We have been deeply moved in recent days by apology letters or public declarations of lament written on behalf of predominately Caucasian Christian organizations to our black friends and neighbors. As Christians in the Baptist tradition, we especially took note of Southern Baptist Convention president, JD Greear, championing the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ in his recent denominational address and warning to white believers not to betray their insensitivities by saying “all lives matter” or bringing up statistics or empirical data about white-on-black violence. We were also touched by the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement condemning the death of George Floyd, signed unanimously by every SBC leader with access to a pen.
It has been touching to see so many Christians condemn something that almost every other sentient human being already vocally condemns, and touching to see them condemn something with such conviction and pride that they have already condemned dozens of times before. The bravery of the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, condemning racism in the last two weeks after having already condemned it officially in 2018 (twice in fact), 2017, 2016, 2015, 2010, 2007, 2006, 1995, 1993, 1989, 1978, 1961, and 1941 is a testament to their moral courage. It is always refreshing to watch Christians ask forgiveness repeatedly for sins committed by distant relatives or fellow members of fabricated identity groups, always bathed afresh in new ashes and pleated sackcloth. We can look at these leaders apologizing seventy-times seven as the epitome of courageous bravery and unparalleled personal virtue.
Decisions like retiring the Broadus gavel, named after a denominational founder with a passionate commitment to evangelizing the lost but with a glaring doctrinal flaw made observable by the privilege of historic hindsight, may not accomplish anything tangible or meaningful but it does achieve a Christlike groveling at the feet of political correctness which, we can readily admit, is the same as personal holiness.
There comes that moment – even for Christians steeped in conservative traditions – to recognize when the times have changed…and the times have changed. Taking a cue from other Christians who find a sense of closure in writing an open letter of apology to the black community, I will follow suit and apologize for several things on behalf of not just myself, but my fellow Christians.
Dear Black Community,
We want to apologize to you with all sincerity and humility. We cannot apologize for the sins of our fathers, because that’s not how Christianity works. Because of Christ, we are not liable for the sins of our relatives because in this new arrangement in Christ, no longer shall the fathers eat sour grapes and their children’s teeth be set on edge (Jeremiah 31:29). We can no more apologize for our forefathers approving of slavery than you can apologize for your West African ancestors selling your forefathers to trans-Atlantic slave-traders. We apologize for not saying long ago that vicarious apologies are repugnant in nature. In Christ, the only father whose sins we are accountable for is Adam, and his imputed sins have been expiated by the blood of Jesus.
However, we can apologize for making rash and irresponsible assumptions. We apologize for assuming that every person-of-color has ancestors who suffered under slavery, which is an unfair and hasty generalization. We apologize for seeing you and assuming things about your ancestry that we do not know, placing you into a victimization group to you which you very well might not belong. We apologize for assuming that because you are a person-of-color you are disadvantaged or underprivileged because such an assumption minimizes the accomplishments and achievements of your parents and grandparents. We apologize for seeing you as “black” or “brown” before seeing you as a human being whose upbringing, family heritage, or personal character are not defined by your melanin count.
We apologize for too long embracing the notions of identity politics, assuming that because you are a person-of-color you hold to a homogeneous worldview, have a collective political conscience, and hold values indistinguishable from your identity-group as a whole. We apologize for seeing you as black men and black women before seeing you simply as men and women. We apologize for assuming hastily and prejudicially that because of the color of your skin you must be a liberal, a Democrat, or sympathetic to socialist welfare policies or progressive ideology.
Furthermore, we apologize for being so frightened by the culture of political correctness that we have minimized the importance of Christian teachings on subjects like personal responsibility and individual accountability. We apologize for seeing you as victims rather than victors and for seeing you as pitiable wretches rather than as conquerors (Romans 8:37). We apologize for categorizing you as perpetually oppressed from generation to generation, rather than as overcomers. We apologize if by our pandering, patronizing paternalism we have stolen your esteem and dampened your rightful place in history as a great success story heralding your perseverance in the face of adversity.
We apologize for the soft bigotry of lowered expectations, tolerating heightened violence in urban areas, believing it to be a consequence of your skin color rather than the consequence of fatherlessness. We apologize for having double-standards and unjust weights and measures (Proverbs 20:10), accepting rampant immorality in certain (but not all) segments of your communities as everyone else’s fault but your own. By treating you as chattel rather than as peers, we have tolerated behavior that among all humans should be considered intolerable. We apologize for perpetrating upon your community social programs that de-incentivize the family unit and reward dependence rather than personal productivity. While 1 Peter 2 says the government is to punish wickedness and reward the good, our government programs have rewarded wickedness (like out-of-wedlock pregnancies and broken homes), which have exacerbated the problems of your community. We have taxed wealth and subsidized poverty, perpetuating the ruin that has plagued much (but not all) of your community.
We apologize for characterizing temper tantrums as political discourse, hissy fits as productive conversation, and riots as protests. We have, for far too long, tolerated violence, looting, vandalism, and criminal behavior so long as is done under the guise of activism. By our perverse double-standards, we have only further incited you to lawlessness rather than called you to repentance. By our refusal to hold you accountable for your actions, we have further solidified the very attitudes that have caused much of the turmoil in your community.
We apologize that our religious leaders, like JD Greear, have treated you like children who need to be coddled rather than as peers who need to be reasoned with. We apologize for assuming that you are too fragile to discuss the real underlying issues that plague both your community and ours. We apologize for not acting as though you are mature enough, strong enough, and tough enough to hold rational, adult conversations about these issues.
We apologize that it takes a petty criminal like George Floyd to be killed on a viral video to make us concerned about your community. We are too often silent when dozens of young black men are shot in inner-city Chicago on any given weekend of the year. We are sinfully silent as hundreds of thousands of black babies are exterminated through the genocide of abortion each year. The silence of white leaders on the issue of black deaths when the matter is not a hashtag on the nightly news betrays our real racial indifference. We apologize that our leaders like JD Greear don’t care about the shedding of blood in your community unless it will earn a headline in the news media. If anything betrays innate racism, it is that.
We apologize for acting as though the notion of reparations is anything but a repulsive miscarriage of justice cloaked in the virtue of covetousness and theft. We apologize for not being clear enough that the idea of stealing property or wealth from a man who did no personal wrong is anything but a morally repugnant version of slavery. We apologize for not being clearer that holding us responsible for the sins of our ancestors is no more moral than us holding you responsible for the skin color of yours. And we apologize for not pointing out that many of our ancestors paid reparations in their blood and fortune by freeing the slaves and righting the wrongs of injustice with their own lives. We apologize for not being clearer that slavery should be abolished, not reversed.
As Christians, we apologize for caring so little about your doctrinal growth that we stood by as your strong and vibrant black churches were overtaken by Liberation Theology and social religion in the last half of the twentieth century. We apologize for presuming that the prosperity gospel was somehow an ingrained and immovable part of black religion instead of caring enough about your churches to warn that they were being overtaken by Marxist ideology masquerading as faith. We apologize that we cared so little for your soul that we didn’t warn you more fervently about the sinister theology of James Cone, which has gutted many (but not all) of your churches of anything remotely resembling Biblical Christianity.
As the black community, you have survived mistreatment on both sides of the Atlantic, from both dark and light-skinned men alike. Your community has survived capture by West African warlords and survived a trans-Atlantic slave-trade by the Dutch. Your community has survived antebellum slavery and post-war systemic racism through Jim Crow laws. Your community survived the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century and emerged strong, vibrant, and victorious. Through all of these tumults, troubles, and tribulations, your families, churches, and communities remained dignified and intact.
However, time will tell if your community can survive the damage done by pandering white people who betray their bigotry by thinking little of you and expecting even less. Time will tell if your community can survive easily-accessible prosperity like you survived almost-insurmountable poverty. Time will tell if your community can thrive under the soft-bigotry of lowered expectations like you survived the hard-bigotry of chains and auction blocks.
We apologize for not thinking highly enough of you to speak plainly and directly about the elephant in the room. We apologize for being frightened by media censorship and public outrage to the point we’re unwilling to speak true words.
We apologize for using the tragic and unnecessary death of a black man as an excuse to prove how virtuous we are with meaningless overtures to our own wokeness.
We believe you are equal in every conceivable way to the rest of us, made in every bit the image of God as anyone else, and consider you peers rather than property. Please forgive us for our pandering and patronizing, self-centered paternalism that treats you as less than adults capable of having tough conversations.
Grace & Peace.
[Contributed by JD Hall]