Introducing a new video series called “TGC Talks.” In this short video, Justin Giboney—co-founder and president of the AND Campaign—addresses the self-serving lies conservative and progressives tell themselves about issues like justice, identity politics, and critical race theory. Many of us would prefer to be lied to rather than confronted with a truth that complicates our preferred narrative. Yet if we are going to address the race issue faithfully, Giboney argues, “We must not only confront the lies that offend us, but also the lies that serve us.”
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Justin Giboney: We all hate the lies that falsely accuse us or misrepresent our intentions. We’re rightfully indignant when others bear false witness at our expense or at the expense of those who we deem worthy of our compassion. But what about the lies that serve our purposes? What about the false narratives that absolve us, the cultural myths that glorify us, and the mis-characterizations that obstruct our opposition? My question is, what do we do with the lies that are useful, the lies that artificially boost what we consider to be a good cause? Lies can come in many different forms, intellectual dishonesty, pretext, conflation, overly broad labels, straw man arguments, et cetera. And, unfortunately, the American church’s ongoing debate about racial justice is full of all variety of lies, especially the lies that serve those who would rather not talk about the subject at all.
Let’s be honest, we’re all expected to lie to protect certain cultural narratives. Refusing to promote the myths that glorify our ethnic or ideological identity is considered disloyal. So what do we do? We pretend. Some conservatives pretend that Christians lived in a moral golden age before the liberals took over. Some progressives pretend that Whiteness is responsible for almost all sins and pathologies. And those things might be flattering, but they’re lies. There was no golden age of morality in a country that enslaved people and constantly use color as a reason to deny human dignity. And every culture has plenty of sins and pathologies of its own making, which doesn’t deny the fact that majority culture is responsible for a lot of injustice and dysfunction. We should be able to acknowledge the brokenness in all of us without resorting to false equivalencies or suggesting that some people are responsible for their own oppression.
The Bible shows us that promoting the lies that serve our purposes is nothing new. As is often the case, those with position and privilege rarely receive the reproach of those of lesser station with humility and grace. That’s because power rooted in this world is usually very insecure and obsessed with preservation. By the time we get to Matthew 26, the religious leaders have resolved to kill Jesus to rid themselves of this nuisance that was exposing their lies and undermining their authority. And verse 59 tells us that they’re now looking for false evidence to prove that Jesus had been blaspheming. They would eventually find witnesses to corroborate the allegation that he planned to destroy the temple. Now, they didn’t make this claim up out of nowhere, but they did twist his words and take them out of context. Small details, I guess, for such a serious crime.
You see, the lies were convenient and they served their purposes. They were presented perhaps in such a way that they could be rationalized by those claiming to still uphold the Ninth Commandment. Again, we see similar tactics in the debate about race in the church. Too many Christians have resolved to maintain the position that all demands for racial justice are overblown and they’re willing to employ all manner of useful lies to bolster that argument. One way we do this is by romanticizing American history, acting like virulent racism was just a small blip in an otherwise pristine historical record or pretending the explicit racism in our laws existed so long ago that it couldn’t possibly still linger in our systems and institutions. Well, that’s absurd. Might I remind you that Jim Crow and mass incarceration and red lining and Black veterans’ exclusion from the GI Bill all happened within the lifetime of some of the people watching now. The impacts of those things don’t disappear just because the thought of them is something we don’t like.
Why is it that some Christians will actually become irate when you bring up verifiable facts about the history of race in America? I believe that it’s because their pride can’t process the truth. The truth is America has some exceptional achievements and some exceptional transgressions. It reminds me of when the religious leaders just couldn’t handle hearing Peter reminding them about what they did to Jesus. They wanted to be lied to. When it serves us, we tell lies through pretext, meaning we justify our actions by claiming good motives while concealing our real intentions. Again, it’s like the religious leaders claiming to be protecting the temple when they really just wanted to crucify Christ. That tactic has been used throughout history to deny justice. As you know, Reconstruction was a short period after the Civil War when our government attempted to reset a nation that had undergone a most necessary fracture.
Booker T. Washington called it a time of storms and stress, but he also noted that it gave rise to brilliant political leaders in the newly enfranchised race. At the height of Reconstruction, around 2000 African-Americans held elected office, including in the United States Senate. Again, this was only a few years after emancipation, but these achievements would be short-lived because lies would prevail. Unreconstructed Confederates would begin to massacre Black communities to prevent them from enjoying full citizenship. The Southern States would paint even the federal government’s most lackluster efforts to restore order as violations of state’s rights and federal troops would eventually withdraw almost completely. What an ingeniously evil ploy. Federal intervention to prevent slaughter was said to actually be an unlawful occupation, an un-American violation of federalism.
Confederates would reclaim their land and reclaim their cause and Black representation was wiped out for decades because the Union chose a fraudulent unity over true justice just as many are urging the church to do today. Reconstruction’s end is an example of pre-textual lies. It’s also an example of reconciliation without a full reckoning. Reconciliation without a repentant spirit just doesn’t work. Today, many are using the threat of Marxism as pretext to avoid reckoning with the church’s race problem. They’re conflating biblically sound pleas for justice with clear distortions. Now, to be clear, Marxism does present a real threat to truth and moral order, but Marxism and critical theories aren’t wrong for critiquing abuses of power and means of exploitation. The Bible does the same. They are however perilous and un-biblical where they often tell lies to strengthen their arguments, where they essentialize our identities and spurn truth to flatten reality.
The reality is one’s race, class, or gender can often tell us something about their experiences, but it tells us nothing about their character or competence. Suggesting otherwise might make for a cleaner and easier argument, but it’s a lie. There are men who are honest. There are women who are honest. There are men who are dishonest. There are women who are dishonest. There are Black leaders who represent their people with integrity and White leaders who represent their community with integrity, and there are folks on both ends that only represent their own ambition. And that takes nothing away from the importance of representation, but it is our reality in a broken world. The point is, our identities often tell us less than some critical theorists would have us believe. Still, not every mention of racial justice is Marxist or a promotion of critical race theory. To conflate every demand for racial justice with the worst aspects of critical race theory is deceitful.
To label everyone who’s concerned with social justice as a Marxist is intellectually dishonest. It’s a lie. It’s a lie that’s useful because it evades the true merits of the best arguments by centering the worst arguments. To center critical race theory in a conversation about race when Black Christians have been fighting and weighing in on the subject for hundreds of years before critical race theory was even a thing is wickedly insincere. Don’t simply argue against the disheveled postmodern academic who knows nothing about biblical justice. Argue against Christians like Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Reverend William Augustus Jones who coupled orthodoxy and orthopraxy, who stood 10 toes down on scripture while living out their faith under the sword of oppression. And if you listen to them close enough, you’ll realize that American racism has always done much of the work that you fear Marxism would do.
It’s undermine the family. It’s undermine the church and turned it against itself. It’s rob people of their earnings, defiled women, violated religious freedom, and denied individual liberty. So when you don’t get the response you expect from talking about Marxism, it’s probably because we already know that racism has done the same thing. The idols that some Christians are protecting have already produced the outcomes they fear from Marxism. Some Christians are so worried about the Marxist barbarians at the gate that they’ve been completely ignored the White nationalists who are already in the temple. If we’re ever going to address the race problem faithfully, we must not only confront the lies that offend us, but also the lies that serve us. Because no lie can serve the church. Jesus, after all, was the truth. God bless you.