I came across a post written by the wonderfully named Lex Lutheran yesterday which tackles an accusation I’m seeing a lot of lately. It seems that lately one can’t talk about addressing racial problems, especially within regards to the church, without being accused of promoting a false Gospel, a social Gospel. The only way racism or racial reconciliation seems to be able to get addressed is only when it arises in its most virulent forms such as kinism. Even then, links to sites of horrific hate (such as ‘Faith and Heritage’) get spread about in the comments sections on prominent pastor’s blogs. Discredited pieces of alternative history that attempt to vindicate sinful institutions such as antebellum slavery get picked up and polished for a new generation of readers, and then we feign surprise, indignation and offense when it’s suggested we may have a sin problem.
In the Reformed camp I believe we should be the first to acknowledge that we may not be as sanctified as we present ourselves to be. That we have hidden sins of hatred for neighbor that nurse away in the black corners of our heart. John Calvin wrote:
We are all so blinded and upset by self-love that everyone imagines he has a just right to exalt himself and to under-value all others in comparison to self.
If God has bestowed on us any excellent gift, we imagine it to be our own achievement; and we swell and even burst with pride.
The vices of which we are full we carefully hide from others, and we flatter ourselves with the notion that they are small and trivial; we sometimes even embrace them as virtues..
If the same talents which we admire in ourselves appear in others, or even our betters, we depreciate and diminish them with the utmost malignity, in order that we may not have to acknowledge the superiority of others.
If others have any vices, we are not content to criticize them sharply and severely, but we exaggerate them hatefully.
Hatred grows into insolence when we desire to excel the rest of mankind and imagine we do not belong to the common lot; we even severely and haughtily despite others as our inferiors.
If you take what Calvin wrote above seriously, as a problem common to all men, then it should not be surprising to us when we evaluate ourselves that we are not as forward-thinking as we pretend, and when others present this to us we try to turn this appeal into a sinful attack that our conscience can remain clear.
I myself won’t make any radical call to action that the church must take, I’d simply ask that we remain sober minded when injustice is before us, especially when it is waged against our fellow believers (Lex, I believe, is an African American who belongs to a conservative Lutheran denomination. He is certainly a brother in Christ). We shouldn’t hide behind our own perceived righteousness or downplay their suffering. We can even hide behind our own righteousness by puffing ourselves up and telling ourselves, “Well at least I don’t…” Take Calvin’s words above to heart when you examine your own motives, none of us is as innocent as we’d like to think we are.
Lex Lutheran hosts a new podcast called The Wittenberg Project. If you like what he had to say earlier, I’d recommend listening to it.
Edit: My friend Emily recently shared an article written by a woman that I believe touches on this subject. These subjects must be able to be broached and addressed without someone screaming “Social Gospel!”