"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Review - Divided by Faith

Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith

One author may be familiar to the reader. Christian Smith is famous among evangelicals for coining the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the state of American Evangelicalism. This book, co-written with Michael Emerson, seeks to explore the issue of race in evangelicalism and how race divides the church today. While there are many aspects worthy of greater reflection, I wanted to highlight one concept worth considering:

Early in the book, the authors posit their position that America is a “racialized society.” By this term they mean:

In the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness, and where 'we are never unaware of the race of the person with whom we interact.'” [page 7]

They also posit that race is a social construct. Many people say that, but it is refreshing that “social construct” has specific meaning - firstly that race is used to classify people (where foot size or ear shape is not) and secondly that race as social meaning.

In both of these observations they are just that: the reality as they observe it, not as it ought or ought not be. To talk about race is not to say that race should matter in the ways it does today, just that it does matter. There is much in the way of exposition and example of this, and how our racialized society leads to disparate results and institutionally affects individuals differently based on their race. I will not get into the detail, rather commend the book for how this displays itself. However, I will focus on just this one application:

APPLICATION: No one is colorblind. It has been popular to say “I don't see race.” However, only a blind man can say that with honesty. And even a blind man will notice differences in culture: language, concerns, attitudes, etc. Race has been associated in our minds with culture. And when cultures are different, we treat others differently. The authors are right that we live in a “racialized” society, for good or ill.

Which leads to this conclusion: We should not be color-blind, but race conscious. This isn't being a “social justice warrior” or someone that “raises awareness” for its own sake. But we should be aware when racialization causes us to act in sinful ways: needless separation, stereotyping, excluding, or just not venturing out in love.

To say “I am color blind” is actually a sort of “virtue-signaling.” It says something about how you see yourself, but not how 1) the world actually exists or 2) How you really see the world. No one is color blind in a racialized society. And it effects the church too.

This post is in part an encouragement to read the book, and I would recommend you do so with this reservation – Emerson and Smith seem quick to say the job of the church is to be involved in political movements to reform various laws that cause disparate racial consequences.

As a firm believer in the mission of the church as Word, Sacrament and Prayer – I would not say the church has nothing to say about race. Indeed, when we preach Ephesians 2:11-22, or Galatians 3:28, we better have something to say because Scripture has something to say. Yet, each person lives out their faith in their particular vocation. For a pastor to dictate, for example: specific and detailed legislation, is just as wise as a politician giving the Sunday Sermon, or for my CPA to perform an appendectomy. That's not their vocation.

But to conclude, this should inform those considering the upcoming PCA GA debate on race that indeed, this IS a needed and relevant topic. And if you claim you are “color-blind” odds are you are actually lying, firstly to yourself and secondly to others.

To conclude: our society has created institutions, actions, and conclusions based on race. Addressing them is not a matter of pretending they don't exist, but deal with reality as it exists, not as we wish it were.