Christ, His Church, and Ethnicity: Cultural Presuppositions

As we continue to consider the issue of ethnic strife within the church, it is important that we not merely offer solutions. Why? Our solutions are largely the product of our definitions. More specifically, they are the product of how we define the problem. Before we can get to the solutions, then, let us examine some of the presuppositions that persist within both our political and ecclesiastical cultures.

The Spectrum

Two approaches to reconciliation. On the landscape of the broader discussion, we find that there is a great spectrum of people weighing in. There are those of the Racial Reconciliation persuasion who would define the solution as one in which the work of person-to-person reconciliation in Christ is incomplete. Thus, whether the enmity is found between genders, ethnic groups, social classes (for lack of a better term), or economic classes, the answer cannot merely be found in the gospel, but rather in a joining with Christ to tear down dividing walls. This argument can be made in more or less biblical terms, and the solutions offered can likewise be more or less biblical.

There are others who may appear to be outrightly denying the persistence of any dividing walls whatsoever into the gospel community. Such a perspective, if it were a true assessment of these individuals, would not only demonstrate a faulty soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and perhaps even an over-realized eschatology (doctrine of last things), but it also has a false anthropology (doctrine of man) and hamartiology (doctrine of sin). That is all to say that salvation in Christ does not mean that we have already attained perfection, and it certainly does not mean that man can always, in every place where Christ is preached, avoid sinful thoughts, words, and actions. A biblical understanding of ethnic strife, then, must start with admitting that there is still work that needs to be done, and that there always will be.

The modernist rejection of reconciliation. Yet, there are still others who have given up all together in striving toward “racial reconciliation.” These tend to be the voices on both the political and theological left, and they tend to camp out (at least as far as their chosen terminology) on some spectrum between either liberation theology or neo-Marxism (or both) and historic Christian orthodoxy. For lack of a better term, these are the agitators on the political and theological left. They do not seek a solution, because they have given in to the Nietzschean notion that the real problem is found in the masks we wear. Masks were necessary for a time, Nietzsche argued, to keep the peace in our society (or our churches) but the new superman is he who can rise above such notions. In fact, such notions as reconciliation are not helpful. Helpful toward what end?

Glad you asked. The chief end of the nihilist, the Marxist, and the Freudian is unrest to the even nobler end of a casting off of old structures. Why is it important to cast off old structures? Because old structures symbolize old power, power that has lived long enough to be corrupted—if by nothing else—by time and the mere nature of power itself. There is a kind of Platonic understanding of power in the modern worldview. Much like how Plato and his ideological predecessors took all matter to be corrupt in contrast to the eternal, pure, and unchangeable ideas, so too the modern mind considers power to be corrupt merely by virtue of its existence. Thus, a constant state of revolution against “the powers that be” must perpetually persist, such that it is the height of heresy to even consider solutions. ¡Viva la Revolución!

The Alt-Right and kinist rejection of reconciliation. Seemingly in contrasted to the liberation theologian and the neo-Marxist is the white supremacist. These are the bourgeoise (the fat, lazy, privileged class) to the neo-Marxists’ proletariat (the peculiarly virtuous, ever-oppressed working class). White supremacists as a group are perhaps most prevalent among the political group that identifies as the alt-Right. Make no mistake; the alt-Right is just as much about a collectivistic sense of self-preservation as are the modernists on the political and theological left. They agree with the neo-Marxist’s power-struggle paradigm. They simply wish to retain the power they believe is rightfully theirs. This group was one of the most vocal among Trump supporters in 2016, though a clear minority among them, which is why there are so many minority-ethnicity Evangelicals now recoiling in horror from white Evangelicals who were the largest group to come out in support of then Candidate Trump. But this is a classic guilt-by-association fallacy. A white man voting for Trump does not make him a white supremacist merely because there were white supremacists who also voted for him. Motivations in national elections vary widely.

Briefly, it is worth mentioning that there exists a theological movement known as kinism that must be condemned in the strongest of terms. According to www.opc.org, “A central tenet of kinism seems to be that God wants people to keep themselves within strict ethnic groupings,” (Q&A, Is Interracial Marriage Sinful?). It must be noted that kinism is very much a minority view within the church, and is diametrically opposed to the gospel in that it, like Critical Race Theory, seeks to erect new dividing walls where Christ has torn them down.

To Recap

So, on the one hand, we have a group proposing a collectivistic concept of enmity and offering as its solution collectivistic repentance for the sake of a kind of elusive notion of “racial reconciliation.” On the other hand, there are those who have been painted as responding with a delusional notion of a church devoid of ethnic strife altogether. More to the extreme are those who would push for the politically and theologically leftist narrative of perpetual power struggles that will force the church into a perpetual state of ethnic strife. On the opposite extreme are those who agree with the power-struggle paradigm, but who would dig in their heels for the fight to keep the “privilege” they would share with other people on the basis of their skin color.

Conclusion

I have not even attempted to scratch the surface in explaining all of the nuances that go into each of these groups and those who land at any point on the spectrum in between. Rather, I merely hope to have whetted your appetite for further study. These are all cultural and theological markers that we must start to try to grasp if we are to begin to understand our cultural moment and, yes, even our church moment. In this political and ecclesiological “perfect storm,” there are many ideas at play and many competing narratives. As these competing narratives and their subsequent solutions continue to clash, and until we start to see real work done on the level of historical, biblical, exegetical, pastoral, and systematic theology on this issue, we will continue to see an increase in ethnic tensions within the church. We must at least start to try to understand one another if we are to make any headway in our discussions of ethnic strife. I really hope I have been truthful and gracious in my conveying of these different viewpoints, because none of them begin (from my understanding) where the Bible does on this issue. In my next article, I will attempt to start the discussion on how the Bible requires we define our terms in this discussion.

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