Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Is the Holy Spirit ‘Racist’?

Forgive the scare quotes, but they’re employed in the title with good reason, as will hopefully become clear.

We have been discussing the modern, leftist redefinition of the word ‘racism’ to include any and all generalizations about race, speaking out against sinful behaviour (or even identifying it) and even gently humorous references to obvious differences between racial groups.

This is not ‘hatred’ or ‘intolerance’, as racism has historically been defined, but an evanescent, constantly morphing definition of what is acceptable that functions largely as a means of disqualifying and marginalizing opponents of progressive social engineering.

As illustrated yesterday, an accusation of racism is considerably more effective with voters than arguing issues on their merits.

Why does this matter to Christians?

It is clear that those who genuinely hate and behave intolerantly toward other believers simply on the basis of genetics are not living out Christianity as taught in the epistles.

But Christians may be inclined to indulge a certain elasticity in the traditional definition of racism in the interest of goodwill and out of a desire for peace. After all, not all North American Christians self-identify as Republicans or Conservatives. For those of us who do not, does the shape of the public debate over race really matter?

I believe it does. All Christians need to be careful that our understanding of what is appropriate to the follower of Christ in terms of attitude and behavior is framed by Scripture alone, and is not merely an empty, worldly imitation of love, goodwill and tolerance that actually serves and perpetuates someone else’s agenda.

Let me give you an example, and you can tell me if your reflexive reaction to this verse is a desire to modify Scripture to accommodate society’s current views about racism.

A Problem Verse

Here’s a verse that those Christians who have adopted the modern standard for crying ‘racist’ at the most meager of provocations need to incorporate into their theology:
“One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith ...”
(Titus 1:12-14)
Huh. What are you going to do with that? That is, by modern standards, some serious hate speech, folks.

If Robin Williams had said, “Iranians are always liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons,” the PC crowd would have eaten his lunch before he could finish his stand-up comedy routine. The statement has all the social justice hot buttons: it is a generalism (“always”) that would almost certainly hurt the feelings of any touchy Cretans who happened to read it (assuming, of course, that their evil beastliness didn’t hinder their ability to register criticism).

It will not do to say that the writer is only quoting a Cretan here because he goes on to add “This testimony is true”.

But the writer of this statement was Paul, the very apostle who set out for believers the standards by which we are to think of and treat people from other ethnic backgrounds and cultures, as laid out in detail in yesterday’s post. Surely Paul is not at odds with his own theology? Surely Paul is not racist?

Two Options

There are two possible ways of dealing with this apparent racism, given the Bible’s teaching that it is the inspired word of God and that Paul was “carried along by the Holy Spirit” as he wrote:

1.    Paul is giving his own personal opinion here, not that of God. This is not as crazy a position as it sounds, because Paul does this twice in Corinthians. The problem with taking this position is that, when Paul does so (no doubt conscious of the potential difficulties it may cause for his authority down through the centuries), he labels the occasions explicitly. We are not left to conjecture about when he speaks for himself; he tells us flat out. To speculate that there are other, unmarked occasions on which he speaks uninspired by the Holy Spirit of God is a slippery slope that no sane believer in the authority of Scripture will think is worth descending;


2.    The Holy Spirit is a racist. Really. That’s what’s behind Door #2 if you go down this road.

Those are the options, folks, neither one particularly tenable. Oh, okay, fine — you figured out where I’m going here. Of course there is a third option:

3.    Political correctness notwithstanding, there are legitimate circumstances under which generalizations about national groups (even negative ones) are not actually ‘racist’ in any sense that matters. That is to say, they are not sinful. One of these circumstances would be when you are acting out of love to address a genuine moral problem that must first be identified, then acknowledged, rejected and dealt with, in order for those you are concerned about to grow in the Christian life. This was most certainly the motivation of the apostle in quoting the Cretan proverb. He was not out to hurt feelings or demonstrate disregard for an entire group of human beings; he was speaking on behalf of God about issues of spiritual significance.

Factual statements about race do not, in and of themselves, constitute racism. Racism has to do with motive, and should not be assumed without evidence. Even generalizations about race, when true and motivated by love, are not sinful.

What Can We Learn Here?

Nobody actually thought I was going to insist that the Holy Spirit is racist, did they?

If modernism insists on its expanded definition of racism, the only logical conclusion for the believer is that ‘racism’ of the sort Paul is engaged in is not actually a sin.

A few things may be concluded from the Titus passage:

1.    Racial groups may possess identifiable characteristics beyond the obvious physical externals. These may be good or bad characteristics, depending on the cultural choices made by that group (and, yes, maybe even genetics*), but they are certainly identifiable. Putting blinders on in the interests of pleasing the world does not make them go away.

2.    Criticism of what a racial group is currently doing is not wrong when their behavior is immoral. Our standard is the word of God.

3.    Knowing the natural tendencies and habits of particular groups of Christians enables a believer to identify their potential struggles, point them out and correct them. This is love, not racism.

4.    We can choose to allow society to define our terms for us, or we can define them from the word of God. While we need to be conscious of the changing dialogue on the subject of race and avoid giving unnecessary offence to those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement, we should not and cannot, if we wish to remain faithful, shirk our responsibility to declare the whole counsel of God.

There. Isn’t that better than making the Holy Spirit a racist?

So What Do We Do About It?

I am generally reluctant to spend too much time spelling out how we should apply Scripture. We all have our individual situations and those who attempt to point out what the Bible teaches can rarely be expected to anticipate them all. It is largely the work of the Holy Spirit to teach each believer how to most effectively put his word into practice in their own circumstances.

Because the subject of race is so volatile, however, I would like to be clear what I am not advocating, like, for instance, wholesale racial profiling, losing sight of the priority to present Christ first and above all, or getting entangled in profitless debates with the unsaved over their misuse of terminology. For me to reply to Robin Williams’ Twitter critics with a shot over their bows about how they have been brainwashed or can’t use a dictionary would be imprudent and useless, to say the least.

On the other hand, I think my own kids and others who are inclined to listen and learn ought to be clear on what words mean and what Scripture teaches. It’s part of my obligation both as a Christian and a father.

Further, when I see other people accused of racism (and other thought crimes), as a Christian I ought to (1) most importantly, not pile on; (2) reserve personal judgment until the evidence of such racism is well established; and (3) where it is feasible to do so, encourage others to do the same. Blessed are the peacemakers, I think someone once said.

As for those very few believers who find themselves in public debates on this or other issues where progressive ideologues have coined or coopted language to silence debate, Peter Hitchens gives a pretty good two minute example of how to turn things around without being rude.

Note the female panelist’s confidently delivered litany of leftist bromides that garner applause … until Hitchens speaks up. Note the attempt by the host and fellow panelist to derail Hitchens’ point around the 0:54 mark and to interrupt again at 1:31, as well as the audience member in the front row who unsuccessfully tries to interject his opinion around 1:40. And note the applause for Hitchens at the end.

Sometimes there are more people who believe the ‘unsayable’ than let on.

* Bear in mind that if, in fact, genetics are involved (something I am in no way qualified to determine), their influence can result in no more than a predisposition, as opposed to any kind of behavioral stranglehold, otherwise it would hardly make sense for Paul to advise Timothy to “rebuke [the Cretans] sharply”.

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