In this episode of As In Heaven, hosts Jim Davis and Justin Holcomb welcome Phillip Holmes to offer his perspective on some of the differences between individual and systemic (or systematic) racism. Holmes connects these elements to biblical categories such as total depravity, and unpacks several examples from his own life. He also shares how these things can manifest as prejudice, bias, discrimination, antagonization, and hatred. The group discusses:
- Introduction of Phillip Holmes (1:11)
- Defining individual and institutional racism (1:48)
- Categories of racism (4:20)
- Why holding to gradations of racism is unhelpful (6:54)
- Overt vs. implicit racism (9:13)
- Racism and the sin of partiality (14:34)
- A biblical view of systemic racism (21:04)
- A need for reconstruction (27:46)
- Being racist without saying the N-word (31:51)
- Total depravity and systemic racism (37:07)
- Holmes’s experiences with institutional and personal racism (44:01)
1. How would you define racism in general? When you think of racism, is it primarily individual actions or corporate?
2. How have you heard systemic or institutional racism defined? How would you define it? Are there any examples you can think of from history or today?
3. What are biblical texts (both Old and New Testament) that shape your view of racism? What doctrinal convictions speak to the scope of racism?
4. How might doctrines such as total depravity help us to understand systemic racism?
5. What hope does the gospel offer to broken systems?
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Phillip Holmes: Partiality, if you look at the definition and what it’s doing, it does what the Bible always does. It speaks to our specific sins or struggles, but at the same time, it also transcends our sort of narrow thinking about these particular things.
Matt Kenyon: You’re listening to As in Heaven, a Christian conversation on race injustice. In today’s episode, Phillip Holmes joins us to give his perspective on some of the differences between individual and systemic or systematic racism. He ties these back to biblical categories like total depravity and also unpacks some examples from his own life. Jim Davis is your host. Justin Holcomb is the guest cohost on this episode. Mike Graham is the executive producer. I’m the technical producer. My name’s Matt Kenyon. Without further ado, please enjoy this episode of As in Heaven with Phillip Holmes.
Jim Davis: Welcome to As in Heaven season two. My name’s Jim Davis. I’m joined by my cohost this week, Dr. Justin Holcomb. We have the privilege of talking today with Phillip Holmes. Phillip is currently serving as the Vice President for Institutional Communications at Reformed Theological Seminary, which is how the two of us met. In the past, you co-founded the reformed African-American Network. You have served as content strategist at Desiring God. You also own a marketing agency called Highest Good Media. You can find a lot of Phillip’s writings around the web in many places. He’s married with two children. Man, we just really appreciate you joining us today.
Phillip Holmes: Hey, thank you guys for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Jim Davis: All right. So Phillip, the topic today we’re discussing is some of the differences between individual racism and systemic or institutional racism. We had an episode on defining terms with Crawford Loritts and he did it. He did a great job of defining a number of terms that are at least misunderstood and at worst divisive in the church, but we intentionally left systemic or institutional racism off that episode because we wanted to devote a whole episode to it. So with that in mind, would you mind giving us a working definition first for individual racism and then secondly, for institutional racism?
Phillip Holmes: Sure. First, I just want to appreciate you, say thank you to you guys for defining terms before we start discussing them. Because as you’ve already pointed out, these are definitely complex issues. Defining terms is very important because it’s going to basically lay the foundation for how we or how I talk about these things moving forward.
For racism, I would define that as the belief that certain ethnic groups possess less intrinsic worth, dignity, and value and can be classed based on the superiority of one ethnic group over another. So that would be my definition for racism. I mean, I have to say when it comes to institutional racism, this is something that personally I’ve wrestled with. I tried to think very clearly about how I define this term. So this is my definition of institutional racism, and then we can kind of unpack it and talk about it after I define it.
Institutional racism or systemic racism is a system within a society or organization in which the laws or practices are formed often within an overtly racist society with implicit or explicit racial prejudice, bias, or hatred to segregate, discriminate, or debilitate one or more groups based primarily on their ethnic makeup. And then I would add to that, within overtly racist societies, only explicit racist practices and laws are reform while less overt and subtle practices are viewed as normal and therefore remain common in societies that are often viewed as post racial.
Jim Davis: I mean, that was so good. We need to put that on our website. We need people to be able to find that. That is your definition. I think you’ve done an outstanding job defining the term, and I do want to flesh both of those out. So I want to start with individual racism for a moment. Do you have categories or gradations for degrees of racism as they come from individuals?
Phillip Holmes: I don’t know if I believe that there are degrees of racism coming from individuals. I think that there are ways in which racism can manifest itself. There is often the overlap. Overlap between racist actions and sinful, yet none racist actions. Some of these manifestations that I would point out would be prejudice, people being prejudice or people discriminating or people antagonizing, right? All of those things are, I think, manifestations of racist intent and motives. But I don’t necessarily believe that because a prejudice act or a discriminatory act or an antagonistic act has to necessarily be racist. I think that’s extremely important when it comes to dividing these terms and thinking through.
Because I think a lot of the times when you talk about degrees of racism or categories, what happens in my experience is that people began to… How can I put it? They began to paint with broad strokes. So if everything is racist or racism, then all of a sudden the word loses its meaning. I think that if you want to talk about prejudice in the context of racism, I think you would need to say then this person’s prejudice beliefs is based on racist ideology or racist belief. I’m discriminating based on this person’s ethnicity. I’m antagonistic to this person because of their ethnicity and not just their ethnicity, but because I believe that this person has less intrinsic worth, dignity, and value. I think that’s kind of how I parse, if you would, these particular terms to make sure that while there can be overlap, we make sure that we maintain the distinctions. Because I think that’s extremely important when we’re trying to communicate clarity about this particular topic.
Justin Holcomb: I want to jump in on the gradation degree comment that you made. That’s helpful, and I frequently use categories I know to understand. I’m thinking about abuse and trauma, a field that I do some work in. When you say something like, “This is the worst abuse story I’ve ever heard.” I’ve said that a few times. It’s not helpful because one, it’s a tool for minimizing. When you have a gradation, it’s a tool for minimizing. Also, it’s assuming I get to interpret how they experienced some form of… So if someone had something lesser of abuse happen to them, suddenly they feel shame because it’s like, well, why is that a big deal for you? I mean, that voice, which I help add to by having a gradation, when you start talking about the degrees, is that… I’m hearing connections of similarities of not really helpful doing the degrees of racism type of thing for numerous reasons. Am I hearing that correct from you? Or did I add that in?
Phillip Holmes: Maybe add it, but I see what you’re saying. I think that you’re right. I can see how somebody might say, “Oh, I experience racism.” Well, what does that look like? Yeah, you can think of three things, right? I can go [inaudible] slavery was a manifestation, but some might even look at it as a degree of racism. Then you have Jim Crow discriminatory practices. That’s another manifestation, but maybe you can also look at that as a degree because it’s an experience. Then you have what we’re experiencing today, which I think we have to be clear that what we’re experiencing today is a lesser form in the sense of… I wouldn’t say maybe lesser. It is, in today’s society, we’re experiencing less racism than we ever have before. I’m speaking specifically from the African American experience. Not from any other experience.
I would say that I kind of see where you’re coming from if you want to talk about it to that extent. So it would be, if you want to talk about degrees in the sense of somebody said a bad word about me to somebody actually punched me, I would just say that those are different categories. Maybe not different degrees.
Jim Davis: Well, and I’m even hearing, if I’m understanding you right and I want to make sure that I am, you’re saying there is such thing as a prejudice built on racist systems and views. And that’s different than over outright racism. I hear that.
Phillip Holmes: No, I don’t think it’s different. I think it’s a manifestation. Because what do you call overt outright racism? I’d be curious to see how you guys distinguish that between implicit.
Jim Davis: Yeah. That’s a really good question. And this is part of me maybe learning here and listening and wanting your advice. But I do know people who will own like, “I am a racist. I do think the white race is better.” I know other people who might be making judgments based on prejudice views, but they would not call themselves a racist. They would think that they are holding some sort of view where all races are equal in their mind, even though I would push back and think maybe they’re not. So I guess that’s the way I’m dividing it.
Phillip Holmes: Right. Right.
Jim Davis: But feel free to push back on that.
Phillip Holmes: No, I think that that’s good because the way that these overlap and these manifestations look, there is no perfect model. I would imagine that there were… I don’t think that there was as many of them as many… I’m trying to figure out how to label these individuals. So I would say professing believers, as graciously as I can. We’ll say that there were, but I would imagine that there were slave slaveholders, slave owners that perhaps were racist. I would probably just go use the Jim Crow example. I would say that there were probably slave or racist people during the Jim Crow era that did hold to these beliefs, but were not necessarily antagonistic or perhaps even discriminatory. I can imagine I’m sure discrimination would come up. But I would imagine that out of pity, thinking that a particular ethnic group is lesser than, one would be able to… Because I think this is the way that the mind works, and it can be twisted in ways like this. But out of pity, one would treat an African American well.
Now these things tend to get exposed, things like interracial marriage, when it gets closer to home or joining a particular church. But I would imagine that there are people who may not necessarily be discriminatory or antagonistic, but walk around with very much racist ideologies. These things manifest themselves in more subtle ways.
Jim Davis: No, I think that’s really helpful. Now that I’ve had a moment, I’ve got two people in my mind. All right. My grandfather who people used to say he made Archie Bunker look like a liberal. If you remember Archie Bunker from the seventies. He was racist and he would routinely use the N word. It was terrible. Angela has a great uncle in Mississippi. I remember before he passed, he said he had grown up hearing in church that blacks and whites should not date and marry. But he wouldn’t have called himself a racist, even though I would say that was a racist thing. They were both racist views, but I guess to answer your question though, those are two people I have in my mind.
Phillip Holmes: Right. Because there’s a reality that some people indeed hold to racist doctrines or ideologies that might be inconsistent either way with their practices. In the sense that they would never acknowledge or profess or say or confess like, “I’m a racist. I believe black people are less than us.” At the same time, their actions tend to prove otherwise. But it’s always hard to know those individuals down unless they make sort of a confession or they profess to hold to that particular ideology. So that’s why it gets complicated and difficult. I think that it’s best because we don’t necessarily always know the motives or the heart of a person, I think you can, if you had a wide body of work, one could for sure nail a person down. But off of individual actions here and there, it would be hard to label someone as racist based off an action. You would need a body of work in order to-
Phillip Holmes: You would need a body of work in order to come to that conclusion confidently. So until you have that body of work, that’s why I think it’s extremely helpful for us to have other categories or more transcendent categories in order to talk about these things. So I think we need categories like prejudice, discrimination, and antagonism just to call out what’s beneath that. But I also think that… and we’re going to talk about this a little bit later, that we have something that transcends racism, right? That covers that regardless of what that person’s actions are based on.
Justin Holcomb: Phillip, your definitions, very helpful. I like how robust they are. There’s a lot to unpack there. And even just the categories and the manifestations, the language for it is unbelievably helpful. So to drill down into individual racism, Crawford gave a spectacular defining of the term of the sin of partiality from James 2. And so with that kind of category, James 2, sin of partiality, can you speak to how that plays out in terms of individual racism?
Phillip Holmes: Yeah. And I would agree with that definition. I have something like to base your treatment of, or attitude towards someone on something that would be unbiblical or that should not be the basis for how you treat a person. Essentially the same thing, which is super helpful. And when I talked about partiality, when I talked about something that transcends individual racism, I was referring to partiality because partiality doesn’t necessarily… it does focus on the why, but it expands the why right? So partiality is more focused on mistreating people or having an attitude towards someone based on something that is unbiblical. So racism falls within that. So when people try to equate the two, I think that’s unhelpful, right? Because they’re not the same. Partiality, again, transcends racism. And partiality also can’t replace racism because racism is a specific manifestation of partiality. Or a specific, maybe an application, right? Rather than a manifestation, an the application of partiality.
So I think that that’s the relationship, just to answer your question, how that plays out in terms of racism. I think that that’s the relationship between partiality and individual racism. The reality is, is that there’s so many isms, right? There’s so many ways that racism just happens to be the star of the show because of the history of our country. We’ve done so many things that have been absolutely horrible towards not just African-Americans, but also Native Americans and also any other non-white people, right? Even people who came over here, who for a time, or for a particular period, like Irish people, the way that they were treated for a period of time. The difference is that all of those other ethnicities were able to blend in over time and become a part of white America, whereas African Americans, and some might even argue to some extent some Native Americans, are not able to blend as easily.
I think partiality, if you look at the definition and what it’s doing, it does what the Bible always does, right? It speaks to our specific sins or struggles, but at the same time, it also transcends, right? It transcends our sort of narrow thinking about these particular things. I think in some ways it’s also the I didn’t come to take sides approach, right? So I often think about the Old Testament passage where the angel of the Lord comes down and he asks, “Are you for us or are you against us?” And he basically is like, “I’m for the Lord. I didn’t come to take sides.” This is what I heard my former pastor say, this is sort of the Mike Campbell version. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Mike Campbell, this is one of the most memorable drop the mic statements, translations I’ve heard.
Essentially he says, “I didn’t come to take sides. I came to take over.” And I think that oftentimes in so many of the political debates and so many of the social debates that are taking place, everybody’s trying to get God and the Bible, especially within evangelicalism, on their side. Right? So we heard something that was absolutely despicable from a well known Calvinist preacher that basically said, “True Christians will be for Trump.” Because there are a lot the things that I can be patient and I can be gracious and I can try to see where the other person is coming from, but basically making Trump the standard for what it means to be a Christian, to make any political party, to elevate it to the point where it’s the mark of a believer, I think I don’t have words appropriate to describe how inappropriate and how sinful and how wrong it is for a pastor, for a preacher of the gospel to even elude to such a thing. It’s shameful is what it is.
Justin Holcomb: The Bible gives us the category of idolatry, which is a good place to start, which is one of… The biggest sin you can do against God is to worship another God. So idolatry intensifies it. Jesus is Lord is a direct jab in the eye of Caesar is Lord. And to equate one political party to aligning with God is trying to get a divine stamp of approval is to domesticate God and to start on the path of idolatry, if not already be at the finish line of idolatry. So just to join… I mean, just so you see our agreement with you, but also I’m fumbling with it too. I’m like, what do you say in the middle of anger and the shamefulness? Which you’ve said very well and very pointedly and very carefully, I commend you on that. But that feeling of frustration was evident. I mean, you’re giving us these Bible categories and we have a good one right there that might be helpful. It’s helpful for me. I’m not trying to use that term for what you’re describing, but that’s the category I put it in to start off with.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, no, I would agree with that.
Jim Davis: Well I appreciate your transparency there and how you feel, but you can see your restraint. This is my first election year as a senior pastor. And I’m trying to figure out what that looks like. I’ve not said things I probably should have, and I’ve said things I probably shouldn’t have, especially on social media, trying to figure out what’s the most helpful way to walk people closer to Jesus in this season. And it has been challenging. So I appreciate you saying that. And you actually, you began to segue really well to, from individual racism, because you used the Bible, to what we call systemic or institutional racism. And we are admittedly now getting into a topic that is even more emotional among a lot of people, just the term. This is why I so appreciate the way you defined it. Now that you’ve defined systemic racism, would you mind going to the Bible and giving us some examples in the Bible of where you see what you have defined?
Phillip Holmes: I think that acts six, one through seven, is one of my favorite places to go when talking about this. So what you have is, “In those particular days” is how the passage starts. A number of disciples, the number of disciples were increasing, was increasing. And then it says, “The Hellenistic Jews among them complained that the Hebraic Jews,” I’m sorry, complained against the Hebraic Jews, “because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” And so you have these two sort of ethnic groups, right? And it seems that one particular group was in charge of at the time of distributing food. So it seems that perhaps naturally they favor a particular group over and against the Hellenistic Jews.
And the 12 did something about it immediately. Right? So they changed the system, right? There was one system that was in place. Ah, okay, well we need a new system. So then they appointed of course deacons in order to basically wait on tables and to make sure that people were being served well and they were being served equally and partiality wasn’t being shown. And so I think that this particular passage is a really good one to talk about because it happens within the context of the church.
Jim Davis: No, I so appreciate it. It’s so easy to say like, “The Israelites in captivity in Egypt”, but you went to the church. It’s easy to point to the Egyptians as the bad guy, but you point out a system that was playing out the sin of partiality within the early church.
Phillip Holmes: I also like the fact that the text does not talk about how this was happening, right? Because it could have been intentional or it could have been unintentional. And the text is sort of vague. It’s just said that, hey, there was a system that was in place. Because it doesn’t necessarily talk about even the disciples or the apostles rebuking a particular person. It just says, hey, there was a system that was in place, this was happening. So the disciples, so the apostles got together and they changed the system. And then I think that’s extremely helpful and applicable to how we think about our systems today and how we think about the systemic racism or the issue or the problem with systemic injustice.
Jim Davis: And if I remember the passage correctly, they picked people who had Hellenistic ties, who would be more acutely aware of the Hellenistic widow situation. So they not only tried to fix it, they did a pretty good job of fixing it. So what would you consider to be, when we’re talking about structural or institutional racism, what are some common misunderstandings that you see playing out?
Phillip Holmes: I know that when I processed and thought about institutional or systemic racism, I did not like the term because I had… This is what I would say. I would say, well, Jim Crow, that’s systemic racism. Right? But probably what you have today would be maybe systemic classism, right? So you have certain laws in place that are disparate, that are targeting, right? Because in my mind, racism at the time is something that targeted, right, a particular group. So Jim Crow targeted, right? It intentionally separated. And as I began to process these things over the last few years, I realized that I was overlooking something that is extremely important when you’re thinking through this particular issue. Number one, probably the easiest way, right, that I could give sort of a law versus real life situation when it comes to racism and individual racism, institutional racism, it is hard for us to nail down or to say that a person is racist, unless they say the N word. Right?
So that’s kind of how we talk about racist people, right? If you say the N word, then that means that you’re racist. If you say explicitly I don’t like black people, or I don’t like a particular ethnic group, then that means that you are racist. There has to be some action. And that action has to come with some type of confession, or a derogatory word, a degrading word to describe that particular ethnic group. Well today, that won’t necessarily be the case, right? It’s a lot harder to nail people down. I equivocate that type of definition and sort of defining to Jim Crow and chattel slavery. So I would say those are the inward laws. That’s the overt in your face, they’re lesser than, they’re less than we are, they should not have equal… the same rights that we have. We are more superior than them. Those are the N word laws. Right? And today what has happened is post Jim Crow, people assume that if you got rid of slavery and you got rid of overt systems like Jim Crow, then that means that-
Phillip Holmes: … systems like Jim Crow, then that means that we’ve dealt with racism. Problem is so many of the laws that were put in place were put in place by racist people. To have a society that is truly post-racial, you have to have what was attempted in the past, but did not happen, was you have to have reconstruction. You have to reconstruct society. Any society that was built on racist intent or motives that does not go through some type of process of reconstruction will always have or continue to have subtle but lingering affects of the old system, right?
Because one of the things I’ve been reading a little bit, I won’t say a lot, but a little bit about reconstruction, and particularly I was reading W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America, which I thought has been so helpful for me. Because it’s a period of time that is like no other and I was always taught, not necessarily growing up, I didn’t know a whole lot about reconstruction growing up. But when I was introduced to it, I was taught that it was a bad thing and a bad idea, which I now find absolutely asinine when somebody would think that something like that is a bad thing. Because it’s the next logical step, right?
But one particular passage in Black Reconstruction that I thought was super helpful, because this is something that I hear, especially in the South, white people say, “My ancestors never owned slaves.” In Black Reconstruction, Du Bois does a really good job of talking about… So you have to combine how Keller talks about participating in this system with what W.E.B. Du Bois is saying here. This is what he says. I’ll read this. “In the South, on the other hand, the great planters formed proportionately quite as small a class, but they had singularly enough at their command some five million poor whites.” So you’ll oftentimes hear, and this is me pausing for a second, you’ll oftentimes hear only a small percentage of white people actually owned slaves. You’ll also hear some black people owned slaves too. It’s just like yeah, you can probably count them on both of your hands. The reality is that they didn’t own white slaves, right? They owned black slaves if they owned slaves, right?
Therefore, the conclusion is that my ancestors are not complicit. So then he goes on to say this. He says, “There were actually more white to police the slaves than there were slaves. Considering the economic rivalry of the black and white worker in the North, it would have seemed natural that the poor white would have refused to police the slaves. But two considerations lay him in the opposite direction. First of all, it gave him work and some authority as the overseer, slave driver, and a member of the patrol system. But above and beyond this, it fit his vanity because it associated him with the masters. Slavery bred and the poor white, a dislike of negro, tool of all sorts. He never regarded him as a laborer or as part of any labor movement. If he had any ambition at all, it was to become a planter and own inwards. To these negroes, he transferred all the dislike and hatred which he had for the whole slave system. The result was that the system was held stable and intact by the poor white.” Man, that’s helpful.
Jim Davis: No, it really is. You’re overlapping so helpfully with Ligon Duncan talking about the reconstruction period. You’re overlapping with Collin Hansen talking about how some of these laws played out in terms of red lining and even the war on drugs and some failures even in the desegregation process that contributed to bad things. Carl Ellis also talks about some of this. I really appreciate the way you’re thinking about this. When you think about this, there are those out there who are skeptical that there is still such a thing as structural institutional racism. Is there anything else that you would want to point to to help fully say, “No, here it is”?
Phillip Holmes: Yeah. I mean, I would simply say, “Do you think someone can be racist without ever saying the N word?” If a person can be racist without ever saying the N word, then that means that systems can be implicit. Implicitly racist. If a person can be implicitly racist. I think that, again, you have to remember that the people who created the laws, although like many of the laws that are on the books now or have been on the books for a very long time. And at least during or created not shortly after Jim Crow. And a lot of people have not taken into context, especially when making these laws. So people often say, well, there are black people who are legislators. I think that there are a lot of legislators and lawmakers who are black who have been taught by the system.
There’s so much in the system that we think is normal that we have to remember that black people, as well as white people are products of the system. So people wonder how certain lawmakers can enforce the war on drugs. It’s because they have been created by the system. They’re products of the system. So it’s not one of those things that we need to look at as well, Obama enforced this particular law or this black politician. That doesn’t make any sense. I mean, that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you have to look at the outcomes of a particular law and how that law overlook the plight of African Americans. It’s extremely complicated. But I think at best, you have to be honest with yourself and say, if racist lawmakers were making the laws for the first 200, 300 years of American existence and in the last what? Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Law was passed, what in ’68? I want to say.
So in the last 50 ish years, there are still things that are plaguing our society that have not been undone because reconstruction has not taken place because nobody has looked at America as a society and say, “Hey, we need to think this thing through again.” I understand why there’s also fear with that, right? Because people are probably listening to me right now, and they’re making some very wrong assumptions about my political or economic gleanings. At the same time, I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for people to take that next step. Because it means that if we undo this in this particular day and time, who knows what’s going to what this is going to come out like on the other side.
I think that as long as the Constitution is… I think it’s possible as long as the Constitution was interpreted faithfully. I think that it could be possible to come out with something that looked better. But the problem is that we’ve settled for this very broken system that we’ve inherited and we’re not nearly as ambitious as our forefathers and this country’s founders who realized that monarchy was not as good as it gets. There was something that was better, and we’ve gotten lazy and we’re not as ambitious. And we settle and say, “You know what? This is as good as it gets.” And I think that America, and unless God intervenes, returns, or something radical happens, America is either going to overreact to our past or we’re not going to react at all. I think those are the only two options that are in our future.
Justin Holcomb: Phillip, what I appreciate about interviewing you is that you can talk about this sociologically, historically, biblically, theologically. I mean, put those two together. So we have these different kind of rails we can go on. Given what you’ve been saying about individual racism, systemic racism, I wanted to turn to the theological and biblical again. Would you mind explaining the doctrine of total depravity? What does it mean? What does it not mean? I’m thinking of like utter depravity. It doesn’t mean utter depravity, but what is total depravity? Again, I’m thinking, going back to Jim’s question, there are people who are skeptical about… Which I’m always surprised by when Christian seems shocked by the reach in devastation of sin. Both individually, but also in the world.
But again, I’m not trying to be condescending by saying that I’m surprised. I am. I’m regularly surprised that people who read the Bible who take the [inaudible] seriously, we have a category in systematic theology, a whole category on sin, but we act like it doesn’t exist almost. Or if it does, it’s like I’m wrestling with this thing over here. We’re wrestling with it. Like we actually might win against it. And it’s usually the under repenting thing. Anyway, that’s my little issue. But would you mind defining total depravity, what it is, what it isn’t and how it effects systemic and structural racism?
Phillip Holmes: Sure. That’s good. Yeah, I thought about this a lot as well. The definition that I was taught in college, and I think a helpful distinction is made here is that the whole person, so body, mind, will, the spirit has been infected by the power of sin. That’s what we mean by total. So total is referring to whole. It should be distinguished from maybe what some people would call other depravity, or maybe even radical depravity, depending on how you view radical or how you define that, in that it affects every single, not just part, but every single thing about the person is bad. There’s a difference between saying that people are pure evil and saying that we’re totally or holistically depraved.
Justin Holcomb: Yeah. My shorthand for it is that we could be even worse. We’re not as bad as we could be.
Phillip Holmes: Yes.
Justin Holcomb: I had a seminary professor who said, “There’s a difference between having a glass of water with poison in it that will kill you and the whole glass being filled with poison.” Total depravity is the poison kills you. Utter depravity is it’s all going to kill you no matter what. That’s really helpful to have that clarity for me. Thank you.
Phillip Holmes: Some people, if I articulate what I believe, some people would categorize me as a libertarian. I would say that I’m a libertarian with a small L. Not to be confused with the party to be clear. It’s an ideology I ascribe to with an open hand, more so than a particular party or a tribe. One of the critiques about a libertarian society and actually giving people freedom to make certain decisions. The thing that I love about libertarianism is the non-aggression principle. So oftentimes people assume that libertarians are pro-abortion because we’re for freedom, but that’s actually not the case. There tends to be very mixed viewpoints within libertarian ideology, and individuals like myself were more principled libertarians would cite the non-aggression principle, meaning that scientifically, biologically, that fetus is a human, is a person. Therefore that mother has no more of a right to punish or hurt or kill that child than she would a baby or a child who is outside of the womb. So just to make that distinction and make sure that’s clear.
Now, with that being said, what people tend to do and they often cite total depravity, which I find it’s just so inconsistent.
Phillip Holmes: … do and they often cite total depravity, which I find… It’s just so inconsistent. If you’re going to cite it, just cite it both ways. They say, “Can you imagine what type of society we would have if everybody could just make their own decisions?” And I’m just like, “I mean, fair point, but you do realize that instead of giving individual people certain freedoms, you’ve given them to a small group of elites who are elected, really almost purely based on their charisma and their ability to galvanize a group of people.” So you have some people, you’re going to have your exceptions, but I think the vast majority of politicians that you see out there oftentimes are charismatic individuals, especially national politicians. You have your exceptions within local politics. And I’m saying, “You do realize that the people who are in charge who were making all the decisions are totally depraved as well?”
Some might say that they are more depraved because they are drunk on power. And they are obsessed and drunk on power and they have access. So I’m just waiting for the Epstein thing to continue to unfold. Because again, the people that he would get into the snares that roll with him, these individuals were politicians. And a lot of ways this is… I don’t want to paint with a too broad brush to incriminate those who are men and women of integrity, but I would say probably most of the politicians, at least nationally, are probably some of, one could argue, that are some of the most depraved people in our society. And you’re simply saying that I want to transfer power to them as opposed to giving it to individual people. And I just think that’s crazy. All right. So I just… that was my little soap box.
Jim Davis: Man. I appreciate it. I really appreciate the openness and how you shared with us. And I was wondering if you’d be willing to share some of your own experience when it comes to personal and institutional racism.
Phillip Holmes: When it comes to institutional racism… I’ll start there because I don’t have a whole lot of personal experience. And that’s only to say that if I experienced it, I wasn’t aware of it because I didn’t really have these categories up until maybe two years ago. I didn’t accept these categories up until a year or two ago when I started beginning… when it kind of opened my eyes. Now racism, I have plenty of those, like individual racism. I think one of the most hurtful instances that I remember happened when I was almost out of college. And I have to be careful about how I kind of… I want to be careful. I don’t have to be. But I want to be careful about how I talk about this. So when I was in college, I went to Belhaven, which is a majority white Christian college.
And Belhaven was the place… Even though I grew up in a church, I actually started preaching… I grew up in a Baptist church, so I started preaching when I was like 11 years old. So I was a Christian, but I think a level of maturity I would say probably happened when I got to Belhaven and was discipled by my campus minister. My world quickly changed from being around athletes and basketball players to being around Jesus sandal wearing, RUF, bluegrass music, because that was just Belhaven and this was kind of my Christian community. And then eventually I ended up at a PCA church. So most of the people that I interacted with were not Black. They were white. And that’s not to say that there weren’t even Black Christians on campus. There were. But again, there weren’t very many Black people on campus.
Essentially what happened was over the years I dated white girls before I met my Black wife. And essentially, as I was graduating, I had experienced a great deal of racism. I know so many white people who would say… At least they would say it. I don’t know if they meant it. But like, “Oh, Philip. I’ll let you marry my daughter in a heartbeat.” And I know so many people who have had that happen in their family, but it seemed like I was really good at… And I think it was because the Lord had someone for me specifically. But I was really good at picking racist families. I don’t know how I did it, but if I was as good at playing… if I played the slots… if I could gamble the same way that I pick racist families to pursue there, man, I’d be a millionaire right now, but that’s not…
So I’ve been called an N-word. And this isn’t assumptions. One girl’s grandmother called me an N-word. Another family, the mom was super explicit. “Why you want to date a Black guy? I’m sure he’s a nice…” One guy was like, “I’m sure he’s a fine young man, but at the end of the day, he’s still Black.” There was a particular guy, an older white gentleman who was a mentor of mine at the time. I was considering campus ministry and I would go into his office and he would be like, “Philip, we got to get you married. We got to get you married. We got to get you married.” And him and I had never really crossed this particular bridge before, but I was like, “I’m going to his office today and I know he’s going to ask me, and this is how I’m going to answer that question.”
Because usually I was just kind of laughing, like just nod and be like, “Yeah, I’m looking, man. I’m looking.” So I got to his office and I spoke to him and I sat down and he was smiling and we were talking and he was like, “Man.” He’s like, “We got to get you married, man. You dating anybody?” And I was like, “No.” And I was like, “I got to be honest with you. I’ve been disappointed in that particular area because, naturally, I’m at Belhaven, a lot of my friends and a lot of the people that I’m building relationships with are white. And as a result, a lot of the young ladies that I’m interested in at this moment, because of the friendships that have been built, are also white.”
And so I was like, “I’m just kind of disappointed by that.” And I just stopped right there and I waited for his response because I wanted to see how he was going to respond to that. Because this was my test to see if I could trust him. Because again, I realized that this guy probably would have done almost anything for me, but this was the test. So he looks at me and he says, “Well, Phillip,” he was like, “How do your parents feel about that?” I was like… said to myself, “That’s odd.” I was like, “Well,” I was like, “Actually,” I was like, “My family, they kind of were trying to figure out motives. They kind of want to know why. But they’ve always treated the young ladies I would bring home and introduce them to with respect. And eventually opened themselves up to get to know them as people and got to a point where it wasn’t just accepting that. It was like, “Okay, cool. She’s a sweet girl. And we’re going to treat her like she’s family.””
And then I waited on his response again. And he said, “Well, I don’t know what to tell you.” And I was like, “Got you. Appreciate that. That’s super helpful to know.” Later on a mentor of mine told me that one night they were at his house and he said, essentially, “I don’t know if I can do Brown grandbabies. And I don’t know what I would do if one of my kids brought home somebody that was Black.” I thought that was extremely hurtful. This person was a churchman. And to experience that was probably not… Because we were close enough, but we weren’t like… he hadn’t been mentoring me for years, but he was someone that I was building a relationship with and to get that sort of callous implicit response, because he never said anything to incriminate himself, was extremely discouraging. So that’s probably my most hurtful experience of individual racism because it was somebody that I actually knew, not just a girl’s grandmother or a girl’s parents.
Jim Davis: Man, I’m sorry that you had to go through that, and I really appreciate you sharing that story with us. We’re going to land the plane here. This has been so helpful. I appreciate you. I listen to your voice in a number of different places. I think you have a valuable voice that God is using. And even just in this episode, you can see your restraint and where you could throw people under the bus and you’re not. And that’s the heart of what we’re doing. We want to be charitable. We want to work for unity. We don’t want unnecessary divisiveness, but we want truth and we want to strive for a gospel ethic. So man, thank you for… Clearly you didn’t just hop on this. You thought through it and you’ve prepared. I just appreciate you and your time here with us today.
Phillip Holmes: Hey, thanks guys. I appreciate you having me.