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All Posts Matter: Expanded Thoughts Over 2.5 Years…

Originally posted October 12, 2017 on Twitter (back when we were only allowed 180 characters), my good friend Mike cut and pasted all 58 tweets  from that day into one document.  This is not just a ‘re-post’ – there’s a ton of new material added and it’s literally taken me two years to work through and write it out.

Back in early October of 2017 (almost two years ago), Lecrae dropped a brick cinderblock on the heads of quite a few folks with several interviews where he stated he was divorcing ‘white evangelicalism‘.  The October 12 article on the topic at Christianity Today gives a bit clearer insight into the issue. John Piper has a helpful (somewhat) reflection what Lecrae’s statement means as a whole to the evangelical movement in the US.  The original statement from Lecrae brought out a ton of angry denunciations in the comments sections from everyday folks (sadly, as expected). I’ve grown accustomed to seeing this level of anger whenever any black person who isn’t a Thomas Sowell follower brings up racism in culture, society and the church.

Some ‘white evangelicals’ are upset with Lecrae because the only ‘Christianity’ they’ve known is ‘white evangelicalism’ (we’ll give it a better name in a few). What Lecrae (and others) have been calling out is the fact that Christian expression in America has been shaped MORE by culture and cultural convenience than by scripture.

Some treat this as an ‘attack’ because they don’t recognize the influences of culture (good and bad) on their framework. By assuming your own cultural framework as the ‘default orthodoxy’, you may unintentionally present it as biblical truth when it is no more than cultural opinion.  The example that immediately came to mind as I typed this was the practice in the late 1800’s of having Native Americans take a ‘Christian name’ in the process of assimilation into the larger American culture (a practice which has resulted in interesting stories about multiple names in many Native families). Many members of Holiness churches in the United States have a ‘default orthodoxy’ that playing cards or women wearing pants go against scripture when scripture itself is silent on the issue (some older members are still offended when younger women come to church in pant suits). In the church we can sometimes see it expressed in music genre and style differences.

Not all cultural frameworks are bad. The Westminster Confession of Faith is a great document and faithfully represents the teachings of scripture. It was produced in a cultural framework borne out of the protestant reformation. As such, it had an understanding of the role of government different from past nation-states before it. American Presbyterians in 1747 saw the need to make adjustments to it (rightly) to reflect and comment on the society they were currently living in (which was moving away from being a monarchy). On the other hand, Jim Crow-era America wasn’t a good cultural framework; it assumed ‘whiteness’ to be orthodoxy and gave us false teachings like the ‘curse of Ham’ and warnings about the ‘errors of miscegenation’. These things shaped American culture (as a whole) and church culture (especially in conservative churches, regardless of denomination).

Secular Religious Conservativism (aka Cultural American Patriotic Churchianity) is a poor lens to view the world and one’s neighbors. At best, it comes across as uncaring, unloving, dismissive and unChristian. At worst, it comes off as racist, ethnically and culturally (and sometimes ethnically) idolatrous.

Secular Religious Conservativism is an interesting monster – Lecrae calls it ‘white evangelicalism’. It’s the default position that assumes that American cultural expressions, habits and norms are equivalent with Biblical mandates. It’s the position that assumes that 18th and 19th century hymns are God-glorifying, but theologically-sound gospel music is out of order for a church service, usually attacked via “the style of music is not appropriate” without giving an example beyond personal and cultural preference as to why. You can see multiple examples of it in Scot Aniol’s exchange with Shai Linne regarding Christian Hip Hop (a very respectful exchange by the way, so absolutely worth the read).

It’s no secret that American missionaries have, in the past, had the problem of bringing their assumptions about what ‘civilization’ should look like with them alongside of the gospel. Part of that culture and heritage may be bound up in things like a glorified (and largely fabricated) view of the South and the Confederacy (for example, check the Facebook comments on a post from Russell Moore on the topic of the Confederate Flag).

Liberals figured out this problem (sometimes called contextualization) a while ago, adjusted their speech and approach adequately in order to ‘speak the language’ of the people they wanted on their side.  As they listened, some genuinely (for non-political reasons) grew in empathy and compassion.  At the same time, liberal theology lined up (rightly) with the Civil Rights movement. Russell Moore’s historical analysis of how liberals won the day and the soul of the black community during the Jim Crow era into the Civil Rights Movement is documented in part here (check his references for more works on the topic). It is a good history lesson for both what came before and why we are where we are now (hint: it’s not ‘racial marxism’ or some other intellectually lazy excuse).

You cannot claim conservative theology and still treat your brothers and sisters with contempt. You will not believed (“if you really believed I was made in the image of God just like you, then why do you treat me as a sub-human ?”), people will call your hypocrisy a theological error and depart from you, believing that the rest of your supposedly “good theology” isn’t really that good or necessary in order for one to be a Christian because your ethics and praxis do not align with scripture. This was the error of conservatives in the US for centuries. The liberal church and liberal politicians exploited that for their personal gain. (1)

Some ‘white evangelicals’ wonder why black churches are typically more liberal, even when the black church is still mostly orthodox and conservative overall. The answer to that question is simple: during the Jim Crow-era, the majority of ‘conservative’ seminaries were holding to Jim Crow policies – if not on paper, then as general unwritten policy (for the purpose of plausible deniability). The very conservative (fundamentalist) Bob Jones University JUST (2000) reversed their stance on ‘interracial marriage’. That’s only 19 years ago (to their credit, they have publicly admitted they were wrong on this and their segregated past – see the link above). While you may find an occasional ‘blip’ on the radar (i.e. Southern Seminary with one black graduate in the 40’s), just about every ‘conservative’ seminary that held to inerrancy, the inspiration of scripture, Deity of Christ, Trinity, 5 Solas, etc…either did not admit blacks, or make it culturally and socially uncomfortable for them to be there.

“But wait! Our denomination/seminary didn’t have anything in writing with regard to Jim Crow!”

Perhaps so.  But as a matter of culture, conversations like these often happened (sometimes in print)….

“Some people are….uhmmm…. uncomfortable with you being here. We’ve had some complaints. You know how it is… things are different where they live and grew up…. we’re not saying anything is wrong with you, but maybe it would be a good idea for you to transfer to somewhere that’s a little more….friendly to your kind….we’ll give you full transfer credit…”

“While we were impressed with your academic credentials, we do not believe at this time you would be a good fit for our seminary.”

And as conservative, supposedly-bible-believing folks rejected or encouraged black folks to leave, liberal seminaries took them. Not only did they take them, but they fought against conservatives supporting segregation using conservative theological hermeneutics and arguments  – the same arguments used by abolitionists like William Wilberforce and Alexander McLeod.  That hypocrisy shamed many some of them out of their sinful habits and into repentance…..a bit late, but repentance nonetheless. Praise God for that.

We’ve heard the jokes about seminaries/cemeteries. Some of the older black folks recognized the difference in their pastors in the 40’s-60’s when they came back from these liberal seminaries, denying major tenets of the faith, but teaching a Christian moralism. In addition, the story of scripture was now being framed through culture and politics – liberation theology or the ‘social gospel’. The story of scripture was no longer centered on Christ as Savior, but on Christ as liberator from oppressive social systems. This approach acknowledged the humanity of those oppressed at the expense of other life-dependent biblical truths.

Crozer Theological Seminary produced Martin Luther King. King’s anthropology was biblical (he believed in the Imago Dei), but that fell right in line with liberation theology. King and others recognized the hypocrisy of their conservative counterparts by their denial of Lev. 19:18 and Gen. 1:26 in their practice. Unfortunately, in his seminary papers, King denied the Virgin Birth , Substitutionary Atonement (calling it ‘cosmic child abuse’), the Trinity, the Resurrection and more. There is no evidence he ever changed his mind on these views (apologies to all those who attended the MLK50 conference who thought otherwise).

As a result of these and other factors over the past century and a half, there has been a legacy of separation between black and white American Christians. That separation is social, cultural and theological; people grouped up with those who looked like them, believed like them or accepted them as equal human beings. Conservative whites who supported segregation (or didn’t speak out against it) were viewed as hypocrites; as a result, their theology in other areas was viewed as suspect. The so-called ‘liberals’ who treated black folks in accordance with scripture as full human beings were given a place at the table in black communities.

Thankfully, not all black churches went completely liberal. Quite a few stayed biblically faithful on the fundamentals of the faith, even though their neighbors down the road affirmed most of the same core doctrines but wouldn’t welcome them as brethren. The church I ‘grew up’ in was your average, biblically-solid, dispensational, inerrantist, independent baptist church. The founding pastor is a graduate of Captial Bible Seminary (one of the first if not the first black graduate) and studied under the late Charles Ryrie (at what was once Philadelphia College of the Bible). There were (and still are) many black churches in my home city of Baltimore that fit this description, despite their pastors having earned degrees from very liberal seminaries.

That brings us back to where Lecrae is now in his ‘divorce’ from ‘white evangelicalism’. The issues he mentions should be attended to. I remember when Curt Kennedy rapped at Piper’s church in 05 or 06, some of the feedback from ‘white evangelicals’ was harsh, unloving and downright anti-Christian. I remember Shai Linne chiming in on one of those conversations defending Curt and Christian Hip Hop as a whole (someone copied it in the second post on this link – the internet never forgets). Folks on the original post called it ungodly and worldly.  They did so because in their experience of ‘white evangelicalism’, there was no room for anything culturally other than hymns with an organ or piano. They equated their cultural expression of the faith to orthodoxy.

Yet, God was pleased, as Paul Washer stated, to use these men and others to go places Edwards and Whitfield could not go and reach. He still uses biblically sound CHH for this purpose today, even if folks choose not to see it or acknowledge it.

Even so, the same danger lies in wait for black Christians. Malcolm X once spoke on the difference between a wolf and a fox. The fox pretends to be friendly vs the wolf. Liberals – in general – have learned to listen to and sympathize with people of color in the US. Empathy and compassion won out. This gave liberals a foothold in black communities that remains to this day. Thus, when conservatives respond with Secular Religious Conservativism, they do more to continue the cycle of pushing people of color away from them. The bulk of people of color look at these folks and say “although we share some things in common, you do not and cannot represent me or a place I would be welcome because you speak against other core things I believe. You appear to care more about preserving the culture of the country than spreading the gospel and loving humans who look differently than you”.  An example of this can be seen in the comments section of Nathaniel Strickland’s blogpost (linked here) regarding John Piper’s comments about the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

Even with empathy and compassion, when the gospel and the whole counsel of God is reduced to social justice and intersectionalism, you are left empty. There is no hope in Christ with intersectionalism, as the only thing it will produce is a new set of  oppressors and oppressed (usually, with both parties simply switching places in an attempt at ‘justice’).  There is no true God of scripture with intersetionalism, since its’ focus is horizontal relationships and not THE vertical relationship. There is no hope or lasting solution in intersectionalism for actual solutions in the long-term because intersectionalism doesn’t have a solution for the human condition. That will always be the fundamental issue.

The danger is real – black believers must SHUN and AVOID the world’s classifications of the problems that we deal with. Black believers must SHUN and AVOID the world’s solutions for the problems we are dealing with. Watching some conversations happen, I see some black believers following the world’s trends, sociological approaches and verbiage. They adopt things which have a layer or two of truth to them, but whose foundation is poison and unbiblical.  The world is not oppressor and oppressed, but sinner and sinner.  Both stand in need of redemption in Christ, no matter which ‘side’ wields power. True unity begins with the cross.

Let me be clearer on this point. Liberals sometimes get things right. The problem is that they approach solutions without dealing with the root issue: sin.

Believers of color who wish to address ‘white evangelicalism’, need to do so with scriptural solutions in hand. ‘White Evangelicals’ need to be open to criticisms and approach their brethren in a fashion other than dismissive or deflective (and yes, simply blanket-labeling everyone a Marxist is dismissive and deflective…it’s also intellectually lazy and a breaking of the ninth commandment).

Believers of color need to remember Christ’s patience with them when they were thick-headed, slow to understand and short on patience. They also need to remember that as Christ lives in the hearts of their white brethren, they need to curb the ‘anger’ approach. Yes, be angry and do not sin. So approach your brethren as brethren and not ‘the enemy’. Key word – brethren.

This requires black believers in Christ not simply to rehash old and current wrongs, but to forgive them.  You can’t hold on to anger about the past and expect to move forward.  This is not simply pretending the past never existed, but acknowledging it and all of the evil associated with it, but not holding it against those currently alive. This is what Joseph did with his brothers in Genesis 45 and 50:20.

At the same time, this also involves tell the truth about the legacy and results of institutionalized and cultural racism in the present day. Those things also exist.  We are not to back away from them or pretend that they do not exist, but point them out as issues and bring solutions to the table (more on the solutions aspect of this in a bit).  This is also what Joseph did with his brothers in Genesis 45 and 50:20.

Recently (2018), I came across a post in a well-known Facebook group, a member posted that in his observation, one of the great fears he has is that of being ‘right’. Specifically, being right about racism, right about white evangelicals and white conservatives dodging and ducking the inconsistencies in their own behavior and beliefs, purposeful (in some cases) ignorance of history, blind about their own cultural glasses that tint (and taint) how they approach scripture, culture and those who don’t look like them and so on. He noted that what has welled up in the black community is a continual anger, bitterness and attitude of  dislike and hatred toward white people. The poster also stated (rightly) that in this state, there is the danger of becoming smug and arrogant, thinking that ‘we’ have the moral high ground and turning into the very same people we argue against. “Both white supremacy and moral superiority are rooted in self-righteousness”, he wrote.  He’d had enough. Several other people chimed in and said they thought they were the only ones who felt this way.  Their common desire was to see healing and shalom for the entire situation and not a continued loop of rehashing and condemning.

When I called out James White in 2016, I carefully made it clear that I don’t believe he’s my enemy (I still don’t).  I’ve even had a recent exchange with someone regarding whether or not I think he’s racist (I don’t).  I just think he’s willfully intellectually lazy on this topic, since he insists on attacking as much ‘low hanging fruit’ as possible, while ignoring hard critiques of his position.

Still, He’s my brother in Christ. He may have missed some things I said – either willfully or on accident (his response on The DL back in 2016 half-quoted me at times, so I’m inclined to say it was willful), but that makes him a believer with a blind spot. It doesn’t excuse it. Hopefully, he’ll understand one day. If not, it’ll get resolved in eternity. I don’t believe he’s a racist (because one of his followers will come on here claiming I called him one).

I do believe that he, like many other white believers who dwell in SRC-land, is trying to navigate this discussion and is afraid of being WRONGLY labeled a racist. I also believe that he, like quite a few of his followers, view these discussions at least partially (if not fully) through the lens of SRC and mistake that for orthodoxy Christianity. Unlike many other times when he is careful and meticulous, I believe that due to the aforementioned fear, he has retreated into the quickest strawman argument he can find (the boogeymen of cultural marxism, neomarxism, racial marxism, etc…) and mostly stopped listening.  He ends up talking past the people he criticizes, since he believes (wrongly) that this discussion is about a never-ending blame game instead of addressing a real and practical issue. A somewhat recent exchange with Thabiti Anyabwile is a good demonstration of this.

Since I wrote the above paragraph in 2018 (it’s now July 2019), I’ve had additional run-ins with James’s twitter posts which seem to confirm what I’ve suspected (that on this topic, he primarily gets his information from secular conservative websites and websites pretending to be Christian that repeat secular conservative arguments, some of which are tinged with racism, but vague enough to have plausible deniability). One of my next posts will deal with this.

As a result, many black believers I’ve seen address these and other topics have grown tired (and angry) at cut-and-paste SRC answers culled from secular conservative websites. We’ve grown tired of explaining the same things repeatedly to people who should see it clearer than others.  It is indeed as though we (black and white believers) are living in two different worlds.

So both ‘sides’ come at each other like the world – angry, impatient and ready to hit the ‘post’ button. I’ve been guilty of it. The solution continues to be the gospel message believed and applied, Christ’s love & the Imago Dei as the starting point. Micah 6:8/1 John 3:4-10 is a gospel issue, not a pet social issue. But it must be handled rightly.

In the interests of moving the conversation toward action and not simply tons of blog posts and tweets designed to further resentments, I propose the following:

1. Think carefully before you post or speak. Speak graciously, truthfully and accurately. Speak truth even when it goes against your personally accepted and culturally accepted sociopolitical narratives.  Proverbs 10:19 reads “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.  This sword cuts both ways. Is what you’re saying truthful ? Is it helpful ? Is your objective to speak truth and impart grace or to be ‘right’ ? Are you seeking to win your brother/sister or win the argument ?  Are you seeking to separate  and divide or to bring  gospel repentance and gospel conformity (2 Cor. 10:5) ? Are you seeking to inflame ?  Yes, your words matter as do the intention of your words. Honest words matter. Gracious words matter. Jesus didn’t always flip tables and drive out money changers (John 2, Matthew 21).  With some, He spoke tenderly (John 4), offered grace instead of condemnation while still calling sin what it is (John 8).  Prayer, wisdom and maturity are needed to accomplish this task. Jude 22-23 alongside 2 Tim. 2:24-26 are good guidance in what to say and how to say it. Avoid simply parroting  secular websites and their approaches (conservative or liberal).

2. Acknowledge hard truths.  Listen to understand, not to ‘answer’. There are sociological and economic issues in the black community, but they didn’t develop in a vacuum. Yes, the legacy of slavery (family separations, Jim Crow/Segregation, lynchings, socio-cultural stereotypes of black folks, eugenics, domestic terrorism, redlining, etc…) still has a direct impact on black communities today. Racist socio-cultural pathologies in white communities (hate crimes based on ethnicity, ethnic and cultural superiority) didn’t magically vanish in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The ‘curse of Ham‘, for example, was still taught in American seminaries up through the 80’s (Tony Evans notes in the linked article that both the Old Scofield Study Bible and C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch’s OT Commentary published in 1987 take this position).  That goes against the accepted SRC narrative trope of ‘slavery ended 150 years ago, everything else is your fault individually from your choices ‘.  Behavior toward African-Americans is influenced by this, law enforcement policies are influenced by this, political policies are influenced by this[2]. The media  and American culture have been complicit for over 100 years in spreading this programming of fear of black people in America.

For those of you reading this who think that this is simply ‘liberal propaganda’, ‘rehashing old wrongs that have nothing to do with today’  and ‘race baiting that started under Obama’, check the research on footnote #2 above. We are living in a legacy of past decisions which included racial segregation and discrimination which does have a direct impac

These are not things which black folks have just ‘all of a sudden’ began discussing. The difference is that social media has enabled those stories to be told that you normally never heard. Remember this ? Yes, it’s from a sitcom.  Twenty-six years ago.  Yes, it was talked about in the black community regularly, but no, the topic didn’t have a national stage.  A friend of mine posted one of his DWB (Driving While Black) incidents in 2016 and asked others on his friends’ list to chime in.  The post is currently over 100+ responses with events shared by multiple people (myself included).

We didn’t all grow up in the ‘same America’ and we need to beware of the cultural/ethnic assumptions that come with this view.  The cultural divide is real, not imagined. Growing up in Roland Park is not the same as growing up in Sandtown (both in Baltimore City, Maryland). Kids in Roland Park have never known the police coming through their neighborhood, telling groups of three or more to ‘break it up’, ‘stop playing ball in the street’ or any number of other things kids do regularly as kids.  Neither have they known police to approach them aggressively and disrespectfully on first encounter, treating them like felons-in-waiting from the beginning (related note: Martin O’Malley, former mayor and governor, is largely responsible for the current mess that Baltimore City is in with regard to law enforcement, crime and the lack of community support/engagement). A family friend who works in law enforcement confirmed that different types of ‘policing’  are purposely done in different neighborhoods, mostly based on color and ethnicity (closely linked with income and influence) in order to produce the needed “Lockup Quotas” that the local governments contract with private prisons for.

These things are true. They are not simply perspective. It’s also true that black folks are no longer in the 1960’s. Despite the imperfections of the United States of America, it is no longer

3.  If you only bring up statistics to silence people you disagree with, you need to check your heart.  You care about being right, not about truth. Stay off secular websites that use this tactic (both conservative and liberal).

What’s your reason for bringing up the rate of unwed births in the black community ? Do you have a solution ? Do you plan on going into those communities, setting up a beachhead and preaching to the community ? Do you plan on going in and mentoring young black boys whose fathers may not be a part of their lives ? Do you plan on going into those communities and helping the single mothers with the task of raising a child ?

I’m serious.

I’ve seen a number of people who speak out against so-called ‘social justice’, ‘racial marxism’ and other related topics are very apt to try to use statistics to get their opponents to shut up. A basic logic lesson for you:

  • Group A points out problem with Group B’s treatment of Group A.
  • Group B points out that Group A has a similar problem caused by other members of Group A.
  • Assumed conclusion is that Group A should focus on problems with other members of Group A first.

The problem, of course, is that Group B never addresses their own behavior; they blame shift from the original complaint and deflect off to another issue.  That is a secular tactic, but should never be the approach of the Christian. Ever.  It’s lazy, selfish and a direct violation of Lev. 19:18 and Galatians 6:2.

When it comes to abortion, you don’t only speak; you vote pro-life, you support pro-life policies, you engage in pro-life activities (e.g. volunteering or giving to pregnancy centers, counseling women and men in unplanned pregnancy situations and even adopting and fostering kids born to parents who chose life, but can’t keep the child).  In these cases, statistics (e.g. the number of abortions per day, the number of families waiting to adopt) are never used as weapons to shut people up and never thrown out to deflect away from one argument with a distraction by another. They are never used as hammers to beat people into silence.

You are a hypocrite if you preach ‘be warm and fed’ to one group while bringing food and blankets to another.

4. Don’t be an ‘ally’ – be a brother/sister in Christ.  Let me be clear: the person on the other end of this discussion is not your enemy.  Stop approaching them as such.

Ephesians 4 gives some great guidance for this and all upcoming discussions:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (v. 1-6)

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil. (v. 25-27)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (v. 29-32).

Scripture calls for a different kind of relationship when discussing areas of disagreement with brothers and sisters and that extends to the blogsphere.  We absolutely cannot operate like the secular communities which may have some of our moral/political positions in common.

This sword cuts both ways.

We cannot guilt present-day white believers into ‘feeling bad for being white because of what white folks before them did’.  Don’t get me wrong: redlining and discrimination in the 40’s definitely did give some middle and upper-middle class white families decades of advancement over their black counterparts so that the ‘starting points’ for their grandchildren in 2019 are different and disproportionate.  But that white millennial in 2019 stepping into the business world is not responsible for what his grandparents did

Neither can we ignore problems in black communities and pretend they are simply figments of the imaginations of black folks who experience them. A few

Neither can we demonize and speak untruthfully of those we disagree with. A little over a week ago, The Founders’ Ministry (a reformed sub-group in the Southern Baptist Convention) released a trailer for an upcoming documentary movie on the so-called ‘Dangers of Social Justice in the SBC’ called “By What Standard ?“. As Tony Arsenal rightly points out over at  the Reformed Arsenal blog, the video purposely uses unrelated clips to make people look like they believe something they don’t.  The music, setting, coloring, etc… are all made to incite negative feelings against those speaking out regarding social justice issues, as though their ultimate goal is to undermine biblical authority. This is blatantly dishonesty. It’s lying. It’s a 9th commandment violation.  Period. Believers are commanded to treat each other differently.

*there is an update to this section. See footnote #3 below.

5. Any and all approaches and discussions need to work toward fellowship, reconciliation and co-laboring together, not false accusations and division. That’s going to require BOTH ‘sides’ to back off harsh secular attack style tactics.  James White once (correctly) stated this:

Yet he posted things like this repeatedly:

Folks who normally support him (lay people) have been addressing him about it, but his response has generally been the same as you see above (additional examples aren’t needed….his twitter is still littered with them).

Let me be clear: these are the tactics of the secular conservative movement, not Christians. This behavior is not glorifying to Christ.  I *am* thankful that he has recently (late July 2019) decided to stop posting material like this on Twitter, other than show announcements and another encouraging post showing a different attitude (though it seems folks haven’t forgotten yet):

But this is after he has already produced a number of ‘clones’ who act in the same acerbic/acidic style of commenting and conversing that he has demonstrated over the past few years. I think one thing that would go far with him and others is a simple repudiation of past behaviors.

American politics and American society affect all of us, even those of us who think we are ‘colorblind’.

Why these five points ?

Simple. The church as a whole was part of the creation of the racism problem. We need to be part of the solution as well. I will say a lot more to say as this series continues. Notice, I said we. The Body of Christ.  Not simply ‘black Christians’ or ‘white evangelicals’.

I’d like to unpack a gospel-centered approach to what each of these points for moving forward look like.  In the next article, we’ll tackle point #1. Read up in Ephesians 4 between now and then.

Take care.

(1) For the record, all theological conservatives didn’t go along with segregation. The RPCNA rightly repudiated ‘perpetual negro slavery’ as antithetical to the gospel in the early 1800’s. Men like Charles Haddon Spurgeon spoke strongly against slavery and found themselves very unpopular in the Southern US (including standing death threats and book burnings). Men like John Brown led uprisings and rebellions over the injustice of slavery.  Unfortunately, their voices are often ignored or drowned out among the other ‘conservative’ voices that supported the practice.

(2) Literally:  for starters.  For a scholarly treatment of this subject, see these links:

(3) Within A week after I typed this section, three of the six members of the Founders’ admitted that in their conviction, the video did violate the 9th commandment (Fred Malone believed both the 6th and 9th commandments). They could not agree with the rest of the board that the video was sinful in its’ presentation, so they resigned. Several individuals originally filmed for the project have asked that their contributions be taken out of the film, Founders Min pulled the original video, edited it and reuploaded it (this time, also addressing the claims by points made by Tony Arsenal by labelling where each clip came from, even though the order of the clips makes no sense). While I believe there is a legitimate concern for intersectionalism and other unbiblical sociological tools being imported into the church, the approach of this project (based on the trailer) seems to be more about casting the folks at FoundersMin as the ‘heroes’ against an insidious foe (with dramatic music, grainy black and white-filtered video and more) rather than being a serious engagement with a desire to bring about Biblical unity.

Lessons from John Allen Chau

TL:DR – His heart in the right place, lack of wisdom and knowledge made for some unwise choices in visiting North Sentinel. God may yet bring fruit of his visit to the island.

The whole thing:

John Allen Chau died presumably between November 16th and 17th of 2018 trying to reach the people of  North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Sentinelese are believed to be one of a few people groups on the planet to have little to zero contact with the outside world.

Both The Guardian and The Daily Mail have extensive articles on the subject, complete with pictures of his last journal entries for you to read and a timeline of events that led up to his death (I personally recommend the Daily Mail first, then The Guardian).

And despite a lie from an article on Patheos, International Christian Concern has NOT called for the prosecution of any natives.

John had visited the Andaman twice in the previous few years, and grew a genuine love and heart for the people of the area. His friends and family say that he’s had this trip planned for at least 3 years and had a genuine desire in his heart to see the Sentinelese people come to faith in Christ.

On social media (including on my own timeline), I’ve seen commentary ranging from mocking (complete with profanity) to praise (calling him a martyr). That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read their Bible – non-believers have zero reasons to view a Christian attempting to reach an unreached people group as a ‘good thing’.  Death of missionaries on first contact with unreached tribes is also not a new thing.  Jim Elliott and four other men were killed attempting to evangelize the Huaoroni people of Ecuador.

Christianity has always been a missionary religion, as the book of Acts documents the first missionary activity of the church as it expanded throughout the Roman empire.  Men like Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12) were killed by ruling parties to try and stymie the growth of the early church. That will never change.  The call to give up one’s life to follow Christ (Luke 9:23-27) is not simply metaphorical. We see it in the persecution of the church throughout the world (especially in middle eastern countries). Matthew 28:19 is a command, not a suggestion.  Christians have an obligation to either give or go.

John’s trip to the North Sentinel Island, though well-intentioned (and rightly intentioned), raises a number of issues related to missions including possible breaking of laws (more on this later) and an overall missiology (a theology of how to do missions).

First, the command to spread the gospel has not always gone out without cultural baggage and there have been consequences.  In 1880, Britains, in the name of colonialism, kidnapped several members of the Sentinelese and traveled with them to Port Blair, a nearby inhabited port in the Andaman islands. They did so with the objective of trying to integrate (forced contact) the tribes with the modern world at that time.  Two of the tribespeople died by the time they reached port, possibly of diseases contracted by contact with the British. The British returned the survivors to their island with some gifts, but the language barrier and the forcefulness of being extracted from their land and then returned may not have registered as anything but aggression. The British (who, at that time had colonized parts of India), were looking to use some of the Andaman Islands as a penal colony. Colonization of other nations by European countries was often done in the name of ‘bringing civilization to savages’ (which often included ‘taking the land in the name of Christ’), while at the same time (as we learn from Columbus’ journals), greed, conquest and sexual license.  Our knowledge of the Sentinelese and their history outside of our contact with them is limited; we know they have had contact with neighboring tribes in the area (one anthropologist noted, when they saw members of another local tribe, they became angry).  The same anthropologist (T.N. Pandit) recently commented that he was surprised that the Sentineli killed anyone. He gave suggestions on how to approach them, also relating his own face-to-face interactions with them over several decades.

When American missionaries went west and encountered Native Tribes, they often brought their cultural assumptions (i.e. adjust your clothing to our cultural styles, have ‘Christian names’, live our particular way of life) with them and tried to equate these with the gospel. Nothing in the gospel message says you must change your name to fit a standard ‘American’ name. Nothing in the gospel message says you must change your clothing style (although total nudity would be prohibited) from your native garb to our ‘Christian American’ way of dressing.  They also included things like the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced many Native Tribes off their land (some went peacefully). European Christianity has had a mixed bag of imperialism and colonialism which have sometimes clouded the gospel message.

The relevance of these facts above is simple; in the life of a tribe which has generally eschewed contact with the outside world, legends of ‘paled skinned men’ in large boats bringing death to members of the community may linger fresh in the oral tradition of the tribe, even a century and a quarter later.  John, being a young white male, had this as a disadvantage before he got off the boat.  The last group of ‘white men’ to visit the Sentineli people (National Geographic in 1974) were also greeted with arrows.

Second, for health and safety reasons, the Indian government has (in the past) declared the island to be off-limits. “Hands off, eyes off, leave them alone and to themselves” has been the official policy.  Every few years, the Indian government sends a boat or helicopter nearby to check on the existence of the inhabitants, but since the early 2000’s, all attempts to contact and integrate the group into modern society have been abandoned (though this may well change with the policies of the current government – more on this later).  The tribe, apparently desiring to be left alone, has been isolated from the remainder of the outside world and its’ diseases and pathogens.  Just as disease was brought from Europe to the U.S. that the Native Americans had no immunity to, so too it is a great concern that when making contact with isolated peoples, that it be done safely.

I’m well aware that this was not a major concern in the past when it came to missions, but as God has enabled us to grow in our knowledge of how the human body works, we now know how easy it is for diseases and pathogens to be transmitted and take precautions.  An uncontacted tribe in the Brazillian rainforest and the Sentineli may not have had the common cold virus between them, but the westerners visiting them do. Well-meaning westerners have spread disease unintentionally to tribes and peoples without immunity to them outside of a controlled and well-planned series of contacts. The Indian government has named this as an area of concern repeatedly.

On a related note, during some of my reading, I have learned that in August of this year, the current government under Prime Minister Modi has removed the RAP (Restricted Area Permit) status from 29 of the Andaman Islands, including North Sentinel. Visiting the island is not strictly off-limits (more on the implications of this later). The Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation of 1956, however, is still in effect, making it illegal to make forced contact with people in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands who are scheduled/protected tribes (i.e. the Sentinelese and the Jarawas for example).

Missions and First Contact

How should first contact be made with a group when seeking to share the gospel ? Every missions agency may not have a sound philosophy for engaging unreached people groups. Every believer may not have studied missiology enough (I confess to be one of them) to have a solid philosophy and approach to missions and evangelism.  There are medical concerns (mentioned) as well as the physical well-being of the people involved.  Most successful groups I’ve seen go in with the purpose of serving the local community first and then sharing the gospel as they work alongside the people in building their community’s resources. The trap, however, is to bring along too much of one’s culture in the process of helping the community.

The Rahab Dilemma

Under the Protected Tribes act, the fishermen who provided material assistance for John to get to the island are being charged (his family is requesting that they drop the charges). He paid off folks to knowingly break the law and get as close (within the buffer zone) as possible without landing on the island. In addition, there was forced (not initiated by the tribespeople) contact (he met face to face with them). Yet, it was done for a good reason (evangelism).

Unlike Islam, Christianity has no doctrine of taqiyaa, so Christians are not permitted to lie during times of war or to unbelievers in the name of evangelism.  At this point, one may try to point to Rahab, the Jerichoite prostitute who hid the spies in Joshua 2 because she knew from what she’d heard that the city was given to the people of Israel by God and would fall to them. She only pleaded that her family be saved when they invaded the city (they were….and Rahab is even an ancient ancestor of Christ).

Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 praise her as being faithful to Christ for both welcoming the spies and for hiding them….but never for lying about it to the King of Jericho when he came looking for the spies.  If you’ve talked with missionaries in unsafe countries, you’ll know that there are times now when Christians in persecuted countries, under duress, have lied to public officials in order to protect other believers or their families from being sent to prison, killed or worse (tortured then killed). They’ve done so with guilty consciences, praying for forgiveness for the lie. There were situations like this in the early church as well prior to the Edit of Milan in 313. This does not excuse the lie or the moral responsibility that comes with it.

With these considerations in mind, I took a look (and a lot of reading) regarding what John Allen Chau did and what can be learned from it.  Here are my four basic observations.

1. John’s heart for missions was at the core of who he was as a Christian. This is good. He was not a ‘colonizer’.  His desire, first and foremost, was to see these people worshiping at the throne of God in their language as depicted in Revelation 7:9-10.  He has a consistent track record (even in his teens, he worked with FEMA during Hurricane Katrina and traveled to a lot of disaster areas to help out over the past decade of his life).

Non-Christians will not understand…well…most won’t.  Penn Gillette, one half of the duo of Penn & Teller, once remarked:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

John’s journal entries (again – read The Daily Mail ‘s article and see his handwriting) demonstrate a true heart changed for Christ.  As a believer, you understand the eternal implications (John 3:18) of folks dying without Christ. You understand the implications of Romans 10:1-10. Someone must go. So you preach, you proselytize and you build relationships so you can share the gospel.  I would like to think that John was thinking that the tribespeople would accept him, he would live amongst them, learn their language, customs and ways and eventually be in a position to share the gospel with them. John took scripture seriously – He left the comfort of the US and went somewhere that he knew may well have been the place where he would be killed. He knew the danger and went anyway.

The gospel has that effect. 2000 years ago, a group of fishermen, a former tax collector, a former insurgent and some other guys were gathered together by an itinerant Jewish rabbi.  When their Teacher was arrested and killed by crucifixion, they all fled in fear, some going back to their fishing.  Days and weeks later, these men along with an extended group of followers found themselves publicly preaching the teachings of this same Rabbi without fear of these same Jewish officials.

What happened ?  Jesus changed a heart of fear to a heart of faith. They saw the resurrected Christ for themselves.  They knew that all He spoke was true and finally understood what He chose them for. They stepped forward and dealt with persecutions, attacks, slander, insults and a host of other things which make our present-day lives in America look like glory in comparison.

John Chau had that same heart.  Make no mistake. His journal entries speak in the same voice that the Apostle Paul did as he stood before Governor Festus in Acts 25:11 and again decades later in old age when he wrote from jail while awaiting execution, reflecting on his life’s work in spreading the gospel (2 Tim. 4:7). I have no doubt that I and every other true believer in Christ will meet John on the other side of this life. He seems like a pretty cool guy and is a good example of a life not wasted.

2. John’s zeal could not make up for his lack of knowledge and proper planning. Even with the training he received (he is a graduate of Oral Roberts University), his approach, as an outsider, lacked wisdom, proper planning and proper support. Indian anthropologist T.N. Pandit spent two decades attempting to establish contact with the group, slowly greeting them from a distance multiple times until they chose to come out to the boats in the lagoon area of the shore in 1991. After 1991, virtually every attempt at contact was met with hostile response.  Accidental contact (i.e. two fishermen killed when their boat drifted to the shore by accident in 2008) as well as purposeful contact (i.e. arrows shot at a helicopter checking on the people after the 2004 tsunami) have all been met with aggression.

Another large problem is that he was not sent by the local church.  Every example of missions work in scripture originates with the local church and not simply with individuals with a desire to ‘do missions work’.  Paul, Peter and all of the apostles were either sent directly by Jesus (Matthew 28:19) from the church at Jerusalem or the apostles sent others with the same goal of building communities of worshipers (church planting).  When Paul leaves the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20, it is with tears and thankfulness to God for him and his work as they walk him to his ship.  In 1 Thessalonians 2 and 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul recounts to the Thessalonians how he and Barnabus did not ask them for any funds for their living (even though they had a right to), but rather they labored for their own income so they could serve without burdening the local community. They also did this to serve as an example against idleness – if you don’t work, you don’t eat. This model of coming alongside a local community is a sound one because it gives the community and the individual(s) a chance to build a relationship. The individuals on mission to the community also get to serve the community (because no one will listen to what you have to say if you haven’t demonstrated your care for them as people first).

While I’m here, let me also mention that parachurch ministries (including missions agencies) are not substitute for the authority of the local church (1 Peter 5).  The structure of the church in scripture is consistently elders -> deacons -> laity.  Deacons serve and coordinate. Elders rule, teach and keep watch over the flock.  Hebrews 13:7 is a reminder of this as well.  God put these ‘wisdom systems’ in place to keep well-meaning believers from going out on their own and getting into trouble.   Elders appoint other elders – Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5 – you don’t appoint yourself as an elder. Likewise, as with the example of Paul, missionaries are sent out by the local church, not by the individual following what they believe to be a call from God.

You believe you have a ‘call’ for a vocation from God ? Tell it to the elders, have them pray on it and if it is from God (if it is biblical), He will set you on the path toward it with the blessing of the elders and their support.  He will raise up the infrastructure for you to accomplish this vocational call properly and legally.

If not, you may be full of zeal, but that zeal needs some knowledge, planning, support and maturity before you end up on the beach of an isolated island.

3. He broke laws in order to bring about good. This goes back to the Rahab dilemma I mentioned above. Is it right to do wrong that good may come ? There are times when civil disobedience is right and biblical. Christians in the 1950’s and 1960’s recognized this and followed Dr. King’s lead on non-violent sit-ins and boycotts of businesses in an effort to end segregation. The church grows in areas where Christianity is suppressed (i.e. China, Saudi Arabia and China) because believers gather to worship as commanded by scripture (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I would submit, however, that these situations are different.  Church congregations had been established in these areas and these churches today are supported by local churches and missions agencies. John would’ve been wise, in my opinion, to work through a local missions agency that was working on establishing peaceful contact with the Sentinelese. Several such organizations (i.e. India Missions Association) exist and are already established enough to serve as a ‘command base’ to begin the initiative, including working with the government on a legal basis to establish contact.

I cannot commend John paying fishermen and a network of people to get access to the island illegally (legally, everyone is required to remain 3 nautical miles away from the island at all times).  He did so knowingly (per his journal entries).

4. His work may yet bear fruit in years to come.  He went.  He risked.  John Piper, in opening chapter 5 (pages 79 and 80) of his book Don’t Waste Your Life, states the following:

If our single, all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk, and risk is right. To run from it is to waste your life.
I define risk very simply as an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury. If you take a risk you can lose money, you can lose face, you can lose your health or even your life. And what’s worse, if you take a risk, you may endanger other people and not just yourself. Their lives may be at stake. Will a wise and loving person, then, ever take a risk? Is it wise to expose yourself to loss? Is it loving to endanger others? Is losing life the same as wasting it?
It depends. Of course you can throw your life away in a hundred sinful ways and die as a result. In that case, losing life and wasting it would be the same. But losing life is not always the same as wasting it. What if the circumstances are such that not taking a risk will result in loss and injury? It may not be wise to play it safe. And what if a successful risk would bring great benefit to many people, and its failure would bring harm only to yourself? It may not be loving to choose comfort or security when something great may be achieved for the cause of Christ and for the good of others. (Piper, pp. 79-80)
Since John’s last journal entry was signed Soli Deo Gloria, I’m inclined to believe that somewhere in his personal belongings is a copy of this book, with these pages and this paragraph highlighted or underlined. He lived his theology out, rightly.
In my own reading on this issue (most of the links I post in this article have been my references), it seems that his encounter may bear some fruit in the area of anthropological studies later. Perhaps, God may raise up a Christian anthropologist at a time when the government is willing to make contact with the tribes and the tribes themselves are willing to connect with the outside world on a limited basis.  Perhaps a man or woman may be raised up to go (again) in this way.
In addition, as mentioned above, the recent (August 2018) revocation of the Restricted Area Permit requirement for North Sentinel island may yet  provide another opportunity for someone to make contact with the tribe positively between now and 2022 when the temporary reprieve on the act expires.  The government has opened 29 of the islands in the area up for tourism to bolster the economy and help bring the already-contacted tribes into modernity, but a window may now be open for the establishment of a church among the tribal populations already contacted.
We will pray and we will see.
Meanwhile, pray for the family of John, that they may be comforted at this time, knowing that He is in glory and worshiping before the throne of God.  His body (according to the fishermen who took him there) is lying in the open on the beach, presumably as a warning for any future visitors to stay away.
Pray for future missionaries, to whom the job of watering and planting will fall. Pray that God give them strength, wisdom and resources to complete the task that John started.
Pray for the Sentinelese people.  As with the Huaoroni, they may be a society whose first response to outsiders is violence.  As God changed the hearts of the Huaoroni, may He also change the hearts of the Sentinelese to be open to the gospel.