The distinction is very important – between the gospel and American politics. One is concerned with maintaining a way of life, a civilisation, an ideal state. The other is concerned with experiencing the life hereafter, the life here in front of us, and ultimate reconciliation between the Creator and the created. Somehow, this gets confused. Or, these two get somehow placed on an equal level of priority. It boggles my mind.
The confusion I feel is often made when we talk about race and identity (think also about the recent but sigh-worthy controversy around Dr. James White’s dialogue with Dr. Yasir Qhadi), and this may be especially true in the shadow cast by the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, just a few weekends ago.
White Nationalists, under the slogan “Unite the Right”, waving Nazi flags and clad in the garb of the KKK, rallied in the city. Overnight, they marched about with tiki torches blaring “Jews will not replace us!”. And then the counterprotest began. A mixed group of ordinaries, Black Lives Matter (BLM) representatives and Antifa (and surely others under different groups) massed opposite the so-called White Nationalists. Violence ensued, leaving at least three dead (one civilian and two cops) and dozens injured.
(If you do not know what the alt-right is versus BLM and Antifa, check out Ben Shapiro’s explanation.)
Responding, as a politically-minded person, is tough because the narrative is fairly messy. There weren’t too many heroes present. Most were villains. Moreover, there’s a history of violence in America and a recent building-up of both alt-right and Antifa popularity and aggression that’s continued the tradition of back and forth violent protesting – though both groups are nascent still.
Responding as an evangelical is a lot simpler because I am tied to one agenda which overrides all other ideologies and political commitments, and that is the gospel agenda. I have three points to offer on this note:
Racism is counter-gospel.
Al Mohler sums it up well:
I would argue that racial superiority in any form, and white supremacy as the central issue of our concern, is a heresy. The separation of human beings into ranks of superiority and inferiority differentiated by skin color is a direct assault upon the doctrine of Creation and an insult to the imago Dei–the image of God in which every human being is made. Racial superiority is also directly subversive to the gospel of Christ, effectively reducing the power of his substitutionary atonement and undermining the faithful preaching of the gospel to all persons and to all nations.
Of course, racism is universal. Everyone has a bias towards a particular race. But, that a group of people would actively engage in organized worship and idolatry of a man (Herr Fuhrer) who desired the extermination of a minority just because of their ethnic and religious heritage is beyond comprehension. All textbooks and mainstream art unequivocally attest to the evil of the Nazi regime. Surely, these so-called White Supremacists and Neo-nazis live under a rock, never leave their house, or bother to just get some sun. Education and remembrance of the events of the Holocaust now seems vitally important to me. (Everyone, watch Schindler’s List tonight, or the older but still very good, The Hiding Place.)
BLM has racist dendencies as well but not to the gross extreme of the White Nationalists. Chanelle Helm of BLM wrote an article giving a list of 10 demands for “white people” in response to Charlottesville. Not all of these demands were legitimate, respectful or remotely balanced. Again, on display, the danger of classifying people into clean-cut, color-coded categories and groups.
Racism is a by-product of our fallen human nature (our utter, radical depravity) and surely not a whites-only problem (though whites have benefited from a historically pro-white system and we, as white people, should be careful to admit this). It’s a violation of the sanctity of race and our basic worth before our Creator. No matter which side we’re on, be on the side of biblical truth: we are at fault and desperately need a savior, that all men are created equal, that we depend on grace for inward betterment, for this is the one way for real, meaningful change. All people, racists included, need Jesus for their hearts to be renewed.
Violence is counter-gospel.
Probably the biggest deficiency in the media was their attempt to paint this as one side throwing fists while the other was purely in defensive, non-aggressive mode. However, it’s well documented that Antifa is a violent group. They will threaten physical harm to intimidate and dissuade, just as the White Nationalist protestestors. And, to be clear, these groups were both present and active in the violence at Charlottesville.
White Nationalists and Antifa both feel the need to strike and harm those perceived to be in moral error and that violence is an effective solution to hatred. The gospel presents us with a radical, counter-intuitive and better answer to perceived immorality than violence though. Violence itself is made obsolete by it.
Now, I understand, it’s easy to say, in theory, generally, we should always assume the good pacifist. Turn the other cheek. Of course, in the real world, when people are verbally and physically threatening you, it’s much more difficult to judge when and if a violent defense is necessary and appropriate. However, with respect to organized protest, sound argumentation and artistic rhetoric is the way to go. Once violence seeps in, the whole operation will get muddled, surely. It doesn’t communicate deep conviction or care about the other’s eternal status. It doesn’t communicate the inside-out transformative work of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t put on display patience or kindness. It doesn’t reflect 1 Corinthians 13, Philippians 2-4, 2 Corinthians 12:10 or Romans 12. It will surely only serve to strengthen the ego of the racist who will interpret violent push-back as persecution and ultimately martyrdom.
Historical revisionism, straw-man-ing and poor discussion-making are all counter-gospel.
The fact that Nazism, in one form or another, exists amazes me. It’s a tangible sign that evil never sleeps in this world. It may also be another nail in the coffin of the moral progression theory. That the KKK also persists in America perturbs me. How can people come to idolize a historical group that lynched negros and gassed Jews, all human beings of flesh and blood? Is it theological? Is it political? It is certainly based upon a false historical narrative, a false anthropology, and a false God concept. May this idolatry also be kindled by jealousy and resentment towards these people of different skin color and ethnicity who now have equal rights which the alt-right erroneously interprets as special favoritism from the government? How childish.
Watching Richard Spencer, the probable father of the alt-right, talk about the alt-right agenda is saddening. Not least of all because they’ve invented an obviously false narrative of their own that America belonged to European whites and was taken from them by (ontologically inferior) African-Americans and immigrants. Childish jealousy and refusal to share? Entitlement? Leveraging race to gain power? And their conspiracy theory to justify their blatant revisionism is that all the pro-equality jargon in the media, in movies, in the textbooks is all just leftist propoganda employed by the “queer system” to indoctrinate and convince people that everyone’s equal, which the alt-right verily denies at its core. As a right-wing, anti-abortion, anti-slavery, pro-religious freedom activist, the alt-right is disgusting and “equality” is the bomb. It’s biblical, after all.
One of the more frustrating Christian responses I’ve seen to media attacks upon the alt-right is that we should focus on the “other side”. I think there’s deep potential for error in this attitude. Firstly, the other side doesn’t idolize Hitler and a group that hunted black people in their spare time. Secondly, black people, and other ethnic minorities, actually experienced real oppression and hatred. White people never did on any systemic, governmental level. Thirdly, for the reasons mentioned, although the other side had as much a hand in the violence, which they must be held accountable for, and both sides weild some form of identity politics, the ideologies of BLM/Antifa and the White Nationalists are not equal and opposite. Therefore, both groups do not deserve condemnation in equal measure. Fourthly, if we’re white Christians, we should be frustrated that the white race and the conservative political view-point is being grossly misrepresented by the alt-right movement, possibly leading to the left’s conflation of alt-right/neo-nazism/white-nationalism with right-wing conservatism. Our first move should be to try to create right distinctions. Fifthly, if we’re white and disagree with the alt-right as we should, it may better serve to bring down conversational barriers to first and foremost condemn the alt-right movement rather than try to say “no, stop blaming the white people!”. This just avoids confronting the issue of real and existing white supremacism and further perpetuates problem number four.
The alt-right, in all seriousness, is at best childish and at worst devilish. BLM is, on some level, misguided on a number of its doctrines. But what the alt-right is doing, which BLM isn’t, is open historical wounds and inventing some of their own. It’s reverting to the errors of past monsters who are well-documented as being such. Antifa is it’s own monster, to be sure. Violence is fair-game for them. Is that enough to put them on the same level as the alt-right? Maybe.
I am not an expert in these things and so my words should be taken with some salt. But, what I’d like to accomplish is to persuade people that we often times get the story wrong and have many false assumptions. We have many presuppositions about race and about the political spectrum. Humility demands that we check our statements and receive correction. This means guarding against straw-man arguments. So if you’re talking to someone from the “other side”, don’t jump straight to your conclusions. Ask the pressing questions that you have. Ask why they believe what they do. Challenge their assumptions. Provide the better solution to the problem they see, if the problem is legitimate. And be ready to accept that there may be more common ground than you realize. But all of these (I guess) principles of discussion have to come from a place that isn’t concerned with a political power-struggle but attentive to the care of a human individual with a past and a future. At the same time, we realize that truth is objective and there are true moral values and that there is a right and wrong side to this issue, contra some liberalist and postmodern commentators who I don’t see giving any meaningful answer beyond “can’t we just get along?”.
The gospel is for all people, however messed up they are, and free speech should be given absolutely to all people. Discussion is the way forward from here. Compassionate, morally steadfast and intentional discussion pointing to the radical love of Jesus Christ. May we cherish this gospel more than we love our nation.