In order to save your Twitter timeline a good deal of clutter, I’ve put together a brief post on my reaction to one opinion of Albert Mohler’s response to a speech turned TGC post entitled Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement? delivered by Mika Edmondson to Council members of The Gospel Coalition in May 2016. What inspired the post was not Edmondson’s speech or Mohler’s response to the speech but a slur (maybe it only rose to the level of microagression) and a one word reply by a TGC staff member which I stumbled across while following the all to familiar “twitter-hole”.
The speech itself could be given its own post. I would encourage you to listen to the audio or read the transcript. Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids opens the address with an eisegetical interpretation of the Gospel of Mark’s account of Christ’s cleansing of the temple. In his interpretation, an increasingly popular critical theory/intersectional hermeneutic is employed, leading him to surmise that the reason Jesus drives the money-changers from the temple is because He is infuriated by the “ethnocentric” mistreatment of gentiles. (He is not unique in employing such a hermeneutic to wrest a racial/ethnic meaning from scriptures which seem to be as far removed from the subject as Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis.) The speech continues with a glossing over of Black Lives Matter’s (BLM) brief but controversial history. He mentions the “self-consciously decentralized” nature of BLM leadership, but makes no mention of how this structure is utilized to great effect to claim credit for the peaceful aspects of protests and demonstrations while distancing the group from the violence and destructive riots that have so closely followed its organization efforts, especially in Ferguson and Baltimore. No mention either of the lies perpetuated by members of BLM or of the violent rhetoric used by some of its regional leaders. The speech come off as an apologetic for the group, albeit a tempered one. While he concludes that no, BLM is not an extension of the Civil Rights Movement, he encourages church leaders towards “full engagement with the concept and critical engagement with the movement, especially since there’s no evangelical alternative to Black Lives Matter.” The assumption being that there should be an evangelical alternative to BLM, one that specifically champions the cause of “affirming the value of disparaged black people.” Preaching and teaching from a Holy Scripture which affirms the value of life regardless of race or social rank is apparently insufficient. Edmondson then utilizes the Westminster Larger Catechism to explain why one “can’t even be a good Presbyterian unless … carefully engaged with issues like the Flint Water Crisis, mass incarceration, disparities in housing and healthcare, and yes, police brutality.” He does this by citing the answer to Question 136, on the Sixth Commandment while failing to address the instructions of the Fifth Commandment especially Question 127, which would seem to undermine the legitimacy of the tactics of groups such as BLM and the wisdom of Christians engaging with them, especially on a church-wide level. I could go on, but I don’t intend to write a critique of the entire speech. I am more interested in Mohler’s response and reactions to his response.
Dr Mohler not only responds with praise for the speech, but falls all over himself to characterize it as “a prophetic tour de force”. According to Mohler, one cannot fully appreciate the speech without having been in the room when “Mika did not just present his address; he delivered it” (emphasis his). I’m guessing the white guilt in the room was so thick that one could cut it with a knife, which no doubt led to a warm reception. However, having not been invited we are left with the recording, transcript, and Mohler’s fawning testimony. I’m not sure why he decided a reaction was necessary. He makes clear that because of his role within a denomination so tainted by the stain of the worst of all sins: racism, he has abrogated any authority to speak on the subject. “What does the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have to say to Mika Edmondson? What right has the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to say anything?” Good questions. Indeed, I wonder if the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t have an obligation to pack up the tent. According to Mohler, the denomination was founded by heretics. It doesn’t seem that there is or ever will be a way to distance the church from its past errors that will suffice. In the words of Dr Mohler: “I am increasingly convinced that the stain of racial prejudice and the historical sin of slavery may be a permanent stain God intends for our nation—and, more pointedly, my denomination and my seminary—to see daily, lest we forget.” I am left to question the wisdom of the recent calls for public corporate repentance and the heeding of such calls. If repentance does not lead to stain removal and forgiveness (distinct from forgetfulness or the pushing of realities down a historic memory hole), then what good is repentance? Biblical repentance unfailingly leads to forgiveness and cleansing of stains (1 John 1:9). But biblical repentance generally involves individual repentance for individual sins. While the Bible seems to prescribe corporate repentance for covenant Israel and Nineveh certainly participated in a public repentance, I can think of no New Testament example or command for believers. While Mohler feels he has no grounds for a response, he is convinced by Edmondson’s speech, particularly his invocation of WLC Question 135 that he has an obligation to. And his response? Unmitigated praise delivered in a servile tone.
One might think that such a response would be universally accepted by those who wish for a more “woke” and culturally engaged Church. One would be wrong. I may be mistaken, but I genuinely believe that many (not all) of those who put rhetorical pressure on the Church to “do more” and “say more” can never be appeased. I don’t believe the actual goal of the Great Awokening within the church is reconciliation. I’m sure there are many ‘true believers’ who want nothing more than to see injustice vanquished and all lives valued equally regardless of race. I know of no believer who would object to this. But the push to guilt trip church into taking an active role in public policy making and protest of perceived governmental wrongdoings is a means to an end. There are many like myself , who believe in the “spirituality of the church”, have no qualms with individual Christians advocating for any number of public policy changes, but firmly believe that the central mandate of the Church is contained in the Great Commission and any political activity of the church as an institution is mission drift. We are being marginalized and a call for the church to abstain from political involvement is wrongly equated with complacency or tacit approval of the political status quo . Past mistakes on the part of both churches and churchmen are being used as a cudgel to move conservative denominations in a direction long-traveled by more liberal mainline ones. In so doing, those churches have not increased in either public influence or gospel fidelity, the opposite has happened. I believe there are many who would like to see this process repeated in conservative Baptist and Presbyterian denominations. The battle for a “woker” church serves as a proxy war on theological conservatism. It is a back door approach to liberalization. If voices like Dr Mohler’s can be silenced as “unworthy to speak” to issues involving civil rights, what is to keep every theological issue from being wrapped in this label?
While some will praise Dr Mohler’s words, others will take this as an opportunity to explain that he doesn’t go far enough (he never will). This is evidenced in a tweet I stumbled across by a minor blogger I was previously unaware of:
While a random blogger making a snide and racially charged characterization of Dr Mohler as “Massa Mohler” and by implication indicting black pastors who have not been sufficiently vocal as slaves (or less polite terms I won’t mention) is not noteworthy, the first response to her tweet is. The emphatic “PREACH!!” comes from a surprising source. Jason Cook is not an outside source supporting this borderline-racist rant. He is a member of TGC’s editorial board. He is an insider, and he apparently feels comfortable with this characterization.
This is the same TGC which hosted Mika Edmondson’s speech, published the speech in blog form, and published Albert Mohler’s response. TGC has been a driving force in The Great Awokening and yet some (or at least one) within the organization feel that not enough is being done and that Dr Mohler’s unqualified support has earned him a derisive name-calling which hearkens back to slavery and the Jim Crow periods shortly thereafter. You might think I am reading too much into a tweet, but I find it telling.
How churches and denominations handle this push has great impact on the years to come. While many (and probably with much accuracy) put the blame of many ‘socially conscious’ blacks abandoning orthodox theology on the conservative church’s previous policies which permitted segregation and did not push back hard enough or early enough on teaching of racial superiority within the churches and seminaries, I wonder if a new generation of disaffected are being created in the search to atone. Imagine if you are a white youth being raised in a church that teaches that “racism” is one of, if not the worst of all sins, heresy even, yet the church does little to give a clear definition of what racism is. Is malice necessary to constitute sinful racism? Many would argue it is not. Are whites the only ones even capable of this sin? Those who hold to the power+prejudice=racism model would say yes. What other sins, if any, are race-exclusive? Is just being white sinful? At least one church seems to think so:
The United Church of Christ recently published the list above under the title So you say you’ve got white privilege. Now what? The implication to point number 10 that all whites are racist no matter what. Combine this with the teaching that racism is a most terrible sin and what develops is a catch-22 position that any white might understandably want to flee from. This is to say nothing of the wave of “LGBT” rights, women’s rights and other “civil rights” movements which are currently and will increasingly be issues within our churches. How we address these issues needs to be Biblically faithful, not politically correct. I have more to say on the matter, but I feel that I’ve already said too much for one post.