Last week Dr. Anthony Bradley revisited topics he wrote in the introductory chapter of his collaborative book, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. It’s the kind of statement some battle-hardened writers and speakers may dismiss as part of the normal push and shove of public theology, but minority writers and speakers in our country appear to have one extra front to defend–expectations on their ethnicity. When a smart, young, black man embraces the Westminster Confession, why would he have to justify himself to his peers for choosing a “white” church and defend himself from his would-be allies against charges of tokenism?
I know this is a hot-button topic I’m unqualified to blog about, but I’m pressing on to recommend Aliens in the Promised Land as a good start at catching our blind spots. Believers and church people alike easily read their cultural assumptions and convictions into the Bible, turning them around to others as proper applications of God’s Word. We talk about this whenever we bring up selections from a list of most misunderstood or misapplied verses. How many sermons barely apply the text in favor of the speaker’s personal convictions?
Life assumptions come from our family history, life experiences, and place in society, and in that last area minorities say they have suffered. One professor in the book wrote about his ancestors living in the Texas area long before the state was formed. He said they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. They have been US citizens for five generations, but because of his Latino heritage this American has had people tell him to go back to Mexico and the people who didn’t say that ask him why he wasn’t Catholic. If you look a certain way you must be a certain person.
That may be the world’s response , but let’s leave it with them and conduct ourselves in light of Christ’s great work, “having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two [Jew and gentile], thus making peace and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:15-16 NKJV).
Continue reading Between Camps in Defense of the Truth
Social justice is an unwelcome term in some circles, calling to mind political opportunism and race baiting. Many other people use the term to describe what Christians should understand (and should have understood for centuries) as properly loving your neighbor. Author and professor Anthony Bradley says maybe we need to lay aside social justice in favor of transitional justice, the kind of measures taken in response a state that has ignored proper judicial measures for a long time.
In fairness, America did attempt to redress issues with voting, housing, employment, and the like. The blind fallacy, however, was the belief that we could change a few federal laws and move on. But we moved on without addressing the need to foster peace and reconciliation between whites and blacks, especially in the South and large urban areas. We moved on without dealing with the post-traumatic stress of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. We moved on without holding people and institutions accountable for massive amounts of person-to-person and structural injustice.
He offers seven principles for America to use in healing the wounds we still feel, urging us not to skip to the application before building the foundation. Here’s #2.
It is quite unbelievable that African Americans were not given formal opportunities to recount, on record, exactly what happened during Jim Crow. A truth commission would allow us to hear the truth about Jim Crow. We need to gather firsthand accounts while we still can. Without getting the truth on record, we run the risk of exaggerations of history on both sides. It would be safe to say, as a result, that the average American under the age of fifty cannot explain the details of what life was like for blacks during Jim Crow. Individual states still have opportunities to establish Jim Crow truth and reconciliation commissions.
And from #3.
Recognizing survivors of Jim Crow as suffering real harm, including economic harm, would have allowed us to contextualize both their trauma and struggles with agency in the years that followed. Instead, America largely chose a “let’s just move on and not talk about the past” approach with a few one-size-fits-all federal legal remedies, which ultimately failed to deliver much of what they promised by the time we reached the 1980s.
Anthony Bradley has written many articles on the labels that are popular among many in the church today, saying they can be problematic. Communities that push themselves to be “radical,” “missional,” or “organic” may set themselves up for an alternative legalism that measures other believers by their activity instead of looking to our hope in Christ.
“To be fair,” he writes, “the impulse that formed these tribes comes from a good place. They are all seeking to be faithful to what the Scriptures teach and are reacting to real problems that exist in the life of God’s people. The problem is that tribalism can cultivate a debilitating sense of shame and feelings of unworthiness that discourages God’s people from enjoying simple norms expressed in the dynamism of the ordinary.”
He goes on to give seven points of garden-variety Christianity that will change the world. “The good life, then, the one that God has always used in his redemptive mission, is the one that brings glory to God by loving him and loving neighbor.”
Dr. Anthony Bradley describes a problem Christians of any tradition should grapple with, that even great theologians and Christian leaders don’t apply their theology uniformly well. They have blind spots, sometimes embarrassing ones.
This video is on Westminster Theological’s post for Martin Luther King Day, which has a few books and stories from seminary alumni. Rev. C. Herbert Oliver graduated in 1953 has an interesting story to tell. You can read it on their site. Here, I’ll quote his answer to the question on what changes he has seen in our country over 60 years:
Theologically, I would say that I’ve seen what I would call the disturbing trend in the PCUSA, moving in the direction of ordaining open gay and lesbian ministers. I’ve been a member of the New York City presbytery for 45 years, and I saw how that change took place. I opposed it at the beginning, but they had a way of shunning you to the side and not hearing you. So I decided I would become an observer and watch this and see how it has worked out. It has worked out to me unfavorably, and against the Bible, so they now have an openly gay executive presbyter of the presbytery.
I’ve also not seen any basic racial changes for the better in the church. I’m sorry to say that, but I ran into the same racism in the PCUSA church as I found in the OPC. When I graduated from seminary, there was no place for me to serve. There were plenty of churches that were vacant, but none of them would call me. It was understood by the higher-ups in the church that there was no future for me being called to a white church. That’s when the call came to me to serve in Maine, and I accepted that and went there and served. But the racial divide in America is still as strong as it was in the 40’s and 50’s. Just more polite, but it is no less real, no less firm, and no less impregnable.
Anthony Bradley argues that most Christians today simply defend their political tribe using biblical language or proof-texts. They don’t hold to any confession of faith, but they believe their view of the Bible is right and other views are wrong or dangerous. “Progressive evangelicals, like their liberal mainline cousins, have simply traded off, in many cases, the tools in the Christian social thought tradition for the analytical tools of the social sciences and the humanities (critical race theory, feminist theory, etc.). For progressive evangelicals, the social sciences are authoritative and are often above critique.”
If we would fall back on sound theological confessions or a biblically developed history of Christian social consciousness, we could discuss issues like believers should and find common ground aren’t finding now. As Dr. Bradley concludes, “A lively discourse about the right application of Christian principles within the Christian tradition is far more fruitful and interesting to me than engaging in a tribal war that tries to prove whose tribe best represents Jesus.”
Speaking of a topic on which progressive Christians fail to think, Andy Crouch writes about the shrinking legal window on corporate identity: “In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups ‘use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission. The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg’s view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon.”
Continue reading Tribalism, Corporation, and Reading the Bible
Ryan Anderson is a grad student in anthropology (not the clothing store). “I realized how bad things were when I was about half way through my PhD program—and it didn’t help that the global economy was literally crashing right when I started. You know, the whole ‘Great Recession’ thing. After one year, I nearly dropped out. Looking back, maybe that would have been the better decision. But, for some reason, I kept going…in part because of a vague hope that things would somehow ‘work out.’ I too pinned my hopes on that imagined employer.”
The bottom line, he says, is this isn’t the 1960s and there are no jobs in academia. He points to data showing about 36,000 new PhDs for every 3,000 new positions created. Is this education making 33,000 better people or just dragging them and their families down? (via Anthony Bradley)
Anthony Bradley talks about the rap song “Precious Puritans” by Propaganda. He explains how the song criticizes puritans for condone slavery (which frankly is news to me and troubling), but goes on to say he, the singer, is no better. We all have flaws and blind spots.
However, by singing about puritans in an unflattering way Propaganda has raised the ire of many reformed writers. Bradley suggests this may be typical tribal thinking.
Strachan considers the Puritans “forefathers” and in a tribalist way, some would argue, seeks to protect their legacy. Had Propaganda dropped a track critiquing Roman Catholics, Jeremiah Wright, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, or preachers of the prosperity gospel, he’d be called a hero. During my seminary years I was rebuked once for mentioning Martin Luther King Jr. in a sermon because of his sins. Why? Because King, like the others, are outside the tribe and are fair game to be critiqued in any form. Since they are not “one of us” there is no expectation of extending grace. Grace is reserved for those with whom we agree.
Anthony Bradley, author of the book Liberating Black Theology, writes about how difficult it is to be respected as a black man and an independent thinker. “Independent black thinkers are expected to ‘groupthink’ in ways that usually lead to rejection and isolation by multiple communities,” he says. For example:
To point out the unchallenged racism in some socially conservative circles renders the charge, “angry black man.” Pointing out that big government has never really helped black communities in the long-term while promoting economic empowerment within the context of markets as a sustainable mechanism for socio-economic mobility, invites the charge of being “a sell-out.”