Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Intentions and Outcomes

Back in March and April of this year, Immanuel Can and I had a two-part discussion of the validity of Tim Keller’s accusations of systemic racism in evangelical support for Christian workers. You can find those posts here and here.

But in working through the issues raised by Mr. Keller, what struck me most forcibly was the apparent ease with which an otherwise-discerning Christian accepts “equity” (as the social justice crowd defines it) as a valid metric for assessing race- and culture-related issues.

I’ve been giving that a little more thought. Because Mr. Keller is not the only one in the evangelical community assuming “systemic” injustices can be uncovered by examining statistics.

Outcomes and Opportunities

The social justice crowd loves statistics because they quantify outcomes, and outcomes rather than opportunities are what social justice is all about. So, for example, if only 12% of those who successfully complete a particular university program of study are women, the woke among us quickly begin to raise concerns about “barriers” and “inequities” holding back women from lucrative careers in that field. That outcome looks inequitable at first glance.

Now, it is certainly possible that the program in question is being administered and taught by a pack of vicious misogynists engaged in a discrimination campaign against the fairer sex, but supposing the percentage of women graduating is similar to the percentage of women signing up for the course in the first place, we might have to reassess our assumptions. Perhaps women are simply uninterested in pursuing careers in that field in large numbers. Certainly, we ought to ask female students why it is they are not applying for admission to that program before assuming anything unjust or inequitable is going on.

So then, injustices cannot be legitimately inferred from raw data without taking into consideration all the relevant information. It is not possible to legitimately infer evil motives from outcomes alone.

Demographics and Racism

I was reminded of this when reading a post about church demographics a while back. Its writer was concerned about the racial demographics of her local church failing to reflect those of the surrounding community, and proposed a number of practical steps by which those percentages could be brought back into line. In doing so, she was making a number of invalid assumptions.

One dubious assumption goes to the purpose of the local church: that it exists to reflect or cater to its community. That would have to be demonstrated from the New Testament, and I suspect we might have some difficulty with it.

Another demonstrably false assumption: that the members of modern churches come primarily from the community where the church is situated. That is rarely the case in big cities these days. Many of the folks who attend my local church drive into town from up to 40 minutes away. In the age of the automobile such habits are commonplace.

A third completely unsupportable assumption: that if a local church fails to precisely replicate the demographics of its community, the church has a spiritual problem.

Falsifiable Assumptions

This last one is the only real “social justice” assumption the writer was making, but it’s a major one, and easily falsified from my own church experience. Canada is about 3% black; my own community slightly higher, probably closer to 6-8%. And yet my local church is about 40% black at the moment. Are we to assume that the racial makeup of the congregation reflects a deep bias against legacy Canadians? Should I be looking for a church in my neighborhood with a higher percentage of congregants of English descent? Probably not.

Likewise, the surrounding community is heavily Indian, while our church has exactly one Indian couple. A problem? Not really. The local Indian Christians have their own church with services in multiple languages in the same area. Any perceived “Indian shortage” needs to take that into account. Again, there is a thriving Filipino Baptist church just down the street that probably explains our dearth of congregants from the Philippines better than neglect does. As for the Arabs around here, they are almost entirely Muslim. Changing that is a worthy exercise, but may take generations to accomplish.

The Comfort Zone

The social justice crowd is doing an excellent job of conditioning white Christians to reflexive guilt over their attitude to race. At the same time, the SJs are remarkably unconcerned about the attitude of Hispanics, Chinese or Malaysians to their relationships with people from other ethnic backgrounds. The fact that we have thousands of local churches made up of racially-homogenous minorities in Western countries troubles them not at all.

I would suggest it shouldn’t trouble Christians either. People frequently make decisions about where to go to church on the basis of their own personal comfort zone. If a familiar accent or cultural background makes one church more desirable than another for them, who am I to call a group of fellow believers racist on that account? Should I start attending the Chinese Pentecostal church around the corner so they can boast of having a token Anglo-Saxon? I’m pretty sure they’d welcome me, but on its own, that isn’t sufficient reason to make such a move.

Personal preferences, familiarity and comfort zones are not moral issues unless we are excluding, marginalizing, mistreating or catering to specific types of Christians to make ourselves more comfortable. Provided churches treat all believers interested in meeting with them the same way, demographic “imbalances” are truly a non-issue.

Equality and Equity

In fact, there are many reasons local church demographics in Western countries are what they are, and most of them have more to do with local circumstances than neglect or indifference to minorities. Racism is indeed one possibility, but there are almost endless others. We are unwise to make any assumptions about the attitudes or spirituality of a group of Christians on the basis of demographics alone.

It may surprise you to find that neither equality nor equity (the woke version) are biblical Christian values. It’s easy for Christians to find ourselves reeling when accused of racism, discrimination or insensitivity to minority groups. But before we start flailing around in some kind of guilt-ridden overreaction, we really need to stop and objectively assess the evidence against us first.

In most cases I think you will find it’s just not there.

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