Why Black History Month at Fellowship? Part 2

by Joe Johns

Last week I began a two-part response to the question “Why Black History Month at Fellowship?” by responding to some questions I’ve been asked.  The third question requires a longer response.

To start, let’s be clear:  there is only one race--the human race.  But humanity is utterly sin-stained with both the sin of individuals and their groups.  God beautifully created ethnicities to be unified, but in our sin, we created races to divide.  Ethnicity is God’s good idea.  Racism is Satan’s evil response.

But Christ’s church is a new humanity.  We are a redeemed people who must be a shining example of one new race again—not because we overlook sin, but because we don’t…and so we continually receive God’s amazing, reconciling grace that makes us one new humanity out of the two (Ephesians 2:15).

Let’s hold this truth in view as we address this third question about Black History Month.

Question 3: Black History Month assumes systemic racism exists in America, isn’t that a false and unbiblical claim created by Critical Race Theory and its Marxist agenda?

Wait…what?  Understandably, this question probably confused most of us.  It’s filled with unfamiliar terms for many.  So, let me give a flyover view of what we’re talking about here. (and forgive me for any oversimplification!)

Critical Race Theory is an intellectual movement that emerged in the 1970’s among legal scholars and, later, academics. Simply put, it’s a theory meant to explain why the progress of black people in America seemed stalled even after the gains of the Civil Rights era.

The term critical in Critical Race Theory has the sense of critique and refers to critiquing the prevailing explanation for why black people in America were not advancing like white people- financially, educationally, socially, and so forth.

For example, studies still show the average American white family has a net worth ten times higher than the average American black family.  Prior to the 1970’s, the prevailing explanation for differences like this among many (whether spoken or not) was simply that black people are inferior to white people.  By the 1970’s, this explanation was shifting to say that there is enough opportunity now for black people to advance in America, but not the inherent capacity among most to do so.

Critical Race Theorists, however, theorized another explanation: Systemic Racism.   They believed black people were indeed capable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, but not if the system kept stealing their boots.  And so Critical Race Theory revolved around legal strategies to dismantle what was viewed as a racism-based power system in America comprised of only two kinds of people--the oppressors and the oppressed. All oppressors (white people) were scorned, all oppressed by them (black people) were blameless.

Not surprisingly, because of this emphasis on equalizing power in the system, some Critical Race Theorists had socialist leanings and Marxist ideals. Besides Systemic Racism, other main legal concepts that emerged from Critical Race Theory include Affirmative Action, White Privilege, and Reparations.

Marxism: a way of organizing society around equalizing power between the working class and ruling class, with a disdain for the ruling class.

So…how does any of this relate to marking Black History Month at Fellowship?

Some might argue that Black History Month assumes systemic racism exists.  And if Critical Race Theory also assumes systemic racism exists, then when Fellowship marks Black History Month, we are also agreeing and supporting everything about Critical Race Theory which is secular and sinful in part or whole.

The problem with this line of thinking is that its view of sin is actually too weak.

Clearly, Critical Race Theory is a secular, not biblical(!), understanding of justice. As such, there are many things within in it that Christians should rightly reject as unbiblical and sinful.  But my point is not to unpack them here—that’s for another time.  (In the meantime, you might read this helpful article on biblical justice versus secular views of justice. See my note on it at the end of this essay.)

What I do want to point out here is this: systemic sin is a part of a strong biblical doctrine of sin.

Just because Critical Race Theory makes a claim about a systemic wrong (racism) doesn’t mean systemic sin is not biblical.

All sin can have both personal and systemic dimensions.  Under the right conditions, individual sin gets embedded into systems that organize people, causing deathly effect.  For instance, take Pharaoh or King Herod, whose sins resulted in the deaths of thousands of baby boys.  Each one’s personal sin was amplified when it became institutionalized in the organizing systems of their day.

When the personal sins of a group of people coalesce together, strongholds form that bend them and their organizing systems toward a common sin—often with multiplied impact.  Perhaps you can (easily) think of some other examples of when individual sin got up a head of steam in an ethnic-specific organizing system, resulting in millions of deaths as Romans 6:23a rightly predicts.

The Gospel is God’s victory over sin and all its effects in every form.  First, it is atonement for individual sin through faith in Christ’s grace alone.  Then, those saved from their own sin are empowered by the Holy Spirit to share that good news with other individuals still dead in their sins, while also tearing down sin strongholds that have become embedded in our common life together (2 Corinthians 10:4).

An understanding of sin as exclusively individual waters down a biblical understanding of the doctrine of sin.  This is not an addition to the Gospel.  It is a reclaiming of what was there all along but had become virtually lost after 200 years of Gospel exposure to the hyper individualizing forces of American life and culture.
Contrary to Critical Race Theory, however, we believe that both the oppressors and the oppressed are sinful individuals (Romans 3:23).  Further, God has love for both (see the story of Jonah) and died for both, not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  These truths should all shape a Christian critique of Critical Race Theory.

When Fellowship marks Black History Month, we are in fact acknowledging that the history of black Americans (believers and unbelievers alike) has been deeply impacted by the personal and systemic sin of racism.

Out of a Christ-like love and Gospel-centered heart, we use Black History Month in a Kingdom way to celebrate Christ’s victory over the sin of racism on the cross.  Sharing and celebrating stories of black progress and learning something new about the black American experience is loving and Jesus-like in this context.  To me, it smells like the Good Samaritan love of neighbor that Jesus teaches--but with the focus more on celebrating the healing than binding the wounds.

Perhaps you see it differently.  Or very differently.

Maybe you view Black History Month at Fellowship as adding something to the Gospel, or a dangerous path to socialism; potentially leading vulnerable believers to abandon biblical truth along the way. Or, perhaps you think Black History Month advocates should just move on and stop trying to make white people today feel guilty for past things they didn’t do.

If one of these is your view, I want you to know something. I love you.  I can understand your concerns with Critical Race Theory as, clearly, I share some too.  But such views as these are not consistent with the teachings of Jesus.  Neither, I suspect, are they informed enough by authentic friendships with black brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because I love you as your pastor, I will always seek to tell you the truth about obeying Scripture--especially as it relates to the core beliefs of our faith, like the Gospel.

If you suspect we may disagree about a core issue like the Gospel, or have other questions, please reach out and begin a conversation with your staff or Elders.  Such conversations are highly valued and safe havens to seek truth together.

As I wrote earlier, ethnicities are God-made.  Race is man-made.  It’s a sinful, socially constructed way to attach meanings to an ethnic group that advantages or disadvantages against another. Like any other sin, wherever it may surface, we must name it and repent of it if we are to be holy.  But, as Kingdom people, we also fly above this.  We are one new race of humans in Christ.

Many ethnicities but equal bearers of the image of God.

Let’s live up to and into this new humanity, Fellowship, this month and every month.
Note the link I referenced earlier is from evangelical leader Tim Keller.  I offer it even though I know one can find self-proclaimed watchdog websites who claim Keller is a heretic, apostate, or worse.  The fact is you can find the same kind of harsh critiques on the web for any Christian leader out there--including Billy Graham.  As one who is in circles with Christian leaders of all kinds, I would not lead you astray, nor would I easily be led astray.  I would only reference leaders I either know personally or whom I’ve read extensively and trust.  I hope you trust your pastor’s discernment at least as much as random Facebook posts, websites or emails from potentially less reliable sources.

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