Friday, April 01, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: What Doesn’t Kell You...

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Modern attention spans are what they are. We try to keep these posts to roughly 2,000 words; conventional internet wisdom has it the average person begins to tune out around then. But there were at least three points we didn’t get around to last week in our discussion of the accusation raised by Tim Keller that the traditional evangelical fundraising model is systemically racist.

Tom: IC, I wanted to start out with this thought: Tim Keller is using woke language and making typical social justice assumptions about his fellow believers, but I don’t want to leave the subject without pointing out the there is nothing wrong with self-examination on the part of Christians, churches, and parachurch organizations.

One good thing about getting accused of something is that you have an opportunity to ask yourself “Do I have a blind spot here? Am I maybe behaving in a way that is not quite as godly as I thought?” That’s a healthy exercise for Christians, I think. There is a serious need for our churches to start reassessing some of the assumptions we are making and how we do things across a number of areas. Keller is not wrong about that.

Guilty, Guilty You Found Me

On the other hand, we also need to be aware that the social justice movement succeeds in moving forward by making people feel guilty about things they have no reason to feel guilty about. That is their object in crying “racism” at every turn. Is that a fair statement?

Immanuel Can: Decidedly so.

For the social justice propagandists, things like race, sexuality, gender, femininity, disability and even obesity are valued for their usefulness as flashpoints of self-righteous anger. Their well-meaning but naive followers (of whom Mr. Keller appears to be one) assume their concern for these causes is genuine, and their intention is to bring “oppressed” people to a state of equity and peace. But it’s the opposite: the purpose of invoking any of these things is not to help people but to provide them with a reason to hate the status quo and to become willing to dismantle or smash it. What they want is to destroy, not build.

That will not make sense to most people. It will look like I’m slandering the SJers. But I’m not. You have to understand how they are thinking before you can understand why I’m not.

Tom: Oh no, carry on. This is unfamiliar territory for some of us.

History with Intelligence

IC: Following the pattern of Marxism, SJers (at least those who know what they’re doing) believe the following:

  • All the important problems in life have to do with the material world, the present age, and the holding of power. They are not spiritual.
  • History has its own “intelligence” or direction, and goes to good places if freed to do so. (They got this belief from Hegel and Marx.)
  • The thing that stops history going to good places is the systems of the status quo, whatever they are. These systems “institutionalize inequity”, as they would say.
  • Destruction is thus creative: all anyone has to do in order to free up history to do its good work is smash the status quo.
  • The “good thing” history is going to do cannot be explained in advance; we just have to “free up” history to do it, and see how it goes.

Tom: Boy, that sure sounds like it’ll work.

IC: But this is where the “systemic” thing comes back in. What we have to understand is that in SJ-speak, “racism” means cooperating with the status quo. That’s really its main meaning for them. That’s why they even accuse black folks of being racist, or “Uncle Tomming”. That’s also why, even if you are the least racist person on earth, your protestations of innocence always fall on deaf ears. For them, anybody who contributes to — or anybody who is not actively working to destroy — the existing order of things is by their definition racist because the racism is in the system itself, even when it’s not in the person himself or herself. The only proper response, according to them, is to destroy the status quo. Failure to act is “racist”.

A Plan without a Plan

So, in the church, what one has to expect is a lot of outcry to “stop racism”, which in practice will mean “destroy all the existing practices and structures of the church”. You won’t get a new plan out of them for the church, nor will any real SJ advocate be happy to stop at a compromise with any part of the existing system. They’ll keep going until it’s all gone. And as you say, the tool they’ll use is false guilt and natural loathing of terms like “racist”.

Tom: The SJ-crowd gets lots of milage out of guys like Tim Keller who will use and popularize their vocabulary. But Keller is not a “smash the system” guy. At worst he’s a patsy. He thinks the system he is part of is doing something very bad to his fellow believers, and he wants to make amends for it. That’s a very normal Christian response. But in this instance it’s a bad one. Even if he’s right about an uninterrupted history of Christian racism (and, for the most part, I don’t think he is), we cannot repent on someone else’s behalf, especially someone else whose circumstances we didn’t live through and don’t really understand. It’s not our job.

IC: That’s a good point. And that’s why SJ folks pull so hard for things like “historical injustice”, “white guilt”, and so on. It’s to make possible the feeling of guilt where none legitimately exists — because false guilt is their dynamo to drive the program in the public. And one of their most powerful false guilt strategies is to put all their opponents on the back foot by creating the impression that any hesitancy about their wishes might be evidence of racism.

Moral Confusion

A racism allegation creates defensiveness, and defensiveness creates in those accused a desire to explain and pacify. But SJ propagandists simply read this as weakness — as moral confusion — which is what it is, and they recognize it’s their cue to ratchet up the demands to the next level.

Now, Christians are people who understand guilt in a way the world does not. We begin by recognizing we are sinners. So we’re more vulnerable than most to phony guilt allegations, because we have been humbled by the Spirit to accept that we can be wrong. There is something Christian about guilt, about accepting genuine responsibility for what one has done and who one is; but there is not a single thing Christian about taking on guilt where it is undeserved. That’s just called believing a lie.

Tom: Maybe Keller knows of some specific instances of racist behavior in his own Presbyterian churches, and those are things of which the individuals involved need to repent. But to talk about all of evangelicalism as systemically racist is absolutely irresponsible. You cannot take something like the relative ability or inability of some individuals to effectively fundraise and generalize from that into a systemic problem. Keller may not be trying to smash the system. He may mean well. But he’s wrong, and this type of false guilt tripping needs to be resisted as firmly as one would resist an actual social justice type pushing his agenda.

Muddling Through

So, I guess what I’m trying to say here is that self-examination is good, repentance is good, concern for others is very good ... but I’m not surprised people don’t respond when Keller talks about these things. He admits that himself. But it may not be because they are unrepentant of their participation in a racist system. It may be because they simply think he’s wrong about the reasons for the differences in incomes he claims to observe.

IC: I certainly think that’s the truth. I can’t speak for every church, but I would observe that if there were any people in them with uncongenial attitudes to a particular racial group, it would always be the errant individual who was the problem there. There is no “systemic” attempt to defeat or exclude anybody … just churches where people take some of their routines and procedures from their own cultural habits and frame of reference — a perfectly natural thing to do until something else comes in to change the procedures. That churches occasionally need to adapt to new demographics does not, in fact, signal any racism or any malevolence or systemic pattern of oppression. It just means that churches are full of human beings, and human beings muddle though their procedures by way of whatever cultural options they happen to know at a given time.

Equal Outcomes, Not Equal Opportunity

Tom: Okay, second issue we didn’t get to last week. There’s an assumption baked into Keller’s reasoning that when we give to members of a group of Christians doing something good, each worker should get an identical amount. If they don’t, something is wrong with the way we are giving. How do you feel about that?

(I say this because I may never give a single cent to a black missionary or full-time black Christian worker in my entire life. That’s not because I dislike black Christian workers. It’s because I literally don’t know any. None. In fact, I don’t donate to the majority of white Christians I know who are in that position. I tend to select a few workers I know and trust, and prioritize doing what I can for them. And I think other people may also give that way.)

IC: In contrast, through my special circumstances (which most others do not have), my dealings have often been with native missionaries, people who serve the Lord in the countries in which they were born, and who have languages, cultures and racial heritages quite different from mine. But that does not make me even a hair more virtuous than you, or you any less virtuous than me — if either of us can claim any virtue not entirely given us by Christ, who cares nothing for such differences. The only truly unchristian way to give would be to make race a criterion of giving. So if you were deliberately seeking out only white missionaries, and I were only seeking out “missionaries of color”, then we’d both be hypocrites. But so long as we give impartially, and to the people whom God has chosen to bring into our particular orbits, then that’s the Christian way of giving. Never mind the race nonsense.

Tom: Thank you. I think that says it perfectly.

Everything into the Pot

Last issue ... Keller says the way to make sure everything is done “fairly” (by which he means non-racist-ly) is for mission organizations or those receiving funds for workers to take everything that comes in from all sources, throw it in a pot and disperse it equally to everyone they are responsible for supporting or sending out. How do you feel about his “solution”, IC?

IC: It’s so bad it’s almost funny, isn’t it? He completely sacrifices questions like “Which person is deserving/needy, and which is not?” or “Where does the missionary in question have to live in order to do his/her work?” to the option of ranking them by race. Everybody’s deemed equal, just so Keller can say he’s not a racist … regardless of the other factors involved. You can’t mistake what the real agenda is in a decision like that: it’s to have a money-metric to prove that donors look non-racist, not to make sure that the money is distributed where merit and need make it necessary. Stewardship is being sold out to virtue signaling.

And lest anyone imagine I’m campaigning for white missionaries to get more, I’m not. In fact, I would argue that if they live in North America, a great many white workers have access to resources that, say, a native fly-in missionary pilot cannot hope to have but desperately needs. The North Americans should probably get less. To be fair, any dispersal of funds must be according to much better criteria, such as how important is the work, how effective, diligent and fruitful is the potential recipient proving to be, what expenses fall upon this particular kind of ministry, what other sources of revenue does the candidate possess, how does the work stand to promote the gospel, and so on. That might well end up favoring many native missionaries over non-native ones, and by a considerable margin. So turning to “equal by race” criteria is not only lazy, racist and unchristian — it’s rotten stewardship as well.

Who is Dispersing the Pot?

Tom: Well, the criteria to be used are certainly a problem. My point is more basic. Before you apply criteria to any decision, you have to decide who gets to do the applying. If I give to a charity like Unicef simply because it exists and purports to do something good, then Unicef decides how to spend the money I send. But when individuals are drawing money to an organization based on who they know and what they are doing personally (which is how these organizations operate, and why Keller is calling the funding “racist” in the first place), I would say that decision who to fund resides with the donor, not the receiving organization. That’s a biblical approach: individual responsibility in giving.

Take that away from them, and you take away all agency they have in choosing to support people who are doing things they personally believe in. As an organization, you are telling them you know better than they do, and you are setting yourself up as the arbiter of who is doing a good job and exactly what each person deserves. And some people may accept that. I for one would immediately stop giving to such an organization, and start sending my money where I had some control over how it was being spent, because that is my responsibility before God. Wouldn’t you?

IC: For sure. That’s another good angle on this.

The Upshot

Well, Tom, what’s the upshot of all that we’ve said here?

Tom: My turn to sum up? Well, it has always bothered me that Christians insist on institutionalizing our biblical responsibilities to one another. Whenever you create a parachurch entity, it is immediately subject to all the perils into which organizations tend to fall: the potential for scandal, the tendency to slough off individual responsibility because there is a mechanism in place to cover for you, an absence of direct scriptural guidance about how to operate, having to do things you don’t agree with just because they are institutional policy, a legal obligation to conform with secular government regulations, and so on.

In addition, we are now finding that, if we are not careful, our institutions may be scapegoated and co-opted by the social justice crowd through the use of phantom guilt and the fear of “bad optics”. Tim Keller can only use the words “systemic racism” because we have created a nice little measurable “system” for him to criticize.

Maybe it’s time to get back to doing things a little less formally and a little more like they did in the first century. That’s my thought.

Also, bad ideas are bad ideas even when they come from well-intentioned, apparently-respectable Christians.

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