During the 2020 “pandemic” that shut down the country–the exception, of course, being the multi-city riots following George Floyd’s death, which supposedly led to the country’s “racial reckoning”–I learned that individualism and meritocracy are “racist.” Antiracists, then and now, refer to these as “white values.” Racializing individualism and merit-based achievement seem to be exclusive to those who share the worldviews of antiracism and critical race theory, collectively and commonly referred to as “woke” ideology (or as John McWhorter argues, a religion). Certain people are fanatically embracing the tenets of wokism as public postures that allegedly exemplify the noble, passionate pursuit of “racial justice.” The trend of racializing everything, even long-standing virtues such as individual accomplishment and the rigor of merit-based achievement, is increasing racial conflict, while trivializing the remnants of real racism in America.
One of the problems with antiracism is its habit of condensing the complexity of individuality into shallow representations of “race.” This antiracist position refuses to see people–as individual persons. There’s nothing distinctive about individuals in antiracism’s anthropology. Antiracist ideological convictions demand advocates ignore the intrinsic worth of individual people, including their unique characteristics, in favor of a racialized generalization that divides people into an unethical hierarchy composed of two classes: the oppressed (blacks and other non-white “minorities”) and the oppressors (white people).
Shelby Steele called this reductionism a form of racial blindness. He wrote,
People who are in the grip of [racial blindness] … always miss the human being inside the black skin…Your color represents you in the mind of such people. They will have built a large part of their moral identity and, possibly, their politics around how they respond to your color. Thus, a part of them–the moral part–is invested not in you but in some idea of what your color means. And [if] they see you– the individual–they instantly call to mind this investment and determine, once again, to honor it. They are very likely proud of the way they have learned to relate to your color, proud of the moral magnanimity it gives them an opportunity to express.
Antiracists (and critical race theorists) are structuralists. They customarily refer to people collectively, and persistently stress the influence of societal factors to explain the socio-economic shortcomings, frustrations, and failures of blacks and other minorities. This partially explains the preoccupation with “institutional racism,” “systemic racism,” and “structural racism.”
Conversely, people who reject this idea tend to be more individualistic: they tend to prioritize agency and personal responsibility, merit, work ethic, and intelligence–the very things antiracists reject as impediments to minorities they view as oppressed. Racial structuralists believe the American social ‘system’—or our societal institutions, patterns of relationships, and the organizational dynamics of status—provide some people with advantages, while necessarily disadvantaging others. Blacks also blame social determinants lying outside of individual control—their race, gender, age, or the socioeconomic status of the family in which they were born—as significant factors as to whether they will thrive. This position continues to hold considerable currency with respect to black identity. In antiracist identity politics, this perspective commands action—but more so inaction—in black communities.
Consequently, from a socialist critique, these external influences that obstruct black material prosperity are forms of evil (sins). Various forms of inequality, for example, have permeated social systems and institutions that continue irrespective of the consequences of human behavior. It’s rarely acknowledged that these “systems” are almost entirely organic, meaning that they are created, staffed, cultivated, and reformed by people who can and do influence these systems, for better or worse. If people want “systems” changed, they should start by changing the hearts and minds of people who comprise these systems first.
From a Christian perspective, Marxism-inspired antiracism isn’t a valid framework of anthropology or soteriology (liberation), nor a legitimate economic critique. Essential to antiracism’s orthopraxy is the redistribution of goods, services, opportunities, income, and wealth from mainstream America to blacks. This reallocation is based on the idea of outcome inequity, stemming from what antiracists call the continuing effects of “historical injustices” or the continued presence of “systemic racism.” The intention to import, coerce, or manufacture “racial justice” where it’s believed to be absent for some is defined as the “virtue” of ‘justice’ in the racialized mindset.
The persistent focus on the structural “sins” of white people is contingent upon the repeated proposition that blacks remain victims. If structural problems persist, blacks remain victims. Therefore, antiracists and critical race theorists intentionally focus on structural influences and structural remediation rather than individual choices and behavior, which they see as misplaced responsibility and victim-blaming. Antiracists rarely venture to discuss the individual level where blacks, like others, are responsible for personal decision-making that lends itself to self-sufficiency.They instead focus on the nebulous “system” of discrimination.
Moreover, maintaining the belief that this obscure ‘system’ is responsible for both black suffering and its cure is a contradiction in terms. The “system” that is the source of pervasive black underdevelopment, frustration, and difficulty is also supposed to be the singular agent of black liberation (salvation)? Please. Intercessory actions on behalf of blacks also transfers the obligation of penance and absolution of racial guilt onto mainstream America, rather than placing accountability onto black individuals where it should be. In so doing it entirely neglects the necessity for proper, meaningful correction and the cultivation of real self-esteem that overcomes feelings of inadequacy and inequality. Transferring the responsibility and agency of problem-solving from blacks onto American institutions rigidly reinforces and petrifies a form of racial helplessness, and ultimately indignity, in the very people antiracists claim to want to help.
Does this sympathetic, chauvinistic form of intercessory liberation through socially engineered coercion (and reparation) create or improve black dignity? No. Does it contribute anything meaningful or substantial to black development? No. Does it build a foundation for American blacks to thrive as a result of their own agency? No. Though tempting, Christians must reject this sort of racial guilt-based framework and external mediation outright.
At its core, these redistributive policies constitute theft, but also ensure black dependency. They nurture antipathy, perpetuate blame, and deliberately assign such blame to people who are guiltless. They also contribute nothing to personal development, individual progress, or Christian identity. For that matter they contribute nothing to the formation of a healthy national identity, an identity that can be defined and embraced by blacks on their own terms. Social policies that validate personal impotence through reallocation (stealing) from one group of people, however noble the cause is rationalized to be (racial and social “justice”) is itself unjust.
Additionally, this kind of intervention, preferential treatment, and entitlement, based on collective racial categories injures blacks since it stubbornly refuses to demand any contribution toward their own uplift and advancement, such as delayed gratification, individual initiative, risk, sacrifice, moral or civic obligation, and a higher level of social expectation. Black helplessness becomes a commodity. Antiracists would rather have blacks maintain their position of presumed helplessness, reinforcing their social inferiority. Social intrusion via mediation (structural remediation) requires blacks to maintain their helplessness. Black powerlessness, lowered expectations, social, and moral mediocrity are encouraged and rewarded. That’s not Christian at all. In fact, this antiracist position is a stumbling block for Christians (Rom. 16:17-19).
A productive Christian response to discrimination always centers humanity and dignity in being created in the image of the God, not race. Our race, or more specifically, our ethnic composition (which is a blessing from God) augments human dignity, but isn’t conditional upon it. That stands in distinction to antiracism. A Christian discussion about the effects of racial discrimination should maintain that important distinction throughout.
Christian anthropology is honest about the consequences of the Fall regarding racial relations. However, as Christians we must also move to the saving ministry of Jesus, in whose image we are redeemed and renewed (Rom. 8:29-31, Rom. 12:1-2, 2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Cor. 5: 15-17; Gal. 2:20, Gal. 5:24, etc.). Having been renewed by Jesus, our focus isn’t on the antiracism methodology that reinforces racial partiality and discontent, but is instead guided by the spirit of love, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation (Deut. 1:16, Matt. 5:23, 43-48; Matt 18: 5-17, 21-22; Gal. 3:28, Eph. 2:13-16, James 2:1, 8-9, etc.). In transcending artificial racial classifications and attendant limitations, there’s no tiered structural methodology that separates people into belligerent factions, racializing values that reinforce separation, or seeking to invert the traditional “power structures,” while causing more strain and resentment. Woke theology and cancel culture don’t allow opportunities for repentance, forgiveness, grace, love, or reconciliation, which taken together is righteousness and justice, virtues available within the Christian paradigm of redemption and transracial brotherhood.
This is one of the areas in which the Christian perspective prevails over that of antiracism:with respect to the racial binary it communicates that blacks and whites are equal collaborators working toward biblical justice and righteousness, which are characteristics of the coming Kingdom. There’s no disproportionate responsibility placed on whites to labor toward justice while blacks wait helplessly but expectantly. It’s not an agenda-driven model in which whites, forced into deference, are told to “shut up and listen” and compelled into agreement as blacks berate and condescend toward their brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, assigning sin and guilt from generations past. Ezekiel 18 clearly explains that innocent people do not share in the guilt and penalty of previous generations. Rather, each person is responsible for the consequences of the sins he or she commits.
The Christian values that realize fairness and brotherhood reject racial determinism, helplessness, stigmatization, and racial partiality. Christians who seek to transcend the racial problems which continue to separate us should communicate that in the body of Jesus, blacks and whites engage in mutuality, and are both responsible to live out redemptive truth in ways that challenge and overcome the secular orthodoxy and orthopraxy of antiracism, which is simply another form of racism.
Forgiveness and reconciliation must be our priority before we offer our gifts, including ourselves, to God. Unlike the modus operandi of antiracist racial preference programs, which manipulate and burden whites with the responsibility of working toward penitential allyship (reconciliation), let me offer a different suggestion: that blacks take the first step in the process of racial unification in the Church through the subversive but redemptive process of forgiveness. Black identity has internalized and cultivated a significant amount of bitterness and racial resentment toward whites. Some of this indignation is understandable, most of it is not. Woke theology reinforces these feelings of bitterness and separation.
However, Jesus was very clear that the obligation of his followers is to upend the cycle of reciprocating anger, antipathy, and hostility. There is no denying that blacks have been hurt, some even damaged. There should be no disagreement about that. Slavery and segregation in America, though not unique, were moral indiscretions and have been a civic and historical impediment to cultural concord. The residual of racial chauvinism (which resembles a white messianism), though immoral, continues to guide many hearts and minds, especially as it relates to progressive politics. Black discontentment and feelings of racial self-consciousness that precipitate an unearned moral authority and entitlement continue to dictate the theater of racial posturing. These issues must be addressed.
But, as followers and imitators of Jesus Christ, particularly for black folk in the church, I think the responsibility is on us to initiate grace and reconciliation. This begins with forgiveness, not through manipulation or coercion but with humility, courage, love, and compassion.
Mercifully, God cancels the debt caused by sin. When Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, they ask God to forgive their transgressions, as they in turn forgive those who have sinned against them (Matt. 6:12). This is intentionality, and the two are entwined. If God is merciful and forgives Christians for all manner of sins, there is a moral and religious obligation to extend to our brother and neighbor, despite their color, the same act of mercy, however difficult (Matt. 18:23-35). Despite all protestations against that fact, Christian blacks have no excuse. Forgiving those who cause (or caused) pain is difficult to do. But as challenging as this is, this is what it means to be a Christian—to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to pursue reconciliation with others so that believers do not trivialize the redemption and reconciliation paid for via the bloodstained cross of Jesus Christ.
The ability of Christian blacks to set aside their racial pride, past hurts, and current frustrations to initiate the process of forgiveness and racial reconciliation in the Church is existentially empowering. Taking the first painful, humble step of forgiving past grievances and contemporary slights, acknowledging pain and anger, and admitting insecurity—in other words, confessing uncertainties and sins—is what it means to live in the freedom from hatred that defines Christian self-determination and a renewed life in Jesus Christ. Rejecting the sullied practices of complaint, grievance, and holding white brothers and sisters in faith accountable for acts of cruelty for which they are not guilty in favor of forgiveness and approaching the altar of God together will recapture a black anthropology firmly rooted in the dignity and equality of the imago Dei.
Self-examination is required prior to highlighting collective faults in others. This makes people defensive, resentful, and disinterested in reconciliation. Once we have removed that which distorts our vision, we will be able to see and judge with the spirit of sobriety (the golden rule) to approach our brother in helping mitigate or remove his faults rather than condemning him for his faults or those faults committed by others and projected upon him. Jesus’ subversive teachings undercut moral superiority and more specifically, the unearned moral authority of antiracists who use the flaws, indiscretions, and the past mistakes of others to enhance the collective self-worth.
But if Christian blacks, individually and collectively, took the initial steps to make past histories of racial victimization immaterial to initiating this restoration, blacks could redeem the strained, multiethnic relationships in the church. Specifically, this necessitates blacks letting go of the prospect of whites feeling a level of remorse proportionate to the evil of racial injustices, historical or otherwise. This means accepting that whites will never, under any circumstances, feel the kind of self-condemnation commensurate with the pain and frustration that blacks may feel collectively. Christian Blacks initiating love-saturated forgiveness will end the need to use guilt manipulatively and to seek retribution for past misdeeds. Habitually condemning or berating white people over racial indiscretions (supposed or real) does nothing to improve the quality of black lives. Neither does it advance interracial relationships inside or outside of churches. To demonstrate what racial/ethnic conciliation and forgiveness is and should be, Christian blacks should acknowledge, however painful, that what happened in the past is indeed the past, and for all intents and purposes, should not be considered relevant to our contemporary time and our futures together in the church of Christ. This isn’t to minimize or excuse the past. It’s an attempt to overcome it by acknowledging that the past doesn’t determine the future.
Jesus makes clear that he envisions a community in which the desire for righteousness (as opposed to self-righteousness) and justice (as opposed to “social justice” or “racial justice”) is satisfied for everyone. This community is contingent on the cessation of oppression, persecution, guilt, manipulation, coercion, and all assertions of individual or group superiority that stifle the other’s desire for righteousness and justice. This has implications for blacks and whites in American churches, because it entails foregoing the paradigm that leverages black power and identity politics against white guilt and obligation. It also directly rejects any sanctimonious and compartmentalized notions of social and/or racial justice that would define, pursue, demand, or celebrate “fairness” at someone else’s expense, detriment, and inconvenience. Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:7; 9).
Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Here, Jesus implies a sense of the universality of righteousness rather than secular or anti-Christian notions of righteousness and justice being truncated for some at the expense of others (social justice, racial justice, etc.). Jesus indicates that the kind of righteousness that he is familiar with and the kind of righteousness his listeners must desire and pursue does not conflict with or mitigate another’s pursuit of righteousness. Rather, it is one of mutual satisfaction. Tod Lindberg, in The Political Teachings of Jesus writes:
No individual’s satisfaction could come at the price of another individual’s failure to obtain satisfaction or the denial of satisfaction to the other. If someone’s desire for righteousness necessarily conflicted with another person’s desire for righteousness, then the generalization Jesus proffers, namely, that “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . shall be satisfied,” would not work out. Jesus holds out the prospect of reconciliation of everyone’s desire for righteousness and universal fulfillment.
Black people possess the ability to give up their preoccupation with an identity composed of grievance and victimization. Consequently, blacks should aspire to embrace an identity centered in Jesus Christ for their own benefit, cultural change, and for the advancement of Christian churches in America. But for this to happen, blacks must humbly admit that they are suffering from a moral and existential oversight. They know that they are children of God; they have forgotten that they must also be imitators of Jesus in view of his covenant. We must remember that to be Christians entails being conscientious of the fact that we are part of the multiethnic brotherhood of Jesus Christ (Rev. 7:9).
Christian blacks and whites must reject the orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and pharisaical nature of antiracism. It doesn’t bring healing, nor can it be synthesized with Christianity. It’s a false religion that distracts Christians from that which has the power to change minds, hearts, and systems—the redemptive covenant of Jesus Christ.
*Image Credit: Wunderstock
Derryck Green is a speaker and writer living in California. He contributed the chapter “Black Churches and the National Covenant” in Race and Covenant: Recovering the Religious Roots for American Reconciliation. He has completed graduate work at Fuller Seminary and Azusa Pacific University.