Trevin Wax drills down on his idea of multi-directional leadership and how it relates to our national conversation on race and justice. He helps us understand some of the dangers on either side of the political spectrum on this topic as well as the relative proportional size of those respective threats.
Wax shows us how the historic black church offers us a paradigm for cultural engagement in our secular age and encourages us to embrace a posture of humility as we enter into these challenging conversations.
The group addresses:
- Introduction and background for Trevin (1:30)
- Defining multi-directional leadership (3:43)
- Speaking prophetically as a leader (6:36)
- Application to race conversations (11:06)
- Racial injustice and evangelicalism (15:04)
- Evangelicalism and Black Lives Matter (19:35)
- Problematic associations in race conversations (23:38)
- Barriers to engaging in this conversation well (27:34)
- Differences between the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter (34:00)
- Learning from the historically Black church (39:25)
1. How would you define a one-directional leader? What are the threats of one-directional leadership? How would you define multi-directional leadership?
2. What are examples we see in the Bible of multi-directional leadership? How were Paul and James talking about the same doctrine of justification but guarding that doctrine from different errors from opposite directions?
3. What do you view as the greatest threat to the American church today? Which side of the spectrum do you most naturally see these threats coming from?
4. If you were to stray from biblical orthodoxy (right beliefs or doctrine) or orthopraxy (right or ethical actions or behaviors) on one side of the field, which way would it be? What are ways you can bring voices into your life that would help with that drift?
5. How can we apply the principles of multi-directional leadership to how we process uppercase “Black Lives Matter” (the organization) and lowercase “black lives matter” (the statement of human dignity)?
6. As the church loses the cultural authority it has enjoyed, what are ways it can learn to lead and lead “from the margins”? How does the historic black church help us in this leading from the margins?
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Trevin Wax: When we don’t recognize and at least speak to challenges that are coming from different sides of the field what that does is it poisons the conversation to a large extent, to then where we begin to then question each other’s motives and underlying assumptions. And when that happens, it’s really bad because we become one directional leaders in the worst way. Instead of one directional leaders who have a strength in one area but are also attuned to other areas we become super strong in one area and then become blind to other areas totally.
Matt Kenyon: You’re listening to As In Heaven, a Christian conversation on race and justice. Today’s conversation with Trevin Wax is all about multi-directional leadership and how leaders in the church need to be on guard from threats on both sides of the political spectrum. He talks about what white evangelicals can learn from the historically black church and the importance of teachability as we enter into hard conversations. Trevin brings approachable wisdom and thoughtfulness to the issues at hand and gave us an interview full of light bulb moments. Jim Davis is your host, Justin Holcomb is the guest co-host on this episode, Mike Graham and myself, Matt Kenyon are the producers. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of As In Heaven with Trevin Wax.
Jim Davis: All right, welcome to As In Heaven seasoned to COVID edition I’m Jim Davis, I’m joined socially distanced by Justin Holcomb at the other end of this long boardroom which fun fact, this used to be the Orlando Magic boardroom table. So he’s at the other end of this long table and we are joined today by Trevin Wax. Trevin is the Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at LifeWay. You are a visiting professor at Wheaton College, you’re the general editor of the gospel project and the author of multiple books including Rethink Yourself, This Is Our Time, Eschatological Discipleship, and Gospel Centered Teaching. Trevin, thank you for joining us today.
Trevin Wax: Thank you for having me on, glad to talk with you guys.
Justin Holcomb: Hey, little fun fact there Jim. Back in the day when he got started at LifeWay, we have a mutual friend in Ed Stetzer and I got to invite Ed to come speak and he brought Trevin and said, “Hey, this is who he is.” I think it was within a month of him starting, it was really wonderful to meet you. Because I remember thinking then just some of the dangers and some of the teaching that you did, I thought this guy knows how to think. I like the way he thinks, I like watching him think. And it was good content but it wasn’t so much the content because content is something you can do or not do. But being able to think and with clarity and communicate I was impressed then and then you’ve been on my radar screen.
Justin Holcomb: So one of the reasons is because the blog post you wrote is an example of… That we’ll get into but thank you for being here. This is fun to connect after a few more years and see the trajectory that God has you on, that you get to do with your ministry.
Trevin Wax: Well, I really appreciate that Justin. And it’s been fun to watch you and some of the resources that you’ve provided too. When my dad who’s planting a church in his ’50s comes up to me and says, “Hey, I really want to read these Justin Holcomb books on, Know Your Heretics.” And I’m pulling it off my shelf and giving him to my dad thinking this guy that I met 10 years ago is serving people across the country probably in ways he didn’t even know. So I appreciate that.
Justin Holcomb: Thank you. That’s wonderful to hear. Yeah.
Jim Davis: Well, speaking of he referenced something you wrote, you’ve written and spoken about multi-directional leadership and I’d love for you to explain to the average person what that is and how that really applies to our cultural moment now specifically as it comes to racial injustice.
Trevin Wax: So I wrote a series on this last year and really the racial justice conversations were not what I was thinking about when I was writing it. I was writing it a little more generally but it’s something that concerns me about evangelicalism in general. Everything about us in the social media age tends to reward playing to your base and making whoever is following you feel affirmed in their perspective at all times. And generally what happens in the church is that you wind up with leaders, pastors, shepherds of the flock, who are very attuned to dangers that could pose a threat to the flock from what I like to say is one side of the field. Okay. So if the danger is an encroaching… Let’s take a different topic or conversation but there’s conversations about liberalism and more conservative or fundamentalist theology whatnot.
Trevin Wax: If your concern is constantly to be on guard against anything that would lead to a slippery slope to liberalism, then you may be well-equipped to fend off dangers from those that you see to your left without recognizing that sneaking up behind you on this other side is either a hyper fundamentalism or there’s slippery slopes that go in this other direction as well that could lead to a real lovelessness that could then infect the flock as well. But you’re so attuned to the danger on one side that you don’t see the danger on the other. And I’ve seen people, I call them one directional leaders they will react and they’ll flip sides. They’ll actually recognize that there’s a danger over here, and there’ll be I guess stunned that there’s a danger on this other side that then they turn around and now they no longer ever speak to anything that would look like it was in any danger of drifting left, because now they’re just all concerned about the danger from the right.
Trevin Wax: And so what we need in evangelicalism I think are pastors and shepherds who can recognize dangerous coming from different sides of the field toward the flock and can then fight them effectively to be multi-directional. Meaning they can move around and they can be flexible without always and only being on one side attuned to dangers and problems.
Justin Holcomb: In your article you had the category of challenges and opportunities. So it’s really helpful naming different pitfalls on both sides that you’re missing out on the challenge in the opportunity. You use an example of John Stott, which was really helpful. So to you used the broad example, but for Christians who are listening to this who read their Bible have these categories, could you give the John Stott example? And also, how does this play out with Paul and James? It was pinpointed, it was clear, I think it will be helpful for people to hear.
Trevin Wax: So with Stott… I really look up to Stott a lot. I’ve read I think everything the guy wrote. He’s a hero of mine. Don’t agree with him on everything still just found him to be a fount of wisdom.
Justin Holcomb: Are you going to make a point about baptism?
Trevin Wax: Well, that’s just one of the things I don’t agree with him.
Justin Holcomb: Jim and I keep on talking about he’s an Anglican, so actually one of our few heroes it’s him and J. I. Packard a few others. I’m like yeah, they’re famous and Anglicans and that’s about it.
Trevin Wax: There are famous Anglicans and rightly. And John Stott is one of them, what I found fascinating about reading biographies of John Stott and reading a lot of his work is that, this stood out to me and I think it’s more rare today than it was then, but back in the 1970s… And I can’t remember the exact dates I think I have them in the original posts on multi-directional leadership, but Stott got up in front of an Ecumenical Assembly and really chastise the assembly, challenged them and said, “In all of your talk about social work and making the world a better place and being on mission for Jesus…” I’m paraphrasing what he said, “That I don’t sense any weeping or tears for lost people.” And his point was you was, the heart of the great commission evangelism is people coming to faith in Christ and being saved from eternal destruction.
Trevin Wax: And so Stott could get up in front of an assembly like that and speak boldly and prophetically… I like to say in that environment sounded like a fiery fundamentalist. Okay. Well then months later, he’s in a different of evangelicals with Billy Graham and he and Billy Graham had something of a showdown over this, which is really interesting if you want to look up the history, but the Lasagna Congress and there is about a walk out of the entire event. If they’re not going to include social ministry as being included as part of the mission of the church. That point was basically standing up saying, you have the loss, the great commandment in pursuit of your evangelism with the great commission you have to have both of these together. Now, I’m not saying that John Stott got it all completely right or that I agree with him totally in the way that he defined the mission of the church and the way he put all of us together, that’s not my point. It’s not to say that the guy was invaluable and he did it all right.
Trevin Wax: To me though the instructive thing is to realize that in one environment, speaking to one group of people he can sound like a fundamentalist. And then the other environment speaking to another group of people can sound like a social justice warrior liberal. Okay. What was going on there? Well, you don’t have a guy who’s two faced. You have a guy with very firm convictions that recognizes the needs of that particular people God has called him to serve in that moment. And then is speaking prophetically not just to be affirmed and to coddle the crowd and to receive their acclimation, but to speak in a way that he believes that particular group needs to hear.
Trevin Wax: And I think we see this with the apostles. I’m not going to say that Paul and James are on different sides of a justification debate because they’re not. I look at them as two swordsman who are back to back, fighting off opposing enemies. Paul’s fighting off the enemies who would threaten the doctrine of justification by faith alone. James is fighting off those who would say that saving faith doesn’t necessarily lead to good works. Those are not contradictory stances, they’re together and they’re like two shepherds in the field, and there’s the flock and one is fighting on one side, and one’s fighting on the other. They’ve got each other’s backs. That’s in my opinion, both of those are good examples of what we need more of in the church today, which is multi-directional leadership that is able to fend off opposing challenges and to find different opportunities.
Jim Davis: Well, all right. I want to try to apply that help us apply that maybe in a church setting or people leading Christian organizations. I know I’ve talked to different leaders who are trying to figure out really in the race conversation where the enemy views are. How wide is the umbrella, at what point is… Some people ask how far is too far going either way. So how do you coach leaders who are wanting to lead well, whether it’s a church organization or maybe even a business into this conversation?
Trevin Wax: When we ask on conversations related to race and generally about the disagreements are among brothers and sisters who have a lot of confessional commonality, the disagreements tend to be in two areas I think. One is the awareness of the significance of a threat on one side of the field. Okay. So for example, if you believe that the pervasive dominant threat right now to the church in the United States is the ongoing structural persistence of racism and how it affects African-Americans, then you’re going to be more likely to give short shrift to people that are throwing out labels and things, and concerned about ideologies from this side, because you see the danger is very much present right over here. And we’ll make the case, this is where the danger, you guys that are talking about dangers coming from this side of the field. That’s not really the danger that we’ve got to face right now, we have this danger to face.
Trevin Wax: On the other side we’ll find out there people who would agree that racism is an important moral, evil, and also things but who tend to be totally focused based on anti-Christian ideologies that they see assumptions being smuggled into a lot of the conversations we’re having about race and are high alert over here who you’ll find them hardly talking about egregious examples of racial injustice, because they’re so attuned to this situation on this side. Now I recognize we all have different callings, and there may be some people who are more equipped to be engaged in about a lot of one side than another. I don’t know that we all have to try to be equal and the amount of time we give to everything, I think that could lead us to challenges of its own.
Trevin Wax: So I’m not saying that there are not people who have different strengths in opposing some of these dangers, but when we don’t recognize and at least speak to challenges that are coming from different sides of the field, what that does is it poisons the conversation to a larger extent. So then where we begin to then question each other’s motives and underlying assumptions. And when that happens, it’s really bad because we become one directional leaders in the worst way, instead of one directional leaders who have a strength in one area, but are also attuned to other areas we become super strong in one area and then become blind to other areas totally. And then we wind up separating from the brothers and sisters that God may have put them there to keep us balanced and multi-directional in our leadership.
Trevin Wax: What if in such a time as this God has people with different emphases that are there for the good of the church and for our own leadership to keep us from going down the path that we would be most likely, if we were to be tempted to move away from fidelity to the gospel, what if God is putting people with different emphases together so that there’s a multi-directional leadership culture that would keep us from drifting in these areas, will we hold each other accountable in these ways. The concern is that we become polarized and then we wind up really on our own. And I think it’s easier for people to then go down what we call slippery slopes and things, which I know it can be a fallacious part of arguing, but I think it’s accurate to say there are slopes on more than one side of almost any issue.
Justin Holcomb: And as you’re describing that I’m thinking that requires a lot of humility for a leader to hear what you just said and for a community to do that. And it sounded something like body of Christ imagery of roles and how that working together looks like for the sake of unity of the gospel of the kingdom. It’s not just unity for some type of generic unity sake but for a purpose. And so that was helpful of that just exuding the call for humility and that as a leader as we’re going to start segwaying toward, what does this mean with regard to as Jim said that the conversation about race. I do just want to ask really simply, you use the phrase racial injustice, and I’d like for you just to say a few words about that naming it like that is important. Is there an intentionality of that?
Justin Holcomb: And second to that point is you talked about Christians should have a robust understanding of the doctrine of sin and not be surprised by sin and injustice. As an example, when my wife and I started working with regard to abuse, and abuse is a great example of sin it’s a great illustration of the doctrine of sin and how evil manifests itself. But Christian seemed to be the most shocked, the very people who had a category for something that is against God, it’s from the heart, it has an activity, it causes destruction. It’s interesting that people seem to be surprised. So I’m looking for anything about racial injustice, how intentional was that? And just a few thoughts on the surprise of the reality of sin in the context of racial injustice.
Trevin Wax: I don’t know the exact reason I gravitated toward using racial injustice over other things. Some would say race relations, some would say racial reconciliation and perhaps in many of our evangelical circles anyway, you hear social justice has its own connotations and can carry a lot of baggage depending on who you’re talking with. I want to pinpoint the fact that injustice in any sense is egregious to God. Injustice based on race is egregious to God as well. And these are the examples being lifted at the surface now, and a lot of our cultural conversations. So I’ve seen studies done in the last just to give a few examples that really don’t relate to the more extreme examples we’ve seen of, whether it be police brutality and other areas, or the amount of stops that a person of color may have in their car versus other people.
Trevin Wax: And some of the favoritism and the sensoriality I think that we have, there have been studies done about African-American or people that have names that sound black as compared to white. I’m getting less callbacks and studies that they’ve done when they were applying for a job, for example so Jimmy may not get called. It may get a certain number of fewer callbacks than a [grant 00:18:04]. What was fascinating Jimmy is I remember reading an article a couple of years ago, and I could actually the studies of churches where they actually tested churches this way. And they had families that emailed the church leaders to find out how many would get a personal touch from the pastor based on the name sounding black or sounding white.
Trevin Wax: And what was fascinating where that evangelical scored better than mainline denominations on being more diverse on that question. Which I think would shock most people because a lot of mainline denominations are constantly talking about diversity and talking about the need to embrace all cultures, ethnicities, whatnot. Those would be small examples, meaning small amount in the sense that they do violence physically to people of color, but are certainly areas of injustice that appear to be influenced heavily by race. And so that’s why I’m using that terminology when we’re talking about racial injustice as it manifests itself, not only in laws and in structures and systems even but just in a pervasive attitudes that can influence how people live and how people do the work they do.
Jim Davis: I appreciate even the way that you set up charitability and believing the best. I know in our church with our elders we have to talk a lot about believing the best where we disagree, and that’s a game changer when you have a group of people who are willing to do that across views. I want to get really practical when you talk about these two sides, one of the more confusing and maybe even more tense issues right now is, how does evangelicalism process black lives matter? And how do you distinguishing the groups and where are the two enemies? What does that look like? How do you process multi-directional leadership specifically on that topic?
Trevin Wax: When we talk about black lives matter it’s one of those things where evangelicals need to define what they’re talking about. I think we can do this. This is one of those areas where I’m puzzled and I want to I think we’re better than this. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, we can make distinctions, this isn’t that hard, but yeah I’m amazed at how hard it is for some people to differentiate between an organization called black lives matter, BLM, if you’d like to put it that way. And black lives matter as a hashtag, a statement, a theological truth, where that is really intending to say black lives matter also. Black lives matter too, because the referencing me the widespread sentiment for many in our society that black lives seem to matter less than other people’s lives.
Trevin Wax: I don’t think from a Christian standpoint, theological perspective, that truth should be controversial. The question comes about with the organization which is admittedly anti-Christian, anti-nuclear family, anti-traditional Christianity traditional sexual ethic, it’s admittedly so. I think where the challenge comes for a lot of people on both sides of that heated slogan is, there are those that are afraid to say black lives matter because they don’t want to give credence to that organization. And again, more worried about what the danger over here, and then there are others who have no qualms about using that slogan, hashtag unqualified, wherever, because they don’t see the organization as really posing the big threat. They see white evangelicals apathy or unwillingness to address, or even to make a statement like that as being the bigger problem.
Trevin Wax: And so what you’ve got in a situation like that is, I don’t think it’s the church at its best. The church was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. The church is certainly not at the forefront in the black lives matter movement which is more secular. Mika Edmondson did an amazing talk, I think a prophetic talk about this topic for the gospel coalition’s council members a few years ago, in which he made distinctions between black lives matter the movement and the civil rights movement. But one of the things that comes out very loud and clearly in that talk that he was saying is, why is the church letting them lead? Why is the church letting them take a theological slogan? And in some ways hijack our theological truth in order to then have their own agendas.
Trevin Wax: And so there’s almost a pleading of some African-American brothers and sisters with a white evangelicals to make these proper distinctions, yes but to be full-throated. And it’s an endorsement of the theological truth is true when we say black lives matter and do not immediately jump to say all lives matter, or these lives matter. No one here is trying to say black lives matter more than any other lives, but the point is that in a society where many African-Americans feel like their lives have been undervalued that white brothers and sisters saying that using that slogan or using that term are giving an affirmation of the image of God in people. So for whatever reason it’s become super controversial. It’s very closely connected to politics of course but the church, I just think we can do better. We can make the sanctions, we can define things, we don’t have to be beholden to one partisan political take on something over against them.
Justin Holcomb: I have a quick clarifying question for you and this is literally a clarifying question. I’m not pushed, nothing. I’m trap door. I read the black lives matter organizational commitments, family, sexual ethics and I think you said, “Anti-Christian are non Christian.” I didn’t see that but that could just be my ignorance. And so I just want to make sure that if someone is listening to this and they hear you say that of course they go, why are we even paying attention if there’s a slogan connected this organization? What was throw everything out of is anti-Christian or non Christian. So just really quickly on the relationship to Christianity, can you say a few more thoughts about that?
Trevin Wax: Yeah. That’s a really good clarifying question. When I use the term anti-Christian I don’t mean that the movement itself is explicitly anti-Christian and that it’s naming Christianity that it’s opposing. Some of the stances that are being taken by the organization would be anti-Christian in what they are fundamentally. But here’s what I would say to those who say, why would we even use a slogan or an affirmation that has an organization associated with problematic elements? I think white evangelicals do this all the time. I think we make those distinctions and differentiations consistently when it comes to party platforms in politics, when it comes to our own history and some of our own institutions and how they were started and the people we honor in institutions and how we’ve the inheritance we’ve received have views that were distinctively anti-Christian.
Trevin Wax: I see it happening even among white evangelicals who are very concerned right now about critical race theory and intersectionality, and these ideologies that they would see as antithetical to the gospel. I see them without any trouble associating with organizations or people who are outright atheists, who are also pointing out the trouble there. Secularists who are concerned about white fragility, finding partnership pretty easily with publications for example, that would have what I would see as in the end anti-Christian commitments. So I just would want to say just as you as a white evangelical, if you’ve got challenges with the black lives matter slogan because of the movement, don’t hold your brother or sister to a standard that you’re not holding yourself too. If you’re going to judge by problematic associations or possible associations, then I think it’s the speck in the log thing. We’ve all got areas where there may be someone who could trace a trail and say, there’s problematic associations there. Think assuming the best would lead us away from that.
Justin Holcomb: One example, because you talked about atheism and there’s a book by Marilyn Westfall called Religion Faith and Suspicion or something like that. And he’s reformed, was a pastor at the time wrote that book and it looks Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as a helpful to read for confession. And he said, “Obviously they’re atheists. Obviously we’re not assuming their worldview, but their critique of religion is all too true all too much of the time for Orthodox Christianity, but they’re actually critiquing idols. So let’s read them as friends when they’re critiquing the ways we make idols out of our theological beliefs but of course, of course we don’t believe their ideology.” And what a great example. If we can go that far how much more can we actually pay attention to a term, a slogan, a motif, a theological truth, that black lives matter, because it said in the context where they’re assumed to not matter or the experience is that we don’t feel like we matter.
Justin Holcomb: So that’s why you’re so helpful in the way you think through this. So I’m imagining if someone’s listening to this and they’re going to take you up on the humility call, it becomes self-reflective. What are certain barriers perhaps for being able to think through Jim’s question in your answer about the difference between a statement, a slogan… And I don’t say slogan to dismiss it, but a statement versus an organizational platform. Two that I’m thinking of is a scarcity mentality. No, to say black lives matters, scarcity mentality would hear that and go, black lives matter, all lives matter. You’re like, yeah, but highlighting that black lives matter isn’t taking away from all the other lives. It’s actually just accentuating. It’s not minimizing one to accentuate the other, it’s actually just highlighting it to make a point. So I’m thinking scarcity mentality might be going on.
Justin Holcomb: Another one would be one’s identity. As you said, our primary identity can be wrong along political or national identity where we seem to be of a political or national identity first, and then Christian as opposed to I’m a member of the kingdom of God, I’m a Christian, that’s my identity and launching out of that. So I’m wondering, I might not be right on either one of those scarcity mentality or political identity as being too high, but as someone starting to look inward and think about their heart, their emotions, their actions, their bias, their prejudice, their racism, what are some barriers to actually get through that?
Trevin Wax: I think the number one barrier in not just this issue but in a lot of issues is being unteachable. It’s the idea that I have something to say, I don’t necessarily have anything to learn. That’s more of an attitude than a statement, I don’t see people saying that. When you step into conversations like this a lot of listening has to happen. I think one of the most important things someone can do not just in this conversation but in other areas as well is to be aware of potential drift in their own life. I’ve done this with church leaders just individually in their own when we talk about sins, what are the sins that are most likely to trip you up? Because that’s where you want to be focusing your attention.
Trevin Wax: If it’s lost or if it’s pride, or if it’s apathy and slaw or whatever the sins are that are most likely to trip you up would be areas where you would want to learn and you would want to grow. I think when we talk about multi-directional leadership and we talk about issues like this I think we all have a lot of learning to do. I think the question we should wrestle with is to say, if I were more likely to move away from orthodoxy or move away from a Christian ethical stance, which side of the field the danger would be more compelling to me? It would be the way I would tend to lead. And then when you recognize what that would be the answer then is not simply to say, okay, I’m aware of that.
Trevin Wax: And I just go back to onto my own practice where I’m teaching and pushing in this direction I’m pushing, but to intentionally bring voices into your life that are going to challenge you and hold you accountable in those areas where you would be likely to drift. I don’t think you can do that without some sense of self and theological awareness and humility to say, I need to be taught here because I’m as vulnerable as anyone else to falling short here. Have fallen short in the past, we’ll fall short again, but I don’t want falling short to be the pattern in my life, so how can I diversify the number of voices that I’m listening to so that I’m really heating warnings and making sure that I’m not moving in a direction. On this issue in particularly, I’ve seen people who started off in a direction and now are fully in the camp that I would say have become basically alt-right.
Trevin Wax: The Christian commitment where the pro-life commitment has gone now because they’re all of the genetic inferiority they believe is true among the racism and whatnot. I’ve seen that happen. I’m also seeing people on the other side of this conversation progress right out of orthodoxy to where everything is about mother nature and black goddess within you. Where they’ve moved completely out of not just evangelicalism but Christian orthodoxy altogether. That can happen, hopefully that won’t be the norm, but both of those things can happen. The question is which one is more likely to be the direction you would lean and find people who will keep you standing in a healthy and good spot. It doesn’t mean we all have to have the exact same emphasis but that’s the goal that, we would be standing and we’ll be faithful multi-Directional leaders.
Justin Holcomb: As you were describing the two possible directions that one could go, I could feel it because I’m pretty traditional Evangelical Orthodox. It’s almost easier to look at the drift in the opposite direction of what you are more progressive and go, oh boy. Yeah, a little bit too conservative. Well, it’s not as bad. It’s JV bad, it’s not like varsity bad. And then those on the progressive side will be same thing. They just flip it around and it’s so much easier. And that’s what’s so helpful about what you’re saying is, it’s the call to look at both and say the move to your political identity trump in Jesus and his kingdom and his kingdom’s ethic is sin, you don’t treat it lightly. And so as the move out of orthodoxy, both or moves out of orthodoxy at a certain points but just being able to feel like the benefit of the doubt to your team if you’re more traditional or more progressive is just something to highlight for me is my experience.
Jim Davis: Yeah. I like how you distinguish between JV and varsity. We can acknowledge what’s the JV side of this and what’s the varsity side of it. And that would help us understand that way that we would naturally lean. And so Trevin you said, one of the important things is to then surround yourself with other voices to distinguish between what you see on TV and our dear brothers and sisters of color and their experience and what they’re saying, because that’s shaped me more than anything, just real people in my life. All right. We’re running down to the end here. You mentioned the difference between the civil rights movement led by MLK and then the current black lives matter movement. Now, I think this is really interesting to flip some of the differences that you see, help us understand them.
Trevin Wax: I was building on Mika Edmondson’s work at least in recognizing the difference of the church’s influence and presence in the civil rights movement compared to the black lives matter movement. But what’s interesting… And this is something that I think we’re going to have to work through together as a society, but some of the proposals that are with groups that would be more associated with the organization black lives matter not just the theological statement. Some of the proposals are almost utopian and their vision of where society could be and revolutionary in the sense of seeing society as hopelessly corrupt and forever racist without progress being possible with the current order that we have. That’s something that’s really happening to where it’s actually leading to strange bedfellows.
Trevin Wax: This is where I would recommend, we got to understand history a little better not the whitewashed sanitized version of history, but history with all of its just agregious failures and flaws. And at the same time, all of its amazing goods that we’ve inherited. You downplay either of those and you wind up with an alter view of history that can lead us a straight pretty quickly, but to speak of interesting bedfellows. So there’s a controversial New York Times podcast and project going on with the 1619 project, which has been contested even from secular historian. So this is not a Christian non-Christian debate. There’s a lot of debate in society over this but to sum up a 1619 project, instead of it being 1776 is the founding of the United States over against great Britain or whatnot, the case is being made through a lot of what’s being published there that slavery is really the driving force. And racism is the driving force for the founding of America from beginning to end.
Trevin Wax: What I would say is a reductionist approach to looking at history through this lens, which I think is one of the challenges you find Abraham Kennedy’s book, for example, stamps from the beginning which well helpful. And a lot of the information it gives about that history of race in the United States also tends to be pretty reductionist in that motives or racism is simply assumed to be motivating, dominating factors through everything. What’s fascinating though is that in making the case that the founders of the United States basically, all racist, white supremacist, to the core that this is the dominating motivating factor for everything even among the abolitionists of the time. That being the case, they’re making their case that are founding ideals are themselves infected untainted by racism.
Trevin Wax: Talking about strange bedfellows the irony though, is that they’re actually agreeing with John C. Calhoun against Frederick Douglass. John C. Calhoun made the point when he was arguing for the extension of slavery, for slavery as a positive good in the 1800s. He was making this argument that our country was founded on basically on white supremacy, white superiority, and that’s why slavery must continue. Whereas as it was Frederick Douglas, who was holding up the words of the founders saying, “This is the ideal, slavery falls short of what they’ve said and having a higher vision of the founding itself.” So in a very strange twist, you have people on the far left who their take on the founding of the United States are aligning more with the slave promoting senator Anne the 1800s. So all that to say is history helps shine, light a little bit on some of these proposals on some of how we think through them.
Trevin Wax: Some of the questions about racial identity in white terms, white fragility, that are trying to create an identity politics that has a white identity has strangely some things in common with groups throughout history that have done this, like the KKK Hitler’s area in youth. I’m not saying that they’re going in the same direction but there’s commonalities there that you start to see, and you realize some of the proposals that are out there today are not actually going to lead us to a better spot. They have a wrong assumptions about humanity, wrong assumptions about sin, wrong understanding of grace and costly forgiveness.
Trevin Wax: And of course, devoid of the gospel don’t have lasting hope anyway, there may be helpful things here and there that you find, but will not bring really lasting change. So we’re going to have to be really attuned to these things. I think this conversation it’s just getting going. I hope we’ll be multi-directional in the way that we lead out on these questions and are able to talk through them with charity, assuming the best of brothers and sisters even that may disagree on finer points. I’m sure there are people listening to this, that disagree with me on any number of things I’ve said. I’ll extend the charity to listen and want to hear charity receive charity back as that conversation continues.
Jim Davis: Well, in our three minutes that we have left as you talk about learning from history, you make the case that the future of evangelicalism and specifically white evangelicalism could learn a lot from the historic black church. What is it that we can learn?
Trevin Wax: One of the reasons I think that it’s important for us to really listen to our black brothers and sisters who have a strong inheritance in the black church is because for centuries now, black evangelical Christians whether they would use the word evangelical or not, I’m using that word, theologically speaking not politically speaking, but black brothers and sisters, black churches, that would adhere to what we would consider to be central evangelical tenants of Christianity. They have learned to lead from the margins. They’ve had to lead from the margins. They had no other option, but to lead from the margins to cultivate a culture within their congregations to lead to a robust traditional evangelical faith within their congregations to be salt and light in the world. And then to address society from a position of not having the reins of power, that’s been one of the legacies of the black church, white Christians right now, many are very up in arms about losing some of the cultural power that they’d had.
Trevin Wax: We’ve had a lot of wins at the supreme court when it comes to religious liberty and carve out some exemptions and whatnot, but it’s one thing to lose religious liberty. And it’s another thing to lose religious power or the cultural power and that same time and a lot of evangelicals are realizing we are definitely when it comes to morality anyway, we are in the minority. Certainly in the minority, certainly not going to be perhaps in the future as close to traditional levers of power and influence as we have been in the past. So if we’re going to be doing a lot of ministry from the margins who better to learn from, and to let take the lead in helping us understand that better than black brothers and sisters who have led from the margins and whose history was, we look at the legacy of the black church has been leading from the margins for centuries.
Trevin Wax: That’s what I think one of the things we had a lot to learn just in the history of the black church, the legacy of the black church, yes, challenges and failings in the black church but also strengths that the wider body of Christ needs to receive from this of tradition. And I hope that, that will be the case as we move forward that will really grow in our ability to learn from, and to glean insight from those who have gone before us.
Jim Davis: Well, I never heard it said better. Thank you. Thank you for all you’re doing, for joining us. I forgot to thank you in the beginning for the gospel project your work there we use that here my former church. So just thanks for everything you’re involved with and thank you for your time. We really, really appreciate it.
Trevin Wax: No, thanks for having me on guys, honored to be with you.