I hadn’t heard about James White’s infamous Facebook post until after the firestorm was well underway. He had already recorded and published a video responding to people who had taken offense at his characterizations and assumptions regarding a black youth that White had spotted flipping off a police officer and littering with an empty drink container.
White’s observations led him to draw a line from sagging pants and a belligerent attitude to a past of fatherlessness and a future of infanticide. Fatherlessness is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed (in all ethnic communities based on my experiences here in white suburbia) and you’ve already heard what I have to say about the pro-abortion industry. But to project deep-seated societal problems onto the actions of a 15-year-old boy and then critique an entire culture because of them? People were understandably upset.
We had a behind-the-scenes conversation here at Reformed Margins about whether we should respond but nothing ever came of it. By the time we would have been ready to say something, Jemar Tisby had already published a helpful critique and other voices had chimed in as well. Maybe we should have spoken up, but it seemed the subject was being put to rest.
But then our friend Ekemini Uwan wrote a piece for RAAN expressing the need for white brothers and sisters, as well as other non-black ethnic minorities, to speak up on these issues. She helpfully called on those of us in the Reformed world to use whatever platforms we have to join our African-American brothers and sisters in pushing the conversation forward. I was challenged and spurred on to continue speaking as a show of support for those different than me.
James White didn’t find the article very helpful at all and said so. He decried the “racial lenses” being used by Ekemini and others, accusing them of being co-opted by sociology and secularism. White implied that those who challenged him weren’t quite biblical in their worldviews and that their arguments actually ran counter to the mission of the Gospel.
It’s important to note that this is the second time in just a few weeks that a minority thinker in the Reformed world has been castigated from daring to talk about racial issues in ways majority culture finds distasteful. This latest social-media dust up smacked of the earlier attacks on Thabiti Anyabwile that Andrew has already discussed. As minorities enter into the Reformed conversation and begin to shape it, some are pushing back with claims that the voices of minorities are influenced too much by the world and aren’t falling in line with the Reformed rank-and-file.
The claim is correct in one regard: we’re not falling in line. We’re talking about things and using categories that are somewhat new to the Reformed conversation. Brothers and sisters, this isn’t liberalism. This isn’t “mission drift” or the creeping influence of the world. This is what happens when the Reformed tradition begins to experience the growing pains of change.
Now, we could see this as an opportunity. We could see this as a chance for iron to sharpen iron, to build one another up in the faith, to deepen our love for Christ and our love for one another through the reconciling work that is done under the banner of the cross. We could see the broadening of the Reformed tradition as an opportunity to further develop our thoughts, to bring to bear the whole counsel of God, and the implications of categories like justification and sanctification for equally important ideas of unity and diversity. We have stumbled upon an amazing opportunity in the Reformed tradition to image God’s desire for the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is defined by the mission of God. In Christ, God has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, reconciling the world back to himself and in the process reconciling various peoples and nations into one diverse people (Ephesians 2, 1 Corinthians 5, 1 Peter 2).
And yet there are some who are steadfastly against this progress within the Reformed tradition. Perhaps it is because of a knee-jerk suspicion of all things progressive, a refusal to believe that there is a need for progress in the first place. Perhaps there is a longing for those “days gone by,” those assumedly golden years that are a fiction to all outside the old guard of white Reformed Christianity.
Well, those days are gone. Good riddance. Minorities are here and are demanding a fair hearing. Of course, we are passionate about many of the same things as our white brothers and sisters. We want to see the sovereignty of God declared authoritatively from pulpits in all churches. We want people to recognize the beauty of a God who saves by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as revealed in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. We want people to have a high regard for Scripture and an appreciation for the deep things of God. But we also want people to realize that the Gospel continues beyond Ephesians 2:10 and forces us to embrace the very racial lenses White denounces in order to display the Kingdom of God to a broken world.
I learned the power of these truths because of the ministry of my white brothers and sisters. It was white writers and preachers that introduced me to the world of Reformed theology. And so I am indebted and thankful for the work of my white brothers and sisters in the Reformed world. I am not the only minority that was brought in to the Reformed tradition because of the work of my white brothers and sisters.
Well, now we’re in the tradition. And there are things in the tradition that have been neglected because of the relatively monolithic worldview that the Reformed tradition long held. This is not the fault of our white brothers and sisters. They cannot be expected to have worldviews like our black and Latino and Asian brothers and sisters. We cannot expect to hold worldviews that are naturally foreign to us because of ethnicity, background, etc. But we can listen to those other worldviews and together deepen our understanding of one another in the love of Christ.
When minorities began to embrace the Reformed tradition, we brought something in with us. And it is a valuable thing. And it will require all of us to learn from one another. Sometimes, it will mean being told that you were wrong. I know acknowledging your mistakes or your blind spots is a difficult and painful thing. I understand because I have had to do so many times. But if we are to grow as a tradition, if we are to sharpen one another and build one another up in the faith, then we must begin acknowledging our faults. We must allow others to point out our blind spots. And we cannot respond with vitriol whenever our weaknesses are pointed out.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have the opportunity not only to learn from one another but to help each other grow. In order to do this we must listen to one another and truly hear one another. James White missed the opportunity to learn. To grow. To move toward a better and stronger church in light of the challenges put forward by Ekemini, Jemar, and others.
It is a sad missed opportunity. And a frustrating one for the many minorities who have taken a seat at the Reformed the table. Because we love the tradition as much as our white brothers and sisters. We do not claim to be Reformed because we are trying to take territory away from anyone. We claim the name Reformed because this is where our convictions lie. Now that we have brought new backgrounds and new presuppositions into the room, the Reformed tradition will begin to change. I believe it’s a healthy change in a fuller, more robust direction. So let’s work together through these growing pains and build one another up in peace and love as Christ so desires.