I’m trying, but you’re making it hard.
There were a number of ways I could have written this blog, but I figured I would write it as genuinely and honestly as I could. So here it goes.
I’m having a hard time with you, and I am referring to the Reformed (or Reforming) African-American crowd (you know, some of the people who like to write for RAAN or the women who host Truth’s Table). I’m really having a hard time. And no, I’m not white. I’m actually an African-American woman who is a Baptist in a conservative PCA church in the South. And though I can consider you to be my “brothers and sisters by color”, I really struggle to not roll my eyes when I hear you speak and read your blogs.
And I know that may sound strange. I mean, I might sound like one of those “privileged” types that you’ve mentioned before, but let me say, I’m not a daughter of privilege.
I grew up dirt poor….like no running water in the ‘90s type of poor in central Virginia with an alcoholic, and at times, very violent and threatening father, and being reared by a mother who was a ward of the state of Virginia (because her own mother was a prostitute) and was used to integrate an elementary school with one other Black boy in the early ‘60s in the county that I grew up. I was never called an “oreo” or anything like that, but I was constantly told that I acted “too white” and that there were white people who were “Blacker” than I was simply because my mother insisted that I speak clearly and properly at all times. I have been mistreated, sexually harassed and intimidated multiple times, and I am not a stranger to violence. And it purely by the unspeakable grace and mercies of God that He pitied my poor, wretched soul and saved me a very long time ago, and not only that, He preserved me and kept me through all these years.
So I’m not approaching this from a “I can’t possibly relate to anything that they’re saying” framework. No, I can get your point. I’m just still struggling with not being dismissive as I try to hear you out, and I reckoned that I couldn’t possibly be alone in how I feel. So I figured it was worth writing about. Now, in all likelihood, this isn’t going to go anywhere. But writing still helps me to process through things and calms my mind. So I’m writing anyway, and I want to share with you what makes it so hard for me to actually receive what you say and want to aid you in efforts to make things better.
#1: It’s the WORDS you say
Let me be honest, the moment I hear these words and phrases, my mind automatically shuts down:
-Systematic oppression or oppression
-White supremacy or patriarchy
Now, that’s an awful thing to admit, but I said I was going to be honest with you. My mind actually shuts down. I stop listening to the things you say, and that happens because I’ve heard all of these words before from other people and other academic disciplines when I attended Spelman College in Atlanta. You see, we had to take two semesters of “The African Diaspora and the World”, and they also had requirements for Women’s Studies, International Studies, and the Humanities (including Sociology and Anthropology). Imagine trying to be a focused, Christian student majoring in Economics in that environment where every semester, somebody came out talking about how oppressed they were, cutting off their hair to go natural, and looking for ways to re-embrace their “Black identity”. And for those who were influenced early on, I was able to see their end before graduation. What did I observe?
-A number of women were miserable trying to identify with an identity that was unrelated to them because they had to ignore and dismiss their own personal experiences and upbringing just to keep it
-Some women swallowed everything they were taught whole and seemed to identify oppression and marginalization in virtually everything basically losing the ability to reason and communicate thoughtfully with people who didn’t see things the same way they did
-Some women who were professing Christians figured changes were needed in our chapel services. So somewhere along the way God was referred to as “she” and “her” during services….I promptly stopped attending
-Other women who were professing Christians seemed to take a step back and determine what “truth” was to them, leading to a lot of “soul-searching” and random, mysterious moves or promptings by the (or a) spirit that somehow could never be checked or reasoned with or land anywhere near the vicinity of Biblical orthodoxy
-And for a few others, that message became their new “gospel” (but weirdly, a gospel message with absolutely no hope attached to it) and basically has become a basic religion or spirituality for them as they seek out opportunities to nurture or foster their “unique” identities that all strangely look very similar (I’m really tempted to just say “the same” here) and fight for various causes
Basically, I saw that people who were really influenced by these things had their minds LITERALLY altered and changed….they acquired a literal, worldview. I mean, you could barely hold a regular conversation with them without having the jargon and vernacular slip in. And not just that, it’s like a real portion of their mind refused to operate and function the moment they held onto this stuff (again, their worldview completely changed), and you couldn’t reason with them. They could no longer see another person’s point of view. It became all or nothing for them, and they were annoying and ridiculous to deal with.
My degree is in Economics, and my husband’s degrees are in Mathematics and Physics. For both of us, we can operate within the mindset of our disciplines very easily. There are certain words, phrases, frameworks we use and can communicate with others about. However, for both of us, we have the ability to “turn it off”. We know that everything shouldn’t be seen through that framework. We know that all of those words are not necessary to use, nor should we expect others to naturally know what we’re talking about either. So we can turn it off and be “ourselves” with people because what we have studied has not been subsumed into our actual identities or completely altered our worldviews.
My concern about you is that what you have studied has taken over your identity, whether you realize or not. You can’t turn it off. Your worldview has completely changed. Your ability to listen to reason and/or hear another point of view appears to be diminishing, and it’s giving me a good reason to ignore what you’re saying.
#2: I question your sincerity in actually addressing real problems
I’m going to be completely real here. You say there is systematic oppression in the church. You say that there is systematic racism and dismissal of the plight of the marginalized. I only have this response:
Give me names. Give me the names of the churches. Give me the names of the pastors and elders who have done this. Give me the names of people within the congregation who have done these sinful acts and gone without any sort of church discipline. My pastor stands ready to bring charges against any church or elder in his denomination that is guilty of any of these race-based sins, but somehow he never hears any names mentioned.
And you know, as this keeps happening, I question your actual sincerity in addressing real problems. Because even if you can give a name, the question becomes: why did you not bring this to the attention of the elders at your church, or if the elders were the ones in sin, how come you did not bring this up to the attention of your local presbytery?
You see, as a confessing Baptist, it’s a little more difficult to address sins in the leadership of a church because the churches are independent. But lo and behold, that is the beauty of the Presbyterian model. Churches are not all that independent, and everyone is held accountable to someone. So if that is the case, if (because let’s be real, a lot of this talk isn’t coming from personal experience, just things you figure could happen or possibly happened to someone else) someone sinned against you, why didn’t you use the channels that were available to you to have that sin properly addressed at that time???
And even if it comes years later, we’re still not really hearing any names to put with these charges. Please note: I think a great example of someone who did do that though is Dr. Anthony Bradley, and I know there may be a few others. However, for there to be present-day charges of systematic anything, you should present names with the intention of actually dealing with that person or that church. If you’re not, I’ll be honest, with the widespread desire across denominations to deal with these issues head-on, I don’t think you’re all that sincere about fixing the problem or any kind of reconciliation. I think you just want to talk. And if that’s all you want to do, than it is no surprise that I’ll stop listening to what you have to say in the future.
#3: You don’t like to respond to people
To borrow a phrase from Family Guy (awful, awful show now), “Now this really grinds my gears!”
You put your views out on public platforms, but you don’t really like to respond to people who disagree with you. Now, it is true that you may exchange a few messages with some White people who are responding, especially if they seem to admit to “White guilt” or “the” sin of omission: not actively being involved in reaching out to Black people/communities. But if a Black person critiques what you say, they are basically ignored or essentially shunned and dismissed from any future conversations.
I think the worse public example I saw about this was a Gospel Coalition panel discussion a year or so back that was discussing some Black Lives Matter stuff. Pretty much everyone on the panel was in agreement on the issues except for Voddie Baucham, who expressed a difference of opinion. What happened? He was pretty much ignored during the discussion, and there was very little response to the statements (including critiques) that he made. And let’s not forget that he speaks and critiques from personal experience, growing up as a Black male in South Central Los Angeles.
If you’re actually serious about seeing changes because you legitimately think changes need to be made, than you cannot only respond to favorable opinions. You will actually have to do the work of making an argument, persuasion, addressing critiques, modifying your position based upon the critiques that you’re receiving (if necessary, of course), and representing your position. And doing that work really never stops. J. Gresham Machen was doing that work into old age, as was Martin Luther, and John Calvin. You don’t really get around doing the work if you want to see a real change. But because you seem to basically shutdown whenever criticism comes rolling in (especially coming from fellow Black conservatives), it makes it very difficult to listen to anything else you have to say.
#4: I can’t keep validating you
When I was courting my husband, a very sweet lady from his church (actually a few) recommended that I read a book called Created to be His Helpmeet. These were wonderful, trustworthy ladies, and so I promptly ordered the book and began to read it. I called my husband literally crying on the phone over the first chapter telling him that I could not possibly validate him as much as this book is calling for me to do for the rest of my life. I’d rather not even get married if I had to live with that constant pressure of making sure he was affirmed and validated all the time, no matter how I felt.
I say all of that to say, I feel the same way about you guys. I don’t know why you need this much validation. I don’t know why you can’t seem to muster any kind of response to anyone whom you deem has not sufficiently validated and/or affirmed your original message and personhood. I have heard “image bearers” and “the imago Dei” from you guys more than I’ve ever heard in any church I’ve been a member of. And frankly, my gut reaction is that you’re probably too immature to have the discussion in the first place.
And I know that’s a pretty hard thing to say, but seriously, who wants to hold serious conversations with someone that they have to treat with “kid gloves” or constantly walk on eggshells? Why must a person be required to read everything you have ever written (and also maybe a list of books that you highly recommend first…..this did happen to a friend) before being able to “engage” in a dialogue with you? Why can’t you be completely thorough and consistent in the material that you bring to public arena so that people can respond to you, and you can actually give a well thought-out response rather than dismissing what they say? I never heard this phrase until I entered a Presbyterian church, but I think you’re abusing the “charitable assumptions” here.
If you’re going to say something, be clear and thorough with what you have to say. If you’re still “evolving” on issues, then it’s probably best to be quiet until you have a firm conviction on the topic. If you talk a lot, be consistent each and every time, and if you’re not, be the first person to admit that. But if you continue to bar people from entering into conversations with you about these race and/or gender-related topics because they don’t understand your context, don’t have the experience, or simply because they’re white and don’t have any guilt yet, then I encourage you to take a step back and find someone else who can be in that conversation. When you do that, I see it as a cop-out (strong words, I know), and I’m not going to be listening to you in the future.
#5: I just don’t think you’re all that important
Now, I’ll qualify this statement with the fact that all members of the body of Christ are completely necessary for the growth and edification of the body. And I wholeheartedly believe that. However, I don’t think that your personal problems with some churches (or maybe denominations) are cause enough for the entire Church to sit down and hash it out. Unless you are giving concrete facts, with names and places, a lot of what you’re saying sounds like you have a bunch of personal problems with your church.
And the truth is that we are always going to have personal issues with various aspects of the churches we attend. Speaking for myself, I miss clapping when I sing and singing in a choir. I miss co-ed Bible studies. I miss those old school “fire and brimstone” sermons. I actually miss attending church and fellowshipping with other Black people (we are the only Black people at our current church). There are a lot of things that I would love to change if I could, but I accept the fact that God has placed us where He has placed us and given us a good and loving church family. And for that, I can remain grateful and quiet myself, knowing that God has done what He has deemed best for me.
Actually, I don’t know a single person who thinks their church is perfect. We all have longings. We all have unmet desires. But we are not the only people with these feelings, and the people who agree with us the most are not the only people who feel the same way. We are literally surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whose lives tell us multiple times over that though things don’t always come together the way we want in this life, we must continue to entrust ourselves to the Lord and faithfully press on in the race that He has given us to run. But if your cloud is primarily consisting of the fog of a bunch of 20-30 something year olds that you hang with, you’re not going to get the full witness or even the sound wisdom that you need to run well.
So this post is way longer than I anticipated, but apparently, I had a lot to say! I really and truly do not want to be dismissive of any problems that people bring up in the church. However, I think that these race-based discussions are completely overdone, and they aren’t even being done well as it is. I know I only mentioned five major issues, but there are other things that are wrong that I haven’t each touched on. For instance, I’ve never seen people who disagree with you be called “racists” and essentially slandered so quickly in my life. And the fear and shame that people experience because they disagree with the points you make and are flooded with hateful and vitriolic responses from your supporters is deeply disturbing and should also be addressed.
But the sad reality is that (and my husband shares this sentiment particularly with me) you have an amazing platform here, with broad support and countless listening ears, and this is primarily what you have chosen to talk about. All the things that Black Christians are dealing with (Islamic evangelism in the inner cities, Hebrew Israelites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Afro-centrism, preserving orthodoxy in a culture that cares less and less about church history, the false hope and lack of gospel found in the inspirational/motivational social media posts in our day, and so much more), and you have decided to focus on gender and race issues. And again, I’m not saying that those issues are not important. But I am saying that there is so much more that you could do and bring to the table. And God knows, I pray you do.
I’m praying that we continue to be transformed by the renewing of our minds….all of us! I’m praying that the Spirit of God uses that Word as the sword that it is and continues to cut and discern us through and through until we are fully sanctified and set apart for His use. I pray that we become increasingly aware of our own personal agendas and lay them aside to make God’s will our only will. I pray that the Lord will continue His work of preserving and sanctifying His Church unto Himself until He returns. And I pray that we humbly submit ourselves to and accept the means He uses to complete His work in the Church and bring glory to Himself.
Sorry this was so long, but blessings to you…..especially if you made it to the end!