've been retired from blogging for nearly four years now, and I nearly forgot how to get back in here. Very few things (or people) could have persuaded me to come back.
But I do sincerely love Thabiti Anyabwile, and after I poked at him in a Tweet, he directed some comments at his blog to me. He deserves a reply. So I'm back today for one post, and one post only. I'm not wishing to prolong a controversy. I strongly agree with the gist of Thabiti's remarks in the video excerpts I posted early Thursday morning. One of the logical corollaries of that excellent 2010 T4G message is that if brothers in Christ find themselves engaging in a prolonged, bitter controversy over something extraneous to the gospel, they have clearly gone off-message.
Moreover, as Thabiti rightly said in 2010, "The gospel addresses this irreducible minimum: that individuals must repent and believe" in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. To view Christian ministry in terms of "'winning the culture, engaging the culture, changing the culture' as ambiguous as it is, the language itself signifies that mission drift is already under way." All I really want to do is re-emphasize and reaffirm that point, which he made.
Also, full disclosure: I have a son who is a police officer who currently works nights in one of the most dangerous precincts of Los Angeles. My concerns about Thabiti's mission drift are undoubtedly magnified by my conviction that some of the rhetoric peppering his Twitter feed over the past two years aids and encourages a movement whose influence has put my son's life at significantly greater risk. Based on how the media, millennials, and most Internet forums have handled the issues of racism and police work, it seems fair to assume that the sector of society where my son must live and work is far more openly hostile to cops than to young black men, and Thabiti's post-Ferguson rhetoric hasn't helped. Thabiti and friends are not going to diminish the very real problem of racism or remedy the cancer of corrupt or criminal cops by portraying law enforcement itself as an evil institution and automatically assuming every police shooting is unjust. If anything, such rhetoric has widened a wedge in the church that (by Thabiti's own admission) should not be there at all.
Anyway here are a few of my thoughts in response to Thabiti's post. I'll reply to him directly:
Thanks for your gracious feedback and your willingness to have this exchange with me. Without getting into a lengthy debate (which I'm sure would be unprofitable for both of us), I want to underscore just a few vital points in reply to your Thursday blogpost:
- I'm no doctor. I'm not a veterinarian. I've never even swept the floors at CVS. I recently removed my own stitches, but I don't think that qualifies me to be called "Dr." Dr. Phil is a totally different guy, in every way you can possibly imagine. The only thing I have in common with him is our first name and our home town.
- I'm not sure why you began your post by suggesting my Thursday morning Tweet was prompted by some mention of the word justice from you. I said nothing whatsoever about justice (which I strongly advocate, without excluding criminal justice). Nor did I say anything about social justice (which strikes me as one of those terms like agitator, having a controversial history and carrying a significant load of baggage). What actually did goad me to post excerpts from my favorite Anyabwile message was your tweet on Wednesday recommending an avowed socialist, secularist, and ardent supporter of abortion as the most suitable candidate for African American voters.
- You write, "If I understand this correctly, I’m the one now suffering 'mission drift,' one swept so powerfully to the left that the Bible and gospel have lost its center in my ministry." Yes. That's precisely what I allege, using your excellent 2010 description of how we can tell "that mission drift is already under way."
- I do realize, of course, that "'justice' and justice in [all] its [true] 'social' implications are biblical terms and ideas." Again, your use of the word "justice" had nothing to do with what or why I posted that video excerpt. But since you bring it up, let me make the point that Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; and Matthew 26:52 are just as surely tenets of biblical justice as Proverbs 31:8-9 and Jeremiah 5:28. The movement you have aligned yourself with has (to borrow your words) "a curious way of ignoring those texts and any application of them."
- Trigger warning: In this paragraph I will defend some politically incorrect terminology. Regarding the word agitator, you are correct that I was totally unaware that this word brought to mind racist connotations for anyone. I think you should investigate the actual history of the word, or easier yet, Google it alongside the word "communist." You'll find its dominant polemical use in the 20th century was to describe fomenters of left-wing political passions. (The Russians even invented a very useful term, agitprop, combining "agitate" and "propaganda" to describe the literature and systems by which Soviet Communist officials disseminated their views.) Anyway, if certain black leaders have commonly been labeled "agitators," I suspect it has rather more to do with their political opinions than with their race. And in any case, let me assure you that my use of this term had nothing whatsoever to do with race and everything to do with the Tweet you posted Wednesday (and its follow-ups), which understandably gave the impression to many who follow your Twitter feed that you are now stumping for Bernie Sanders. (Apologies to anyone who may think the verb "stump" is a microaggression against amputees. I don't mean it that way.)
- You have repeatedly declared your support for #BlackLivesMatter (and the protests they have organized). But you have done this in a way that systematically blurs a crucial distinction between the slogan and the movement that goes by that name.
- I don't know of any Christians anywhere who (in your words) "can’t seem to bring themselves to even utter the phrase [or] to say publicly, in principle, 'Black lives matter.'" Together with all my Christian brothers and sisters, I affirm emphatically that Black lives do matter—including the lives of unborn black infants. Many of us also want to stress that #BlueLivesMatter, too. And though loud voices in the BlackLivesMatter movement have already dismissed this as a racist slogan: All lives matter. We must make that confession together as well, because it is an essential tenet of biblical justice. Every human soul is precious—and each one will give account to God. That's why the gospel matters more than any injustice that might be committed against us as believers. And Christians who link arms with angry pagans in civic protests that threaten to become riots are actually behaving unjustly, by the biblical standard. Those seem like necessary conclusions of the premises you set forth in that 2010 message.
- Furthermore, what the organization calling itself BlackLivesMatter.com has done with that slogan is a gross corruption of the biblical concept of social justice. Specifically, their angry rhetoric and efforts to portray all law enforcement officers as emblems of institutionalized injustice puts every policeman (regardless of ethnicity) at greater risk.
- You famously stated: "It’s tragic that the country’s biggest sin is racism and the Church’s biggest omission is racial justice." I don't think either part of that statement is true. Perhaps the country's most talked-about sin is racism. There are at least a hundred churches in my town, and on any given Sunday if you could sample them all, you'll hear countless lectures on prosperity, relationships, social ills, politics, or the latest charismatic prophecies—almost anything except Scripture. You're far more likely to hear a lecture on the evils of racism than a clear exposition of some biblical text. So I'd say the greatest omission in the church is clear and accurate teaching of the Word of God. But more to the point: in a nation where millions of unborn infants are slaughtered annually, it seems pretty clear to me that the worst sin against blacks in America isn't racism per se, but the murders of countless unarmed black babies. Statistics suggest that twice as many blacks are killed by abortion as by all other causes combined. I know you are opposed to abortion, Thabiti, and you've even compared it to the sin of slavery. When you originally wrote that "the country’s biggest sin is racism," I dismissed that rhetoric as hyperbole. But your recent comments in the context of this year's election do give the clear impression that for you, abortion simply doesn't rise to the same level of urgency as racism. You seem to be moving steadily that way since you began to get pushback after your comments in the wake of the Ferguson riots and your continued defense of the "Hands up, don't shoot" myth. It does seem to me that your moral scales have become imbalanced.
- Finally, given the subject matter that consumes your blogposts and Tweets nowadays, I don't know how you can seriously claim there has been no shift in your thinking or teaching since 2010's T4G message.
Collateral reading from Todd Pruitt on the blurring of lines between "Black lives do matter,: and #BlackLivesMatter: Black Lives Matter or black lives matter?