Gospel Lenses and Missing the Point

In March, Dr. James White wrote a brief post lamenting the state of affairs in black communities in America. To illustrate his point, Dr. White posted a dashcam video of a young man tossing trash on the ground and brazenly flipping off a cop.

If you’re at all tuned in to the state of racism in America, you won’t be surprised that the Internet’s backlash was swift and merciless. What may come as a surprise is how many of White’s detractors are Christian, even Reformed. Yet their message was the same as anyone else’s: saying anything negative about a person or ethnic group – if they are African American – is evil.

This same logic usually doesn’t extend to other people or ethnic groups. For example, in the very post where Ekemini Uwan condemns White’s “racially charged” comments, she castigates white people (as an ethnic group!) for dominating positions of power in both government and evangelicalism and for excluding “people of color” from popular conferences.

But let’s set that inconsistency aside for the moment. I’d like to refocus on the purpose of White’s post: a lament for godlessness.

A Lament for Godlessness

Although the original post has been taken down, the text of Dr. White’s account has been preserved in many of his critics’ responses. I’m copying it from this article from Urban Resurgence:

So I was coming home this evening and happened to be the first car at Glendale and 35th Avenue in Phoenix. And as you will see, a young black kid, looks to be 15 years old or so, was crossing the street. Now if you watch, you will see a police SUV cross in front of me first going east. The kid then comes into the screen, and though he sort of hid it under his elbow, he plainly flips off the police vehicle. Then he is emptying the drink he is consuming as he walks out of the frame. What you can’t see is that he then simply tossed the bottle into the bush in the corner of the gas station. I happened to notice the two ladies in the car next to me had seen the same thing. We just looked at each other, put up our hands in exasperation, and shook our heads. As I drove away I thought about that boy. There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood, and those that survive will themselves be raised without a natural family, without the God-ordained structure that is so important for teaching respect, and true manhood or womanhood.

Dr. White opens with his encounter with the young man, a brief glimpse into a world that is shared by millions of teenagers like him. He mourns the lack of a stable family structure and the overt lies that conspire to send this young man – and so many like him – into a moral tailspin. And, with what can only be a heavy heart, White lays out the disappointing future that awaits so many of this teenager’s generation.

All of these things are true. The research is not hard to find: broken homes are directly linked to delinquent behavior. African-Americans have the highest rates of children born out of wedlock in the nation. So what’s the problem with what White said?

Ethnic Gnosticism

The most common objection that has been raised is that white people can’t talk about black problems because they aren’t black. If you aren’t black, how can you understand what black people go through? That’s what we call “ethnic gnosticism.”

Of course, this idea is silly on its face. There’s really no such thing as “black problems.” These are human problems. All ethnicities have them. Some in greater degrees than others, to be sure – but whites also have children born out of wedlock. Whites also have juvenile delinquency. These aren’t racial issues. They’re sin issues. All of us have sinned, and so we all have the experience to speak about sin, whatever our skin color.

Gospel Lenses

A few detractors were careful to avoid the trap of ethnic gnosticism, but instead took White’s post as a personal attack on the teenager in question. That’s the case in the Urban Resurgence article I linked to above. Instead of saying “Dr. White shouldn’t talk about black problems,” the author (David Robinson) argues that Dr. White was unfairly attacking the teenager he used as an example.

Mr. Robinson writes:

What [Dr. White’s critics] were doing was expressing the illegitimacy and unfairness of White’s comments about that teenager and holding White accountable to the gospel that commands us to love others – even those outside of the New Covenant. Essentially, there was an attempt to help White actually see that teenager through gospel lenses.  Gospel lenses looks with hope, grace and mercy toward others because of the reconciling and transforming work of Christ.

If you haven’t already, take a moment to read White’s original post (again, the text is reproduced in Mr. Robinson’s article.)

Now, here’s a simple question.

Is Dr. White just gossiping about someone he happened to pass on the road, prognosticating his future like a disgruntled old lady? Or is he lamenting the state of the nation today, the collapse of the family, and the lies and deception that keep people like this teenager down?

From an impartial reading, not to mention any of his followup material, it’s easy to see that it’s the latter. White isn’t attacking this particular teenager; he sees him as representative of the generally dismal state of affairs in the black community and the rest of America at large. In that case, his description isn’t unfair. His lament is, sadly, accurate.

This is where “Gospel lenses” start: honestly recognizing the current state of affairs. Looking out across the nation and seeing the brokenness, heartache, and destruction that God sees.. It’s the first step towards offering the “hope, grace, and mercy” that Mr. Robinson desires.

There is a time for everything. A time for love, a time for mourning; a time for healing, a time to speak. As Nehemiah said: “Why should not my face be sad, when [Jerusalem], the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins?” (Nehemiah 2:3)

Our nation is in moral ruins. The institution of the family has been all but destroyed. Why should we not lament? Why should we not speak?

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