Apologies, Clarifications, and Slavery

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Doug Wilson and I seem to manage having good conversations about difficult things. In all my online interactions, Wilson has consistently done two things: fairly represent me and graciously challenge me. I know he takes a lot of hits from a lot of people. And, frankly, I think some of them may be deserved. But I can’t say he’s unwilling to engage. In fact, with me at least, he’s been willing to engage in a way that brings light along with the occasional sparks.

And, there’s a side of me that likes talking to Doug because he stands flat-footed on what he thinks. Now, I find him incorrigible at points, but I can’t ever say he’s written to me with anything other than honesty and an owning of his position, even (especially!) the positions he knows most others find reprehensible. Say what you like, he’s been an honest discussion partner thus far and I have no reason to expect anything different in any future exchanges we may have.

So, let me start with something that given our history of exchanges is easy to do. I want to apologize for misunderstanding Doug’s reference to “Chicago” in his last post. I’ve heard “Chicago” mentioned as an indictment of Black people from so many white professing Christian evangelicals that my instinct is to assume the worst whenever someone fitting that profile uses it. The Black citizens of Chicago’s toughest, hurting neighborhoods are now, it seems to me, the favorite trope and retort of some conservatives wishing to “prove” Black pathology, dysfunction, irresponsibility, and to absolve themselves of any complicity or Christian charity in the struggles of Black communities. I confess. When I read Doug’s mention I filled in all those things in my reaction. In doing so I assigned motives and thoughts that weren’t warranted. Doug, for that, I am sorry and ask your forgiveness.

Wayne, Doug, and Me

Now, in the last week quite a number of people have mentioned Wayne Grudem, Doug Wilson, and myself in the same breath. It’s a long breath because I have a long polysyllabic name. But it’s understandable. Dr. Grudem and I fell off opposite sides of the horse on the whole Clinton-Trump contest. Many people have said he and I are “doing essentially the same thing” in choosing “the lesser of two evils.”

Now, I reject the notion that we are doing the same thing at every point. And Doug’s post responding to Grudem tells you why. I have consistently expressed my disdain for both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump as candidates and for their positions on various things. If you even skim my posts, you’ll find me repeatedly saying, “I think they’re both representing evil positions, and am not using the term ‘evil’ as hyperbole.” I am not calling evil good or calling black white. And that is what I think my brother Wayne Grudem has done in calling Mr. Trump “a good candidate with flaws.” For me, that’s a fundamental difference in our starting points, and I want to make that clear.

Ending Odds

Doug’s recent post also clarifies another point where I misunderstood him. He writes:

I believe that this state of affairs is very much the judgment of God upon us. I do not believe that we have the luxury of trying to “manage” a judgment. Our response to judgment ought to be the kind of response that God calls for in Scripture. Preachers ought to stop apologizing for the Bible, and take the law of God the way we take our whiskey, which is straight, and having done so, we need to preach a hot gospel. There is no other way out for us. There is no Savior but Jesus. There will be no cultural restoration without a massive reformation.

I answer a hearty “Amen!” to all of that. So Doug and I are not at adds about what has befallen the country in this election or the urgent need for true gospel preaching in this time. Again, amen!

Returning the Favor

Now at this point, I should also clarify my position lest I continue to be misunderstood. Judging from the comment section of my last post and Doug’s last reply, some people think I’m saying:

Vote for Mrs. Clinton if you want to slow the progress of evil.

Taken that way, I understand why people might think I’m a special multi-flavored variety of insane. If you oppose abortion, for example, who could believe that Mrs. Clinton would be a friend to protecting unborn children or that she might flip flop mid-term to call for an end to Roe?

I certainly don’t believe that. So let me state what I am saying in what I hope is greater clarity. I’ll offer it in staggered phrases because each phrase matters.

In an election with two evil choices and destructive outcomes likely to follow . . .

. . . where one candidate is conventional and rather predictable . . .

. . . and the other candidate is, to put it mildly, nuts and shows no signs of being influenced by reason or law . . .

. . . and your side is better and practiced at defending against the conventional candidate . . .

. . . it makes sense to me to vote for the conventional candidate you can effectively limit or oppose so that you at least slow the progress of evil.

Now, in this way of thinking, I’m most certainly not trusting Clinton. I am, rather, putting a modicum of trust in the governing process itself and in “our side” to build road blocks, tear down trees across the path, and generally sabotage things along the way. Frankly, I think such stonewalling, sabotaging, and subversion is the one thing conservatives/Republicans/Evangelicals and the like are still good at.

Now, if any of those points proves untrue, then the whole chain of reasoning falls down. I get that. I hear people when they say that. I do indeed consider those opposing views and push back. But that’s my estimate right now.

What I’d say to those who lean Trump is merely this: What if I’m right about Trump? If the good guys line up with a bad guy like Trump, where will the credibility, power, or even will exist among the co-opted to halt his evil? I think it would be gone, and a fair amount of it already is. And this is why I better understand the third party voters and the abstainers more than I do the Trump supporters. But that’s just me.

Finally, I am only talking about the act of voting with all of this. I don’t take any of us to be addressing all the other actions more substantive than voting that should be taken to discourage and finally end abortion, racism, and the like. Some seem to think a guy who hasn’t voted in the last few elections has come out of hiding to put all his hopes in voting or a president. I assure you that is not the case. A vote is a rather precious privilege with rather little promise for bringing the eschaton.

What Wilson Gets Right about Slavery

I wish Doug would understand a number of things about slavery better than I think he does. I’ll mention one in a moment. But first, it needs to be said that he does get one thing correct that everyone else should admit with greater frequency. The infallible, inerrant, sufficient and authoritative Bible we Christians all claim to love does have some rather awkward texts addressed to slaves and masters. If we take our Bibles seriously, then we have to address those texts seriously. And since quite a number of those texts are in New Testament epistles, we can’t hide under Old Testament covers. We gotta face the light. On that Wilson is correct.

And, for the record, I regularly have email and phone correspondence on the subject with well-meaning people—Black and White. People are wrestling with the texts in a proper context.

So let me pick my nit. Doug sees how these texts have been brought into the service of people wanting to jettison biblical morality at certain points in our culture. They say “what about slavery” as a way of undermining the Bible so they can go on unimpeded in their rebellion. He’s right about that tendency among some. What I wish he saw or perhaps sees and would be more careful about are the legions of African Americans for whom the topic of slavery is a stumbling block to even considering the claims of Christ. Slavery is an everyday apologetic issue we face in our community. It’s not merely a hermeneutic slope on which some people slip. It’s painful family history, a living legacy, an exploitation with lasting consequence. There are no shortage of people who read American policy toward African Americans as first exploit through enslavement, then export back to Africa, failing that exclude from Civil Rights, and now exterminate with guns, drugs, and incarceration. That’s American history read in tooth and claw by people who know the lacerations of teeth and claws.

So I wish Doug wrote in a way that attempted to disarm that audience so that those of us serving in those fields would have a slightly easier time offering an apologetic against slavery’s historical abuses without having a co-belligerent in the gospel seemingly giving contemporary credence to the evil.

As I said before, I take Doug at his word when he says he is no fan of slavery and is glad for its abolition. I just wish he didn’t wrestle with that issue with African Americans when we are wrestling with other issues—like voting. I wish he wouldn’t insert it where it doesn’t belong, and would more often allow us to decide where it doesn’t belong. For unless we put slavery in the title of the event, you can be sure that most of us aren’t looking to talk about it and will be offended when someone seems to be justifying it on any level. It’s hard to give a hearing when shackles rattle in your ears.

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