Friday, February 03, 2012

#TheElephantRoom and "Sucking Up To Whitey"

I hope this is my last post about #TheElephantRoom that I post at Take Your Vitamin Z.

For a variety of reasons that I won't go into, all the Elephant Room hype and controversy makes me really nervous.  But God is sovereign over all of this and none of it is any threat to his Kingdom purposes.  My hope rests there.  We won't be talking about this in 50 (and most likely 5) years.  This too shall pass.

Let me say at the outset that I love much of what ER is trying to accomplish.  I LOVE the face to face interaction.  Let's quit talking past each other and talk to each other.  I commend James MacDonald for this.

That being said, I have intentionally left any commentary of my own from all of this, again for a variety of reasons, but mainly because as a pastor of a new congregation I have limited bandwidth in my brain to sit down and reflect on issues that don't have a direct impact on my people.  Most people in my church don't have a clue what Modalism is, who T.D. Jakes is, or what this Elephant Room thing is and why it matters.  That is not to say that it's not important, it's just to give a bit of perspective for me as I get nervous about the implications.  My main focus needs to be on my people understanding what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  ER most likely doesn't have an immediate connection to that.

All that to say, in light of what I have seen recently from the ER there are many things that I could comment on but won't.  It's not worth it.  At least not for me.  I am thankful for the diverse voices that have shed light on what went down.  I have linked to the ones that I have appreciated.

But upon further reflection there is one aspect of all this that I can't quite keep quiet on anymore.  It is from this video.  Bryan Lorrits's comments start at 4:08 of the video.  I would encourage you to watch it and reflect on it.  Some key quotes:
"Some of the strongest reactions were from African-Americans in the blogosphere... and I'll just go ahead and say it... Who strike me as wanting so bad to be in the white theological world." 
"My concern is, African-Americans, a small minority, speaking against Jakes, and then leveraging that in the white theological world... to be in their circles.   We want to be in their circles, so we will allow ourselves to be used as a puppet.  That is my perception of this backlash."
Who are these comments directed to?  Thabiti? Voddie?  Anyone else I don't know about who is black and Reformed and has concerns?   How could Bryan actually know this for sure about the aforementioned men and their motives?  Now maybe Bryan could say that it wasn't directed at these men.  Then why not name who you are thinking of and give some actual examples?  Sound like we should have Thabiti, Voddie, and Bryan talk about this issue next year at ER3! 

Where is the comment that Truth might transcend race?  Is there white truth and black truth?  How about Jesus' truth? He was neither black nor white.  I am not dismissing the fact that we all have our baggage and we all come to the text of scripture with our perspective that is informed by any number of things, race being one of them.  But this comment will not serve the greater goal of theological unity that transcends race and flows from Ephesians 2:13-22.  The "dividing wall of hostility" keeps getting taller when I listen to Bryan's comment.  

Doug Wilson sums up my feelings quite well in his post today that is worth the full read:
I have written elsewhere about how it might someday come to pass that Americans will have an adult conversation about race relations. We are clearly not there yet, but allow me to say just one or two things about it. And I will preface this by acknowledging that I am writing this as a white man. The consolation should be that if what I write is true, then the truth of what I say is not white at all, not even a little bit. I have throughout my adult life spoken as a white man, but I have never managed to say a white truth.

Some might wonder why white Reformed Christians unloaded on Rob Bell right away, but they were much slower to do so with T.D. Jakes. Didn't this expose the black pastors who were critical of the invitation to Jakes to the charge that they were trying too hard to do acceptable theology in the white man's world? This could be the result of a double-standard, but it might also have a more honorable basis. Speaking for myself, it is much easier for me to see what Rob Bell and his skinny jeans are up to. As soon as I see the schtick, I know. But when something arises from outside my cultural environment (which is north Idaho, white people, and trees), it takes a bit longer for me to get up to speed. But once you are up to speed, and everything is translated, the response really should be identical. I don't believe in "ready, fire, aim," but that doesn't mean that it is never time to fire.

At the same time, when responsible concerns like this are raised, by someone who doesn't have to get up to speed like I do, I believe that everyone who on all sides of the controversy should at a minimum treat it with respect. To dismiss such an agonized and heartfelt lament as sucking up to whitey quite frankly took my breath away. That was just not good.

So if the white inner circle guys are delayed in their responses, those playing the race card can say that these black pastors are desperately trying to earn their way into the inner circle. But if the white guys are right there with them, then the same card can still be played -- saying that the black critics are just so many hand puppets. This is because the race card is a joker. You can play it whenever and however you feel like it. There are some very good reasons for removing that card from this game.

For some, delayed reaction might also have an understandable but less honorable cause. If the race card was played on some conscientious black pastors who had legit concerns about Jakes, how much more likely would it be played on white Christians who went after Jakes? In short, when people create double-bind, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenarios, the game is called gotcha. When a lack of racial involvement together is called bigotry and engaged involvement is called tokenism, then it seems to me that somebody has a bad case of the cutes. Do that to me a couple of times, and I will just give you my card and ask you to give me a call when you have reached a final decision about what you want us to do.
Maybe there is something that I am missing here.  Maybe I don't have all the information.  I have a limited perspective.  I would love to be corrected if that is the case.  But from what I have seen, this comment needs to be repented of.  It grieves me greatly in light of the unity that I so strongly desire for the Church and the Kingdom of God. It is quite ironic that is was spoken during the follow up to an event that seeks to unify.  Seems like the divisions are running deeper now instead of getting more shallow.  I thought ER was supposed to be about the latter?

I'll just close with this.  Here is how it hits home for me...

I have a new friend at The Vine.  He is black.  He is coming out of an extremely legalistic and dysfunctional church across town.  He would call it a false church because it preaches a false gospel and I would agree.  He has found a home at The Vine because he loves the biblical vision of God that we preach from the Bible every Sunday.  He was compelled by a greater vision than skin color.  He was compelled by the Gospel to come to a church where he is a minority.  It grieves me greatly that he could be exposed to this material and hear from an older brother in the black Christian community and begin to question his motives for why he is at The Vine.  Is it because deep down he has race issues and he simply wants to be accepted by the white guys who are in power?  I would hate for him to see this video and begin to rethink his membership with us and return to his false church because he wants to "not be a puppet" for the white guys.  This cuts at the heart of what God is trying accomplish in his Kingdom and what we are trying to accomplish at The Vine.

Now some may say that black people SHOULD be asking this question.  Is it not a valid question?  Why is this question off limits?  Shouldn't we seek to be profoundly honest as we search our own motives?  Agreed.  Yes and amen.  But the forum is unhelpful and there needs to be way more explanation coming from Bryan to help a guy like my friend know how to handle this issue.  It was like a bomb was dropped and then people, black and white, are forced to figure out how to clean it up.

I pray that James MacDonald pulls the interview for the sake of unity in God's Kingdom that I know he longs for and was seeking to implement through the ER event.  I hope that Bryan repents of his comments or would, at least, seek to further explain them if he feels like he is being misrepresented.  I pray that we get beyond all this very soon.

**P.S.**  In the spirit of ER, I did reach out to Bryan and let him know that I wrote this post and would love for him to consider it and interact with me on it.


Ryan K. said...

Great post, Zach. Thanks for your boldness.

Paul C said...

great post. As a black man and believer myself, I was shocked at the frankness of that video. As you say, it could ONLY be pointed at one or 2 brothers. That's it. This young man was way out of place trying to divine motives of senior ministers.

Why would MacDonald pull the video? It perfectly justifies his position with the masses. I wouldn't count on it.

There is a definite political shift happening at the moment that, I fear, very few can actually see.

Mike Lynch said...

Thanks for saying something before you let this issue go because what you said needed to be said. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Bryan is parroting the same kind of race hustling you see in the political arena when a.) a white conservative criticizes or otherwise disagrees with a black politician or b.) a black person of rank or celebrity espouses conservative political opinions. It's old, it's of the culture, and it has no place in the church