College’s Center for Applied Christian Ethics hosted three members of the Ferguson Commission on a panel entitled Change, Healing and Reconciliation: A Conversation with The Ferguson Commission to discuss the findings of the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, in addition to the Church’s response to what many perceive to be blatant and persistent forms of racial inequality.

This week Jim Wallis — author, political activist, and founder of Sojourners magazine offers his contribution to the Evangelical discussion of this culturally sensitive issue in America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.

According to Wallis, this book serves as a “primer on the underlying racism that still exists in America,” and seeks to “talk honestly” about America’s original sin of racial discrimination and how it continues to impact various areas of American life. Wallis argues that white America is obligated to begin the act of contrition — repentance for participating in, and contributing to, racial discrimination against blacks and other minorities. In addition to repentance, Wallis argues that white Americans (which he conflates with white Christians throughout the book) should listen to their “black and brown brothers and sisters” when they tell their stories of racial injustice rather than disregarding these pain-filled experiences as unimportant. For Wallis, these are the necessary first steps toward racial justice and reconciliation.

The book explains that racism is a manifestation of sin — clearly using biblical and theological language to convey the moral evil of racial discrimination. Wallis rightly notes that sin is a theological problem that goes deeper than politics. The book also effectively explains the linguistic and theological contours of repentance. It stresses that repentance is much more than merely adopting an apologetic tone for wrongs committed. Repentance, which follows forgiveness, entails the sincere and complete change of direction of one’s mind (renewal), evidenced by one’s actions (restitution, loving one’s neighbor, etc.). Discussing racism in biblical (moral) terms rather than political terms is a refreshing necessity that should be adopted by Christians and non-Christians alike.

In addition, Wallis laments churches that have “baptized us into our racial divisions” rather than teaching and modeling that our baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, unites us in a way that transcends all earthly limitations. Wallis is spot-on here, and he would have done a great service by expanding the implications of this idea a bit more than the passing glance he gave it.

The book describes the underlying tensions contributing to the current state of race relations in the United States using Ferguson and Baltimore as parabolic examples of the consequences of racial tension. It also discusses in some detail the socio-economic disparities that exist between blacks and whites — including the lower quality of black life in the ghettos, “mass incarceration” and the disproportionate numbers of blacks represented in the penal system, the substandard public school system among other issues, arguing these realities are the result of white privilege and white supremacy. Wallis argues that the root of these disparities is unquestionably found in racial injustice that, because of the shifting racial demographic of the country, not only affect blacks but also other minorities.

That said, having read Wallis’ other work and knowing his political sensibilities direct his religious beliefs, the overall framework and content of America’s Original Sin was rather predictable.

For starters, Wallis says that white racism is an extension of white privilege, but he never explicitly defines “white privilege.” He repeatedly condemns white privilege as if what constitutes white privilege is self-evident. It isn’t. The term “white privilege” is just as intentionally ambiguous as the phrase “Hope and Change.” That is to say it can mean whatever the person invoking it wants it to mean, at any given time, risking contradiction from invocation to invocation. The closest Wallis comes to defining white privilege was to link it to white supremacy. But he didn’t explain how white supremacy — a thoroughly dated but deliberately provocative term — is defined in our contemporary setting.

Likewise, aside from not defining it — but confidently stating that blacks continue to suffer because of it — Wallis never explains how Asian, African, Indian and other immigrants to America without white skin, seem to avoid falling prey to the intentions and negative effects of white privilege. It’s as if they don’t exist so as to preserve the myth.

Throughout the book, Wallis repeatedly suggests that Christians should “talk honestly” about racial injustice, and should engage in “telling the truth about race.” But sadly Wallis doesn’t come close to living up to his own suggestion. As I read the book, I wondered if this truth was objective, or if it was in fact based on how he and others, who share his position on racial matters, (re)define it.

For example Wallis unquestionably claims that all of the socio-economic ills experienced by blacks and other minorities are sourced in the preservation of white supremacy and white privilege. He says this as if the fact that these discrepancies exist are in-and-of themselves, hard evidences of racism. How can Wallis be assured of this? Based on what proof? He gives a number of dizzying statistics that demonstrate the quality-of-life discrepancies between blacks and whites, but he doesn’t give any evidence that validates his claim that these statistics are singularly the result of racism. He does say that “black[s] and [other minorities] are disproportionately consigned to the lowest economic tier is a continuing proof of racism.” He also says that the “systemic and perverse character of racism” in addition to the “cold hard savagery of racism,” is responsible for the declining quality of life among many blacks. The academic and economic experiences of many blacks might contribute a lesser quality of life than their white counterparts — and I believe that in many cases to be true. But, if we’re being honest as Wallis suggests we should be, there are very clear reasons why blacks are academically and economically disadvantaged, and one can argue that racism is but one result. However racism as an explanation in totality, without clear evidence to support such a claim is irresponsible, especially by someone of Wallis’ stature.

(As a side note, the strongest area in which racism can be argued to be actively influential is in the area of education. The substandard education delivered to poor minority children in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and other ghettos across the country is the result of teachers’ unions placing the priority of employing teachers over educating students. That doesn’t absolve black parents from their responsibility of emphasizing academic success by any means. But what’s allowed to happen to poor ghetto children when it comes to education is a national sin.)

Additionally, Wallis argues that blacks suffer these socio-economic maladies because they’re black (because that’s how racism works). No other contributing factors like values, attitudes, behavior and morality are given as reasons or predictors of black suffering. At the same time, whites are successful because they benefit from white privilege. Again, just like the lack of other variables that might explain black suffering, no other reasons are given as reasons or predictors of “white” success. For Wallis, minorities, especially blacks, are never-ending victims of external circumstances, not autonomous beings that are capable of forming ideas, attitudes and behaviors to reduce socio-economic disparities. Thus when Wallis blames all social and economic ills on white racism and ignores black involvement, he engages in the sort of condescending, racial paternalism that re-victimizes blacks, making them powerless when it comes to relying on self-determination to influence and change their own fate. Aside from handicapping blacks, having to constantly beg and depend on external help to solve their problems, he indicts all whites as racists, obligating them (through guilt) to engage in redemptive acts of black charity. That directly contradicts his earlier appeal to the biblical and theological understanding of forgiveness and repentance, which does more to nourish white resentment than it does to cultivate racial reconciliation. And it’s not very Christian.

By reducing the black role in racial reconciliation to the role of a disabled and victimized bystander, the book minimizes the black obligation of forgiveness and repentance. Blacks are not simply in a position to forgive white people for participating and sustaining white racism (where it exists); they’re also in a position to ask whites for forgiveness. Despite the book’s false claim that blacks can’t be racist because they lack the power to implement their discrimination (50), which minimizes black moral responsibility — if racial reconciliation is to become a reality in the church — blacks must be required to ask forgiveness from whites for assuming and projecting racism onto whites where it doesn’t exist. All church-based strategies that seek racial reconciliation and restoration will crash and burn if they don’t include blacks as equals in moral agency, as a result of being created in God’s image in addition to being children of God, and as brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 8:15-15, Galatians. 4:5–6.)

Repeating the overused cliche’ and untrue narrative that blacks are permanent victims of white racism doesn’t make it any more true simply because it’s accompanied with Christian veneer.

America’s Original Sin argues that racism is a sin that’s deeper than politics, yet the remedy offered appears to be almost entirely political. Though effective change can happen through social and economic policy, the reality is our morality dictates our politics. The more Christian morality influences politics, the more impartial legislation can become. Regardless, Christians shouldn’t wait until politicians pass policies they approve of. Christians have to be epistles that emanate the gospel of Christ in our own communities, living as as ambassadors of redemption and in this case, racial reconciliation. In other words, Christians (regardless of color) should be disciples of cruciformity — conforming to the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Christ in pursuit of redeeming and restoring relationships that have been strained and broken along racial lines.

Ultimately, America’s Original Sin, in effect, attempts to Christianize recycled racial narratives without critically or courageously examining why racial, moral and cultural disparities exist between black and white Americans. Simply laying fault to a white racial boogeyman isn’t productive, nor is it particularly Christian. I can’t imagine too many Christians arguing that racism doesn’t exist. I also can’t imagine too many Christians who don’t want to reduce racial inequality or who’re against racial reconciliation. But attempting to provoke them into action through blame, guilt, bad politics and a watered down gospel isn’t a plan for lasting success because it trivializes both the problem and the solution.

In the age of Black Lives Matter and the social expectation to support its agenda or be slandered as racist, Christian contributions to racial reconciliation should approach this issue carefully. Racial inequality deserves the attention and engagement of Evangelicals but not through a superficial and self-righteous agenda that does more damage than good. It’s simply not enough for Christians to look busy while doing nothing in a self-congratulatory manner like Black lives Matter.

America’s Original Sin left a lot on the table, but should be read more for what it isn’t than for what it is.

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Chicago Theological Seminary Associates Gay Sex With The Return Of Christ

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You gotta love what ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’ have wrought. The return of the Messiah equated with an orgasm- and done by a “Christian” “church,” no less.

Apparently, condoms- adorned with a rainbow flame and a religious/sexual double entendre- were handed out as party favors last week at the Wild Goose Festival– an annual progressive Christian festival, sponsored and or attended by people affiliated with the theologically liberal, Chicago Theological Seminary.

The logo is a flaming, rainbow-colored, LGBTQXYZ -friendly version of the logo associated with Chicago Theological Seminary. CTS is affiliated with the United Church of Christ- a politically-leftist, Protestant denomination, which focuses more on social justice than biblical justice.

The United Church of Christ approves of and endorses same-sex marriage, despite the clear absence of Biblical or theological-support of such “union.”  That a “church” and associated seminary would sanction the handing out of condoms that liken the Second Coming of Christ to a second orgasm, particularly one associated with gay sex (and thus, sex outside the bounds of normal marriage), says all one needs to know about the theological and biblical credibility (or lack thereof) regarding this denomination.

It also shows what little reverence they hold for a divinely promised event- an expectation that has influenced the lives of millions of Christians for almost 2,000 years.

Therefore it’s no surprise that the United Church of Christ is losing self-identified members, having fallen below one million members back in 2013. At this rate, the denomination will cease to exist in 30 years. I won’t be surprised if the UCC is absorbed into the equally liberal Episcopal Church- which is also loosing members at record pace- before then.

Those Christians who still take the Bible as the word of God and who continue to take church tradition seriously are obligated to “purge this evil from our midst,” and “expel the wicked from our church.” If and when we don’t, we’re tarnished with the stigma and perversion of evil, and guilty of taking God’s name in vain.

Christians Should Not Encourage Resistance to Police

The latest in the on-going, media-created narrative regarding the disproportionate incidents of police brutality against black Americans involves a pool party in a suburban area of McKinney, Texas — the video of which has expectedly gone viral.

Time and again, people are content and assured in how they feel about incidents of police brutality to the exclusion of facts pertaining to the case, especially those facts that are contrary to their initial — and reflexive — feelings.

When these incidents are sensationalized, people are going to use them to advance a disingenuous social narrative and political agenda. Christian leaders have a greater responsibility to be voices and examples of reason to be heard and followed, respectively. Yet when people of the cloth are engaged in negligent and questionable behavior that perpetuates social paranoia, it’s even more concerning.

And in my opinion, that’s what one Anglican theologian has done.

According to his website, Preston Yancey is a member of the Anglican Church in North America and is also, “employed by the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast as Canon Theologian.” In addition, Yancey is a priest-to-be who hopes to be ordained next year.

With these kinds of credentials, his Twitter-based response to the McKinney pool incident was a disappointment. Last Thursday, in a series of tweets Yancey offers up some problematic statements which — aside from condemning white privilege — appear to be advocating police resistance.

Here are some of Yancey’s tweets:

View his Twitter profile, here.

First of all, Yancey is encouraging or defending the idea that (black) people should resist arrest and “fight back” against police officers. How else can what he’s tweeted be interpreted?

And what form does fighting back take? Is Yancey speaking literally or metaphorically? Under what circumstances is it acceptable and justified? And who decides those circumstances, Yancey, or someone else? Why them?

Contrary to Yancey’s opinion, there are clear examples that fighting back against police officers simply doesn’t work. Fighting back against police officers as they attempt to assess or control a situation is foolish and can be deadly.

The idea that a soon-to-be priest is encouraging those in police custody or those being questioned by police to fight back — especially as it relates to teenagers at a pool party — is dangerously irresponsible both of Yancey and those who may recklessly contemplate his advice. Considering how many blacks have lost their lives doing exactly what Yancey suggests makes his unsolicited advice look even more destructive. Yancey says that the ‘gritty work of the kingdom is ideals within a context of valuing life,’ but responding to law enforcement through physical force — or to “fight back” as Yancey terms it — not only devalues lives because of the potential consequences of such outcomes, some of which we’ve already seen (Mike Brown and Eric Garner, for example), but it has absolutely nothing to do with “kingdom ideals.”

Now let’s distill some of Yancey’s tweets.

Yancey disagrees with Christian pacifism, evidenced by his tweet, “Anywho, for whatever it’s worth that you know this, I reject Christian pacifism as the most viable expression of the Gospel.” He also tweeted, “Kids get a gun put in their face trying to defend a girl pinned to the ground by a cop? Pacifism is not the answer here.”

Who argued ‘Christian pacifism’ as an ‘expression of the Gospel’ was the answer here? “Christian pacifism” in the context of being detained by police is irrelevant but has everything to do with how one conducts oneself in the presence of police officers, whether the situation is calm but especially when pressed with tension. Comporting oneself with humility and respect toward an officer in an effort to minimize a potential escalation is simply being smart, Christian or not. Yancey’s projection and misapplication of Christian pacifism in this situation is simply wrong.

In my opinion, Yancey reveals the motivation behind these series of misappropriated tweets when he posts, “Christian pacifism is a blind luxury of white privilege. Let’s not rush to tell people being murdered by the State to ‘calm down’,” and “… I am not the oppressed. More often than not the roused God has anger toward me and my participation in oppression.” He also says that, “There’s a whole reality I never have to think about, like being wrestled to the ground at a pool party for simply existing.”

There it is — white guilt. White guilt is the reason for these tweets. Just to be clear — white guilt with or without Jesus and the Gospel is still … white guilt.

Yancey admits that he is not part of the oppressed (presumably blacks) but is part of the “oppressor.” Though he doesn’t elaborate as to his specific contributions towards the oppression he laments (or God’s anger toward him for it), one can assume that his oppression is a consequence of his white skin. That his white guilt provokes him to encourage blacks to challenge the authorities knowing full well the recent and deadly outcomes of those who’ve acted on his unsolicited advice in advance, demonstrates how little black lives are valued by Yancey.

Further, there’s bit of irony that saturates Yancey’s tweets. That he can offer such imprudent advice to “fight back” from the comfort and security in which he lives (he admits it’s a reality he doesn’t have to think about), knowing full well that he, with or without Jesus, wouldn’t suffer the same consequences as those he’s actively encouraging — or the fate of those who did “fight back,” reflecting Yancey’s call that ended in a loss of life truly is white privilege — a naive, white privilege at that.

That Yancey — a man of God and a soon-to-be priest, is suggesting the kind of confrontation with police that invariably leads to physical injury at best, loss of life at worst, however sincere, is an abdication of his calling and his obligation to properly shepherd his flock in addition to everyone else within his sphere of influence.

Church leaders should be saying the exact opposite of what Yancey is saying. To those who may encounter police officers, however aggressive, answer them calmly and politely — even if they’re wrong.

If you’ve been wronged, it’s easier to fight that injustice if you’re still alive.