A Letter to You, Dear Brother or Sister
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
I've been writing similar emails and having similar conversations over the past few weeks, and decided today that I will put all of my responses in one post. Here it is. Feel free to share it or reference it as you find useful. I will be sending it as my default response to many people from now on in an email. Dear white brother or sister, I understand. 1. I understand that you are annoyed, aggravated and sometimes infuriated that I keep talking about race. I know all the names you will call me: liberal, social gospelist, naive. I know I will be ostracized at elders' meetings, that your support funds will be withdrawn, and that you will talk about me behind my back. I also want you to know that I won't be dropping it anytime soon. It's not a fad, a side-issue, a political issue, or a "divisive" issue. I'm not being "hateful". This is a gospel issue. Many of you are passionate about restoring talk of God's wrath and judgment to the pulpit. Here is some talk of God's wrath: God's darkest wrath is reserved for those who claim the name of Christ but don't care for His poor. It's for people who go to church every Sunday, but argue their way out of hearing the cries of the oppressed. It's for those who listen more to privileged political pundits than your brothers and sisters in Christ crying out in pain. If that is you, God's darkest wrath is reserved for you: Matthew 25:41-46 "Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ Proverbs 21:13: "Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered." Isaiah 58:2-3: "Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God... Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers... ...Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?" So no, I do not care about the names and accusations, and no, the intimidation tactics won't work. That's because the lives of my minority brothers and sisters, and your soul, are more important than my social standing in your eyes. 2. I understand that you are afraid of Marxism, Intersectionalism/Critical Race Theory, and Rioting. I fully understand the deep social and ethical problems of Marxism, the radically wrong anthropology of intersectionalism/critical race theory, the skewed theology of the social gospel and the hatred behind rioting. I welcome you to dismiss loud, white liberal voices telling you that you are fragile, that the Jackie Robinson story is racist, who also encourage us to be triggered by uncharitable interpretations of one another. These voices are neither helpful nor wise. However, may I also suggest that your time spent listening to fear-based caricatures is distracting you from the task you must be doing: listening to your minority brothers and sisters in Christ. These are men and women who are not Marxists, extremists, or gullible people, but wise, Holy Spirit filled members of the body of Christ. They will say things that make you uncomfortable, and I encourage you to embrace the discomfort, rather than distracting the conversation toward extreme cases that make you feel more at ease. Let me add this: I can see what's coming on the college campus, and you are correct. The next generation leans far left. I can also tell you, from experience, the reason why they lean far left: because the evangelical right has left the legitimate cries of the poor unheard. The less you listen, the more extreme the next generation will become. You cannot stop the tide of the upcoming Left, but you can temper it, by listening. So I will return to the point I seem to be making these days: "Have you listened?" Not, "Have you seen?" If you've grown up in the slums as a white person, you still do not understand racism if you haven't listened to your black brothers and sisters experience of the slums. So listen. 3. I understand that racism is a heart issue. I understand that legislating morality has limits. I understand that far more work has to be done than merely reforming the police, rearranging neighborhoods, and redistributing wealth. However, I would encourage you to protect the vulnerable lives of your black brothers and sisters with the same passion you've defended the unborn for years. Abortion, too, is a heart issue. But in the meantime, we have happily - and rightly - advocated for legislating against those whose hearts are resistant, in order to restrain evil, if not eradicate it. I wonder why you are unwilling to apply the same logic to your minority sisters in Christ, and why you are so ready to spiritualize the issue of racism, while legislating the issue of abortion? I wonder if you would search your own heart to answer this question. 4. I understand you do not like being called a racist. I don't like it, either. I understand that this word is abused and misapplied. I understand that for you, racism means to be consciously biased against the black community. I understand that you think racism is an individual issue, not a systemic issue. I'd also suggest that this is not what your black and brown kin mean when they say "racism". You may think your definition is correct, and they are wrong, but, as Paul says to his apprentice Timothy: "Remind others about these things, and warn them before God not to argue over words. Arguing does not do any good but only destroys those who are listening." So don't argue about the meaning of racism, but listen. Listen to your minority siblings when they tell you about the conversation they had with their Dad about avoiding being murdered by the police. Listen when they tell you - as Senator Tim Scott said a few weeks ago - that they've been pulled over 7 times in the past year by the police. Listen when they tell you the cops were called on them for shoplifting...because they reached into their purse for their wallet. Stop arguing, and listen. 5. I understand that you are excited to have dug up a few black voices that say racism isn't an issue. Let me suggest two things about this. First, most of the voices who are saying this aren't saying what you think they're saying. Most of them are trying to be charitable, and use words the way YOU prefer to use them so that they will be heard. But at the end of the day, they are describing the same experience. Senator Tim Scott, who I mentioned above, says racism is not the core issue. Yet he also describes being pulled over seven times in a year for being black. He is using different language to describe the same problem, so that you MIGHT just listen. Second, for those voices who are at the extreme of denying racism altogether, I don't deny they might exist. However, let me ask: would you say to your non-Christian friends who exclusively listen to Westboro Baptist church to assess Christianity? To this friend, you would say, "You're not listening - you're finding excuses not to listen." And so the vast majority of your black brothers and sisters would say to you, Christian, when you dig up the most extreme voices of your "opponents": by listening exclusively to them, you are choosing not to listen. 6. I understand you want a "balanced perspective" on the issue. I understand that you want to hear both sides. I understand that you want to read widely. I understand that you think the "mainstream media" is controlling the narrative, so you must find other sources to give "another perspective". However, let me gently suggest: You are the other extreme. Your experience is the other extreme. Your perspective is the other extreme. If you do not believe systemic racism is a problem that must be fixed immediately, you have an extreme position. Moderation is relative. "Balance" isn't the goal: faithfulness is the goal. A moderate, "balanced" perspective on slavery in 1700's meant owning slaves and "treating them well" (as property). But this was extremely far from the call of the gospel. Here is a picture I'm using often with my friends: imagine you are lying on a beach chair, reading a book. Your friend is in the pool, and has been underwater for three minutes. You see him waving his hands, shouting and screaming, and you say, "Please just be patient. Stop being so angry and extreme. Everything will work out in time." That is you, dear white Christian, when you are "moderate" on the issue of race. 7. I understand you think the black community is to blame. I understand that black crime rates are high. I understand that divorce rates in the black community are high. I understand that "gangster culture" is immoral. However, I'd encourage you to ask yourself: "Why is crime high? Why is the divorce rate high? Why does gangster culture exist?" Do you truly, deep down, believe that these things exist because of the color of the black community's skin? Do you believe it's because white people are inherently better? Or is it, possibly, because 1. Incarceration rates are far higher for illegal drug use in the black community than the white community. 2. Financial ills are the number one cause of divorce in America 3. Lack of stability - including lacking access to wealth-building through home ownership - is the number one cause of poverty, and 4. Policies that withheld black parents and grandparents from work created a directionless culture where gangsterism could thrive. I'm reminded of the Pharisees, wanting to stone a prostitute, but whom Jesus condemns because they are the ones perpetrating the system behind her immoral behavior. Jesus later says of them, "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger." It's always easier to point the finger, to cast the first stone. It's always harder - and more Christ-like - to come alongside and bear the burden.
8. I understand that you think I'm virtue signaling.
That is correct. I have virtue, given to me by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and one of those virtues is caring for the poor and the oppressed. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men," and that is what I am doing. I am showing you that I'm a follower of Jesus by caring for the poor. I'm not ashamed of that. 9. I understand you are afraid of the Social Gospel. I understand that our Christian goal isn't societal renewal, utopian dreams, or a Christ who died as a mere "example". I understand that doctrine is beautiful, vital and the foundation of life. I've been part of doctrinally unsound churches that have destroyed lives, and that's why I choose to be accountable to my presbytery and the historic faith through my ordination vows. However, let me also suggest that the "social gospel" is a movement that has been rapidly dying for a century, and is used almost exclusively as a boogie-man to distract us from the work that needs to be done. I don't know of anyone who believes the social gospel today. Mainstream churches are hardly a threat. The real enemy in the church, today, is the "anti-social" gospel: the gospel that prizes doctrine above obedience, that overspiritualizes sin and underspiritualizes repentance, that calls us to a mere personal experience of faith and not a holistic, faith based repentance to live in accord with the gospel of Christ. So I will repeat myself once more: this is not a distraction. This is a gospel issue. So listen. Listen to your black and brown brothers and sisters. Listen and reach whatever conclusion you like. But listen. If you write me on this in opposition, I will only have one response: "Have you listened?" If you wish to, here are some places to start: 1. I really like Emmanuel Acho's "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man", just short youtube videos that are gentle and honest. 2. If you have Amazon Prime here's Jemar Tisby's "Color of Compromise" video series, talking about the history of the white church and our complicity with racism. Really important. The book is approachable and easy as well. It's $2.99 on kindle. 3. Here are two resources that are helpful in understanding why the black community is crime/drug/poverty ridden. Segregated by Design and Systemic Racism Explained. If you prefer the Veggie-Tales version, here's Phil Vischer. 4. Short articles on the black experience: Walking While Black is about the experience of a black man from Jamaica who realizes how differently he's treated in America. Dear Evangelicals is about what it was like for a black Christian to have a voice in Christian circles. Shai Linne is a Christian rapper who gives some examples of what it's like to live in America. 5. Two TEDx Talks: Here's the LeCrae TEDx talk that started the questions for me. This one is really heart-wrenching, but it's so helpful in understanding why mass incarceration for the black community is a problem. Short and really eye-opening. 6. More solutions oriented stuff. Here's from uber-conservative Joe Rogan and his interview with Jocko Willnk, a Navy Seal captain who talks about the lack of training for police officers. Pretty crass. Here's the And Campaign's Podcast. Finally, How to fight racism in your town is from a totally secular, left source. But I found it really helpful and practical. Grace to you, Nicholas McDonald