Editor’s note: The following op-ed was submitted by Rev. John Hanna, pastor of Restore Fellowship in Oakland, NJ.
By Rev. John Hanna
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)
It’s clear that the way we relate to people is a window into how we relate to God. Love God and love your neighbor are the two great commandments. But the order matters. Love for God is first. In order to love my neighbor, God must be my first love and devotion. Put another way, it is when I turn away from God to do as I please, that I then inflict wrong on others, and can even feel justified in so doing.
In our present moment, when race is at the forefront of our national conversation, our love for God first will enable us to overcome the fear of what real love might cost us, and strengthen us for what we instinctively feel is too difficult. It is in Jesus’ own body that “the dividing wall of hostility” is broken down, making those who are hostile and separated into one. (Ephesians 2)
In addition, our love for God, which is inseparable from obedience to his Word and wisdom, enables us to see the world and others through his eyes, to evaluate what we’re being presented as paths forward.
Among the terrible causes of racism is a false view of the human person, denying our inherent dignity and equality as image bearers of God, resulting in dehumanization and excusing horrible crimes. So, we need to examine the literature and writings and ideas being championed, to consider whether they comport with love for God and for human beings made in his image, or whether we are replacing one destructive and false view of God and neighbor with another.
For example, the term “antiracist” apparently means being against racism, which is certainly a commitment to be embraced. And I think most people in agreeing with “Antiracism” are simply endorsing the apparent, plain language, meaning of that phrase. But what are the beliefs, commitments, goals, of “Antiracism” as a contemporary system of thought? For example, according to Antiracism, any differences in outcomes among groups can only be attributed to racism. Therefore, the Antiracist imperative is to find the racism that is the predetermined cause of the difference, and to root it out. Failure to accept this and to act on it makes one a racist. For, according to Antiracism, in every situation, one is either a racist or antiracist, as defined by Antiracism. There is no middle ground.
Ibram Kendi, one of the primary proponents of Antiracism and author of the best-selling and widely-recommended How to Be an Antiracist, hopes that we will one day form a federal Department of Antiracism (DOA) to ensure compliance with Antiracist belief and standards in both public and private life. According to Kendi, “DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.” Adherence to Antiracist beliefs and practices would become a matter of federal law.
Writing in The New Yorker, Kelefah Sanneh points out that Kendi’s definitions of “racism” is so broad as to include Barack Obama. Within Antiracist discourse, “white supremacy” is likewise similarly broad.
“White fragility” is not on its face an innocuous term, but one that is provocative and even confrontational. That, by itself, doesn’t make it incorrect. Sometimes provocation and confrontation are necessary. But, once again, what are the beliefs of “White Fragility” in general, and especially as advanced by Robin DiAngelo, author of the bestselling book, White Fragility? The assumption of White Fragility is that to be white is to be racist. Any questioning of racism by a white person is not only further proof of his or her racism, but also evidence of that person’s weakness and fragility. In addition, White Fragility assumes that in every interaction between a white person and person of color, racism is present. Failure to accept this is further evidence of white fragility. There is no way out of this bind, according to White Fragility, but only the necessity of continuing to recognize and acknowledging one’s racism. According to DiAngelo, all white people can do is “strive to be less white.” While whiteness must be confessed, it cannot be redeemed.
Black Lives Matter
Black lives matter. Such a statement is an overt truth, gladly affirmed without reservation. But what does the organization Black Lives Matter (BLM) believe and promote and demand? For example, BLM’s website states: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” BLM is also committed to doing “the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege.”
These beliefs are consistent with Antiracist philosophy and teaching on the whole, which have to do with much more than “race.” Antiracism considers each person as a grouping of identities, along the lines of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. In each identity category there is an oppressor and oppressed group. And the goal in each case is to have the “oppressed’ overcome the “oppressor,” i.e., “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” The requirement of those who are “oppressors,” based on identity, and not actual conduct, is to become “allies” of the “oppressed.” Such identities of oppression define the sum and substance of who we are as human beings, no more, no less. This is in contrast to our essential unity and humanity as image bearers of God, fallen in sin, called to redemption in Christ.
However, a person’s having a particular identity isn’t defined simply by possessing particular physical characteristics or even self-identification, but one’s political outlook and commitment to the Antiracist cause. For example, a black person who isn’t Antiracist, as defined by Antiracist belief, isn’t authentically black.
So, while I am against racism, I do not support Antiracism. And while I believe that self-examination and the willingness to listen and to take to heart one’s advantages and others’ disadvantages are vital and necessary, I reject White Fragility. And while I believe black lives matter, I do not endorse Black Lives Matter. Actually, black lives more than matter, but bear the glorious image of the Divine Maker imprinted on each and every human being.
A More Excellent Way
At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul says, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” This leads to his chapter on love – 1 Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Our call out/cancel culture prevalent on these issues is the opposite of love. It is impatient, unkind, irritable, resentful, not bearing, let alone enduring. It is hopeless.
If we are going to be honest with each other and to actually love one another, it is necessary that we give each other space to say the wrong thing, to sin, to mess up, forgiving, and extending mercy. The love that endures covers a multitude of sins.
In addition, while we certainly want to hear and understand and to listen, sometimes our sense of offense doesn’t mean that there has been an offense. Love doesn’t lay burdens on people by convicting them of sins they haven’t committed. This applies across the board, to all of us.
One of the most fruitful questions we can ask is the one God asks to the prophet Jonah right at the end of his account: “Do you have a right to be angry?” This can be an enlightening question to ask ourselves, as love is not easily angered.
In Revelation 5, we read that by his blood, his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus Christ has united people from every race, ethnicity, language, and nation. History is working out and towards that vision that God had in mind from the beginning of time. A movement and desire and hunger for that glorious vision is something we are seeing right now. There are conversations taking place within the American Church that haven’t before, and they are reason for hope, as we pray and depend on the one who gives us strength to do what is impossible apart from him.
In the midst of all the noise and conflict, I pray that we do not become captive to empty philosophies that are not according to Christ (Colossians 2). Instead, walking the path of the more excellent way of love for God and one another, we will begin to see the worth in each other that we have to the One who created us in his image and who loved us and gave himself for us to redeem us and renew us in that image.
Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds and letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the views of tristatevoice.com.