White Supremacy and Moral Indignation

I know, what the world really needs is another take on the weekends events in Virginia. Too many people speak too frequently on too many things with too little information, why would I want to add to the deluge of suddenly informed opinions? A large part of me simply wants to sit this one out, but—there had to be a “but”—while I don’t particularly think I have something unique to say on the events or feel like there are a lack of good opinion pieces written, writing always demands a clarity that is often missed through thinking alone and this issue could use clarity, which has pushed my desire to formulate my thoughts past my desire to not add another voice to the onslaught of opinions.

So what follows is simply my heart as a pastor with two simple thoughts to attempt to help my church and myself think well in a country dead set on reigniting a war that ended 150 years ago.

1). White Supremacy, or any other ethnic supremacy, is evil

I can point to historical reasons why white supremacy is evil, moral reasons why white supremacy is evil, and social reasons why white supremacy is evil (If you read any Christian response to Charlottesville I suggest this article by Russell Moore), but as a Christian I believe all of those stem from the theological reasons why white supremacy is evil, which is rooted in a denial of the image of God being given to all of humanity.

“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”

-Genesis 1:27

No limiting description: male and female, all of humanity made in God’s image.

To look at one particular ethnic group as lesser, which is an inherent implication by claiming that one group is superior, necessitates a watering down of the image of God and the immense value placed on humanity in Christian theology. Christians cannot consistently hold to any view of ethnic superiority and to the biblical view that all humans are made in God’s image.

Racism takes aim at the image of God concept—the bedrock of Christian anthropology—and subsequently undermines the gospel message that finds no racial distinction in Christ’s sacrifice (Rom. 10:12, Gal. 3:28, Eph. 2:14, etc.). All racism is vile and repugnant because it robs God of glory he rightfully deserves by elevating racial distinctions, drawing tribal lines, and spiting in the face of God’s image given to humanity.

Ideas of white supremacy, or any other ethnic superiority, have no place within Christ’s Church.

2). Be careful of moral self-inflation

If you were to sit on twitter and read the reactions of #Charlottesville it can be a bit jarring, twitter has never been known as a civil place of fertile ground for conversation, and times of national tragedy heighten the hostile environment. It has been said, “The blogosphere is the friend of information and the enemy of thought.”

Scrolling through the Charlottesville twitter feed will leave you with the overwhelming feeling that there cannot be a single racist in the world. The vast majority of reactions are people vehemently trying to prove to the world how far away from white supremacy they truly are by continuing to one up the moral outrage of the previous tweeter.

The lasting sentiment from the incessantly increasing indignation is that many people, who are spewing awful opinions towards white supremacists, believe that they are above the hate they are attempting to condemn.

I am not trying to make a case for both sides being equally evil, instead I am arguing for a position that understands humanity as thoroughly broken. From a Christian viewpoint, many people, in their haste to condemn unintentionally place themselves in the moral category of impenetrable sainthood in regards to racism.

When evil rears its ugly head in such clear ways it can become incredibly easy to break out a case of righteous anger and immediately draw lines of bad and good, oppressors and victims, sinners and . . . . the sinless?

No one is truly sinless and no one is so moral they could not fail, even in as dramatic ways as what we saw in Charlottesville. As wicked and despicable as the events were, I must be careful not to think that I am morally above those people.

G.K. Chesterton was once famously asked to write an essay for a newspaper answering the question, “What is wrong with the world?”

In response he penned an essay consisting of two words:

“I am.

Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.”

Humans naturally know how to hate, how to be selfish, it is ingrained into the fiber of our being. I am what is wrong with the world. We are all those people.

If you want to fight evil well, it almost always begins with a quiet acknowledgement of your own propensity towards the same evil you are trying to stamp out. There is nothing too vile that I can claim is beyond me. The human capacity to sin has yet to find its limit—including my own capacity to sin—and when we view ourselves as the moral arbiters who preside high above the lowly people who struggle with blatant racism we tacitly suggest that we are above, not only sin, but also temptation.

Were we so different before Christ? For that matter, haven’t more Christians than we would like to acknowledge have been very similar to the white supremacists even after Christ? To think that if I would have been born two hundred and fifty years ago I would have been the lone moral voice calling out against slavery, reveals an over inflated sense of self.

George Whitefield was part of the impetus for slavery coming to the state of Georgia, which had been established as a free state. He was worried that the economy would not be able to survive without slave labor. Whitefield. The great preacher of the First Great Awakening, father of American evangelicalism, failed in spectacular moral fashion in regards to racism.

Humanity is the perpetrator and the sufferer. Both of those realities reside in me.

So we condemn racism because it attempts to stamp out the truth of God’s image in all people, with full knowledge that I have the same ability to hate that drove people to buy tiki torches and shout unspeakable epithets. In our churches and in our lives, ethnic superiority has no place; it is only by the grace of God that we can hope to extinguish the hatred seen in Charlottesville.

 

 

 

 

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