I started a response to Douglas Wilson’s latest contributions on this subject (see here and here). The treatment ran into several thousand words on the first point, and I realized I would need a different approach. Thinking over how to address this in a helpful way, I concluded we need to step back just a bit.
There are several problematic statements in Doug’s posts, but the central point I both addressed and tweeted about separately is the assumption that Mohler’s effort, and those that would be like it, amount to trying to satisfy an endless series of demanded apologies from a group of race hustlers that refuse to be appeased. This is works righteousness with no forgiveness and an end only in damnation.
I grant readily that this problem occurs in many places and from many sources; but not always, and I fundamentally deny that this is what Mohler is doing or facing, or involved in. This is both a gratuitous, baseless, and uncharitable assumption on Doug’s part. This must be understood.
I invite you, reader, to step back and go read Mohler’s letter and the report. You will find that it is fundamentally not a call to repentance, nor is it bowing to one. It certainly contains a rehearsal of important, often unacknowledged or unknown deeds and facts; it is certainly is candid; it certainly is sensitive to the hurts and pains of many people; but there is no “we apologize once again,” or “please forgive us this time, but if not, we’ll be back again to bow lower and to try harder.”
Search the letter and the report. You will see that the words “repent” or “repentance” appear in no way in any appeal, demand, or requirement, or any sense like that, nor is such a sentiment implied. The sole exception is the quotation from the declaration from 1995, which said, “we genuinely repent. . . .” back then, and that is not repeated. The letter in fact says, “we cannot repent for the dead.”
So, it is important not to engage in the straw man of calling this an endless attempt at repentance. It is not. We could take plenty of space explaining what role it does fill, but simply noting the difference here is important. So, for people who ask, “How many times do we have to keep repenting?,” the answer is, “Once.” Now, can we talk about sanctification, building relationships, growing in grace and holiness together in the body? Can we talk about bearing one another’s burdens, the mind of Christ, the rule of love, giving, empathy, unity?
A model approach
I said this approach is a model for others. Douglas rejects this, not in principle (I’ll show you), but because of his assumption that it is all about race hustlers and patsies in the midst of it ready to monetize the guilt. There is no reason to insult all the interested and involved parties like that. And not everyone does.
Consider the following. Mohler quotes further from 1995 where it says one of the purposes of publicly declaring repentance back then was this: “Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.” It’s pretty tough reaching black communities and ministering to black individuals if they think you are insensitive or dismissive of all that, right? And there are good examples of people who have addressed this very problem directly.
Take for example the true story of a small church that had problems evangelizing local black communities because its church name was “First Confederated Baptist Church.” When local blacks turned away, ministers simply acknowledged it was a hindrance, and they changed their name to something unobjectionable. They did not cry about race hustlers, cultural marxism, etc. Even though a technical meaning of the original name could be taught that was unobjectionable, they didn’t dig in and demand their way or else you’re a “commie.” They changed it anyway.
But the truth is that church’s name was not what I said it was; it was actually called the “Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches”—Douglas Wilson’s own denomination.
When the decision was made to change his denomination’s name, for these very reasons, Douglas calmly reported it:
The reason for this change is that a number of our churches encountered significant road blocks in their evangelistic and outreach efforts because people routinely thought there must be some connection between confederation and the Confederacy.
Missing at the time was Doug’s talk of “a never-ending squirrel cage run of guilt,” or any assumption that the offended or confused parties must be “race hustlers” who would never allow us entire and complete forgiveness. No, just a simple change to accommodate the needs of other people.1
That’s how to act in love rather than fear.
The SBTS case is larger, deeper, and more complex, and more difficult to manage than the simple name-change of a micro denomination like the CREC. It nevertheless does conform to the same pattern. And there is much more room for developing the same idea and pattern into other areas of life and behavior. There can be much more to come, and it can be emulated.
What I am seeing here is a model of how Christians, particularly white conservative Christians, need to think, act, speak, and believe on this issue. I am highly impressed, highly thankful, and I pray the model of candid acknowledgment, open confession, and vulnerability in this report will be emulated by others, and that it will spur the next steps in the progress of unity among brethren.
I stand by these words, and find Douglas’s entrenching himself on unproven assertions and epithets to be unwarranted and unfortunate, especially since he himself has understood the matter appropriately in the past, even if on a much smaller scale.
That being probably the most important point to get straight, let’s give some brief attention to several other points.
Various quick hits
These are in no particular order, except the first one made me laugh.
Why in the world does Joel lump Douglas with the Lost Cause guys?
Douglas seems to think it odd that I “like to” lump him in with the Lost Cause guys. I got more than a chuckle from the image that statement generated of him shrugging in disbelief. “Who, me?”
It really is mindboggling that anyone would find this point difficult, especially the author of Southern Slavery As It Was. Perhaps it is authoring that book alone, or perhaps it is coauthoring it with a former board member of the League of the South (a literal distillation of the Lost Cause), or perhaps it is the repeated quotations and positive references to R. L. Dabney, who helped literally write the Lost Cause mythology, or perhaps it is the repetition of all the Lost Cause talking points and arguments, only minus the bare minimum of the more objectionable, politically incorrect parts.
I am not sure where the surprise comes from. If you don’t want to be called a Lost Cause guy, you have a walking and quacking problem here you need to deal with.
Once the wrong walking and quacking is established, it makes little difference that you go out of your way to deny racism and abuses. When virtually everything else you say validates the Old South narrative, it rings hollow. Further, when you disclaim “abuses,” but also follow Dabney in dismissing them as “very infrequent” (Douglas didn’t mention that part), the disclaimer doesn’t have much leverage.
Further, when I said Doug’s theological allegiances give shelter for racists, even if he himself is not one, this is part of what I was talking about. That book alone provides aid and comfort to people who can use it, and its sources, to say things such as blacks were never really wronged to begin with, or not so much anyway; slaves were happy and harmonious and had tender affections for their masters, etc. Such falsehoods are not only easy to be shed, although not shed, but the refusal to correct them provides shelter and encouragement for racists.
Jesus doubles down, Doug can too!
Following up my thought on the unwarranted assumption of endless guilt-tripping, I tweeted,
Ftr, saying that white Christians pursuing racial reconciliation will NEVER be permitted to achieve success, but be strung outwith endless apologies, because guilt is easy to monetize . . . just happens to be a massive insult to those black Christians involved.
Doug meets this by applying Jesus’ treatment of the Pharisees and lawyers in Luke 11:44–45. When the lawyers heard Jesus castigate the Pharisees, they responded, “But, but, but . . . this insults us also!” And Jesus essentially replied, “Yes, yes it does. And it should. The shoe fits. So be it.”
And so Doug happily, in a sharp-stick-in-the-eye manner, assured us that yes, he should insult those other black Christians involved: “if I say something that insults the race patsies, the implications of what I said will also fall on the race hustlers.”
The problem is, if you aim at the wrong target to begin with, pulling the trigger does not end well. Doubling down works if you’re right and then right again; but it adding one gratuitous assumption on top of another is not doubling down, it’s digging your hole deeper.
Again, I find Douglas’ assumption of the audience’s unforgiving intentions to be unproven and unwarranted. Aside from a few radical opinions and agendas (which exist in every ideology and institution, including our own), there is no reason to pigeonhole Mohler’s efforts as endless repenting, and certainly no warrant to assault the intended audience within his own church and institution as a bunch of unforgiving race hustlers monetizing or leveraging guilt.
Instead, there is a tremendous number of people interested, for various legitimate reasons, in hearing the institution address the issues in a candid, sensitive, and humble way. There is prudence and love in meeting that need. So, I stand by these words, also.
Sometimes, people feel insulted because of an objective injury. Sometimes, people get outraged because there is something objectively outrageous. Just because Jesus often made people angry doesn’t mean making people angry makes you like Jesus.
Jesus insulted the Pharisees and Lawyers with pure truth. Douglas insults Mohler, me, and thousands of other Christians with pure assumption. One of those is cool.
Jonah and the Nineveh of Birmingham
Douglas suggests that blacks and those interested in helping them are like Jonah, bitter at those he should forgive, and whom he knew God would. But he wouldn’t let it go. Doug applies this: “Jonah was a black man who was charged to preach free grace to 1930’s white Birmingham.” So, by implication, blacks should get over all these alleged hurts and prejudices, preach free grace, forgive and forget.
I get the limited point Doug is trying to make here, but the analogy simply doesn’t work without a lot of squinting and omission.
It’s at root a Bible problem. Doug says, Nineveh was “a city that had done appalling things to Jonah’s people.” But this is not true.
When the events in the book of Jonah occurred, Assyria was not yet an oppressor of Israel. It was a great empire, full of notorious wickedness, but it had not yet done any appalling things to Israel. That historical event was still some 15 or 20 years away.
Consequently, oppression was not the reason Jonah refused to go to Nineveh.
What, then, was the reason? The text says because Jonah didn’t want them to have mercy. We agree on that. But why not? Why did he loathe them so? It was because they were not only wicked, but wicked Gentiles. It was in part a racial issue.
This is precisely why there are typological parallels between Jonah and Peter at Cornelius’ house. It is why Peter is called son of Jonah (Matt. 16:18; John 1:42). His physical father was possibly a Jonah was well, but God works things like this. Jonah went to Joppa; Peter was in Joppa (Acts 10). Jonah refused to preach to the Gentiles; Peter did not want to arise and go to the unclean things either, and required a vision from God to overcome his prejudice.
Now, if you want to apply Jonah to blacks and their Southern racist oppressors, you need to flip that script. Even if you disagree with all this biblical theology here, you can still flip the script and it is just as profitable.
If, however, it is just your intent to say that SBC and SBTS blacks today refuse to allow forgiveness for the sins by our Southern Ninevites, and they should, then I say again, you have not established any warrant for pinning that role on these blacks.
But I would agree that the South is analogous to Nineveh here. That much is right. There is, however, one big difference: Nineveh repented. The South had to be coerced finally by law. This brings up the next interesting point.
Would Joel have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
A final interesting question comes up when Doug responds to the “giving shelter to racists” idea. How would Joel have treated that Act which abandons biblical and “Libertarian” ideals on private property, etc.? He puts me in a dilemma.
First, regarding “shelter for racists,” Doug says MLK was referring to Goldwater’s view of the Civil Rights Act. That is in part true, but there were other relevant factors. MLK was referring to civil rights in general and the events at the Republican National Convention. A motion was made at that Convention officially to disavow the KKK and other racist groups that were openly supporting Goldwater and the Republican Party. Yes, we are talking about having to disavow the KKK, but. . . .
. . . the Republicans openly booed the motion off stage.
So, King had quite more to go on that just the Act, and he seemed to be right. Goldwater hesitated to disavow the KKK’s support. The convention took place in June, and the pressure mounted. It took him until August finally to renounce the KKK’s support. The Civil Rights Act had been signed into law on July 2.
Back to Doug’s comments:
Goldwater was attacked in this way because he vocally opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, considering it a gigantic overreach by the federal government. This leads naturally to the question . . . what does Joel think about the Civil Rights Act of 1964? If he had been in Congress at that time, would he have voted for or against it? If against it, then he, Goldwater, and I would all in the same boat together—accused by MLK of giving aid and comfort to racists. And if he would have voted for it, then I can only say that libertarianism ain’t what it used to be.
I will admit, it’s easy to speak boldly about this in hindsight, but here’s what I, looking from my current privileged position, hope I would have done:
If I was in Congress in 1963–1964, before the vote on the Civil Rights Act, I would have taken the floor and given a speech. It in, I would have castigated the moral failures of the conservative pulpits and leaders for their utter failure on the equality issue. I would have carried on and on making it clear that the government coercion that was about to come was not biblical, not freedom, but was a judgment from God for the hardness of the hearts of mainly prejudiced white people who refused to love their black neighbors, and who were largely emboldened by their moral leaders. I would make it clear that this judgment is a direct result of our stiff-necked refusal to learn the lessons of the last judgment of God that had fallen, as Lincoln pointed out, in the Civil War, but instead believed the lies of the Lost Cause, and called those whites who did speak for equality “nigger lovers” and “commies.”
I would have made it clear that by our refusal to uphold the equality and dignity of blacks, we had proven yet again that we are the ones unprepared for freedom and unable to govern ourselves in a way that glorified Christ—true liberty. We therefore righteously deserve to have a yoke of bondage placed upon us, forcing us to allow the equal movement and access of blacks among us, as our neighbors—not because this is the righteous Libertarian thing to do, but because we had shown ourselves over the past century (1865–1964) to be incorrigible enemies of liberty at its very moral foundations as well as its practice. We did not practice the love that liberty requires. We denied it. And so we had to be subjected to a schoolmaster, to be taught through regulations and penalties, the pathways of a free society. We would not be regulated by the sword of the Lord, the Word, and so would be regulated by the sword of the civil magistrate.
I would have then abstained from voting for or against, because I cannot in conscience be the one to impose that yoke; but acknowledging that we righteously deserve it, for centuries of incorrigible tyranny, so let the Romans come and seize us.
If necessary, I would have resigned my office after that. Or lost my next election. Or raised funds. Or gotten shot. Who knows?
The pulpits should have been preaching reform for centuries, and if it did not come, they should have preached judgment. Instead, they were accomplices, and suffered judgment. They were so far gone, God had to send a quasi-liberal, soft-communist to tell the truth. The result came in the form of a government-imposed order. That is judgment. It would be—will be—great one day if enough hearts changed that the Civil Rights Acts could be lifted, and no one noticed it missing.
Douglas knows he cannot appeal to a political theory apart from the moral theory that undergirds it. Citing an ideological crack on the political surface is silly when there is a moral San Andreas beneath it. An appeal to Libertarianism is pointless if we do not uphold the moral foundations of Liberty to begin with. It makes little sense to try to uphold Libertarianism in the law if you don’t first fight for it in the hearts of men and women. And that heart problem throughout the South (and elsewhere) was exacerbated by the failings of the pulpits for generations leading up to 1964.
Douglas’ repeated insistence that we just preach free grace would mean a whole lot more if he didn’t promote so much the guys who failed in applying it for race relations when it mattered. Instead, Doug fires this parting shot: “Sinful men don’t need lectures from commies,” meaning MLK.
Once again, the conservative churches had mostly dropped the ball on this. Most supported the opposite of the truth on this. The sad fact is that virtually every one of them did need a lecture from a “commie”—because he had the gospel rightly applied here, and they had it wrong.
If you want to see that black preacher in Nineveh, look here. The result was a bullet, and the Civil Rights Act.
I have described the type of entitled treatment Douglas and others seem to demand on this issue as not free grace, as he says, but cheap grace. The cheap grace mindset on this issue works like the scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where Lancelot storms a castle during a wedding party, and in blind naivete strikes down everything in his path until he reaches what he thinks is a damsel in distress in the tower. The owner of the castle is so greedy for money that once he realizes his attacker is a Knight of the Round Table—a “very brave and influential *wink, wink* knight!—that he completely overlooks the warpath of murdered victims and calls every one literally standing there grieving to just, you know, forgive it all.
The owner, comedically straining credulity to an absurd degree, appeals: “This is supposed to an happy occasion! Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who!”
“He killed eight wedding guests!” someone cries. To which Lancelot interjects, “Sorry, sorry. Terribly sorry about that.”
This is pretty close to what that 1995 SBC apology would sound like today had there been no fruit of repentance. This report is not yet another apology in an endless string of apologies. It is merely the fruit of a real apology.
Now, there are still a few loose ends, such as Douglas’ insistence about certain Bible passages on slavery. Not sure what the argument is there, yet, clearly. So, waiting on that. Also, the note about me slipping away from Theonomy and libertarianism. I’ll get to that later. For now, enjoy your Christmas!
- For full disclosure, one irony here is that, at the time, I personally opposed the name change. I was under the impression that the objections had come from only one couple within the church, and thus thought the best remedy at the time was education rather than what seemed to be a big change for a very localized issue. In hindsight and with a bit better knowledge now I believe I was wrong. Also, for the reasons advanced, I think picking a name like “Confederation” at the outset was not wise.(↩)