Ferguson and the Soft Bigotry of America’s Leading Evangelicals

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Michael Gerson, an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post and former speech-writer for President George W Bush is credited with coining the phrase, “The soft bigotry of low expectations.” Gerson, who also is a member of the “evangelical intelligentsia” – an elitist group of evangelical Christians who excel in various fields of academia – designed the phrase to articulate a widely-understood but rarely asserted reality; racism is not always overt, but rather is often displayed in a politically-correct, yet patronizing acceptance of bad behavior or lowered standards.

As Ferguson erupts in riotous violence, America’s leading evangelicals – like Southern Baptists Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer – are falling over themselves to prove who is the most thoughtful, compassionate, and sympathetic to the racial tension and tragedy that the community has come to typify. In their race to win the racial sensitivity award, what they’re demonstrating is the soft bigotry of low expectations.

A twelve-member grand jury – after looking at all relevant evidence, some of which has yet to made available to the public – chose not to indict officer Darren Wilson for using lethal force after being assaulted by Michael Brown. It seems that the jury determined what most reasonable people have known for some time; an officer with an exemplary record and quality personal character was in fear that his life was in jeopardy from someone who, by all reasonable accounts, has a lengthy criminal record and troubled personal character, and the officer exercised necessary force to eliminate that threat.

A mob has become predictably upset over the ruling, after being predictably upset before the ruling, after being predictably upset after the incident. In general, this mob has been upset since the August 9 confrontation. This is not a hurting community (albeit a hurting community no doubt exists in Ferguson). The mob, simply put, is not a community at all. Communities are built around shared values. This group, it seems, is built around a lack of values and the intended desire of watching the world burn. Adding an equally predictable and obligatory qualification, this mob of questionably-sincere outrage-professionals should not taint our perception of the entire Ferguson community, which is no doubt filled with hard-working, tax-paying responsible citizens of a myriad of colors and ethnicities who are embarrassed at the attention the mob is bringing upon their community.

This particular segment of the population in Ferguson and the surrounding areas, within just a few hours of the grand jury’s findings, has fired rounds, thrown molotov cocktails, assaulted fellow (white) protesters and burned police cars. By the time most read this post on the morning of November 25th, this list will no doubt be longer.

Much attention has been given to the “black churches” of the Ferguson area who have done little but fan the flames of bad behavior, whether lending the pulpit to Communist community organizers raising an army of anarchy or offering their facilities as “sanctuaries” for rioters. More attention needs to be given to leading American evangelicals, however, who are doing anything but making the situation better by their misplaced sympathy and pandering, patronizing betrayals of their own innate soft bigotry.

We break in heartache for black evangelicals like Thabiti Anyabwile, who apparently feel torn in many ways.

Thabiti

Anyabwile has made headlines in the last few months for making repeated overtures in support of the outraged mob, and little to none for the officer and his family or the citizens of Ferguson who suffer the collateral damage in this war of contrition upon law and order. Tonight, while his sentimentality is certainly not out of place,  it seems that again Anyabwile’s thoughts of sympathy are one-directional.

What’s perhaps less understandable are white evangelical leaders likewise being utterly calloused toward the victim in this sad exchange, the officer who has lost his career and reputation because he was ruthlessly attacked by a criminal. As Doug Wilson recently wrote, being nice really is the besetting sin of American evangelicalism. We want the secular press to feign over our thoughtfulness and open-mindedness. Being characterized as racist or bigoted – even in veiled innuendo – is to be avoided at all costs. We want Christianity Today to give us a congratulatory back-slap as we distance ourselves from the real and actual bigotry of our institutional past. We want to distance ourselves as far as possible from Richard Land’s insensitive remarks regarding Trayvon Martin. We want to be in the Evangelical Intelligentsia, and frankly, you don’t get invited to that club if you’re seen as insensitive or too loose-lipped with obvious (but inconvenient) truths.

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John Piper used his vast social media platform to argue for empathy (for who, the criminal antagonist?), affirmative action and a fairy-tale program that will do little more than put officer’s lives in jeopardy (frankly, I don’t want law enforcement turning to theologians for advice regarding their own personal defense). Piper calls for what seems tantamount to sensitivity training.

Again, it shouldn’t surprise us that President Obama used his speech tonight to discuss the “deep distrust” issues between the mob (who he described as “people of color”) and the law enforcement paid by the community to protect them from the mob. It shouldn’t surprise us that Obama’s concern wasn’t directed toward the victimized community or officer whose life was traumatized by a criminal running from a store robbery. It shouldn’t surprise us that there wasn’t an ounce of moral clarity in the entire speech, no direct rebuke of the mob or preemptive repudiation of the mob’s addiction to outrage and attitude hell-bent on burning their own community to the ground, but rather called law enforcement to restraint. It shouldn’t surprise us that Obama portrayed the culprits as oppressed victims. We shouldn’t be surprised that Obama made this a race thing rather than a crime and consequences thing.

But shouldn’t it surprise us that Russell Moore, President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commision (ERLC) – gave Obama’s speech a glowing review?

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.31.51 PMOnce a Democratic staffer, always a Democratic staffer, I suppose.

And then, there’s Ed Stetzer’s epic display of white evangelical guilt in Christianity Today. Within the first sentence, Stetzer points his deriding finger to white evangelicals and admonishes us to “talk a little less and listen a little more.”

We shouldn’t be saying that the mob shouldn’t be upset, and we should rather figure out why they’re upset, Stetzer argues. In truth, it sounds reminiscent of certain Ivy League professors in the days following 9-11, telling us our first priority was to figure out why the terrorists hated us so much (and that we probably had it coming, anyway). And even though Stetzer admits he doesn’t have the evidence the grand jury was privy to, he then says that “we must acknowledge that injustice really exists.”

Well, of course injustice really exists. Injustice exists in a million different ways. But given that Stetzer doesn’t know why the grand jury would find this officer innocent (apparently he doesn’t watch the same news the rest of us do), why would he argue that this event in particular must cause us to reflect upon injustice?

Stetzer’s article feeds into the very frenzy that has overtaken Ferguson, repeating the question, “Will white people ever acknowledge injustice exists?” The answer, for Stetzer, is that we (white evangelicals) confess our sins, repent and seek reconciliation with those we hurt.

You’ll never hear or read the Pulpit & Pen contributors complain about a call for repentance or a confession of sin. Praise God, indeed. But why, I would ask, are evangelicals like Stetzer using this opportunity to call white evangelicals to repentance? Sure, we need it. All we need to prove our need for repentance is to look at what the shelves are stocked with at Stetzer’s Lifeway. But why are riots in the street of Ferguson a call for us to repent?

Here’s the truth; a mob is rioting in Ferguson who are not being called to repentance by the churches they attend. They’re not being portrayed as the law-and-order-hating sub-citizens that they really are, by the media. They’re not being called terrible examples for the children they haven’t aborted by the community organizers. They’re not being called down by the President as being antithetical to a nation based upon laws and a legal system that – whether they like it or not, worked. No, the mob is being coddled by nearly everyone, including America’s leading evangelicals. The message they’re receiving is that the worse their behavior, the more we will consider their long list of demands and grievances.

And no doubt, there are grievances. No doubt, there are innocent men and women profiled for the color of their skin and treated as guilty until a background check can be run. No doubt, there are financial challenges for children of that community that leave someone working harder to get ahead. And on occasion, there are real miscarriages of justice. Even more than that, there’s the systematic attempt by one political ideology to enslave a permanent underclass through government entitlement in order to solidify a voting block. There are definitely real, tangible grievances.

How incredibly unproductive is it to consider these grievances while the mob is rioting? How foolish is it to use bad behavior as the precipitating reason to discuss their plight (real or imagined)? I don’t let my children get their way when they’re throwing a tantrum, lest I get more and more tantrums. Our culture seems determined to reward bad behavior. It seems that America’s leading evangelicals are capitalizing on that societal trend in yet another failed attempt at cultural relevance and secular pats on the back.

The evangelical message needs to be, “We understand you have grievances. We understand you feel you’ve been wronged. Let’s discuss that, but first go home, tuck your kids in, and go to bed early so you can get up in the morning and be a productive citizen. Then, let’s talk.”

More importantly than that, we can stop exalting the culture of victimization, because a conviction for sin is hard to find when even the religious authorities make excuses for your sin and insist on pointing their finger elsewhere.

[Contributed by JD Hall]

RefMT Offers Statement for Local Churches to Use Concerning Same-Sex Unions

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A federal judge, this week, overruled the will of Montanans and struck down a ban on same-sex “marriage.” Reformation Montana has responded with a number of statements, including this one designed for local churches to use on their own website or local publications to articulate the views of their church on this important topic. Even if yours is not a Montana Church (most of our readers are not from Montana, obviously) you’re welcome to amend the introduction and use the statement accordingly.

Used by permission:

 

In 2004, more than 295 thousand Montanans passed Initiative 96 – a ban on same-sex marriage – by a super majority of 67 percent. This week, the will of 295 thousand Montanans was overturned by Federal Judge, Brian Morris. Morris had previously ruled in a 2009 case, Kulstad v. Maniaci, that a lesbian lover was entitled to joint custody of children adopted by her then lesbian lover during their relationship, indicating that Morris has been acting as though same-sex marriage is legally binding in Montana, even before unilaterally legislating this matter through judicial fiat. Given that Morris himself was nominated to the Ninth Circuit by Ronald Reagan and served under conservative Supreme Court Justice, William Rehnquist, his own career is no doubt an indication that views on same-sex marriage are quickly evolving, and his act of judicial imposition upon the will of Montanans is further indication that the times are changing.

Our church recognizes the changing times and flexible, evolving views on human sexuality, the nature of marriage, and the growingly malleable interpretation of the Constitution. We recognize that society is rapidly changing its opinion as to the acceptableness of homosexuality as an approved and alternative lifestyle. We recognize that longtime assumptions concerning sexual taboos and mores are challenged by our nation’s judiciary and that the majority of states in our union now endorse or tacitly approve of same-sex unions. Furthermore, we recognize that strong-armed governmental change has real consequences on societal perception of right and wrong. Likewise, we recognize that many of our friends and neighbors no longer see homosexuality as an aberrant lifestyle or social evil. Most of all, we recognize that we are in a quickly-growing minority and that this court ruling will usher in an insurmountable paradigm shift of opinion in regards to same-sex marriage.

Recognizing these undeniable trends in public opinion, our church makes this public declaration regarding the historic ruling by Judge Brian Morris and speak for our church body, accordingly:

We believe that the Bible is fundamentally true and undeniably inerrant. Our Confession does not allow us to waiver on this point, and neither do our consciences, which are held in bondage by the Word or God. We believe that all Scripture is breathed out by God and designed for teaching, reproof, correction and teaching in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is from God and is not the words of mere men, and it works in believers to teach us truth (1 Thessalonians 2:13). It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). The words of God are flawless (Psalm 12:6).

We believe that God is unchanging and that His word, as well as its interpretation, is also unchanging. Men are not permitted to interpret God’s Words in a way contrary to its original interpretation, which proceeded from God Himself (2 Peter 1:20-21). What God has revealed of his righteousness through his Law is unchanging (Matthew 5:18). The Words of God remain forever (Matthew 24:15). God reveals his standards and teachings once and for all, and they do not change from culture to culture (Jude 1:3).

We believe that marriage was created by God, defined by God, and serves the purpose of pointing us to God. God himself created marriage, and created it to be between sexually compatible spouses of both male and female (Genesis 2:18-24). Jesus – the second person of the Holy Trinity – clearly taught that marriage was between a man and woman (Matthew 19:46, Mark 10:6-9). Marriage was created by design to teach us to holy, sacred, abiding, loyal love that Jesus has for his people and serves as a metaphor toward that end (Ephesians 5:23-33).

We believe that homosexuality is condemned by God as an aberration of his will, as an assault upon his creative design, and indicates a fallen nature in need of redemption. Homosexuality is revealed in the Bible as an abomination before God (Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13). Homosexuality is one sin – among others – implicitly mentioned as one that, if unrepentant, keeps someone from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Homosexuality is given in the New Testament as an example of one who suppresses truth in unrighteousness and haves a depraved heart (Romans 1:26-28). Homosexuality is contrary to sound teaching (1 Timothy 1:10). Homosexuality is given as an example of sins that are under the condemnation of God (Jude 1:7).

We believe that Christians are to speak prophetic truth into the world, directly from the pages of the Holy Bible, and to proclaim a Gospel that can save us from sin. We’re to preach truth when it is popular and when it is unpopular (2 Timothy 4:2). We are to contend for the faith as it was given to us (Jude 1:3). We are to stand firm in the face of culture or societal change (Philippians 1:27). We must not turn our backs on God’s commands in the face of opposition (2 Peter 2:21). We will not reject our faith or our conscience (1 Timothy 1:19).

We believe that Jesus died to pay for the sin of homosexuality, sexual perversion, or any other offense for those who trust in Christ and repent of those sins. Jesus died for unrighteous people (1 Peter 3:18). We have access to God not by good works, but by grace (Romans 5:2). Regardless of our past sin, we can come to God through Christ (Ephesians 3:12). The required response to this Good News is to repent of sins, including homosexuality (Acts 2:38, Mark 1:5, Luke 24:47, Acts 5:31).

Given these beliefs, of which we are not allowed to compromise or yield, we cannot keep quiet in the surrounding cultural applause or societal sanctioning of homosexuality in the guise of matrimony. Rather, we are left with no choice but to preach the truth in this inconvenient and trying season.

We assert that same-sex unions are not tantamount to marriage. A federal court does not have jurisdiction in the eyes of God. Just as a divorce recognized by the state may not be recognized by God, a union given the title of “marriage” does not make it so in the eyes of Almighty God. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Although opposite-sex couples can also, through their misbehavior, make a mockery of marriage, it does not mean we are permitted to approve or sanction unions that by definition are not marriage. Therefore, as a church under the leadership of Christ and not under the jurisdiction of the state of Montana, we do not recognize a same-sex union as a marriage.

We assert that the state is in error to recognize same-sex unions as a marriage. This court – and by their obedience to this ruling, county clerks across Montana and applicable state governing audiences that recognize the court’s usurping of God’s higher verdict on this issue – are violating God’s revealed will for governing authorities, that exist to reward good and punish evil (Romans 13:3).

We assert that any church that recognizes same-sex unions as marriage or as anything but a violation of God’s will has placed as their head mortal man, rather than Jesus Christ. No doubt, many churches will shrug their shoulders to the court’s decree and march toward societal compromise. We can only mark those that cause divisions contrary to what we’re taught in the Scripture (Romans 16:17) and warn them otherwise. We can only assert Isaiah 5:20, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” The very moment a church rejects the verdict of Christ for a verdict handed down by men, is the moment we fail to be a church in the same way a same-sex union fails to be a marriage; calling it so does not make it such.

We assert our preaching of God’s Law, to make clear God’s Gospel. If we fail to call men to repentance by approving what God detests, we are unable to preach the Gospel that saves from such sins. Jesus came to die for sinners, and those who recognize themselves as such (Romans 5:8). To take away a preaching on sin (including the sin of homosexuality) is to effectively take away a teaching that will bring someone to repentance and a saving knowledge of Jesus.

Finally, we are well aware that neither society nor short-term history will not judge us well. We are aware that in a very short time, a great swath of our culture will declare us to be bigoted, judgmental, uncharitable or perhaps even unchristian in our position. And yet, we recognize that history is not our judge, and neither is our society. God is our judge, and it’s upon his Word, that we stand. We can do no other.

*This statement was originally adopted by the Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, MT. It has been made available through Reformation Montana to other Montana churches that would like to adopt it as their own statement on their website, local publications, or elsewhere.

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