At last week’s T4G conference, David Platt failed to make a convicting case for the church’s need to repent of racism because his definition of racism is deeply flawed, and his interpretation of empirical data begs the question.
David Platt, the president of the International Missions Board, took the main stage for a sermon at the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference last week. I honestly can’t find any details about what day or time his talk was. I think it might have been Wednesday, but I can’t be sure. The website doesn’t provide any of that information. In any case, his text was Amos 5:18-27, and his topic was the church’s need to repent of racism. In order to avoid God’s judgment that we who claim to be his people are actually his enemies, Platt wants us to Look at the Reality of Racism, Live in True Mulit-Ethnic Community, and Listen To and Learn from One Another.
Unfortunately for Platt, he failed to make his case that the church needs to repent of racism. This was due in part to primarily to his faulty definition of racism, particularly in his equation of racial economic disparity with injustice. This lead him to beg the question when he analyzed empirical data.
The Reality of Racism?
If we’re going to have a meaningful discussion on this topic, we have to know what we’re talking about. What *is* Racism? Platt’s definition of racism was as follows:
A system – could be individual, could be institutional, could be societal – in which race profoundly effects people’s economic, political and social experiences; a system in which race is significant enough to be regularly acknowledged and mentioned; a system of thought, practice, that is ever subtly present among us
Right away I knew we were heading for trouble. Platt’s definition of racism is deeply flawed for a number of reasons.
This is rank Cultural Marxism. Over recent decades, the Social Justice Warriors have repeatedly tried and failed to prove this Critical Race Theory – that not only is society is engineered to give certain unfair advantages to straight, white, Christian, cis-gendered males, but it is also engineered to systemically oppress minorities. Their caucus has become larger and more vocal over the recent years, but their arguments have not become more compelling. Nevertheless, there is a growing force in our society to view minorities – be they people of color, women, gays, trans-gendered people, you name it – as being unfairly disadvantaged by the latent bigoted impulses of society as a whole, a society which imputes racism to people like me who simply want everyone to live by the same standards.
The only reason their argument has any force is that you can point to certain statistics, as Platt does, that show a disparity in their outcomes when it comes to certain metrics like income and education. Yet what these statistics prove is left up for debate. Empirical data cannot, in itself, prove anything. A priori reasoning must be brought to bear on it to first determine whether the study was conducted in a meaningful way and whether the data means anything at all. I don’t doubt the bare truth of the fact of disparate economic outcomes between the white and non-white community here, but I’m left to question what is the cause. The Cultural Marxists assume the answer of systemic racism or injustice, but this claim has never been proven – indeed it can’t be, because the definition of the problem is the disparate outcome. At best this is circular reasoning. The problem is that non-whites fare poorer than whites. Is this caused by racism? How do we know? Do a reductio on whatever answer you are given and it always winds up at the fact that non-whites fare poorer than whites.
Anyone who suggests that there might be alternative explanations is immediately deemed a racist if they’re white, or a traitor if they’re non-white. Whatever you do, don’t suggest that perhaps the statistics themselves reveal the truth as they tell a grim story of teenagers dropping out of school to choose a life of crime in the gangs which leads to their arrest. This arrest happens after they’ve already gotten some girl pregnant. So now the teenage boy is in prison, leaving a teenage single mom behind to raise her son on her own. This son grows up without a father, never learns to be a man and to be responsible, so when he’s a teenager, he drops out of school to join a gang and choose a life of crime, leading to his arrest. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. All this happens while the prominent voices of the Black community (men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) are flooding the air with messages that the root cause of their problems is something outside of themselves, that society is stacked against them, and that they can’t ever fare better than they are now. What should we expect is the result of that? Read the book of Proverbs before you answer.
I’m admittedly painting with a broad brush here, but so are the Marxists, and that’s the whole problem. The point is that we can’t paint with a broad brush. Not every black person or family goes through the same cycle I described. Look at those in comparison to those who do, and guess what you’ll find: a disparity of social, political and economic experiences. Perhaps the issues isn’t race at all, but personal choice! The sad truth is that the statistics tell a tragic tale of how often reality, on the aggregate, represents my narrative above. Why are more black men than white men getting arrested? Probably because they are committing more crimes. Why are fewer black men well educated? Perhaps it’s because they’re not staying in school. Why are more black teenagers doing drugs and joining gangs? Maybe it’s because their fathers aren’t around to set them straight. To suggest that these disparities are down simply to a mythological conspiracy by all of white society to suppress blacks is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
So the reality is that even if we can eradicate every semblance of racist attitudes, speech, and behavior from the white community, so long as the Black community continues on this trajectory, the disparate “social, political, and economic experiences” will still exist and so by Platt’s definition, racism won’t be gone! Is that racism? It’s insanity to think so!
I found a far better definition of racism. Racism is merely a form of enmity. Enmity is “a state or feeling of active opposition or hostility”. Enmity can take different forms and manifest in different ways. Racial enmity is certainly one of them. All of them are manifestations of our enmity toward God. Because fallen man is hostile toward God, he is hostile toward God’s image bearers. Racism is a form of prideful, self-idolatrous enmity that views self as the standard and passes judgment on those who are different based on outward appearance. This leads us to dehumanize those who we judge not to measure up in certain ways. We can dehumanize them in several ways. We can enslave them. We can lynch them. We can throw them into cattle cars and gas chambers. These are hard racial sins, hate crimes. There are also soft racial sins, prejudices. It is possible to commit racially motivated sin against someone by speaking hatefully toward them, passing over them for employment opportunities, refusing them service at your business, or refusing to associate with them in other ways.
The contention of the cultural Marxist is that because of the disparate “social, political and economic experiences” of the white and non-white community, the soft racial sins – particularly the ones involving employment opportunities, must be happening on a routine basis. To be sure, this happens from time to time, but the Marxist view is that this sin is so woven into the fabric of our society that it happens routinely without our notice. Even those of us who don’t ever actively think a racist though, say a racist thing, or commit acts of racial prejudice, are racist because we enjoy the privilege that our heritage affords us without reaching out to the less fortunate in the black community. This is somehow deemed injustice, and is the cause, according to the Marxists, of the ongoing perpetuation of the disparity.
This idea remains an unproven conspiracy theory. It doesn’t stand up to praxeological analysis. It begs the question of the Marxist worldview. The Marxists view the world as a collective, or an amalgamation of various collectives, in which the whole community is culpable for the sins of some of the actors within their midst. To the Marxist, all of non-whites are under attack from all of whites because some whites in the past and present have mistreated some blacks. To the Marxist, all of non-whites are under attack by all of the police, because in the present some of the police have abused blacks. To be sure, there are bad laws and there are racist cops. There are racist individuals within just about every institution and just about every society, but it does not follow that this implicates all of society, especially when there are better explanations to be had.
So this really calls into question Platt’s use of the term “injustice”. Let’s talk about Justice. Justice is the doing of what is right. In a societal sense, it is the righting of what is wrong. Ultimately, injustice is defined as sin. God is holy and just, and we have broken his law. Ultimate justice would be that we receive what is due for our sin. However, Jesus satisfied the justice of God when he paid for our sins on the cross, atoning for us, and giving us the gift of reconciliation. Reconciliation is another term that’s often thrown around in this discussion – though Platt didn’t use it in his talk. Justice and Reconciliation only truly make sense in this light. In a civil sense, justice is defined by the civil law: that man should respect each other’s life, liberty and property. The doing of justice would be to respect your fellow man so as not to commit crimes against him. In a societal sense, the doing of justice would be to have a magistrate who’s duty is to carry out God’s wrath on the one who commits crimes against another man. When the enmity of one man leads him to commit a crime (an aggression) against another man, regardless of his motivation – be it racial or otherwise – justice demands that restitution be made. It doesn’t make sense to talk about justice without talking about the specific injustice being committed by any specific people. Societies are nothing more than the accumulation of their individuals. If none of the individuals have committed racism, how has the society? American societies in the past have certainly committed racial injustice when large groups of their individual members committed such crimes, but there’s a marked contrast between such racial injustice in the past and in the present.
Platt recognizes this difference when he acknowledges that the response of many white people will be to say, “well I’m not a racist,” which is why he shifts from talking about real injustice to talking about “softer” racial sins. Even still, his evidence that these things exist is drawn from dubious empirical evidence about trends, but not about individual actions, and he persists in using the term “justice” to describe these sins. When we see racist behavior or hear racist speech, we should confront it. When we are guilty of racist attitudes, speech or action, we should repent. But to impute guilt on every member of society for the actions of a few is the very perversion of justice.
Empirical Data that Begs the Question
Platt cites many of the typical statistics about economics, crime, race, etc that show a difference between the “social, political, and economic experiences” of whites and non-whites. He then proceeds to present two statistics that he claims shows that not only does this disparity exist within the church, but that the disparity is wider than outside the church.
To prove the first, he cites the commonly known statistic that churches are generally homogenous when it comes to race. Whites tend to go to white churches. Blacks tend to go to black churches. There’s no nuanced treatment of this information though. If we’re to draw any definitive conclusions about this we have to ask and answer several questions. The most important questions is, “by what standard is this a problem?” Platt cites the book of Ephesians where Paul exhorts Jews and Gentiles to be united, but this merely begs a host of hermeneutical questions. What does it mean to be united? Does it mean that they have to be in the same house church? On what basis? That the communities are integrated? Well are they? We need to look closer at the data. Did they control for the fact that whites tend to be more affluent than black, so whites tend to live in the suburbs whereas blacks tend to live in the city? Since people tend to go to church near where they live, could this explain why churches in the suburbs tend to be white while churches in the city tend to be black? If so, then perhaps there really isn’t a problem here at all. IF that’s true, then these churches are in fact reflecting the demographics of their neighborhood! Of course, this won’t satisfy the cultural Marxists. Would it satisfy Platt? The SJWs view the fact that whites are more able to live in the suburbs than blacks as the very problem. So we’re back to racism as being defined as the existence of economic disparity – disparity that can be explained by the consequences of free individuals humans acting in accordance with their own subjective values.
Oh but Platt has that covered. His second statistic is about differing opinions about the cause of economic disparity. It’s like he knew where the logic was forcing him to go and went there for us. So he cited a study – you’d have to listen to the talk for details – that asked people what they believed the cause of racial economic disparity is. They were given three options. 1) “Individual Responsibility and Personal Motivation”; 2) “Unequal Education”; 3) “Unjust Systems and Discrimination”. They then placed these options along a spectrum with Individual Responsibility on the left, Systemic Discrimination on the right, and Education in the middle. I find it a little odd that they ordered them the way that they did, because “Individual Responsibility” is usually the kind of response you would hear from the political right whereas “systemic discrimination” is usually what you would hear from the political left. For the purposes of this analysis, I will use the more commonly understood political terms because those will be what you might expect. So if you’re looking at the chart from Platt’s talk and you hear me say “left” sort of flip the chart around in your mind. In fact, here’s the chart:
I hope I’m not violating anybody’s IP by posting this. That’s not my intent, but apparently injustice doesn’t have anything to do with intent anymore.
Now again, I’m going to flip left and right here, so keep that in mind. I’m actually talking about this chart:
I do this, again, because it aligns more with the widely thought of political spectrum.
You’ll notice some data points plotted on this spectrum. Platt actually plotted these out one by one, but I’ve shown them to you all at once. The smaller lines are the non-Christian respondents to the poll. Unsurprisingly the line over to the right is white non-Christians, and the line over to the left is non-white non-Christians. The longer lines (longer probably for emphasis) are the Christian respondents. Also unsurprising is that the line over to the right is the white Christians, and the line over to the left is the non-white Christians.
Platt’s take away from this chart is that the church is more divided than the world. There are so many things to be said about this chart. First is that we’ve shifted what we’re talking about. Suddenly we’re no longer talking about the existence of disparate “social, political, and economic experiences”, but the opinions about their causes. Next, think about whether it makes any sense to present these on a spectrum like this at all. If I conducted a quiz and asked you what your favorite color was, and gave you the option of red, green and blue, would it make sense to present that on a spectrum? In order to do that, I’d have to arbitrarily assign each answer a quantifiable value. If you said, Red, maybe I give you a 1. If you way green, I’ll give you a 2. If you say blue, I’ll give you a 3. Then I can average people like you together and put them on a spectrum. But that seems highly arbitrary, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t blue be 2, red 3, and green 1?
The only way it can make sense for this to be a spectrum is if the middle answer is somehow a compromise between the other two. Is it though? Actually. Think about it for a second. Drill down and ask the people who responded that it was down to unequal education why the education was unequal. How do you think they’ll respond? Probably they will say either that the students didn’t apply themselves or dropped out OR that the education system was stacked against them so that they were denied opportunities or just didn’t have opportunities in the first place. Well that sounds like unequal education is either caused by individual choices or systemic discrimination, doesn’t it? When looked at this way, that middle category isn’t revealed to be a compromise for the other two, it actually disappears entirely, leaving the real answers as a boolean between the other two. We have no data as to what the makeup of the respondents in the middle category is, so the entire scoring should be considered invalid. So I don’t think it makes any sense to present the data in this way. If the presentation of the data is flawed, then is it valid to draw from that presentation that the church is more divided than the world?
But we have a much deeper problem than that. These large lines represent “professing Christians”. What is their definition of “professing Christian”. Platt doesn’t tell us. Does this chart even present any useful information at all? Who’s in this group? We’re left to believe it’s only down to those who self-identify as Christians. Of what use is that? Anyone can say they’re a Christian, does this mean they really are? Who’s in this group on the left who says racial disparity is down to systemic racism? Could it be those who listen to the like so the Reverend Jesse Jackson? Al Sharpton? Men who Voddie Baucham says are “people who have a vested interest in [racial issues] not being better, or at least a vested interest in not allowing people to acknowledge the fact that [racial issues] are getting better. The racial-grievance industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry;” Who Thomas Sowell called “race huslters” who “get a sense of superiority [not to mention wealth and power] by denouncing others as ‘racists’.” Sowell also blames men like these for keeping racism on “life support”, implying very clearly that it would be dead as a public issue otherwise. Do Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton represent sound Biblical teaching on any subject?
I want – no, if we’re going to have a meaningful conversation about this, I demand to see an updated chart that plots only those who follow sound biblical teaching. Teaching not identified by the teachers, but by its faithfulness to Scripture. Men like Voddie Baucham and HB Charles. I am confident that such a chart will show a serious narrowing of this gap in disparity. We cannot know for certain, unfortunately. We are only left to wonder.
But so what? Let’s assume there is disparity and division for a minute. Let’s even assume that we are indeed more divided than the world. What’s the problem with that? As H.B Charles pointed out in his T4G talk, the problem with division is that we follow man ideas instead of God. The Gospel has to be our point of unity, and it is unity around the Gospel that will distinguish us from the world. Does this mean we have to have the same opinion about what causes economic disparity between races? Does this mean we have to worship in the same local churches or can we be largely homogenous in Sunday morning worship but unite throughout the week in para-church partnerships like The Gospel Coalition? If we are united around the Gospel and do not have the kind of hostility Paul mentions in Ephesians, where is the racism? If we define it as enmity, it’s gone! If we define it as economic disparity, we still are left to wonder whether it really exists in the church and/or whether it constitutes the kind of injustice that Platt fears we risk God’s judgment for.
Platt’s solution to this problem that he hasn’t proved even exists is that we “listen to and learn from one another”. But notice what Platt does here. He’s presented these stats about the widening disparity of race in the church as part of his third point that we need to “Listen to and Learn from Each Other.” But listen carefully to this section of his talk. He presents this stat, claims it shows that the church is widening the racial disparity rather than narrowing it, and then prescribes listening and learning as the solution. Listen carefully to his words.
Who does he say should do the listening and who does he say should be listened to? The only group he charges with needing to listen is the whites. Where is his call for Blacks to listen to Whites in a reciprocal conversation? If we are going to listen to and learn from *each other*, shouldn’t we both get turns to speak? I wonder if this was a careless mistake on Platt’s part or if it was intentional. As it stands this reeks of rank intersectionality. Notice: he presents the graph, gives no meaningful analysis about whether one side might be right or not, and then prescribes that those on the “white” side of the graph must listen to those on the “non-white” side fo the graph. What’s the assumption: the left must be correct! Or are we not a people of truth and instead a people of man’s opinions? Shouldn’t it matter much less what people’s opinions are about the causes of economic disparity and instead consider what Scripture says? Platt consistently assumes that the Cultural Marxist position is right. What makes them right? The fact that they are black maybe? If that’s not what he’s trying to imply, he did a poor job of preventing the inference. He made a great many caveats in his talk, but not one covered off this potential implication that the validity of your opinion is based on the color of your skin.
So we’re left to ask, what does the Biblical worldview teach us? Platt himself gives us the answer when he admits that the Bible teaches personal responsibility. He cites a couple texts but neglects to mention the whole of the book of Proverbs. He also neglects to mention Ezekiel 18, which is a particularly important passage for consideration in light of the current voices speaking on the issue of racial reconciliation. Should we listen to and learn from those voices? What if they infiltrate the church and non-whites in the church begin saying the same things they’ve been saying? Should we give them ear when they contradict Ezekiel 18:20 “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
As counter balance, Platt says that the Bible has a lot to say about injustice, but here again he has merely assumed his own definition of justice, a definition that does not draw from the Biblical worldview, but rather from cultural Marxism.
Look, racism, properly defined as racially motivated enmity, does exist in certain individuals and certain institutions (which are merely a collection of individuals). Such racism is indeed sin. When racist people act in ways that are racially discriminatory, they should be called to repent of the enmity in their hearts. This does still happen from time to time, but it is identified by the presence of speech or actions on the part of the racist. When we redefine racism to be the presence of poverty or suffering on the part of the supposed victim with no real causal connection to the actions of any specific individual, then we create an environment in which the problem can never be dealt with.
I believe Platt’s confession of latent racism in his own heart. I do not think his charge that racism is pervasive in the church today is valid. He certainly didn’t convince me. His empirical data merely begged the question, and his definition of racism was deeply flawed. Racism exists, but it exists in the hearts of individuals who are at enmity with man because they are at enmity with God. Through Jesus Christ, we can be reconciled to God and to each other. Only then can we live in harmony and unity. Rather than listening to each other, let’s listen to God’s Word.