On hating unbelievers

On hating unbelievers

There are a number of popular Christian pastors and teachers, usually on Twitter, who are writing about how evil Justice Ginsburg was. They suggest it’s ridiculous that any Christian express polite appreciation for her legacy. They seem quite happy she is dead. They typically mention her support for abortion as justification.

It’s seems strange that Christians should be pleased when an unbeliever dies. It is strange. These Twitter Christians often accuse those who do express appreciation for Justice Ginsburg of being soft on sin. Being wimps, basically.

I think those Christians are very angry people. Angry at what’s happened to their country. Angry at changes in society. And, their philosophy of ministry is essentially Christian fundamentalism. That movement has a good and noble legacy that’s often tarred by the foolish excesses of its worst people. These angry Twitter pastors would never say they’re fundamentalists, but they are. They often want to fight, fight, fight. They’re the archetypes of a philosophy they often claim to despise.

I was reminded, recently, of the strange dichotomy between Charles Stanley and a certain other well-known, conservative octogenarian preacher. What different philosophies. What different mindsets. What different emphases. What different ministries.

One Christian pastor, popular on Twitter, wrote just today:

Why must we refrain from stating the necessary and obvious reality that Ruth Bader Ginsburg promoted clear, definable, delineable evil? For over fifty years? In a position of great power, and hence responsibility before God? With all her strength, purposefully? With her last breath? And can we step back long enough to realize that if we allow the cultural pressure to “be nice to the dead” to control our speech at this time, that the result is the fundamental denial that true moral evil actually exists, that the secular worldview is truly morally evil, and that the deaths of the born and unborn that will be laid at the feet of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the judgment were not as important as our cultural comfort?”

These words, and others in his article, ooze hatred. Anger. This is an unhappy man. Ginsburg was not on the Court in 1973, when it decided Roe v. Wade. She came 20 years later. What could force a Christian pastor to hate a dead woman so much? Justice Thurgood Marshall concurred with Roe v. Wade in 1973, but can’t we still laud his achievements for civil rights in the 1940s and 1950s?

I’ve watched this same pastor become increasingly polarized in his politics over the past two years. He believes all Democrats are evil. He slanders evangelicals who think differently than he about every aspect of social justice. Politics infects everything he says, now. He doesn’t see it, of course, but he’s become a very angry man. So have many other Christians. Angry enough that he can write:

What is RBG’s legacy? I am seriously listening to Christian leaders lauding her for her “courage” and “consistency.” There is no questioning her intelligence. She had a formidable mind. And yes, she was consistent. Very much so. But here’s my point: so was Jezebel.

So many Christians are consumed with hate fueled by partisan politics. When you begin to think of all your ideological opponents as not wrong and misguided, but deliberately evil, then you’ve crossed the line. You’ve been radicalized. Ironically, you’re the mirror image of the leftist partisans you hate so much.

He hates Justice Ginsburg. HATES. Why? Should we be surprised when an unbeliever acts like an unbeliever? How can you reach somebody with the gospel if you hate her? Forget Justice Ginsburg; how can you reach a culture that largely agrees with her if you hate them, too? You can’t, of course.

That’s very sad. To hate people so much because they act like … unbelievers. Such were some of us. If God (Father, Son and Spirit) had that mindset, we’d all be toast.

Pushing back against the madness

Pushing back against the madness

I’m a bi-vocational pastor who works in the real world. In my own small way, I am fighting against the anti-racism madness sweeping our society. If you are tempted to believe I am one of those, “ain’t got no racism in there here country!” evangelicals who worship President Trump and have the GOP party platform sown into my bible between Malachi and Matthew, I direct you to my comments on racism and Jim Crow, and about the dangers of Christian nationalism.

Corporate and government human resources (“HR”) offices are prime movers behind the new religion of so-called anti-racism or critical race theory (“CRT”). This is a movement that’s captured the hearts and minds of the academy and the social science departments of colleges and universities. It may capture you, too. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employer watches news and becomes worried.
  2. Employer decides it must be able to say it “did something” to combat racism.
  3. Employer turns to HR for answers. “Do some training, or something …”
  4. HR departments become desperate, then Google (or, perhaps, Bing) “diversity” and “racism training,” and forward random YouTube videos to employees to watch; sometimes watching is mandatory. Little attempt to vet content to weigh ideology and perspective of the video.
  5. HR also finds huckster trainers, many of whom drank from the same well as the YouTube videos. Huckster trainers have developed cottage industry peddling a bastardized and popular form of critical race theory from “hot” authors like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi.
  6. Employer can now say it “did something.”
  7. More employees are indoctrinated into a hot new religion many don’t like, don’t accept, and find extraordinarily offensive.
  8. Nobody says anything. The real problem goes unresolved in favor of a new religion that teaches people to hate themselves, their society, and live in perpetual outrage

I speak from experience. I am a government employee; a manager at a State agency. Just last month, our HR forwarded a video to every manager and suggested we watch it and share with our subordinates. The video was everything I expected; an earnest academic telling everyone they’re racists because they aren’t black. Our society is soaked in racism, the trainer assured me. It impacts us all. We’re so racist, we don’t even know we’re racist.

I see.

Well, I replied to the email and sent a response to every single manager and Deputy Commissioner in the entire agency. I did it because I will not be intimidated by this evil worldview. Here is what I wrote:


It’s unclear where the line is between indoctrination and education, here. When employees are encouraged to watch a video whose thesis is that Americans (implicitly, white Americans) are all unconscious racists with associated unconscious bias, then it makes folks raise an eyebrow or two. Add to it, Professor Eberhardt’s faculty profile from Stanford University reveals she has a very particular thesis to push:

Through interdisciplinary collaborations and a wide ranging array of methods—from laboratory studies to novel field experiments—Eberhardt has revealed the startling, and often dispiriting, extent to which racial imagery and judgments suffuse our culture and society, and in particular shape actions and outcomes within the domain of criminal justice.

This thesis plays out in her comments in the video:

  • 1:37: “We are living with such severe racial stratification that even a five-year-old can tell us what’s supposed to happen next, even with no evildoer, even with no explicit hatred. This association between blackness and crime made its way into the mind of my five-year-old. It makes its way into all of our children, into all of us. Our minds are shaped by the racial disparities we see out in the world and the narratives that help us to make sense of the disparities we see …”
  • 13:06: “We know that the brain is wired for bias, and one way to interrupt that bias is to pause and to reflect on the evidence of our assumptions.”

Some people are racists. I’ve met people like that. However, Professor Eberhardt believes the very nature of American society is so “suffuse[d]” with racism that it is in “all of us,” even unconsciously. That’s a rather sweeping statement about a country that has had:

  1. an African-American President who was elected twice, winning the popular vote each time,
  2. an African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later Secretary of State, and
  3. has appointed two African-Americans to the Supreme Court, one of whom was Thurgood Marshall; a key architect and leader of the NAACPs successful strategy to put a stake into the heart of the Jim Crow laws.

I note that Professor Eberhardt, an African-American herself, holds an earned PhD from Harvard, is a former faculty member at Yale, and now teaches at Stanford. She has done well for herself; and good for her.

However, Professor Eberhardt impugns the integrity of every American (and every agency employee) of any ethnicity or creed, because she claims we’re all unconsciously racist. This is beyond the pale.

I look forward to future recommendations on the important issue of race relations. I can only hope they do not follow the same theme of “if you’re white, then you’re an unconscious racist and I can help you change.” This is a critical topic, as the [agency head’s name] recent communications have made clear. Perhaps it would be best to not begin by unwittingly impugning the hearts and minds of co-workers because of … their white skin color.


I got away with this for at least three reasons:

  1. I have a good reputation at my agency as a calm, intelligent, serious person. At least … I think I do!
  2. The email was polite, factual, and acknowledged that racism is an issue in American society.
  3. Every manager and Deputy Commissioner at the agency knows I’m an evangelical Baptist pastor.

Christians must not be turtles, hiding in their shells. We shouldn’t be scared kittens, peeking out from under the couch. We can have a voice. We must have a voice. Don’t be driven from the public square.

NOTE: on 04 September 2020, after I published this article, President Trump directed federal agencies to “cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.” This is likely an attempt to curry favor with his base of support. Still, it is a welcome development.

I Love Me …

I Love Me …

Carl Trueman’s forthcoming book will be required reading for any pastor (or, anybody, really) who is interested in a Christian explanation for the cult of self-worship in the West. He summarizes the issue in an article published today titled “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self … And How the Church Can Respond.”

Even if you aren’t a Christian, do you want to know what’s happened to the world? To people? Where did this “you do you!” ethos of self-worship come from? Why do people see their psychologized self-conception (which, tellingly today, almost always centers on sex) as the thing that defines them?

Trueman sums up the problem in the article:

… the idea that happiness is personal psychological satisfaction—“self-fulfillment”—is the staple of sitcoms, soap operas, movies, and even commercials. And this narrative, this illusion, has powerful implications. When the goal of human existence is personal psychological satisfaction, then all moral codes are merely instrumental, and therefore continually revisable, to this subjective, psychological end.

I’ve preached both a sermon that touched on this a BIT:

and one that touched on this a LOT:

and hopefully have an article forthcoming in a Christian magazine that lays some of this out. My latest article about the Bostock decision also noted that this lens of narcissism is behind SCOTUS’ redefinition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Trueman closes his article with this:

We have been here before—despised, considered immoral, standing on the margins. And we can learn lessons that will fortify us as we move into an uncertain future.

I’m looking forward to the book.

Jim Crow wasn’t inevitable

Jim Crow wasn’t inevitable

C. Vann Woodward was a celebrated historian of the American South. His most well-known work is The Strange Career of Jim Crow, originally published in 1955 and updated for the last time in 1974. He aimed to explain why and how, exactly, we went from (1) the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction to (2) a segregation more complete than anything experienced in the antebellum, pre-war South.

His startling thesis was that the Jim Crow laws did not follow immediately on the heels of the Civil War, but came perhaps 30 years later and destroyed the (in some quarters) considerable progress that had been made in race relations. This is known as the “Woodward thesis.” He explains:

The obvious danger in this account of the race policies of Southern conservatives and radicals is one of giving an exaggerated impression of interracial harmony. There were Negrophobes among the radicals as well as among the conservatives, and there were hypocrites and dissemblers in both camps. The politician who flatters to attract votes is a familiar figure in all parties, and the discrepancy between platforms and performance is often as wide as the gap between theory and practice, or the contrast between ethical ideals and everyday conduct.

My only purpose has been to indicate that things have not always been the same in the South. In a time when the Negroes formed a much larger proportion of the population than they did later, when slavery was a live memory in the minds of both races, and when the memory of the hardships and bitterness of Reconstruction was still fresh, the race policies accepted and pursued in the South were sometimes milder than they became later.

The policies of proscription, segregation, and disfranchisement that are often described as the immutable ‘folkways’ of the South, impervious alike to legislative reform and armed intervention, are of a more recent origin.

The effort to justify them as a consequence of Reconstruction and a necessity of the times is embarrassed by the fact that they did not originate in those times. And the belief that they are immutable and unchangeable is not supported by history.

C. Van Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 3rd ed. (New York: OUP, 2002; Kindle ed.), 65.

Now, that’s something to chew on. Here’s something more – where were the Christians in the South as this reversion to evil took place?

Note: The feature photograph (above) depicts Sheriff Willis McCall, of Lake County, FL, in November 1951 moments after he murdered one man and shot another during a fake “escape attempt” he staged as he transported both men to a State prison. This case of the so-called “Groveland Four,” in which his department framed four innocent men for the illusory rape of a white woman, is a poster child for the evils of the Jim Crow laws.

6: Bostock, transgenderism, and the cult of self-worship

6: Bostock, transgenderism, and the cult of self-worship

Read the rest of the series about the Bostock v. Clayton County court decision.

The Bostock ruling made two momentous decisions; (1) it read “sexual orientation” into Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and (2) it did the same for “gender identity.” So far in this series I’ve focused on the former. Now it’s time for the latter.

The transgender component of Bostock involves a man named Mr. Stephens. He identifies as a woman and all references to him in the Bostock literature are to “Aimee Stephens” or “Ms. Stephens.” However, I will refer to him as Mr. Stephens throughout.

Mr. Stephens was terminated from employment at Harris Funeral Homes (“Harris Funeral”) after he declared he would begin presenting as a woman to perform his duties as a funeral director. Mr. Stephens filed an EEOC complaint which eventually wound its way to the Sixth Circuit. In its petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”), Harris Funeral’s counsel argued:

… the Sixth Circuit ordered it to allow a male funeral director to dress and present as a woman at work. Harris Homes must do that even though its owner reasonably determined that the employee’s actions would violate the company’s sex-specific dress code and disrupt the healing process of grieving families. The language of Title VII does not mandate that result.

Petition, 2

Harris Funeral advanced two key arguments (Petition, i):

  1. Title VII says it’s unlawful to discriminate in employment matters “because of … sex.” The law never mentions “gender identity.” In fact, these are two very different things. So, Mr. Stephens can’t appeal to Title VII.
  2. The Sixth Circuit wrongfully applied the precedent from Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins to Harris Funeral. In Price, SCOTUS found it was unlawful for an employer to use sex-based stereotypes to deny a woman a promotion. In Price, employers considered the woman too “macho” and otherwise unladylike, so they did not promote her. But regarding Harris Homes, its attorneys argued, “[t]he Sixth Circuit thus treated the very idea of sex—which determines a person’s status as male or female based on reproductive anatomy and physiology—as an illicit stereotype,” (Petition, 11).

These are dividing lines. How do you know what you know? Christians have a divine revelation that tells them about the world, about themselves, about God, and about reality. Unbelievers have nothing but social conventions.

This is why the culture can re-invent the meaning of “sex” when it’s convenient. It’s also why it can assume that “sex = reproductive function” is a harmful stereotype. This is what Mr. Stephens’ attorney argued.

He was fired, the attorney declares, “because of [his] employer’s stereotypes about how women and men should appear and behave … because [his] appearance would no longer conform to his sex stereotype,” (Response, 1).

The Sixth Circuit decision remarked:

discrimination because of a person’s transgender, intersex, or sexually indeterminate status is no less actionable than discrimination because of a person’s identification with two religions, an unorthodox religion, or no religion at all. And “religious identity” can be just as fluid, variable, and difficult to define as “gender identity”; after all, both have “a deeply personal, internal genesis that lacks a fixed external referent.

Petition, Appendix A, pgs. 24-25a, footnote 4.

During oral arguments before SCOTUS, Mr. Stephens’ attorney proclaimed:

the objection to someone for being transgender is the ultimate sex stereotype. It is saying, I object to you because you fail to conform to this stereotype: The stereotype that if you are assigned a male sex at birth, you must live and identify for your entire life as a man.

Oral arguments transcript, 20:22 – 21:3.

Identity is the thing

At some point, you have to decide how and why you “know” what you know. Do you know it because you have a standard that transcends cultural values and trumps subjective opinion? What’s your basis for telling the other guy he’s wrong and you’re right?

The world has no standard. That’s why it’s gone mad. I fear it will now take a divine intervention for some people to even acknowledge what used to be accepted facts of reality.

The real problem is the cult of narcissism. The idea that you, as a person, are the sum total of your feelings. This is what our world teaches, encourages, indoctrinates us with. I preached about that, recently.

There are factors that shape you as a person. They determine how you see yourself and the world. How you see reality. There are the four primary agents of socialization in a person’s life (Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein, The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology, 6th ed. [New York: W.W. Norton, 2018], 109ff):

In fact, according to many sociologists, the “self” is not a fixed thing. “[T]he self is created and modified through social interaction over the course of a lifetime,” (Real World, 102). Your identity is putty, ready to be formed and re-formed as you live your life. And this self-conception of you is often formed by those four agents, above.

There is certainly some truth to these insights. You are, in a meaningful sense, a product of your environment. But, our culture used to have “understood” guardrails inherited from the Christian faith that defined reality; mores that hemmed in the overt damage of our worst impulses even among unbelievers. This is what John Calvin called the second use of the moral law (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.7.10). God’s word, as the foundation for right and wrong in Western society, restrains evil by threat of punishment. It’s a deterrent:

Such persons are curbed, not because their mind is inwardly moved and affected, but because, as if a bridle were laid upon them, they refrain their hands from external acts, and internally check the depravity which would otherwise petulantly burst forth

Institutes, 2.7.10

But now, Western society has deliberately cut itself off from the Christian story that alone can anchor and explain reality. The world has tossed the moral law overboard; a move that was implicit for a while but has now become explicit.

Mr. Stephens is the result. We drift aimlessly on the swells of … feelings. Psalm 2 has something to say about God’s response to that. So now, these vehicles of socialization have no guardrails stopping them from jumping the track and plowing through a sub-division. Our feelings, our worship of self, knows no bounds. So, you see, to believe that “sex” is immutable is to be a hater.

Along with a whole range of beliefs in the modern world, there is confusion as to how they are to be understood and a yawning chasm as to how they are to be grounded. Originally pioneered in the West and grounded in Jewish and Christian beliefs, human dignity, liberty and equality are now often left hanging without agreement over their definition and their foundation.

If the original Jewish and Christian foundations of human dignity, liberty and equality are to be rejected, the ideas themselves need to be transposed to a new key or eventually they will wither. The Western world now stands as a cut-flower civilization, and such once-vital convictions have a seriously shortened life.

Os Guinness, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013; Kindle ed.), KL 847).

When he wrote that last sentence, seven years ago, Guinness was right. But now, that cut flower has died. The world has tossed it into the rubbish bin. The arguments Mr. Stephens’ attorney used prove it:

  1. Sex isn’t a biological fact. It’s a feeling validated by a mental health professional’s diagnosis; a verdict which is nothing less than our culture’s sacrament of grace dispensed on letterhead.
  2. To believe sex is a fixed, biological and reproductive reality is to discriminate. To cause harm. To be a hater. Cancel yourself now, bigot.

This “no guardrails” new normal is why a modern (c. 2019) sociology text can blithely dismiss the view that sex is fixed and immutable as an idea “found outside the discipline in such fields as medicine, theology, and biology,” (Real World, 256). It doesn’t appear to bother sociologists that their field, alone among all disciplines, goes its own way. Instead, the authors declare, “most mainstream sociologists” (i.e. the smart ones, you know) “believe notions of gender are socially determined, such that a binary system is just one possibility among many,” (Ibid).

This is why CNN, in an article recommending increased cervical cancer screening, refers to women as “individuals with a cervix.” After all, we can’t assume only women have cervixes, right? That would be a … discriminatory stereotype.

Tellingly, another sociology text that’s only 13 years old (c. 2007) knows nothing of “gender identity” as a category. The term doesn’t even appear in the index; nor does “transgender,” (Rodney Stark, Sociology, 10th ed [Belmont: Wadsworth, 2007]). It’s gender-based discussions focus on that most un-mainstream of assumptions – sex is immutable. How much changed in those 13 years!

Thus, Guinness the prophet wrote in 2013:

In the end, such a change of worldviews will mean decisive changes for the understanding of humanity, for the defense of human rights and ultimately for the treatment of human beings. Just as the road to Auschwitz began in professors’ studies and academic lecture halls, so the present degraded views of humanity will inevitably create a harvest of evil consequences, even if not fully visible now.

Guinness, Global Public Square, KL 898-913.

Untethered to the grounding of the Christian story, our culture will drift closer and closer to the reef. It will destroy itself because it has no grounding. It will become increasingly crazy. It’s always been this way. This is why in the 5th century Augustine wrote his masterwork apologetics text to teach Christians they don’t belong to this world; they belong to the City of God.

What’s the Christian’s task? To explain reality to a confused world. To insist, gently but firmly, on the truth. Women are women. Sex is sex. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. You are not your feelings. You’re so much more than that. You don’t have to be a slave to yourself. There’s a God, named Yahweh, who made you because He loves you. He wants to fix you. He longs to fix you. He asks for your allegiance first.

What’s the Christian’s hurdle to achieving this? It’s that none of this great witnessing will ever happen if the Church’s agents of socialization aren’t stronger than the world’s:

As you consider these two competing frameworks for identity, these two prisms for understanding yourself, consider which one has more influence in your life. Consider how Mr. Stephens came to believe what he does.

Our culture teaches us to worship ourselves. So, we tend to do exactly that. Christians aren’t immune to the siren song of narcissism. But our story, our scriptures, our God, tell us to worship Him and His estimation of our identity and value.

Good book … so far

So far, Gilbert King’s book Devil in the Grove, about Thurgood Marshall and his defense of several black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in rural Florida in 1946, is a great book about a horrifying time in our country.

The author is a very good writer. This isn’t always the case. David Garrow’s biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bearing the Cross, which also earned the Pulitzer Prize and covered a similar subject, reads as though it were written by a mad collector of facts who murdered his editor.

Here’s the opening paragraphs from Devil in the Grove, as a teaser:

IF THAT SON of a bitch contradicts me again, I’m going to wrap a chair around his goddamned head.” One acquittal after another had left Tennessee district attorney general Paul F. Bumpus shaking his head in frustration over the NAACP lawyers, and now Thurgood Marshall was hoping to free the last of the twenty-five blacks accused of rioting and attempted murder of police in Columbia, Tennessee.

The sun had been down for hours, and the start of a cool, dark night had settled over the poolrooms, barbershops, and soda fountains on East Eighth Street in the area known as the Bottom, the rickety, black side of Columbia, where, nine months earlier, the terror had begun.

Just blocks away, on the news that a verdict had been reached, the lawyers were settling back into their chairs, fretfully waiting for the twelve white men on the jury to return to the Maury County courtroom. They’d been deliberating for little more than an hour, but the lead counsel for the defense, Thurgood Marshall, looked over his shoulder and knew immediately that something wasn’t right.

Throughout the proceedings of the Columbia Race Riot trials, the “spit-spangled” courtrooms had been packed with tobacco-chewing Tennesseans who had come to see justice meted out. But the overall-clad spectators were equally intrigued by Marshall and his fellow NAACP lawyers: by the strange sight of “those niggers up there wearing coats and talking back to the judge just like they were white men.”

Marshall was struck by the eeriness of the quiet, nearly deserted courtroom. The prosecution’s table had been aflutter with the activity of lawyers and assistants throughout the trial, but none of them had returned for the verdict. Only the smooth-talking Bumpus had come back. All summer long he’d carried himself with the confidence that his Negro lawyer opponents were no match for him intellectually. But by relentlessly attacking the state’s case in a cool, methodical manner, Marshall and his associates had worn Bumpus down, and had already won acquittals for twenty-three of the black men on trial.

The verdicts were stunning, and because the national press had defined the riots as “the first major racial confrontation following World War II,” Bumpus was no longer facing the prospect of humiliation just in his home county. The nation was watching and he had begun to unravel in the courtroom, becoming more frustrated, sarcastic, and mean-spirited as the trial progressed.

“Lose your head, lose your case,” was the phrase Marshall’s mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, had drilled into him in law school. Marshall could tell that his adversary, seated alone at the prosecutor’s table, was in the foulest of moods as he was forced to contemplate the political ramifications of the unthinkable: his failure to win a single conviction against black lawyers defending black men accused of the attempted murder of white police in Maury County, Tennessee.

The shock from the summer’s not-guilty verdicts had worn off by November, and Marshall sensed that the white people of Columbia were becoming angrier and more resentful of the fact that this Northern Negro was still in town, making a mockery of the Tennessee courts. He’d watched patiently as Bumpus stacked the deck in his own favor by excusing every potential black jury member in the Maury County pool (there were just three) through peremptory challenges that did not require him to show cause for dismissal. And Marshall had paid close attention to the desperation in Bumpus’s closing statement to the jury, when the prosecutor warned them that if they did not convict, “law enforcement would break down and wives of jurymen would die at the hands of Negro assassins.”

None of it surprised Marshall. He was used to, and even welcomed, such tactics from his opponents because they often helped to establish solid grounds for appeals. But Marshall also noticed that the atmosphere around the Columbia courthouse was growing more volatile.

A political cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Courier now doing public relations work for the NAACP had been poking around the courthouse and had come to believe that the telephone wires were tapped and that the defense lawyers were in danger. Learning this, Marshall refused to discuss any case details or sleeping arrangements over the phones, and the PR representative reported back to Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP, that “the situation in the Columbia Court House is so grave that anything may happen at any time.”

White issued a memorandum to NAACP attorneys, demanding “no telephone calls be put through to Columbia or even to Nashville [where Marshall was staying] unless and until Thurgood says that it is safe to do so.” White noted that “we are dealing with a very desperate crowd” and want nothing to “jeopardize the lives of anyone, particularly persons as close and as important to us as Thurgood and his three associates.” White even contacted the U.S. attorney general’s office and warned that if anything happened to Marshall while he was in Tennessee, it would “create a nation-wide situation of no mean proportions.”

Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (New York: Harper-Collins, 2012; Kindle reprint 2013), 7-9.

A bad argument from a good man

Grace Community Church, where John MacArthur serves, has released a statement announcing its intent to defy California’s latest rollback of church gatherings due to concerns of a resurgent COVID-19.

The statement is a disaster.

If MacArthur wishes to defy the California government, he needs to do better than this. Here are some relevant excerpts:

As pastors and elders, we cannot hand over to earthly authorities any privilege or power that belongs solely to Christ as head of His church. Pastors and elders are the ones to whom Christ has given the duty and the right to exercise His spiritual authority in the church (1 Peter 5:1–4; Hebrews 13:7, 17)—and Scripture alone defines how and whom they are to serve (1 Corinthians 4:1–4). They have no duty to follow orders from a civil government attempting to regulate the worship or governance of the church. In fact, pastors who cede their Christ-delegated authority in the church to a civil ruler have abdicated their responsibility before their Lord and violated the God-ordained spheres of authority as much as the secular official who illegitimately imposes his authority upon the church.

He continues:

History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.

MacArthur explains:

When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.

Unfortunately, MacArthur made no substantive case, here.

In the New Covenant, without a Yahweh-mandated theocracy, we find precedent for defying the State in the Book of Acts. That volume shows the Church (1) being ordered to not preach the Gospel because the quasi-civil authorities do not like the Gospel, and (2) the Church refusing to obey (Acts 4:15-20).

In order to take advantage of this precedent, the Church must argue a local jurisdiction is acting in a way that fits the pattern. Specifically, persecution or otherwise discriminatory treatment because of religion. Of course, Luke is not on hand to take us into the minds of civil authorities, so we must use a “reasonable person” standard.

So, you must separate government directives into two broad categories of impetus for our context; (1) public health, and (2) persecution or otherwise discriminatory treatment because of religion. In order to trigger civil disobedience, a church must make a plausible case Scenario #2 is happening. In this, MacArthur has not succeeded.

He’s essentially advocating civil disobedience whenever a church disagrees with civil authorities. In fact, on his argument, why should any Christian ever obey his government? This logic is a blank cheque for anarchy, for those looking for it. I expected better from MacArthur.

What about Nevada?

Consider the situation in Nevada.

The Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) declined last week to hear arguments from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley alleging religious discrimination by the State of Nevada. Calvary Chapel sought to hold services with 90 people, with appropriate social distancing. However, Nevada restricts churches (and certain other institutions) to 50 people flat. But certain other public facilities, including casinos, are limited to 50% of the fire code capacity. Clearly, these are different metrics. When SCOTUS declined to hear the case, it let the lower court decision stand. In Justice Alito’s dissent, he noted:

The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or black-jack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.

Claiming virtually unbounded power to restrict constitutional rights during the COVID–19 pandemic, he has issued a directive that severely limits attendance at religious services. A church, synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, may not admit more than 50 persons, but casinos and certain other favored facilities may admit 50% of their maximum occupancy—and in the case of gigantic Las Vegas casinos, this means that thousands of patrons are allowed.

That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing. We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility.

If I were in Nevada, I would give serious consideration to defying the State’s order. To return to California, if Grace Community Church feels it’s in an analogous situation, it should explain. Perhaps it cannot.

In short, MacArthur (et al) has made a bad argument. No doubt, some evangelicals will gleefully post it as though Christ has spoken and the matter is settled.

It is not settled.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that churches can defy the California governor. John MacArthur just hasn’t made it. No Christian should rely on this statement as a basis for defying his State government. We must do better than this.

Return to California

In response to questions about what, precisely, has changed to warrant this reaction, Grace Community Church released a clarification appended to the original article. It reads, in part:

But we are now more than twenty weeks into the unrelieved restrictions. It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared.

This appears to be the beginning of an argument for civil disobedience based on government incompetence. But, again, the examples from the Book of Acts show us quasi-civil authorities who order the Church to not preach the Gospel because they doesn’t like the message. We have no example of the Church disobeying civil authorities simply because it disagrees with public policy. If Grace Community Church believe otherwise, it ought to prove its case.

Still, roughly forty percent of the year has passed with our church essentially unable to gather in a normal way. Pastors’ ability to shepherd their flocks has been severely curtailed. The unity and influence of the church has been threatened. Opportunities for believers to serve and minister to one another have been missed. And the suffering of Christians who are troubled, fearful, distressed, infirm, or otherwise in urgent need of fellowship and encouragement has been magnified beyond anything that could reasonably be considered just or necessary.

To be sure, this is hard. Every pastor feels it. But, is there really nothing that can be done? A full, corporate worship service in your auditorium is the only solution to this problem? You can’t do visitation? You can’t have smaller gatherings in homes? You can’t have outdoor services?

Major public events that were planned for 2021 are already being canceled, signaling that officials are preparing to keep restrictions in place into next year and beyond. That forces churches to choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials. Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey Him.

If MacArthur believes California is doing this to deliberately target religious institutions, then he must provide evidence. If he has none, then he’s encouraging any Christian on earth to disobey the State whenever he disagrees or otherwise finds civil authority inconvenient. This is puzzling coming from MacArthur, who believes (rightly, in my view) there was no biblical warrant for the Colonies to revolt against the British!

This is a terrible document. Too many Christians will accept it uncritically. Some of them will do so because they’re anxious for theological cover, any cover, to justify what they already want to do. Others, perhaps some of the same, will be moved by conspiracy theories or animated by political animus. Given MacArthur’s stature in the evangelical world, the bad arguments here are particularly disappointing. Even worse, MacArthur encourages you to “add your signature to the statement,” regardless of whether California’s civil context is your own.

I shall close with a summary from Phil Johnson, of Grace Community Church, made in the context of a dispute with Mark Dever about a 9Marks article which disagreed with the decision:

This is not an argument that triggers Scenario #2. Again, I say it’s possible there is an argument to be made for civil disobedience in California’s context. MacArthur just hasn’t made it.

Read the statement here.

A (unwelcome?) blast from the past

Here is another uncomfortable and disturbing excerpt about race relations in the post-war years from James Patterson’s wonderful book Grand Expectations: The United States 1945 – 1974, part of the famed Oxford History of the United States series:

By 1944 the protests of blacks—for Randolph and other leaders military desegregation was a top priority—had a modest effect on the armed services. The navy slowly moved toward integrated units. The army, at a loss for manpower during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, pressed blacks into combat, with positive results. But segregation persisted in the army, and racial tensions became intense.

“My God! My God!” army chief of staff General George Marshall exclaimed, “I don’t know what to do about this race question in the Army.” He added, “I tell you frankly, it is the worst thing we have to deal with. . . . We are getting a situation on our hands that may explode right in our faces.”

Though Marshall did nothing about the situation, he correctly assessed the more militant mood. A black Alabama corporal explained in 1945, “I spent four years in the Army to free a bunch of Dutchmen and Frenchmen, and I’m hanged if I’m going to let the Alabama version of the Germans kick me around when I get home. No sirreee-bob! I went into the Army a nigger; I’m comin’ out a man.”

Expectations such as these unavoidably sharpened racial conflict in the postwar South, where more than two-thirds of American Negroes still lived—mass migrations notwithstanding—in the late 1940s. There, little had changed since the late nineteenth century. Most southern blacks—at least 70 percent—lived in poverty in 1945.

Virtually everything remained segregated: schools, churches, parks, beaches, buses, trains, waiting rooms, restaurants, hotels, rest rooms, drinking fountains, and other public accommodations. All but a few white southerners believed theirs was the superior race, with a natural right to supremacy. Mississippi senator James Eastland, later to become an influential national spokesman for white racism, expressed this view without embarrassment in a wartime speech against the FEPC: “What the people of this country must realize is that the white race is a superior race, and the Negro race is an inferior race.”

Myrdal conceded that whites in the South “do not see the handwriting on the wall. They do not study the impending changes; they live again in the pathetic illusion that the matter is settled. They do not care to have any constructive policies to meet the trends.” Racist feelings promoted institutional discrimination and a virtual totality of white power. Deep South states in the early 1940s admitted almost no black lawyers, judges, or policemen.

Notwithstanding the Supreme Court decision against white primaries, Negroes in the lower South faced a range of ruses and outrages—poll taxes, impossibly designed “literacy” tests, violent intimidation—that deprived them of any voice in politics. The emblem of the Democratic party in Alabama (Republicans did not matter) was a lusty gamecock under a scroll that read WHITE SUPREMACY.

Resting very close to the surface of these white concerns, especially in the South, were complicated feelings about sex between the races. There was irony here, of course, for white men continued, as they had throughout American history, to demand sexual favors from economically and legally defenseless black women. Miscegenation was the great open secret of sexual life in the South. But state laws criminalized interracial sex as well as racially mixed marriages. (Until 1956 Hollywood’s Motion Picture Code forbade interracial marriage to be shown; no black man embraced a white woman on screen until 1957.)

And woe to black men in the South who seemed too friendly with white women. By 1945 whites less often retaliated against such behavior by lynching—there were nineteen reported lynchings of Negroes between 1940 and 1944, compared to seventy-seven between 1930 and 1934 and forty-two between 1935 and 1939—but all black American men knew that white violence was an ever-present possibility following any kind of “uppity” behavior, no matter how exaggerated by whites, especially if it was thought to threaten the supposed purity of southern white womanhood. Southern blacks who escaped violence, only to be brought to trial for such alleged offenses, faced all-white judges and juries and had virtually no possibility of justice.

Patterson, Grand Expectations, 24-25.

Uncomfortable Vignettes

I’m reading James Patterson’s volume Grand Expectations: The United States 1945 – 1974. The work is part of the acclaimed Oxford History of the United States series, which is perhaps the most authoritative historical survey available. Ditch your partisan sources and read some volumes in this series. It will open your eyes and make you a more responsible and informed citizen.

I wish to offer an excerpt from Patterson’s discussions of race in America in the post-war period. Specifically, the murder of Emmett Till in August 1955:

One of the most shocking incidents involved the killing in August of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African-American boy who was visiting relatives in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, an area that was two-thirds black and where no black person was on the rolls of registered voters or of juries. Till’s “crime” was to whistle at a white woman in a grocery store.

Hearing of the transgression—a taboo in much of the Deep South—the woman’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, John Milam, drove to the sharecropper shack of Moses Wright, Till’s great-uncle, snatched Till, and drove off with him. Three days later Till was found dead in the Tallahatchie River. He had been shot in the head and tied to a cotton gin fan so that he would sink. His body was badly mangled.

Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, had the body shipped back to Chicago, where she displayed it in an open casket for four days. Thousands of people paid their respects.

National media carried the story to the country. To the surprise of many Americans who understood what Mississippi “justice” was like in such cases, Bryant and Milam were actually arrested and charged with murder. The trial, which took place before crowds of reporters, took place in September. But it was heard before an all-white all-male jury and was a charade and a circus.

The sheriff greeted black people attending the trial with “Hello, niggers.” Blacks, including reporters, were segregated in the courtroom. Wright courageously testified and identified Bryant and Milam as the abductors.

But the defense attorney played openly to local white prejudices, reminding the jurors in his summation, “I am sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men.” The jury took only an hour to deliver verdicts of not guilty. “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop,” a juror explained, “it wouldn’t have taken that long.”

A grand jury, ignoring Wright’s eyewitness account, later declined to indict Bryant and Milam for kidnapping; their bail was returned, and they went free. Wright dared not return to his shack, moved to Chicago, and never came back home.

Patterson, Grand Expectations, 395-396

1: The Age of Zealots

1: The Age of Zealots

This article is a short preface to my forthcoming series about critical race theory (“CRT”). This series will offer some reflections about CRT based on a chapter by chapter analysis of this primer written by CRT advocates.

But, first, I offer this observation. CRT is a religion.

People are very, very religious. Don’t let secularism fool you. It’s a religion, too. Everybody has a religion. You may have seen statistics that say there is a rise in people who claim no religious affiliation. Those statistics are misleading. Religion is alive and well. It’s just a different kind of religion that’s thriving. The religious economy has changed, but it’s still kicking.

Why do I say CRT is a religion? Why do I say there are lots of religions floating around in the petri dish that is the secular West? Why do I believe that even Communism, as articulated by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, is a religion?

Well, it begins by explaining what religion is. For that, I offer you the words of two sociologists and a well-respected theologian:

  1. Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein (The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology, 6th ed. [New York: W.W. Norton, 2018], 313) explain that religion is “any institutionalized system of shared beliefs and rituals that identify a relationship between the sacred and the profane.”
  2. Rodney Stark (Sociology, 10th ed. [Belmont: Wadsworth, 2007], 388-389) defines religion as “any socially organized pattern of beliefs and practices concerning ultimate meaning that assumes the existence of the supernatural.”

Millard Erickson, a Christian theologian, offers some complementary thoughts. Religion, he explains, is:

belief or doctrine, feeling or attitudes, and a way of life or manner of behaving. Christianity fits all these criteria of religion. It is a way of life, a kind of behavior, a style of living. And it is this not in the sense of merely isolated individual experience, but in giving birth to social groups. Christianity also involves certain feelings, such as dependence, love, and fulfillment. And Christianity most certainly involves a set of teachings, a way of viewing reality and oneself, and a perspective from which all of experience makes sense.

Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 6. Emphasis added.

These are all very helpful; particularly Erickson’s insistence on religion as a prism to understand reality. Here’s what we learn from these definitions about religion:

  1. An organized system
  2. with beliefs, rituals and practices
  3. that explains the relationship between the sacred and the ordinary,
  4. provides the basis for ultimate meaning and purpose,
  5. acts as a prism to interpret and explain reality,
  6. and identifies a particular deity or ideology as a Sacred object of worship.

You’ll notice I adapted Stark’s insistence on the supernatural (which, for him, is key to religion [Sociology, 389]; contra. Ferris and Stein) in criteria #6. I think this is a very good definition that anybody can understand.

Now, perhaps you can see why many flavors of religion are alive and well. CRT is one such religion, but that’s the sterile name for it. The populist version of this CRT religion is anti-racism which, ironically, is racist to its core. It’s particularly alive in the streets of our cities, in our universities, amongst our politicians and in our local, state and Federal governments.

Writing for National Review (06 July 2020), Kyle Smith penned an article titled “The White-Guilt Cult” that accurately summarizes the religious nature of the worst elements of this new McCarthyism that has captured the West. Here’s some teasers:

Anti-racism is the most critical element of a broader new Woke Orthodoxy whose other elements include environmental apocalypticism, feminism, and a severing of sexual identity from genetic indicators. Settling on a term for the new religion will take some time. Wesley Yang’s suggestion (seconded by Ross Douthat) of “the Successor Ideology” is clunky, anodyne, and a bit euphemistic given the righteous, roiling fervor and unnerving credulousness that define the cult. As Dmitri Solzhenitsyn writes in National Review Online, a YouTube prankster named “Smooth Sanchez” who walks the streets of New York demanding that white people kneel before him and declare their privilege receives surprising compliance, even as he signals his charlatanry by referring to George Floyd as “George Foreman.” 

Ben Shapiro notes astutely that the new woke religion rushes in to fill a “God-shaped hole” in secular hearts. Devotees immerse themselves in the sacred texts of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi (né Ibram Henry Rogers of Queens), books designed to make white wokesters writhe with a kind of ecstatic anguish. Indoctrination in early childhood is taken up as a parental duty (Kendi’s new board book for toddlers, Antiracist Baby, is a hot seller), parishioners engage in ritualistic incantation of sacred phrases (“Hands up, don’t shoot,” “I can’t breathe”), and there are mass displays of penitential self-abasement. All over the country, guilty white crowds have gathered to reenact the circumstances of George Floyd’s horrifying death. Scores, even hundreds, of parishioners in the new faith prostrate themselves on the ground, hands behind their back, repeating “Mama” and “I can’t breathe.” Sometimes police officers joined these displays, kneeling or prostrating themselves for the sanctified period of time: eight minutes, 46 seconds. Floyd’s death is a kind of new Crucifixion, his final words the new “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Any objective observer of the woke madness of 2020 must concede the quasi-religious overtones of this movement, whatever one thinks of its merits. The National Museum of African American History and Culture somehow managed to summarize the ideological content, the divine revelation, of this new anti-racism religion in its unfortunate article entitled “Whiteness.” This racist screed culminated in a truly horrifying PDF chart which purports to showcase systemic white racism baked into our culture:

This is an ideology; a religion. It’s a racist and warped prism that interprets reality. It’s been popularized most recently and explicitly in corporate boardrooms and in government human resources offices by Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist. This is CRT.

I’ll tackle the first chapter of the CRT primer in the next article, and explain why it’s best seen as a religion that fits the criteria, above. For now, it’s enough to understand that religious zealots are still with us. Their religion is just a bit different, that’s all. And, like all zealots, they sully the moderates who have legitimate points to make.