A Needed Perspective on Race and the Church
In a helpful post, Dr. Gabriel Williams addresses certain challenges in the current discussions regarding race and reconciliation. With so much noise and tension and knee-jerk assumptions filling our conversations on race, a calm voice shaped by biblical categories is desperately needed. Dr. Williams is proving to be that sort of voice. You may be familiar with Dr. Williams from the excellent podcast responding to the notion of "gender apartheid" that erupted a few weeks back.
Williams points out that repentence is both necessary and slow. Just as repentance is often a progressive work in the lives of individual believers, so too will the fruit of repentance be rather plodding when it comes to groups of people (churches and denominations).
When a denomination or local church has failed to address pertinent social evils within its ranks in the past, it should not be expected that the full fruits of repentance will occur immediately. Rather, we should expect that the work of the gospel within the church will be slow but steady.
This is a call for forbearance and love, with a long-term view of growing in holiness. Whether we are correcting sins towards minorities or towards women, we should expect that it will take many years (perhaps multiple generations) to fully see the fruits of repentance. Courage is required to stand against long-standing sins, but patience is needed to see God gradually produce the fruits of repentance. May we work through these issues with godly sincerity and with assurance that God will complete this work within his church.
Dr. Williams also addresses the problem of applying categories of thought borrowed from secular academics to issues related to race and racial reconciliation within the church. One of the things that has caused concern among many who are reading the material on race being written within the neo-reformed community is that much of it seems to be shaped by secular social theories. Many of these constructs, having arisen from 19th century liberalism and Marxism, are antithetical to Christianity. They simply cannot be zipped onto the gospel and made Christian.
We ought to look to the Scriptures which provide the church with a peculiar vocabulary with which to discuss matters of sin, division, and strife. Dr. Williams makes the following helpful observation:
Although we can learn much from non-Christian researchers (thanks to God’s common grace), we must never assume that academic language and/or theory is morally neutral. In reality, many of the interpretations of sociological phenomena stem from either a non-Christian or even an anti-Christian framework.
It is my experience that Christians can naturally discern this when applied to other academic fields. For example, when Christians speak about the historicity of the Scriptures, we don’t use the naturalistic presuppositions of critical historians and treat the Scriptures as mythology. The same type of discernment should be applied when discussing sociological concepts within the church. When Christians speak about social interactions within the church through the lens of power dynamics, social stratification, and intersectionality, we are not invoking sociological categories that are amoral. The social conflicts of the 20th century demonstrate that it is naïve to believe that academic research is purely objective when interpreting social phenomena; rather, it’s often used as a tool to re-order societal norms.
When these sociological categories are applied to the church, we often invoke tendentious perceptions that see the institutional church itself as being inherently oppressive to minorities and to women.
May we continue to pray for the unity and witness of the church. May the Lord grant us grace and wisdom in our dealings with one another. And may we not depart from the mission and the means which our Lord has given us to make disciples of the nations.